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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.

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