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Thursday 1 April 2010

Q: When is CTO better than Mint?

A: When it's a stamp of Armenia 1919 - 21 ("Dashnak" Armenia).

The single handstamps used in this period to overprint Imperial Russian stamps - the framed Z, unframed Z and the rouble surcharges - were forged from the outset and applied to many,many thousands of Imperial stamps to create packets of "50 Armenia". What could be easier? Most of the forgeries are easily separated out by a specialist collector, but some are harder work to detect.

At the time, many - possibly most - sheets of genuinely overprinted stamps were sold to the handful of dealers operating in Armenia with a cancellation on every stamp, or over a block of 4, or in the corners of the sheet. These cancellations are not so much Cancellations to Order (CTO) as we understand that. Rather, they are authenticating cancels meant to guarantee the overprints.

Some of the cancellations have been forged and some of those forgeries are recent. But most of them are poor imitations and none of them has been applied on a large scale. There was no call for them from the Packet Trade. It's quite hard to put together a collection of these forged cancellations - something which certainly cannot be said about forged overprints!

In addition, only a small number of cancellers were used to authenticate material. Cancellations of Alexandropol on loose stamps are almost certain to be genuine and it is really only the Erivan cancellations which have been forged and applied over forged overprints. And I have only ever seen "CTO" material from one other town, Elenovka, and that in very small quantities. My guess is that the Belgian mining engineer, Gustave Boel (responsible for the "60" and "120" Giryusy / Katarsky Zavod provisionals) passed through Elenovka on his travels and bought some stamps there, possibly of just one face value, which he had authenticated with the Elenovka cancel.

So when I am asked, How should I go about collecting Dashnak Armenia? I would always advise starting from the "CTO" material. Once you have a feel for what the overprints should look like, then start adding the mint material.

What about digital forgeries? Yes, that could become a problem. That's why old collections are a better source of material than some shiny new offering on ebay.

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