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Monday, 14 January 2019

New Book: Tobie Mathew, Greetings from the Barricades

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This extraordinary hardback book has 478 pages which include several hundred full-colour illustrations as well as a long, detailed text. The focus is on the years 1905 - 1906.

The UK publisher, Four Corners Books, has given it a cover price of £20 which looks like a mistake for £200 but isn't. It really is £20. Buy it while stocks last (ISBN 978 1 909829 12 1). It's available  direct from the publisher  which may be the cheapest and most reliable method of obtaining it:

The author is a UK-based writer who was previously an Associated Press correspondent in Moscow. Much of the archival work for this project was undertaken in Russia.

Review to follow ...

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Single Frankings

One way to combine stamp collecting with doing postal history is to collect covers with single frankings, one cover for each stamp issued. It should be easy – after all, stamp denominations relate to tariffs. Or do they? Inflation is the main enemy of single frankings. Another is the inability of Supply departments to get the right stamps into the post offices at the right times.

For Imperial Russia, there are really a very small number of stamps to collect from one kopek to 10 rubels, which is just like the range 1 cent to $10. Ignore the rubel values and surely the kopek values will appear as single frankings….

It’s actually very difficult to complete this relatively small set. It seems that collectors quite often get stuck on the 70 kopek, so here is a cover to prove that 70 kop single frankings exist.

BUT it’s a use in Bolshevik Russia in September 1918 – and a very unusual one. This is a registered court envelope sent from Petrograd to Sestoresk. There is a cachet on the back and a number (450) bottom left of the cover which together entitle this letter to a privilege. The Court did not have to pay for the basic letter ( a 35 kopeks tariff at the time) ONLY for the Registration fee (70 kopeks at the time).

If you have interesting single frankings at 70 kop, send me a scan and we can expand this section …

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Added 17 November 2018: Here's a very fine cover from Howard Weinert (USA). This 70 kop franking from 1916 represents a sixth weight step ( 6 x 10 kop) plus 10 kop registration fee on a large envelope from Tiflis to the Psycho-Neurological Institute in Petrograd. Mail to this Institute does turn up in dealer boxes so at some point I guess its archive was sold off.

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Added 19 November 2018: Here's a very nice 1911 registered cover scanned to me by Henri Taparel (France), this one going abroad. Note that this cover shows an early printing of the 70 kop in a paler brown. Howard Weinert's cover above shows a later printing of the 70 kop in a darker brown:

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Friday, 9 November 2018

New Online Auction from filateliapalvelu

The latest auction from  is now online. Closing date for bids 30 November. As usual, I have contributed hundreds of lots across the auction, including some very cheap mixed lots with material unsold in previous auctions. Take a look!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Russia 1920s Tula Local Revenue stamps for agricultural improvement

For many countries, fiscal / revenue stamps issued by national governments for general use are very common. In contrast, stamps issued by provincial or local government organisations can be scarce or rare. The obvious reason is that fewer  copies were used; the less obvious reason is that dealers or collectors at the time may not have known of their existence and so did not seek them out.

Early Soviet Russia was a very bureaucratic society but also one where local improvisation and local initiatives were common. There are a LOT of early Soviet fiscal stamps which were not issued by the national government.

I illustrate here one example since I cannot find these stamps already illustrated on the Internet. They were issued and used in Tula and they imposed a local tax on land transactions in addition to that nationally prescribed. This local tax was intended to fund agricultural improvement. It’s possible that there was some continuity with the activities of the Tula Zemstvo organisation. 

The stamps which indicated payment of the local tax were locally produced on poor quality coloured papers and had no gum – sometimes they were attached to legal documents by overlapping the gummed national-issue stamps. There is evidence of their use in 1922, 1923 and 1924. There were three values: 5 k orange, 10k pink and 20k green. The high value appears to be the scarcest. The stamps were also modified in three different ways as I illustrate below. Click on Images to Magnify.

5 kop without modification used here on a May 1924 document:

5 kop with revaluation to rubels by means of manuscript Руь in tablet at base used here on 1923 document:

10 kop without modification used here on May 1923 document:

10 kop with handstamp Γ.Ο.З. in tablet at base used here on June 1923 document:

10 kop with handstamp С Д А Н О in tablet at base used here on February 1923 document:

20 Kop without modification used here on February 1922 document. The 20 kop appears to be the scarcest value and the strip of three on this document is the largest multiple on any of the documents I have seen:

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Crimea in Sindelfingen 2018

I am just back from a visit to the annual Sindelfingen (Stuttgart) stamp show – the Briefmarken Messe Sindelfingen. It’s still very good, even though visitor numbers were clearly down as they are at every stamp show now. That did mean that I was able to look through dealer boxes - some with thousands of covers -  without too much fighting with other people’s elbows. 

I found a couple of Crimea items from the period when Stalin’s nationalities policy meant that local languages were officially recognised alongside Russian. In Crimea, the other recognised language was (Turkic) Tatar. Originally, this was written in Arabic script and some postmarks can be found in that script. But later Tatar was written  in the modernised Roman script introduced into Turkey by Ataturk. I have blogged about this before on 6 March 2014.

I now add to that Blog with the two cards below. You can see a cover with a postmark of Cyrillic Yalta ЯЛТА and Tatar UALTA  and then a card with Cyrillic Simferopol СИМФЕРОПОЛЬ and Tatar AQMESCID.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Was There A Post Office?

In my areas of philatelic specialism the question is often asked, Were these stamps really issued?
To answer this, you need answers to several other questions:

Was there a post office or post offices?

Were these stamps “available at the counter” – even if only for a short period of time – and would they have been used to frank mail brought in by “an ordinary member of the public”?

What did the post office/s do with the letters franked with the stamps? Did they have the ability to put them into a mail delivery system – and was that system local, regional, national or international?

A key part of this set of questions is played by the “ordinary member of the public”. If the stamps will only be brought out for known philatelists (dealers or collectors) or, say, for the local military commander who has ordered their production, then in the ordinary sense of the word, they are not a regular issue. They are stamps produced by or for favours. On the other hand, the stamps may have franking validity and may succeed in getting a letter carried from A to B in which case one might say that they had a “limited issue”.

For many stamp issues, the vast majority of used stamps are found on (obviously) philatelic mail. The British Empire used to control many small and remote islands – still does – and issued stamps for them. But in some cases as many as 99% of all covers now existing are philatelic.

But what counts is the 1% of non-philatelic mail – the same stamps were available to “ordinary members of the public” (maybe there were just two of them) as well as philatelists.

That is why the 1% (or even the 0.1%) is so important. For example, it is the 1% or less which shows that the stamps of the Northern Army and the North West Army were issued. There clearly exist cards and covers which were not sent for philatelic motives. It’s true that the distances they travelled are mostly quite limited – backwards into Estonia, most notably. But a few made it as far as Finland and in that case you have an even stronger case for saying that the stamps were issued and served to get mail put into a mail distribution system. Similarly, though their period of use in December-January 1918-19 was very short, the original map stamps of Latvia saw limited non-philatelic postal use, both on internal mail and on mail to Germany.

The really difficult questions arise with stamps which appear to have been issued but for which evidence of ordinary postal use is now missing. In some cases, there are not even philatelic covers. There are undoubtedly stamps which were officially prepared and would have had postal validity if used but which went straight from post office counter to waiting philatelists who bought everything for onward sale as mint stamps, none even stuck on philatelic covers. This would be true of an unknown proportion of the combinations of stamp and overprint  issued by Dashnak Armenia which could have been used but weren't.

The only really clever guy in the confusing postal history in which I specialise was Dr Ivan Cherniavsky who produced the 1919 CMT overprints of Kolomea in co-operation with the occupying Romanian military commander. Cherniavsky required that quantities of the stamps be distributed to the post offices which the Romanian authorities controlled. These post offices actually served very few people in a widely illiterate countryside. But they did serve local lawyers who were always sending petitions to the district court in Kolomea, and the stamps got used on their registered mail.

Dr Cherniavsky was in charge of the district court in Kolomea. His clerks simply passed to him the one hundred percent genuine commercially used envelopes which brought petitions to the court. Cherniavsky was an unusual collector. He was interested in ordinary commercial mail.... He took a chance that no one out in those small towns and villages would spot the opportunity to buy the CMT stamps for onward sale. As far as I know, only at one office did some other collector/dealer get to secure part of the issue. Elsewhere, it seems that everything went to the lawyers and back to Kolomea, as Cherniavasky intended.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Review: Ahto Tanner, Postage Due & Postal Markings in Estonia 1918 - 1944

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Ahto Tanner sent me a copy of his 57 page A4 Handbook. It’s very clearly written and presented. It feels easy to use and I think the author is to be congratulated. To obtain a copy, contact Ahto at

I was very interested by the short account (pages 12-13) of the Estonian Venemaalt [ From Russia] markings of 1920 – 21. When Bolshevik Russia re-introduced a foreign mail service in June 1920, the new Foreign Tariff schedule provided for Free Post on unregistered mail going abroad. Registered mail had to be franked. This arrangement was identical to that applied to domestic letters. However, the new schedule was replaced by a new foreign Tariff on 30 September 1920 which required all mail going abroad to be franked.

So there was a three month period when unfranked ordinary mail leaving Russia would not attract any internal Postage Due marking because there were no charges due. But nor were there any payments scheduled to the postal administrations of foreign countries. Ah.

The Estonian authorities did not really want to deliver Russian mail for free. But rather than charge the usual  x 2 the postage deficiency, they decided to apply the ordinary inland Estonian rate to incoming Russian mail. This is the origin of the Venemaalt markings. Ahto Tanner illustrates a very nice item at page 12.

In the early period June – September 1920 it’s likely that anyone in Russia who could afford to register mail would do so. Unfranked foreign mail is now very hard to find – no doubt also because people were more likely to throw away cards and letters without stamps.

After the external free post tariff ended, there were people who did not realise that things had changed or who had no money to frank mail anyway. They continued to send mail unfranked, which explains why the Estonian Venemaalt markings continue in use until 1921.

Most of the research on this topic is due to Alexander Epstein.