Friday, 10 November 2017

NEW auction in Finland

The next Internet-only auction at (that's Stamps of Finland) closes on 1 December 2017. I have contributed a lot of material to this auction! Not only Baltics, Russia, Transcaucasia, Ukraine but many other countries ...

Please note that in addition to the page for Transcaucasia, there are now separate pages for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Basic Rule of Stamp and Postal History Conservation

Today I was breaking up a collection of Latvian stamps and a collection of pre-philatelic Gibraltar covers. This rather depressing task reminded me of the one basic rule of Conservation:

Aim to pass on your stock or your collection to the next owner in as good a condition as you received it

This rule says nothing about cleaning or repairing; that’s a separate topic. But the rule can be converted to some simple tips, some handy hints, about how to treat stamps and covers.


  Do not put hinges on mint stamps or used stamps
  Always use tweezers to handle stamps
  Store albums and stockbooks upright; don’t lay them flat
  A slip-case helps keep out dust and sunlight. If it doesn’t have a slipcase, then don’t use the top row of a stockbook.
  If you are going to divide a block of imperforate stamps, use a cutting knife and a metal ruler – don’t use scissors
  No damp storage, please!


  Do not write on them, in pencil or ink. Ever. Your scribbles do not add value with the one exception of Agathon Faberge's and then not even all of his. Expect a discount from any dealer who prices by writing on their stock. Do not ask any Expert to sign your cover. Ever. Look what has happened to classic Italian covers.
  Do not use photographic mounting corners. About one in ten will find a way to stick to your cover and when someone removes it from your mounts, the cover will tear.
  Do not use sellotape for any purpose or metal staples (yes, today I was handling a collection full of metal staples)
 Do not trim roughly opened covers, open them up “for display”, or re-fold them. Keep the cover in the state you received it.
Store albums upright and out of sunlight. Don’t lay them flat. Use slipcases.
  Think twice about using black backing to enhance the appearance of your cover; cheap black paper is often acidic
   No damp storage, please!

Well, that’s not a long list. Maybe ten percent of dealers and collectors follow something like those simple rules, which is why so much philatelic material is now damaged beyond repair.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Importance of Dealer Boxes

I think very few people – and certainly not tax and customs authorities – understand what is involved in stamp dealing and how it is different from other retail activities. It has always been the case, and still is, that most dealers are one-person businesses but holding stocks of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands - of potentially separate items. The standard business model is to buy in bulk and sell individually. The standard business failure is to buy more than you can possibly sell. So stocks accumulate over a dealer’s lifetime.

In the past, dealers made Approval books (carnets a choix; Auswahlheften) which is what I did when I started. Nowadays they sell on ebay or delcampe (which I have never done). Either way, the time it takes to prepare one item for sale is just too much to allow more than a few thousand items to be offered at any one time. For many dealers, they never get past a few hundred.

The time-saving solution which many dealers use (and I use) is to heap cheaper stuff into boxes, load them into a car or even a van and put them out at stamp shows, where like fresh vegetables you try to sell as much as you can in one day. Collectors or other dealers do the time-consuming work of going through the boxes.

So at the annual Sindelfingen Briefmarken Messe, from which I have just returned, there were hundreds – maybe thousands – of such boxes around the hall. The well-known dealer Peter Harlos had a whole corner stand, well-organised with every item at 2 euro and the well-known dealer Christian Arbeiter had his usual big and rather chaotic stand overflowing with cheap and very cheap boxed material. But these are just two from a few dozen dong similar things.

The boxes are often full of things which are valuable to other dealers or to specialist collectors. If you spend a day going through them, you will handle many thousands of items and surely find something and maybe enough to justify the cost of the trip. It is probably less labour intensive than trawling the internet, bidding and so on.

The nature of stamp dealing and of these boxes means that they are only viable if items don’t have to be bar coded. Harlos does barcode for all his stock down to 4 euro but even he does not do it for his separate 2 euro stand. To insist on bar coding there would be like insisting that each apple have its own label because it is potentially a separate item. 

Harlos and Arbeiter are two of the big attractions at Sindelfingen; whether they actually make money, I don’t know. If you pay say 3000 euro for a whole stand, and on top of that, have travel and hotel costs and not forgetting the stock costs, you have to sell an awful lot at 2 euro to get your money back. It is a problem which arises from the original business model: you buy too much relative to what it is easy to sell.

Many collectors who don’t go to stamp shows are missing something. Unless your Wants are very specialised or very expensive, a stamp show is still a good place to find material

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Sredinsky's Russian Refugee Post in Constantinople

In World War One, the Ottoman Empire was one of the defeated powers and its capital, Constantinople, was occupied by the victorious allies – France, Great Britain, Italy. But for the Russian Revolution, Russia would have been there too. Even if Russia was not, Russians were: “White” Russians who had the sympathies of the victorious Allies could make their way across the Black Sea and seek refuge in Constantinople. Many did.

Until end 1920, the Civil War in Russia continued with White forces still controlling areas in the south and mainly around the Black Sea. It was even possible to send mail abroad from White areas and that mail went via Constantinople, where an improvised Russian Post (not ROPIT) based in the Pera district received it and transferred it to the Turkish postal system. A transit mark was genuinely used on such mail and I have illustrated it on this Blog  on 8 October 2016 - thereis a lot of background information there.

When the last White forces evacuated from Crimea at end 1920, there was no more mail for transit. But there were now many more refugees in Turkey. Someone had the idea that a Russian Refugee Post could replace the Russian Post and, though it did not happen, an elaborate scam did happen, headed up by Alexander Sredinsky, the existing Postmaster who later became the stamp dealer Thals in Paris.

You could write to Sredinsky in Constantinople using normal mail services and you could use the address of “La Poste Russe” and it would get to him. He would apply a receiver cancel to his own mail, for which purpose he used violet ink and a cachet which was once a Russian Army Sanitary department seal. See the illustration. Note that the letter from BELGRADE 23 XII 20 has been handled first in Galata and then in Pera. The sender seems to have given up trying to use a typewriter which clearly did not work:

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But you could not  take a letter to Sredinsky and have it sent through the Russian Post, nor could you do that in any of the refugee camps around Constantinople. But an elaborate scam tried to prove that you could. Here for example, is a book of Registration receipts supposedly used at Gallipoli. It contains 199 receipts. Of these, 196 have been filled out and the KVITANTSIA part at the right removed and supposedly given to the sender. Three complete unused forms remain at the end.

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Remarkably, there exist letters which correspond to the receipt book. Here is one with its No. 108 Kvitansia attached and which matches the half coupon remaining in the Receipt book. Amazing. But the fact that the Kvitansia is attached to the April 1921 cover is the give away: this is what you did in those days with a philatelic cover which you had fabricated, normally slipping the receipt inside the letter as proof of its original posting. Serebrakian did it with the letters he sent from Yerevan to his brother in Tiflis. It implies, at the very least, that the letter was not sealed until it  had been Registered. In this case, I don't believe the letter was ever in Gallipoli or carried from there to Constantinople. But a big effort has been made to convince me - and many people were convinced. The stamps of the Refugee Post got into all the catalogues and commanded high prices before 1940.

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In my view, this letter started out on Sredinsky’s desk in Constantinople where both the GALLIPOLI despatch cancel and the  CONSTANTINOPLE arrival cancel were applied. But what a remarkable effort to convince us otherwise: a 199 coupon Registration receipt book!

More to follow ...

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Postal use of Dashnak Armenia stamps

The new Armenia listing in the Michel catalogue (see previous Blog post) gives separate prices for used stamps in the Dashnak period, but they are prices for CTO copies. A note simply indicates the scarcity of postally used material, and its rarity for anything used outside Erivan and Alexandropol.

There are two problems about postally used Armenian material: finding it and identifying it correctly. As for Danzig and other territories, if gum is washed off CTO stamps they often look very much like postally used stamps – especially where centrally placed cancels are applied. Worse, in some places dealers and collectors applied mint stamps singly to sheets of paper or blank envelopes and got them cancelled in bulk. But a single stamp when removed from its backing paper looks like a used stamp. This is true for all the Baltic countries after World War One and also for Armenia.

Philatelists do archive research and often find helpful information, as Christopher Zakiyan did for Armenia. But unanswered questions remain. In the Armenian case here are some of my thoughts and  speculations:

Between 1917 and 1921 postal activity was often disrupted and some Armenian post offices disappeared forever: those in the areas of eastern Anatolia taken by Turkey (all of the Kars district, notably). Alexandropol was occupied by Turkey for a period. Conflict with Georgia disrupted the postal service. It wasn’t always possible to get the trains to run. Civil conflict, famine and disease were more or less permanent features of Armenian life.

Postal activity was modest. The practice which was standard at least until 1939 of soaking stamps off covers makes it seem even more modest than it was. In addition, a significant part of internal Armenian mail would have been stampless official correspondence of which little survives which has not been faked by the addition of genuine stamps cancelled with fake handstamps. But even those fakes provide useful information.

Erivan could not always maintain contact with other post offices. It did not always supply them with stamps so cash payments were accepted – this became official policy in the transitional year 1921 (Zakiyan’s research). Conversely, those post offices could not always get things into the postal network even if they were open and a clerk on duty.

But the post offices were always there and the best evidence for that is the rapid revival of the internal post in 1922 – 1923 where old Imperial cancellations suddenly re-appear on the new Soviet Armenian issues, sometimes very dirty and worn (BASARGECHAR a good example).

A significant part of franked mail in the Dashnak period was foreign mail destined for the Allied countries – the USA, France and Great Britain – who were providing some minimal support to the new Armenian republic and sometimes helped the mail along its way, as the British did in Batum. Those covers often had stamps soaked off and that is one reason that when I try to assemble examples of postally used stamps, it is the higher values which are more common. See the scans below. Tariffs during 1920 rose through rouble steps: 2 and 4 and 8 roubles. But mail abroad seems to have reduced and even stopped before the end of 1920 – postally used examples of rouble overprinted stamps are rare. There are only two examples on my scans (both of 1 rouble overprints).

Inland mail from Erivan or Alexandropol probably had a poor delivery and survival rate. In addition, though stamps may have gone into Armenian collections, they did not leave the country once Soviet control was established. This is probably why I can show so few kopeck value stamps which would have made up tariffs of 30 and 60 kopecks and 1 ruble 20.

The stamps on the scans are ones I think probably or certainly postally used, though I cannot tell whether they were originally on philatelic covers which (for example) Souren Serebrakian sent in quantity to his brother in Tiflis. In sorting the stamps which are shown, I have looked at such things as paper adhering to the back of the stamp, careless cutting of imperforate stamps and even hand tearing, smudged postmarks which don’t look like the usual CTO. In among all the Erivan and some Alexandropol cancels, you will see a couple of manuscript cancels and just one identifiable as from another town, Karaklis, flagged up on a 3 rouble 50 kop imperforate.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The New Michel for Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

Stamp catalogues never know where to put the countries of Transcaucasia – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In the 2006 Michel they were included in Mittel-und Ostasien, a fat catalouge which runs from Afghanistan to Usbekistan. The new replacement 2017/2018 catalogue cuts down the number of countries included, taking out China, but still leaves the Caucasus housed beside Japan, Korea and Mongolia. It doesn’t make much sense and it’s a pity because the new Michel includes a completely re-worked and expanded listing for pre-Soviet Armenia. 

For the first time, black and violet Dashnak overprints are separately listed  and so too are Combined overprinted stamps (Z + rubel value) which come with and without Monogram. The scarce to rare second type of the ten rubel overprint, which is just a “10” without the letter “r”, is listed for the first time. The last series of overprints on Erivan pictorials are now separated into those made from metal and those made from rubber handstamps.

All this moves Michel closer to the Stanley Gibbons listing but Michel stays with the approach of Christopher Zakiyan who listed only the overprints which were officially authorised and not the counter-surcharges, the inclusion of which makes the SG listing much longer than that in Michel.

There were serious mistakes in the 2006 listings and these have been removed. The revised valuations go a long way towards getting it right with regard to what is common and what is rare. It is to be hoped (but is not very likely) that auction houses in France and Italy will take notice of the new Michel listings. In Germany, of course, it will be automatic.

There are a few things which could have been included without making the listing longer. No example of the first Soviet Star set, which Zakiyan thinks an officially authorised trial, is illustrated. But the bogus second Star set gets its regular illustration and there is space beside it for an example of First Star. The SPECIMEN overprints on  low value Chassepot stamps could have been mentioned, but then it needs to be said that all Specimen overprints on the higher values are fakes (mostly from the 1990s and mostly Californian - David Feldman was selling the remainder stocks recently). The two unofficial Reprints of Second Yessayan, made by the printer,  could have been identified in a sentence and that would have been helpful because most unoverprinted stamps in collections are Reprints – very few are Originals and very few are the obvious Forgeries.

But these are relatively minor points. The important thing is that we now have a short listing which is fully based on the best available research (Tchilingirian & Ashford, Zakiyan) and a reasonable assessment of market conditions. In that it is unique. The revised Michel pages are the contribution of Stefan Berger, the new BPP accredited expertiser for Armenia. He is to be congratulated on his work.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Russia Revenues: Imperial Moscow Police residence permit stamps, first issue

St Petersburg and Moscow police departments began using adhesive stamps to record payment of residence permit fees in the 1860s. Most St Petersburg stamps are common, though one is a great rarity, but Moscow’s are not common even though they remained in use until at least 1881 when new stamps prepared by the State Printing Works were issued.

Nothing about the first Moscow issue suggests it was printed by those State works. The gum, the variable paper, the wide variation in colour, the deterioration of the printing plate, the lack of alignment of individual stamp clichĂ©s – all this is well below the standard achieved by the State works. The stamps look like a job which might have been done in-house by the Police department itself. To me, the stamps look as if printed by lithography, the plates retained over a long period and the quality of the print greatly deteriorating.

It is quite difficult to study the issue for four reasons. First, the scarcity of large mint multiples for plating purposes. Second, the impossibility of dating the use of stamps which have been taken off document, where they were always cancelled by a simple pen cross. Third, and connectedly, the difficulty in distinguishing printings when there appears to be wide variation within printings and not just between them. Fourth, the scarcity of stamps used even on a fragment of a document. In addition, lacking access to the relevant sources I do not know what the fee structure was or how it changed.

On the pages illustrated below I have assembled over 100 Moscow stamps now in my possession. About half of them have pencil notes on the reverse which indicate that they are from Agathon Faberge’s collection. These notes are dated between 1900 and 1907, though some notes do not give a date. It is my belief that Faberge annotated stamps that he bought individually but that, in addition, he bought bundleware or kiloware of these stamps for research purposes and only annotated those where he noticed something unusual. My guess is that in the 1900 – 1914 period Faberge owned and studied many hundreds of these stamps, now dispersed across many collections.

My assembly does not include two varieties listed in the John Barefoot catalogue: an error of colour on the 5 kopeck printed in blue instead of the correct green; and a perforated version of the 5 kopeck green. I have never seen either and would be pleased to illustrate them here if anyone has either of them. Added: John McMahon has kindly provided the following scan of his error of colour stamp. This appears to be the only recorded copy,from the Marcovitch collection. However, to my eye, the blue would be more convincing if it could be matched to the same blue appearing on a 3 kop stamp (the 3 kop stamps were printed in blue). 

I can show two varieties identified by A Faberge: bisects on the 2 kopek and manuscript revaluation of a 2 kopek stamp to 3 kopeks.

On my very provisional pages, I have copied back-of-stamp A Faberge’s notes and written them underneath the stamps on which they are found. Any notes above the stamps are mine. Click on Images to Magnify.