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Wednesday 27 July 2011

Georgia 1922 Soviet Pictorial Issue (Michel 31 - 35; SG 28 - 32)

Click on image and use Magnifier to enlarge

At the beginning of 1922, Georgia issued a five value set of pictorial postage stamps. These stamps are most commonly found with surcharges applied in 1923. The unsurcharged stamps, except for the 5000 r green, are quite scarce: this explains why forged surcharges are very rare - adding a surcharge will usually turn a scarce stamp into a common one.

The basic set of stamps was forged, though these forgeries are also quite scarce.

The unsurcharged stamps are worth looking for. The 500 rouble lowest value in red is very scarce, though both Michel and Stanley Gibbons commit the New Issue Fallacy of valuing it lower than the 5000 r highest value. Because of inflation, it is the highest value which is most common. In my stockbook, I have only one mint (no gum) and one used example of the 500 r stamp; in contrast, I have 33 copies of the 5000 rouble and, in addition, other copies in my Pick Anywhere at £1 stockbooks.

Stanley Gibbons lists shades on the five stamps of which the most interesting is SG 29a, the 1000 r Sower in sepia (dark brown) instead of (light) yellow -brown. They price this at £11.50 used and give a dash price ( too scarce to call) for mint. And they even add a footnote: "No. 29a was from a later printing, most of the stamps being destined for surcharge in 1923". If you look at the surcharged stamps, you will find that this is correct. With the machine surcharge "10 000" it is the dark brown stamp that you always see: I don't have a machine surcharged yellow-brown stamp.

Above, you can see my stockbook page for the unsurcharged 1000 r value. At the top, one mint and one used copy in sepia. I have had these for years, have never offered them for sale, and have never been able to add to the two illustrated. Have a look to see if you have one!

Sunday 24 July 2011

Russian Post Offices in China (Again)

Some years ago, I got from Dr Raymond Casey a fat stockbook of his duplicate stamps of the Russian Post Offices in China, mostly used - and put it in my cupboard. From time to time, I added new acquisitions, mostly mint multiples.

I have just emptied the stockbook. Most of the stamps have gone into the "Pick Anywhere for £1" stockbooks which I take to small fairs. Some I have put aside for expertising. Some I have put into regular stock using Stanley Gibbons as a guide to pricing.

I was satisfied that the used stamps were genuine - no doubt because they had a good provenance - and a few had nice postmarks. The handful of used copies of 1917 Cents issues included ones used as late as 1921 in Kharbin.

This issue is really very scarce used: Stanley Gibbons partly recognises this but Michel does not. The 1917 Cents set is a "Civil War" issue used in a limited number of offices providing an increasingly limited service in the East : Shanghai to Vladivostok is about as adventurous as it gets. Some of the values used are probably no easier to find than used copies of the 1920 (K)harbin Cents issue.

When I came to the mint stamps, I did a quick check for forgeries on every stamp - and quickly concluded that most were fakes, including the majority of my rather nice mint multiples. I have put them all (over 180 stamps including some which are probably OK and some which as I got tired I just could not be bothered with) into one Lot and will consign it (if he will take it!) to one of Kaj Hellman's forthcoming sales, to be offered "As Is" for a nominal starting price.

I was actually left with very few worthwhile mint stamps in which I had confidence; few of them were signed so I could not use signatures as a short cut. Interestingly, it was the kopeck value stamps which contained the highest proportion of forgeries.

This is understandable if you consider that stamps like the 5r and 10r on vertically laid paper are pretty scarce mint. If you were a forger and found a complete sheet of either of them in mint condition, you would simply be a fool to overprint them: they are too valuable to mess around with.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Expertising Russian Civil War Issues

Anyone who has met me at a stamp show will know that I keep most of my stock in small boxes with about 100 to 150 items in a box. Today, I sat at home and went through my Russian Civil War box which was a mess.

In fact, the Civil War is a real problem for me. There is no one reliable expert who covers all of the Civil War range (Baltic armies, South Russia armies, Siberia) and for some areas there is currently no one who offers a fast, cheap service.

Some signatures I count as reliable or generally so: Romeko, Mikulski, Soviet Philatelic Association (for Siberia), Riep (for Baltic armies), von Hoffman (also for Baltic armies), Dr Jem ( generally reliable), Dr Ceresa, Borek, maybe others that I can't think of right now.

For unsigned material, it is not a great problem with basic stamps - Denikins, Chita issue, Blagoveschensk issue, Belarus National Republic and so on. The Denikin forgeries are rare and very good, but I reckon I can identify them from the gum. Chita and Blagoveschensk issues appear not to have been forged. I can do the BNR issues for which there are a couple of fairly poor forgery types.

For overprints, it's a nightmare. For some issues - Kuban, Kolchak - genuine stamps are much more common than forged ones. This is not true for Western or North Western Army stamps.

Used copies are usually genuine and forged cancellations are mostly well-known and illustrated in Dr Ceresa's Handbooks. So often I start from whatever used copies I have and use them to check the mint stamps. But it can be a slow business.

Anyway, the Box looks a bit better at the end of the day than it did at the beginning. I will have it with me in September on my stand at London STAMPEX. Tomorrow, another Box to tidy.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Stamps by Class and Gender: St Petersburg Residence Permits

Click on image and use Magnifier to enlarge. The Women's stamps are at the top and the Men's at the bottom. Both sets are in reverse order, from fifth to first class. 

 Anyone interested in "social philately" should take a look at the St Petersburg residence Permit stamps in use from 1889 until the downfall of the Romanovs. The fee varied by social class (Rank) and by sex and this required 10 separate stamps: five for men and five for women, and within those two groups, one each for the five classes (#1 is the upper and most expensive class). In my illustration, you can see the 1889 issue for Men, complete, and the 1892 issue for women, complete. I cannot complete the 1889 issue for women because I don't have the stamp for women of the second class which is rare (£350 in the Barefoot Russian Revenues catalogue). In my experience of these first two issues, it is the stamps for the second class which are scarcest and for second class women, scarcest of all. The final issue of 1908 retains different fees for different classes but there are no longer separate stamps for men and women. In my experience, this issue is the scarcest of the three regular issues. The low values of this set ( 1 and 2 kopecks), I have never seen - but Barefoot prices them at just £5 each. These stamps were affixed to what one can think of as internal passports or identity cards and can sometimes be found on complete documents.

Saturday 9 July 2011

A rare St Petersburg fiscal stamp from 1881

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In 1881, Mr Daniel Thornton, a subject of Her Majesty travelled to Russia. Here is his passport, a fine document for which he appears to have paid six pence and then 50 kopecks at the Russian Consulate General in London. When he got to St Petersburg, he checked in with the authorities - and collected one of the two or three rarest St Petersburg fiscal stamps: the 40 kopeck Prigorod (Suburban) Police stamp.

Postscript: This item was sold by Corinphila Zurich, April 2012, Auction 137, Lot 782 Hammer CHF 640

Blue-Green Tridents of Poltava

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Until his death in 1999, I used to send John Bulat material for expertising and comment.

At one point, I had some unusual Trident overprints which I found in remainders of the Vyrovj collection - there was a bulk lot at the end of the 1980s Schaetzle sale which I got from another dealer who had bought it and then done nothing with it. Too complicated!

Included were some Poltava type I tridents in an unusual blue - green / dark greenish - blue colour, most of them on the 25 kopeck perforated and all cancelled ZIENKOV (Zinkov): see the scan

Bulat signed these and gave them a - - (rare) valuation in the note he sent when returning them

These blue-green tridents are not, however, examples of the GREEN tridents of Poltava. These really are green. In the upcoming Corinphila sale of the Ron Zelonka collection, there is a cover with a strip of the 1 kopeck imperforate overprinted in green (Bulat 1025) - I have never seen these green stamps on cover before.

Added February 2020: Most of my Ukraine-related Blog posts are now available in full colour book form. To find out more follow the link:

Thursday 7 July 2011

The false certainties of catalogue values

As if to prove their reliability, all general catalogues value stamps as if they were pricing new issues. Indeed, many current catalgoue values still reflect the original new issue valuations decades later, with used valuations driven by the face-value related mint valuations.

This is why high face value used stamps are generally catalogued at more than low face value ones even though, from periods of high inflation, it is the low values which may be hard to find in used condition.

Catalogues also tell you that their valuations are based on auction realisations and "market prices". This is not credible. There never were auction realisations for stamps valued under (let's say) $10 and even though it would now be possible to aggregate ebay realisations on low-value stamps to get price guides, it hasn't yet been done. It would need a huge amount of work.

The brutal truth is this: for over ninety percent of stamps listed in the catalogues, world supply by far exceeds world demand. When you buy these stamps, whether in bulk or singly, you are paying (or should be paying) only for the costs involved for someone in acquiring them and transferring them to you.

So these stamps really have no more "intrinsic" value than the everyday stamps you tear off envelopes and soak of the paper: in other words, ZERO. Kiloware only costs more than zero because you are paying labour, advertising and shipping costs. It's no different to bottled water. The water is a free good, it's everything else which costs money.

Above zero, there are the stamps where demand exceeds supply, at least in the following sense: someone has to make an effort to find them and may only be able to acquire them if at the same time they acquire lots of ZERO value stamps.

In fact, you could think of values above the ZERO level as created in this way: if to get a stamp for which demand exceeds supply I have to acquire (buy) 99 ZERO stamps, then this stamp is worth 100 points. If I have to acquire 999 ZERO stamps, then it is worth 1000 points.

The trouble with the catalogues is that they make gradations which are much finer than is justified by any real-world information they hold. I don't believe there is ANY basis on which they allot $10 to one stamp and $11 to another, $100 to one and $110 to another. They just want to look knowledgeable.

Consider how auction houses work. They have price and bid steps which start small and get bigger. The next bid above 100 is going to be 110, the next bid above 500 is going to be 550. And so on.

The same is true of how cover dealers work. In Germany it is common for dealers to sell covers by price steps: they have boxes at 1 , 2 , 3, 5, 10 €uros and above that they price individually but still often in 5€ or 10€ price steps. There just isn't a way of telling a 42€ cover from a 44€ cover, though those kind of prices may be the outcome of dealer taking his input prices and adding a mechanical percentage for costs, taxes and profit.

Catalogs should get the message and start being more honest about the limitations of their knowledge. I would find it more credible if I saw valuation steps like these:

ZERO [that would be over ninety percent of stamps remember] - 1 - 2 - 5 - 10 - 15 - 20 - 30 - 40 - 50 - 60 - 80 - 100 - 150 - 200 - 250 - 300 - 400 - 500 - 600 - 700 - 800 - 900 - 1000 - 1500 - 2000 - 3000 - 4000 - 5000. There are only going to be a handful of stamps above that.

Next time you see a catalogue value of "5.50" just ask yourself, How do they know?