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Sunday 27 February 2011

Congratulations to Stefan Berger!

A few months ago I published some criticisms of the ARTAR Armenia catalogue. Now Stefan Berger at has begun a careful page-by-page review of the book. I hope collectors who read my Blog will also visit his site

Sunday 20 February 2011

Armenia 1923 Yerevan Pictorials

This set of 10 pictorials, the last to be prepared for use in Armenia alone, was also the first to be printed in Yerevan. Though the Bolsheviks allowed no speculative element to enter into the preparation of the issue - there are no deliberate varieties and no CTO material - there is considerable variation in colour, with some errors (omitted backgrounds), quite a few perforation varieties, and some paper varieties. The printing works had not done this kind of job before.

Christopher Zakiyan was able to find in the Archives, details of the numbers printed: in his 2003 book, he gives the following numbers:

50 rouble, 300 r, 400 r, 2000r, 3000r, 4000r, 5000r, 10 000r = 427 500 each value
500 rouble = 882 000
1000 rouble = 810 000

The stamps were only issued in overprinted form. Unoverprinted remainders were sold through Moscow, but the quantities were clearly very unequal. Three or four values can be found in large multiples, including complete sheets: the 50 r, 500 r (probably the most common), and to a lesser degree, the 1000 r and 10 000 r. But, in my experience, the other values are really only found as single copies in old collections.

I have been accumulating this issue for maybe 15 years and it is frustrating not to be able to complete never hinged ** sets, let alone ** sets in blocks 4. I have over a thousand nice ** copies of the 500r but at the present time NO ** copies of the 4000r and 5000r. That's quite a differential!

This state of affairs reflects the choices made when overprinting stamps. Here, too, there are remainders of some values: the 1000 r in metal on the 50r is quite common in mint condition because there was litle demand for this low value stamp (Inflation, Inflation, Inflation) and used copies are scarce. In contrast, while used copies of the 50 000 r in metal on the attractive 1000r (Fisherman on Lake Sevan) are quite common, mint copies of this value are scarce.

To make a serious collection of this issue is therefore a challenge, but with luck and patience the gaps can be filled - and probably not very expensively either.

Thursday 10 February 2011

RSFSR 1920 Revaluations: a new Provisional?

I spent three hours today online following Cherrystone's sale of the AURORA collection of RSFSR material. I bid for two items and bought one. For the rest I was a spectator, though I was very tempted by Lot 2189 when I saw it selling so cheaply ...

Lot 2024 which you can find illustrated at is a 1920 Parcel Card (without insured value) sent from Nizhne-Chulylmskoe in Tomsk Guberniya to Bogorodosk Moscow Guberniya - so this is Soviet Tomsk rather than White Tomsk.

The 78 rouble charges correspond exactly to the kopeck value stamps affixed, all revalued 100 times. There is a 1 kop, a 2 kop, a 15 kop - and three 20 / 14 kop Romanovs (Catherine).

Well, I was attracted by the fact that this is a very late use of Romanovs, and also revalued like ordinary kopeck stamps. (I am making a collection of 1920 revalued uses).

It then occurred to me (after I had bought it) that not only is 23 September 1920 a very late date for use of Romanovs, but that actually Romanov stamps had been invalidated earlier in the year at the same time as ordinary kopeck stamps were revalued upwards x 100.

Now, I thought, it would be a bold counter clerk who would use invalidated and politically suspect stamps, three of them, on the front of a card going to Moscow. Maybe he was given some authorisation to use these stamps.

The I had another thought: Tomsk Guberniya. It is from Tomsk that we get the most famous of the 1920 Postmaster Provisionals: the k.20 k. / 14 kopeck (regular stamp not Romanov) which appears to be a postal forgery pressed into service in 1920 presumably because of stamp shortages. I have a copy used in October 1920 as a single franking on a Money Transfer Form, the stamp revalued from 20 kopecks to 20 roubles to pay the 2% due on a transfer of 1000 roubles.

And then I began to wonder: Did the (head ) Postmaster at Tomsk tell the postmasters of other offices under his administration - or at least the postmaster in charge of Nizhne-Chulymskoe - that because of the stamp shortages they faced, they could use any stamps they had in stock - including invalidated Romanovs?

If anything like that is the case, then my late use Romanovs are not only revalued but also Postmaster Provisionals. In which case, I may have not spent far too much money on this item after all :)

Saturday 5 February 2011

Armenian Stamps on Newspapers: doing everyday forensic analysis

Collectors of 1917 - 23 Armenia are aware of newspapers of the time franked with Imperial or Armenianized adhesives. Some are clearly fakes; some are not. How do you go about assessing them especially if you do not have the items in front of you?

Last year, Heinrich Koehler of Wiesbaden offered two Armenian newspapers in its 341 / 342 Auktion. You can find them online as Lots 1598 ( with Imperial stamps and dated 1919) and 1599 (with Armenianized stamps and dated 1920). Both had start prices of 1000 euro - modest when you consider just how rare such things are. One newspaper sold at its starting price; the other one did not sell.

Koehler's beautiful sofware allows you to click on the colour images and get high definition enlargements of the item. This is what I have done and what I want you to do. I will concentrate on Lot 1599, though I note at the outset that whereas Lot 1598 has an address label as well as adhesives, Lot 1599 has only adhesives.

In the case of ERIVAN cancels of this period, I always look first at the serial letter - it is this which forgers have most trouble with. In this case, the serial letter looks well-formed. It is on a stamp with a quarter cancel of 7 20. The other stamp also has a quarter cancel. At this point, a warning bell rings: cancelled to order stamps of this period frequently have quarter cancels.

I looked more closely: the ink on the cancel on one stamp is slightly different to that on the other. Then again: the small gap between the two stamps is not filled with any mark from the canceller - though this could be explained by the fact that the stamps are raised relative to the newspaper. But then again: the alignment is not quite right - look at the top line of the inner bridge above the date slug and the inner circle of the double circle.

And one more point: these stamps are probably not from the same sheet or, at least, small multiple. The centring is slightly different. This is of relatively minor weight since counter clerks of the time may well have operated using a heap of pre-separated stamps: something I also saw in the Yerevan post office when I visited it in 1997. Let's just say I would be happier if they looked as if from the same sheet or multiple.

So my provisional conclusion is this: these are two cancelled to order stamps arranged in such a way to produce half the cancellation required.

But what of the cancellation on the newspaper itself - the bottom half of the cancellation? There are two possibilities: it's genuine or it's faked :)

To establish that the cancellation is genuine you would have to lift the stamps and discover that it continues underneath them: this would then have been a stampless item with a genuine cancel to which adhesives have been added.

To establish that it is a fake would require detailed analysis of ink, form and so on. You would need the item in front of you.

It would still be a good idea to lift the stamps. Why? Just to see if they have any hinge remainders. If they have hinges, there is no need for further discussion.

Had Koehler sent me their catalogue I would not have bought this item. I can too easily see how it might have been faked and there are three things which suggest that it is (the ink difference; the gap; the alignment) and a small thing which is also consistent with that: the two stamps are differently centred..

As for Lot 1598, the 1919 newspaper with Imperial adhesives, the cancellation is very weak and I would not want to judge the item without handling it. But the cancellation is (shall we say) in the right ball park, though it could be a digital forgery. But if I had been forced to buy one of these two items, I would have bought this one. (It was unsold).

Finally, a thought about the context. Armenia in 1919 - 1920 was a country suffering terribly - war, famine, disease everywhere. True, newspapers continued to be published in Yerevan. But the idea that there were postmen about delivering them - that seems unlikely. But if there were deliveries, they were few in number and if any items survived, they must be great rarities. Well worth 1000 euro!

I should say this: I don't blame Koehler.They have provided top-class images which anyone can study and, in addition, the items are expertised.

Postscript: At page 56 (in Part One) of Armenia: Postage Stamps, Fiscal Stamps, Postage Cancels (Yerevan 2003), Christopher Zakiyan warns readers against newspapers with genuine Dashnak overprinted stamps attached and forged cancellations.In the case I am have been looking at, however, the part of the cancellation on the stamps is genuine - the question is whether the stamps were originally on the newspaper.