Saturday, 22 October 2016

1918 - 1919 South Russia Kuban Overprints

The 1918 - 1919 White stamp issues of the Kuban, were carefully printed in Ekaterinodar and normally yield crisp, clean typographic overprints. Errors and varieties exist but the printing plates were kept clean and aligned carefully.

This is very obvious for the 10 rouble overprints on Postal Savings Bank stamps. Here the plates were prepared in such a way that if the plate was carefully applied the "10" obscured the 1, 5 or 10 of the underlying stamp and the "rublei"obscured the underlying "kopeka". See the top row of stamps in the illustration below.

Most forgeries make the mistake of placing the "10" centrally above the "rublei" so that the "10" never obscures the underlying 1, 5 or 10 - see the rest of the stamps below, all of which are forgeries.

Notice that on the basic stamps, the "1" is aligned to the left and the "5" and "10" to the right. As a result, the Ekaterinodar printer had to prepare two plates for the overprinting. The forgers economise and use just one. One of the forgeries (bottom row, third stamp from left) does realise that the "10" should be above the letter L of rublei, not the letter B, but the quality of the lettering is very poor in comparison to the genuine stamps.

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Russia 10 Rouble Imperforate Used in Russia 1918

In a previous Blog (7 March 2015), I have written about the limited distribution of the Imperial Russian Arms 10 rouble imperforate which is most frequently found with Ukrainian postmarks of 1918. Today, I can add an early use in Russia proper: below is a pair of stamps, with shifted centre, used at IRKUTSK 8 4 18. Thevertical arrangment suggets use on a formular card (Parcel or Money Transfer).

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Saturday, 8 October 2016

Was There a Russian Refugee Post in Constantinople?

I am one of those who thinks that there was no postal service which used the stamps of the (White) Russian Refugee Post in 1920 - 1921 and that all the covers and cards which exist were produced by a group of philatelists sitting round a Constantinople table. No doubt they were inspired by the presence of so many Russian refugees in Constantinople following the evacuation of General Wrangel's forces from Crimea at the end of 1920 but my assumption is that those refugees were expected to make use of the Turkish postal service.

Nor do I think that the pre-war Russian post offices re-opened in Turkey after the end of World War One, though there were philatelic speculators who hoped they would and who prepared stamps in anticipation - the ROPIT overprints on old Russian Levant stamps (which they were clearly able to obtain in quantity) and the elaborate "Ship" fantasies probably printed in Constantinople by the Armenian printing company of V M Essayan (Yessayan).

But there are other questions to be asked, especially about the immediately preceding period 1918 - 20. For example, were Ukrainian governments or White Russian governments (Denikin, Wrangel) able to connect to any international postal service and if so how. It is known, for example, that Trident - franked covers did leave from Odessa /Odesa on British ships and probably on ships of other nationalities though the status of the frankings is obscure because they are often left uncancelled but then have cachets added indicating, for example,  "Received from His Majesty's Ships" and no Postage Due to be levied.

Below is an intriguing ordinary letter for which I have not seen any similar examples. It is addressed to a company in Denmark and has an ordinary machine receiver cancel on the back dated 17 October 1920, a month before White forces were finally defeated in south Russia and Crimea. It started out from MELITOPOL TAVR [ Taurida] 5 9 20. At this date Melitopol was still under White control - it was taken by the Red Army at the very end of October 1920.

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The letter is franked by a single copy of a late Wrangel / Crimea issue which revalues an Imperial 5 kopeck perforated stamp to 5 rubles by means of a simple typographic overprint.  Curiously, this looks exactly like a Soviet x 100 revaluation created following the revaulation instructions issued in March 1920. Even more curiously, and perhaps relevantly, in the second RSFSR Foreign Tariff of 1920 the tariff for an ordinary foreign letter was 5 roubles so by the time it reached Denmark, this letter would look exactly like a correctly franked foreign letter arriving from Soviet Russia.

But this is definitely a White letter which was routed to Constantinople where it received some kind of transit mark. But not an Ottoman Turkish one. The blue mark reads in the centre Russian Post / Constantinople and around the outside Russia Refugee Aid Organisation - basically, a Hilfskomite. This suggests to me that mail carried by boat from White-controlled southern Russia to Constantinople was handed over to this Russian organisation which was able to organise onward transmission as required and without having to add any new (Turkish) franking to the letter. The presence of the Danish receiver mark suggests that this letter was entered into the Turkish mail stream in Constantinople by an organisation empowered to do just that.

The addressee D.B.Adler was a private commercial bank (a Handelsbank) which had conducted business with Russia before World War One. The sender has an unusual and I assume Jewish name, Solomir, if I have read it correctly.

Does anyone have any information about the Russia Refugee Aid Organisation?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Auction Records - calling my Auction House Readers

Is this a record?

The Philatelic Services of Finland company (Suomen Filateliapalvelu Oy) held its 98th auction today, an Internet-only auction. I had 150 Lots for sale and so I was watching closely. I was also buying. When I looked at the Results, I noticed

Lot 212 Start price 10 €   Hammer Price  3068 €
Lot 244 Start price 5 €  Hammer price 1011 €

You can still have a look at if you want to see what these lots contained. You will smile :)

But does the Result on Lot 212 set a record? The Hammer price is 307 times the Start price
Do any of my auction house colleagues recall a Result which beats that?

Of course, there are lots of reasons why Start price and Hammer price sometimes differ x 10 or even x 20. For example, an auctioneer with a sense of humour may know that a particular lot will attract a lot of attention. So it's fun to start it at 10 when you know it will sell for 100. But time in the auction room is precious and an auctioneer can't really waste time just to have a bit of fun. On the Internet, it's different - there is no real-time auctioneer at work so you can start at 10 and can indeed sit back and enjoy the fun.

Some things have no known market value, often because they are obscure. So an auctioneer has to start with a cautious estimate.

Some things are simply not understood by an auction house describer. There is one successful auction house in the UK which basically prices everything in the 100 - 300 range and leaves the buyers to work out the real value. You don't need much expertise to put everything into a 100 - 300 range.It's not very efficient of time in the auction room, but it's the model they have adopted and it seems to work.

Some things are understood  but there may still be uncertainty. I remember once doing some work for Heinrich Koehler. I had ten single Lots taken from a collection on which I put start prices of 1000 to 2000 €, but I said to Koehler: Look, one or two of the ten will go up but I don't know which ones so I have put them all in this 1000 - 2000 category. Well, one lot went to 36 000 and one to 52 000. But the others stayed closed to my Estimates. In the case of the 52 000 item, some of the uncertainty was caused by the printed company name on an envelope.It definitely added a premium, but I didn't know how much of a premium it would add. In the end, I think it contributed a lot to that 52 000 figure.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

STAMPEX September 2016

I have a Stand G5a up in the Gallery at London STAMPEX 13 - 17 September 2016. 

With Sterling so cheap, it must be a good time to visit London - and most dealers at the show will accept US dollars,euros and Swiss francs.

Just Google STAMPEX to find out all the details - where it is held, what times the show is open, who will be there. Admission is Free.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

1917 Kerensky Postal Stationery Card

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This is my August Competition.

Here's an ordinary 5 kopeck Kerensky (Provisonal Government) Postal Stationery card correctly used from TAMBOV 25 11 17 to Moscow. So it is used a month after the October (Bolshevik) Revolution. On the back the sender has dated their message to 25/XI so we can rely on the postmark.

The Competition is simple: Send me a scan of a Kerensky card showing an earlier date of use. No prizes, except publication here with your name. Scans can be sent to

Your turn ...

August 10 2016 and Ivo Steijn in the USA sends these examples from the Robert Taylor collection, giving us 9 11 17 also from TAMBOV to Moscow and 15 11 17 from PETROGRAD to Koebenhavn, uprated to the foreign 8 kopeck rate. Thanks, Ivo! So now the challenge is to beat 9 November (Old Style).

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August 10 2016 and Alexander Epstein in Estonia shows us three examples, top to bottom 

MOSKVA 25 10 17 [ first day of Soviet power in Petrograd] to Yuriev [Tartu]
MOSKVA 4 11 17  to Reval and Registered
REVAL 25 10 17 to Petrograd and cut down at right

So..... just one day earlier than 25 October 1917 and we will have a Kerensky card used in the Kerensky [Provisional Government ] period.  Who has it in their collection? 

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Added 3 October 2016: Ahto Tanner sends me the card below used at REVAL 27 10 17. Alexander Epstein's card immediately above this was used at REVAL 25 10 17 - so it looks like there was a stock available in the post office there, sent out from Petrograd during the Kerensky period. So somewhere there must be a card used on Tuesday 24 October or Monday 23 October ....

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Added 27 August: Henri Taparel submits this interesting card used from IRKUTSK at the end of November, with a transit censor mark of Petrograd on the reverse. The use of the Kerensky card for foreign mail is unusual at this early period, partly because the foreign postcard tariff was 8 kopecks - this card is under-franked and has a Tax "T" marking and a "15 c" charge in violet crayon. The oval French censor mark shows that it arrived in France.

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Thursday, 4 August 2016

Kaj Hellman

Readers of this Blog may wish to know that Kaj Hellman died today. He was probably best known to collectors for his Auction, held twice a year in Helsinki. He was a very knowledgeable philatelist, especially in relation to the postal history of Imperial Russia. He handled the sale of a great deal of material from the Agathon and Oleg Faberge collections, and at the time of his death was working in collaboration with Dr Jeffrey Stone on a book on those collections. He was what in English would be called a Gentleman Dealer, always polite and helpful, even in the past few years when he was in poor health. But he valued most of all his family life.