It’s not very often that you find late 19th century Russian artifacts in Dawsonville, but for Paul Mincey, it’s something he walks by every day at work.
Mincey, owner of Dawsonville Gun & Pawn, acquired a rare collection of Imperial Russian artifacts in April 2018 and has since had the various war medals, table medallions and coins on display in his shop.
It all started when a woman stopped by to purchase a gun at the shop, Mincey recalled. Her late husband, Vladimir Walter Ledebeff (Ledebev), had collected family heirlooms – in particular from his mother’s side of the family where his great-grandfather was an Imperial Guard for the Romanov family.
Mincey said the woman had no children to pass along the assortment of metal heirlooms and wanted Mincey to have them.
“She brought them in and overwhelmed us – I mean, way overwhelmed us,” Mincey said.
As it turned out, Mincey had acquired war medals, a gold pocket watch and a silver cigarette case belonging to Pavel Alexeevich Zelenoy, a decorated Admiral in the Russian navy and Governor of Taganrog from 1882-1885 and Governor of Odessa from 1885-1898.
At first Mincey recalls being skeptical, as it seemed too good to be true to acquire decorated war medals and heirlooms from a prominent Russian military hero and political leader. He turned to the University of North Georgia to help translate and identify some of the artifacts.
“It’s like your George Washington,” Mincey recalled being told. “I started researching. Everything matched up.”
Zelenoy was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General at the Admiralty in 1891 and was made Admiral in 1902. He served in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-78. He was also an honorary trustee of the board of trustees of Empress Maria's foundations. He died in 1909.
One of the artifacts belonging to Zelenoy includes the Order of St. Stanislaus First Breast Star.
““This is the most highly awarded medal,” Mincey said. “It would have been from the Tsar himself. I would say akin to the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
Other artifacts include a cigarette case that is engraved to Zelenoy commemorating 100 years of the founding of Odessa that was made in 1894 and an engraved pocket watch along with various military medals.
Mincey also acquired a 200th anniversary commemorative bronze plaque depicting the 1714 Battle of Gangut that was made in 1914. The battle was the first victory for the Russian navy. A World War I Artilleryman belt buckle, a 1771 bronze table medal of Count Grigory Grigorievich Orlov and an assortment of Russian coins and Russian Orthodox Church medallions are on display.
It’s hard to track down how the artifacts were smuggled out of Russia, but Mincey suspects the artifacts were smuggled out of the country prior to the Russian Revolution in 1918.
“Even during the Revolution – the Russian Revolution – where they’re killing everybody, and very torturous, the ladies getting on boats with garters aren’t padded down,” Mincey said. “They were concealing all of this because even in the early 20th century you didn’t pat down a lady.”
Mincey suspects that some of these artifacts were smuggled out by Ledebeff’s female ancestors.
While all of the artifacts are technically for sale, Mincey said he wants to donate the collection to an American or Russian museum so that the artifacts can make a bigger impact.
“As far as history, whether you like it or not, it’s history,” Mincey said.
Until he decides where to donate the collection, Mincey encourages students learning world history, in particular Imperial Russia and the rise of Communism to stop by to see pieces of history.
“Learn from the past what will come of the future,” Mincey said.
Dawsonville Gun & Pawn is located at 5711 Hwy. 53 in Dawsonville.