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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Wanted: An Expert on Green Crayon Used in Constantinople 1920

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In previous Blogs, I have written about the (White) Russian Post in Constantinople which existed before the evacuation of Crimea at the end of 1920 and which facilitated the delivery and onward despatch of mail from White controlled south Russia and Ukraine which came to Constantinople from the Black Sea ports. This Russian Post was clearly facilitated by the Allies who had Occupation forces in Turkey after the end of World War One. This Russian Post was the basis of the idea for a Refugee Post which never, however, translated into a real postal service.

The opened out cover above is addressed to Alexander Sredinsky [his name spelt wrongly on the cover] who was Postmaster both of the Russian Post and later the would-be Refugee Post. The letter started out in BELGRADE  3 XII 20, arrived in Turksih GALATA 14 1 21, and was sent on to Turkish HALKI. All this information is on the reverse.

It was common at this period for postal officials to clarify an address by underlining the important bit in crayon. For example, on mail from Russia to Germany and German-controlled areas in 1918, officials used blue crayon to underline town names. This blue crayon was probably applied in the Koenigsberg transit office.

On this cover, the destination “Ile de Halki” has been underlined in green crayon, just the kind of thing a Galata arrival office clerk would have done faced with a messy address. It’s enough to get the letter into the bag destined for Halki. But in the same green crayon, there is written “POSTE RUSSE”.

Now the interesting question is this: Did a Turkish clerk in Galata use this green crayon, adding the words “POSTE RUSSE” to clarify the destination still more, or did Sredinsky enhance the cover by doing the green crayon work himself? In the same way, it would have been Sredinsky who applied the 16 JAN 1921 KHALKI  receiver cancellation of the RUSSKAYAR POCHTA – normally associated with Refugee Post covers.

The letter is non-philatelic and simply an item of personal mail addressed to Sredinsky who enhanced it with the Russian Post cancel of Khalki. But maybe the green crayon is Turkish and shows that postal officials were aware of who Sredinsky was and what he was doing.

So: does anyone have clearly Turkish green crayon from 1920?

Moscow Police fiscal stamps of 1861

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Above is an old Xerox copy of a page from the Emile Marcovich collection of Russian fiscal stamps. It shows the 1861 Moscow Police issue. I have copies of all the stamps except the last, perforated, one and I have never seen an example of the perforated stamp.

The problem with a stamp like this is the possibility that someone has created a variety by perforating an imperforate stamp. True, the perforation is high quality. On the other hand, did Moscow police in the 1860s or even after have access to good perforating machines? And if Moscow perforated , why did St Petersburg not do so for the equivalent 1860 issue of police stamps?

In the absence of archive documentation, to establish the credentials of a stamp like this we really need to see an example used on a dated fragment of a document – we know what the documents should look like because plenty exist. We also need to see more examples of the stamp itself. Any offers?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Aesthetics of Album Pages

A popular way of collecting is to devote one album page to each stamp issued by some postal authority. At the top of the page, you put an example of the mint stamp and underneath you put a card or cover showing postal use, perhaps as a single franking. Then you provide the necessary written description.

There are two problems with this approach. In many cases, either the mint stamp or the postal item will be very hard to find and very expensive if and when you do find it. So if you are collecting Central Lithuania, it is easy to create a set of pages with an example of each stamp issued at the top. But the postal items? They are scarce and I actually doubt that they exist for some stamps supposedly issued. You will find CTO stamps but even loose postally used ones will be rare or non-existent. So you will end up with a lot of more or less blank album pages.

There is a second problem. If you put a single mint stamp above a nice cover, your page will look unbalanced. Aesthetically, you could improve it by showing a mint multiple rather than a single stamp – maybe a corner block or plate block; or for lithographed stamps, a transfer block. If the transfer block is quite small, as it is for Batum Tree stamps, then you may be able to make rapid progress.

But like Central Lithuania covers, mint multiples are not always easy to find and in some cases probably don’t exist. If you are collecting Imperial Russia, you can buy for four figures a copy of #1 on cover. But, I am afraid I have to tell you, you can forget about a mint block of four.

If I was starting out again as a dealer, I would be tempted to specialise as follows: I would buy old dealer stocks which included mint multiples and part sheets which had never got separated into single stamps. And I would try to create a stock of small blocks, strips and so on for stamps issued say before 1940. They would be MNH** with full gum. As time passes, it will be harder and harder to find those old dealer stocks but even twenty years ago I could have made a lot of progress.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Kaj Hellman March 2018 Auction Now Online

The Spring 2018 Kaj Hellman auction is now online at

I have contributed about 200 lots with plenty of Ukraine from me and plenty of Russia. Also some older Latin America.
I note very extensive Russian postal history from other sellers. 
There is a good Latvia section.

It's also possible to search the auction by category at

In the March Heinrich Koehler auction, I have some fine Armenia on offer and also some unusual Russian material, including a large collection of Tobacco banderoles (Lot 3822 described as Fiskalmarken / Steuerbanderolen - see Comment below; the Lot number is correct) ...

Monday, 26 February 2018

A New 1922 Postmaster Provisional from Kharkiv?

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How do you know when you have made a discovery?

Above are two halves of the back of a cover sent from KHARKIV 15 9 22 which transited MOSKVA on 18 9 22 and arrived in BERLIN 27 9 22.

Without overprint if 18 stamps of 5 kopeks were revalued x 100, then they would pay a 90 rubel Registered tariff, assuming no stamps on the front of the envelope. But in 1920, Kharkiv 5 kop stamps were revalued x 100 by means of black pyb overprints, which are very common. Maybe by September 1922, those overprints had been used up.

With the 0250 overprints shown here the stamps would pay a 4500 =  45 rubel ordinary letter tariff, assuming there were no stamps on the front of the envelope.

But is the 0250 overprint genuine? I have not seen it before.

In favour, there are two things. First, the overprints appear to be under the cancellations and the KHARKIV cancellation appears to be genuine. When an overprint is heavy and a cancel light, it is always hard to be sure, but under natural light and under magnification, every way I look, the cancels do look as if they are over the overprints. That is essential.

Second, I am told that another example of this overprint on 5 kop stamps with KHARKIV cancels is in a St Petersburg collection. In this case, the stamps are imperforate. The cancel is not the same one, which also helps support the idea that the KHARKIV cancel on this cover back is genuine: a forger would not waste time and money making two different cancels.

Against this is the simple thought: How come a Postmaster Provisional from a big city like Kharkiv has not been recorded sometime in the past 100 years? That is a serious question. The best answer is for one of my readers to produce another example of this overprint, ideally on a 5 kop stamp with a Kharkiv cancel – a heavy cancel would be nice!

Discussions are ongoing: I have discussed with Joseph Geyfman and he has discussed with Alexander Epstein ... We are still talking about probabilities rather than certainties so we really need some new evidence. See also now comments below from Ivo Steijn.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

New Light on the 1921-22 Stamps of Armenia: Essayan and Khatchaturian?

I have blogged frequently about the first two pictorial issues of Soviet Armenia, their designer Sarkis Khatchaturian and their printer Vahan Essayan. We already know that Khatchaturian went to Constantinople in 1921  to discuss the new stamps he had designed. He was working for a government which had no money and instead he was provided with sample stamps, the so-called First Star issue, which he was authorised to sell and thereby - I think - fund his trip. From the following letter, it seems this plan did not work out as intended. Khatchaturian is using Essayan's notepaper to provide a Poste Restante address (hence the French endorsement "pour ..." at the top left of the sheet). He is writing about a previous letter asking for financial help from Dr Souren Hovhannisian (who may be living in Egypt) either directly or through an intermediary. The writer's wife is willing to travel to collect funds.

My guess is that Khatchadourian is approaching family or art world contacts for help. He was already a significant figure in the Armenian art world, and today the National Gallery of Armenia holds many of his works.

I am grateful to Haik Nazarian and Stefan Berger for tackling the translation and interpretation of this letter.

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Click on Image to Magnify

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Information for UK stamp dealers about EU VAT rules


According to the Financial Times, the EU Commission has issued guidelines on post-Brexit scenarios which include information which entails that if  the UK does not negotiate a VAT agreement with the EU before leaving the bloc, UK small businesses that are currently exempt from paying VAT because they generate turnover of less than £85 000 a year will have to start paying VAT on sales to EU customers, presumably charged to the customer at the point of entry into the EU country. Unless the customer is in turn a EU VAT registered company, then the overall effect would be to increase prices significantly to the final customer. There would also be attendant delays in handling (as there are currently, for example, for goods sent from non-EU Switzerland to the UK).

The current bespoke situation is that the EU allows the UK a threshold for VAT registration much higher at £85 000 (about 95 000 euros currently) than in any other EU country. This is very favourable to the UK. Under this threshold, small and semi-retired dealers (like me) can sell anywhere in the EU without charging VAT, either at the UK rate or the rate applicable in the country of destination. The situation only changes for the non-VAT registered UK dealer when sales to a single other EU country exceed a certain threshold, most often 35 000 euros, at which threshold the UK-based dealer has to register in that country for VAT purposes.

In contrast, in other EU countries the general VAT registration threshold is set much lower on total sales so that dealers in other EU countries are currently at a competitive disadvantage. In five countries of the EU, the VAT registration threshold is NIL (Greece, Hungary, Malta, Spain, Sweden).