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Friday, 13 April 2018

Post Office Formulars: Money Transfers in Independent Ukraine 1919

In many countries and until very recently, post offices used formular cards to register despatch of parcels and money transfers. Fee payments from the customer were matched by adhesive stamp frankings on the formulars. In most countries, these formulars were archived in large quantities and eventually sold off or, quite often, looted . So for some countries formulars are very common: Latvia’s Parvedums are a good example

Formulars were also used for internal post office transactions and these are less often seen, perhaps because they were unfranked. In case of a temporary shortage of regular formulars, official business formulars were sometimes used with some handstamp or manuscript modification to indicate the different use. This is the case with the two items below which both use Official Business money transfer forms for ordinary over the counter transfers.

The first one was used in January 1919 at ULADOVKA in Podolia to send 283 rubels to Vinnitsa where it arrived and was signed for. The correct 3 rubel franking was all on the front with the right edge officially clipped (to prevent re-use of the stamps) before being sent to the archives. From there it found its way into the Vyrovyj collection and was sold as a single lot (Lot 303) in the 1986 Schaetzle sale of that collection. The formular is on thin paper and looks like a cheap post-1917 reprint and it is modified at the top left in manuscript to indicate its use for an ordinary post office counter transaction.

The second card was used at VOROSHILOVKA in Podolia to send 30 rubels to Shargorod where a receiver mark was applied though a note suggests that the money was not collected. This card has been expertised bottom right by UPNS ZELONKA.

Both formulars are rarely seen.

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Click on Image to Magnify

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Harvesting Stamps - How They Did Things Then

You can harvest crops, you can harvest organs, and you can harvest stamps. You do the last of these when you have no interest in postmarks or postal history. Here’s an example of what is left when you have harvested most of what you want:

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Originally, this was quite an interesting item which shows that at the end of December 1918 it was possible to send a Telegraphic Money Transfer from the small shtetl and town of SOLOBKOVTSI [ now Ukrainian Solobkivtsi] in Podolia to Kiev. The franking was probably provided entirely by Trident-overprinted adhesives. It looks like there were four rubel values and one kopeck value on the front. They have all been peeled off.

Three stamps remain on the reverse, all with punch holes, and in a pencilled note beside the bottom one, John Bulat has identified them as Podolia tridents type XIbb

Someone has used the back of the card to scribble notes about various stamps which may be ones which were harvested from the front. Someone has also done a bit of crude repair work, covering up two holes and a large tear with a bit of brown paper.

When I look at what I am left with, it is tempting to go on harvesting: to cut out neatly a piece with the three stamps, preserving Bulat’s note. It would show three strikes of a scarce cancel. The remains of the body would then show one good strike of the cancel and a Kiev cancel which might be worth 50 cents if I could find someone in search of the Podolian postmark. But should I deliver this coup de grace?

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Ukraine Tridents of Kherson - Part Two

On 4 June 2015 I blogged a long piece about Kherson Trident overprints. I am now preparing my whole stock of about 200 stamps for auction sale and looking through them, I can add a few additional points.

In 2015 I said that I think the overprints are from typographic plates but carefully applied so that there is not always show through at the back. This claim is supported now by the block of 50 kop shown below. It's from the top left corner of the sheet and if you look at position 1, you can see that there is a slipped cliche - a cliche out of line. This is not always present as is shown from the block of four 1 kop also from the top left corner. So this suggests fairly definitely a typographic plate and the slipped cliche would explain the occasional single copies of Kherson tridents which look as if they are from a handstamp, carelessly applied:

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Click on Image to Magnify

I found I had only one expertised copy of a Kherson Trident, the stamp below which is signed Dr Seichter and which could be used for reference. But the one kopeck block above also provides essential information.

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Monday, 9 April 2018

Desperate Philately

Stamp dealers and stamp speculators often end up with unsaleable stock. Maybe they just bought too big a quantity. What can you do with it? Well, you can try to pass the parcel or you can wait for better times or you can try to add some fresh touch to what you have.

There were large remainder stocks of the Ukraine National Republic fiscal stamps of 1919, especially the two low values of 40 and 50 Shahiv, which were probably bought very cheap in the 1920s and 1930s by a few hopeful dealers. I have many copies in fresh MNH ** condition. I also have many copies of the fantasy overprints added to these stamps in an attempt to make them saleable. For example, the overprints for KHOLM shown below are usually attributed to a tireless fabricator of fantasies, Captain Schramschenko, and are really only of interest if you are making a collection of Capatain Schramschenko fantasies (I’m not).

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Another story. At one time it was popular to collect picture postcards with a stamp stuck on the picture side and cancelled. The stamps and YOKOHAMA cancels on the front of the two cards below are genuine. What about the backs? I think it’s possible that the Soviet Philatelic Assocaiton imported these cards, but if they did so, the cards would have arrived in one parcel of 100 or 1000 not individually. It’s also possible that the Soviet PA typed its address onto the back of each card, individually – note that in line 4, there is a full stop after per. on one card but not on the other. The SPA did have a Roman alphabet typewriter and the typists did play around with spacing, as someone has done in S O V I E T.

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But clearly these Japanese cards were not that popular. Some enhancement was required and someone (and possibly the SPA but it does seem rather crude) thought of Postage Due. We have one genuine Postage Due stamp on the cards and four different cancels / cachets, all looking as if they have never been used before.. I think they are all fake.

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This is perhaps only interesting because it helps me understand a much more significant item in my possession. Below is a genuine cover sent in August 1924 from Ekaterinburg to Moscow, using a system which allowed a letter to be sent unfranked with Postage Due to be paid at the other end. Already in Ekaterinburg a Postage Due cachet has been applied and I think it genuine. I think it also possible that the three stamps belong to the cover but that they were not cancelled at the time, which sometimes happens to Postage Due stamps. This defect has been made good using a forged MOCKBA 19 cancel dated 28 8 24. If the cancels were genuine, then this would have been a very valuable cover since the first Postage Due stamps are extremely rare used.

Friday, 6 April 2018

1919 North West Army: two interesting covers

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There are stamp issues today where 99% of all use is philatelic. Think of issues for Antarctica, any country, any period. In these cases, the 1% of mail which is not philatelic is all the more interesting because it is what confirms the stamp issue as a genuine stamp issue, available to frank mail.

In the Russian Civil War, there were plenty of stamp issues. Some were completely bogus, some were in common use, and some had just 1% genuine use. This is true of the issues of the North West Army which in 1919 briefly controlled several post offices on Russian territory and was organised enough to pass mail backwards (westwards) into independent Estonia.

Have a look at the two covers above. I don’t think either is philatelic. The top one was registered in manuscript from Gdov on 2 10 19. We know that Gdov had lost its own canceller and was using the canceller of POLNA in what had been St Petersburg guberniya. The cover is addressed bi-lingually and has a TALLINN EESTI receiver dated 5 10 19. On the back the sender gives his street address in Gdov, Petrograd guberniya and there is also a one line note at the bottom which I would like someone to translate for me. 

Igor Ryss provides the text and translation as follows:

Pis'ma tol'ko zakaznym prisylat'! - Send only registered letters!

This is important. It shows the sender thought he could receive letters as well as send them

The cover is franked at 1 rubel, so one might guess at 50 kop postage + 50 kop Registration.

The second cover is very interesting. Again it is registered. This time there is a standard rubber cachet but not much ink on the pad. In indelible pencil someone has written “19” as the registry number but in ordinary pencil underneath someone has identified the post office. This is not so easy to read until you look to the left and see that the sender gives an address in Dobruchin, Petrograd guberniya. [Igor Ryss translates the name of the sender as Carlo Kreos] The full name of Dobruchin is in fact DOBRUCHINSKOE and it was in Petrograd guberniya. It just about Googles ( 5 results) and is now in Pskov oblast, and so in 1919 North West Army territory. Igor Ryss tells me that I can get more results using the spelling DOBRUCHI and this also yields a map which shows the location of Dobruchi in relation to Gdov and Pskov.

The cover is addressed to a Tallinn gazette called Tallinn Theatre and there is a receiver cancel of 21 9 19 which touches the top right stamp. Now look at the franking. It’s one rubel made up of 25 kop in North West Army stamps and 75 kop in unoverprinted stamps, all used as a seal. The stamps are cancelled in pen and it is readable  DOBRUCHIN… PETROGRADSK…GUBERNI.. 17 – 9 – 19 (The clerk seems to have tailed off at the end of each word so I have put dots).

Two covers are better than one and it looks like here we have a one rubel registered letter rate used to send non-philatelic letters. This is the tariff that K.Freyman gives in an article in the British Journal of Russian Philately for 1951, cited by Dr Ceresa in his handbook on the N W Army issues; he also claims 10 kop for Printed matter and 50 kop for ordinary letters).

We also seem able to add Dobruchinskoe to the list of post offices under North Western Army control, not only because of use of the stamps but because of the backward journey to Tallinn which would not have been possible if this was an item of RSFSR mail.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Former Soviet Union: Postmaster Provisionals of the 1990s.

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A lot of work has been done on the Postmaster Provisionals which appeared across the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. I have not tried to keep up with this work. For me, there is just one central question which has to be answered about each supposed issue:

If you [meaning anyone] walked into your local post office to send a letter, would the post office clerk  use (or sell you) a stamp of that issue?

It does not matter if the idea for the issue had come from a local collector or printer. It does not matter if 50% of the issue had been allocated to that person to sell abroad. It does not matter that money may have changed hands. All that matters is that an ordinary person who wanted to send a letter would be sold the stamps in question at the post office counter.

On this test, there are many issues which clearly Pass including ones which look incredibly philatelic like the Fauna issues of Bukovina. Those stamps can be found all over private and commercial mail going abroad. At the same time, a small group of people were busy selling them to dealers and collectors outside Ukraine, an improvised Bukovina philatelic bureau if you like. That's irrelevant. Anyone would be sold these stamps when they went to post a letter. That's all that matters.

A genuine post office cancel on a stamp is not a guarantee that the stamp was on sale at the post office. It’s clear that you could walk into a post office with a hundred or a thousand covers franked with your home-made fantasy and pay a clerk to cancel them all. Similarly, it is quite clear that when and where conditions were chaotic, you could put any stamp you liked onto an ordinary letter which went into a mail box and got machine cancelled. You could put on a stamp of Equatorial Guinea if it took your fancy. In most cases, no one was checking the mail and applying Postage Due. That is what "chaotic conditions" means.

For this and other reasons, forensic examination of covers can only take us so far. What we really need in every case is an (honest) account by a participant of what happened. I don’t mean one of those official-looking documents which solemnly record Numbers Issued and so on. I mean a collector or a printer or a postmaster simply telling the story: This is what we did. Only in this way are we ever going to make sense of items like the one at the top of this Blog which has a machine cancel of Nizhni-Tagil (out in the Urals) for 29 12 92. I have no doubt the machine cancel is genuine and that it is over the OPLACHENO  and the 60, but what is the status of those? Someone has to tell us! (Maybe they have and if you know the story, please tell it here).

It’s long enough ago for no one really to mind that it was sometimes all a scam or done in breach of regulations or despite warnings from higher up not to do it.

Back in the 1990s, when I got sent all kinds of strange stamps, I would sometimes stick copies on a blank Soviet-era envelope, add my address, send it off to wherever (say, Birobidjan) with a polite note asking the local postmaster to send back the cover. Sometimes it did come back, through the post, but then I realised it still didn't solve my problem. Maybe life was boring in Birobidjan and it just made the day a bit more interesting when you got a letter from England and an envelope inside which was plastered with labels you had never seen before. No harm in being friendly and sending it back as the tovarisch requested.

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?