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Sunday 25 September 2011

Was there a Kopaihorod Local Trident?

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When I first looked at this item, I thought it was some kind of fake. Podilia Tridents do not look like these neat and crisp overprints. These overprints resemble type Ia, but on the 50 kopeck imperforate type Ia is very scarce and on the 10 rouble it is a rarity which Bulat does not think exists in used condition.

Bulat does not list a local Trident for Kopaihorod or illustrate any type which looks like these overprints. They are not Popoff / Popov types, for example.

The fragment is cancelled KOPAIGOROD 15 2 19 and there is a KAMENETS receiver for 19 2 19. Both cancellations look genuine and the tridents appear to be under the despatch cancel. There is nothing on the back apart from hinge remainders and part of a Kamenets cancel which has the beginnings of a date which does not fit well ".4 1." when you would expect a 2 or 3 for February or March. There is a Manuscript 17 / IX which again is odd - maybe the transfer did not go through (the signature space has been clipped so it's unclear)

A thought occurred to me. This fragment is dated in the sixth month of Trident use. Someone has worked out that the 50 kop imperforate and 10 rouble perforate are rare with Type Ia and they have created these stamps with fake overprints.

But then there is a problem with that idea. Once you have put stamps onto a Money Transfer Form, how do you get them back? The MTF goes into the archives until such time as it is thrown out, stolen or sold off. A postal clerk in Kopaihorod would at least need an accomplice in Kamenets to get the stamps back ...

And where are the mint examples you would expect from a philatelic scam?

Then I was flicking through Dr Ceresa's Special Tridents Handbook. Amazingly, he lists a Kopaihorod local trident on the basis of one MTF fragment in the Mallegni collection. The Trident is applied on 1, 2 and 5 kop imperforates. The MTF despatch cancel is dated 21 2 19 - less than a week away from my fragment. There is a poor reproduction of the fragment on Plate CDXXXVIII of the Handbook.

I still felt I was dealing with some kind of scam - Podilia Ia on the 2 kop imperforate is also a scarce stamp - so I went onto the Internet. In 2007, Fusco Auctions sold an MTF fragment cancelled KOPAIGOROD 5 2 19 partly franked with a 1 rouble stamp which looks as if it has this Trident overprint ...

Case proven? I am still not sure. There was philatelic activity in the Kopaihorod post office - one comes across stamps CTO on piece from this office. Maybe some philatelist presented the Post Office with a swanky handstamp to use on unoverprinted stamps in their stock. Who knows. Any better ideas?

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:

Saturday 24 September 2011

Polish Occupation of Kamenetz Podolsk 1920

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Sometimes I wish the Biro had never been invented. Here is yet another cover wrecked by an idiot - or two idiots since there are two different biro colours here

Anyway, we know that the Polish Army occupied Kamenetz Podolsk in 1920. We know that the Polish spelling of the place name is KAMIENIEC POD. But did the Poles get around to producing a Polish-language but Russian-style canceller as shown on this cover?

Dr Seichter thought so, since it is his write up on the typed note.

Does anyone else have this cancellation or information about it?

Added 6 September 2015: Browsing the Fischer catalogue (Tom II) I noticed this illustration. It shows a card sent from Krakow to Kamenetz - and as a receiver cancellation you can see the same cancellation as is there on Dr Seichter's cover. So there WAS a Polish cancellation made in 1920 and reading KAMIENIEC in Polish. Fischer's example has a June 1920 cancel; Dr Seichter's has May 1920:

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:

Friday 23 September 2011

Ukraine Tridents: A later date for last use...

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In answer to my own question at the end of my last Post, here is a Parcel Card fragment with a Trident used at a later date than the previous Money Order fragment.

In this case, the fragment was used at GRINEV CERN[ihiv] on 18 5 21. The 20 kopeck stamps are unoverprinted but the 2 kopeck imperforate hidden at the bottom of the reverse of the formular has a Kyiv I Trident overprint.

Unfortunately, it is not posible to work out how the different stamps were revalued to meet the charges for the parcel - these would have been written on the missing bottom left of the card

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:

Ukraine Tridents: Last Dates of Use

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When studying "latest use" I think it is important to distinguish between philatelists trying their luck with old stamps and regular postal use.

At the top of the page, you can see a cover sent from KATERINOSLAV 11 5 21 to TALLINN EESTI (weak receiver cancel on reverse which appears to read 26 3 21, together with undated Katerinoslav Three Triangle censor mark).

Underneath are Dr Seichter's original write-ups of this cover: "almost the latest known date on Ukrainian overprinted stamps".

I am not impressed. This is almost certainly a philatelist's cover, whose name we would know if someone had not thought it wise to burn out his name from the cover (see bottom left - someone has also used biro and red ink on the back making this a thoroughly unattractive item).

The franking is probably correct at 90 roubles: the 14 kopeck stationery stamp is disregarded, the 5 rouble imperforate Kyiv II (someone has written "g" beside it) is used at face, but the 5 kop imperf Kyiv II is revalued 100 times, as is the pair of 35 kopeck with Odesa Type II and the 10 kopeck with Odesa Type III.

But this franking leaves me cold: I doubt these stamps came across the post office counter at Katerinoslav, even though this is apparently a Registered letter. The only interest is in the fact that the sender was able to get away with this franking.

Compare the second item. This is a fragment of a Money Transfer order for 10 000 roubles sent from BERDICHEV 7 3 21 to MIUSS [Miusa] SAMAR 23 3 21 where it was signed for. It is franked with five 20/14 Kop with Kyiv II on the front and 5 on the back. These have each been revalued x 100 to give a correct 2% franking of 20 roubles.

This fragment is to me much more interesting than the cover. The stamps were almost certainly at the Berdichev post office counter and were authorised for use.

Of course, I now invite you to check your holdings and find later dates ...

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:

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Armenia: Turning Base Metal into Gold

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This is what happens when you buy Armenia without looking carefully!

At a show, I bought a small batch of used First Yessayan stamps. I checked the overprints and the cancellations on the stamps and they all looked OK. So I bought the stamps.

Later, when I looked more closely, I realised that several of the stamps overlapped on pieces, too many for coincidence. In addition, the brown paper on which they were stuck did not look right - it was old but not a type I had seen for 1920s Armenia. Some single stamps on this brown paper also did not look quite right.

So I scanned them all and this immediately showed that in all cases the parts of the cancellations on the brown paper were faked - they were drawn in by hand.

So why would you stick genuine stamps on bits of paper and fake a cancellation? My guess meant that I had to soak the stamps off the paper to find out.

The answer is shown on the right hand illustrations: the overlapping allowed someone to hide damaged stamps. See the top two rows on the right.

Using a paper backing also disguised damage and repair work on the two single stamps at the bottom.

Bottom right, the "3" on 20 000, the stamp was badly thinned and torn but this was hidden by backing it with a piece of sheet margin from some Imperial Russian sheet with lozenges and then putting the stamp onto the brown backing.

The stamp bottom left also revealed some labour-intensive work: at the top you can see that the perforations are not quite aligned. This is because the whole top right corner has been inserted from another stamp to repair damage to the main stamp.

Buyer beware!

Tuesday 20 September 2011

London, a city with 26 days of stamp shows every year

I just came back from London STAMPEX where I had a Stand. It's a four day show in North London (nearest rail stations: Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross) and happens twice a year.

London also hosts London PHILATEX, a three day show held twice a year in South London (nearest station Victoria)

Once a month, the mis-named Strand Stamp Fair takes place in a Central London hotel off Russell Square (nearest stations: Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross)

The first two shows are held in very pleasant exhibition halls but with poor access for dealers to unload their stock. Neither exhibition hall has its own dedicated parking and the available local parking is expensive, as - of course - are London hotels.

The Strand Fair, held in the Royal National Hotel, has easy access for unloading and (by London standards) relatively cheap on site parking. The room in which it is held is acceptable and there is a good and cheap on-site restaurant.

The big problem is this: for all but a very few specialist GB and Commonwealth dealers and a very few dedicated and well-off collectors, 26 days of London shows is just too much. Dealers are stretched to find new stock at the rate demanded by the exhibition schedule and all but a few collectors are stretched to fund buying trips to London for more than one or two of the shows. Smaller dealers atttending these big shows are probably now often going away having made a loss, as I did at Stampex last week. The number of visitors coming through the door is pitifully small.

As someone who is going to get older every year and beginning to reduce my level of activity, especially unprofitable activity, it's a no-brainer: I am saying Good Bye to STAMPEX and PHILATEX, at least until such time as the four shows reduce to two - or, alternatively, until such time as one or two of the four shows relocates to Birmingham or Manchester or Cheltenham or Warwick.

I will stick with the Strand Stamp Fair, which is a cheaper day out. Even then, it involves getting up before 5 in the morning in order to get into Central London before the rush hour. But maybe with the elimination of unprofitable STAMPEX and PHILATEX, I can now afford to travel up to London the night before and stay in a hotel :)

St Petersburg to Tiflis. What is this Mark?

I recently got a group of items all addressed to Prince Emile Sayn-Wittgenstein in Tiflis. All have the same St Petersburg cancellation and all have the same small mark, M.I.D. in circle. Four items are envelopes without contents; the fifth item illustrated above is an entire letter writen in Naples but with no despatch or transit marks. It could have been privately carried to St Petersburg.

Two of the items have Cyrillic annotations, via Vladikavkaz.

What I want to know is this: Was this M I D mark applied in St Petersburg or Tiflis? What is its function? What do the letters M I D stand for? My guess is that it is some ways connected with the handling of diplomatic or military mail - Sayn-Wittgenstein was Aide de Camp to the Tsar and to Prince Voronzoff in Tiflis.

Answers, please!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Dr Ron Zelonka Ukraine: a million dollar collection

The bare facts are these: on 6 September, Corinphila of Zurich, offered Dr Ron Zelonka's Ukraine collection in 400 lots. It took five hours to sell, the pace slowed by competition for most lots. Start prices totalling just under 400 000 CHF turned into hammer prices of 900 000 CHF with only 10% of lots unsold. Many of those were bought immediately after the sale at the start prices. Add Corinphila's commission to the hammer prices and you have a sale comfortably in excess of a million US dollars.

The sale was important for Ukrainian philately in a number of ways.

Ron Zelonka's was probably the largest Ukraine collection ever formed. It was larger than Dr Seichter's since Zelonka bought Seichter's collection (it was unsold in a 1990s Swiss auction)and incorporated it into his own, except for some of the duplicated material which Ron Zelonka sold to me.

For a major international auction house to take on the Zelonka collection and offer it for sale, broken down into 400 lots, was a considerable risk. With no real precedents to rely on, it was simply not known if the buyers existed to absorb such a large offering at prices which were, at a minimum, sensible.

Of course, it was known that Carpatho-Ukraine is popular and likewise Western Ukraine. But it was also known that Tridents were not popular and the Tridents were central to the collection. And the collection was so big ...

The risk paid off for the auction house. From their perspective, to achieve in total over double your start prices with virtually everything sold is a good result when - as in this case - the total achieved is on the scale which you expect for an afternoon's work (see footnote *). And this has been achieved in a difficult economic climate and amidst uncertainty about currency exchange rates,

This auction will help boost Ukraine as a serious collecting area. There is now a respectable auction record for a single stamp (CHF 44 000 hammer for the rarest stamp of Western Ukraine). There are also prices right through the auction results which begin to recognise just how rare are some of the stamps and postal history of Ukraine. Take a look at the Corinphila on-line auction catalogue while there is still a chance to see all the illustrations (many more than in the paper catalogue) along with the hammer prices.

There are still areas where collectors hesitate. For example, the sale contained some of the finest available examples of local Tridents on cover and, more often, transfer cards. Yet a superb Cernihiv transfer form (Lot 121) did not sell until after the auction and the splendid Konstantynohrad form (Lot 126) sold at the start price of 1000 CHF.

The auction catalogue tried to draw attention to the rich historical and political context of the available philatelic material. I wrote about 80% of the catalogue descriptions, and I wrote hoping it would encourage more collectors to think about putting together not only private collections but exhibits for national and international shows. If those exhibits start to appear in future years, some of the finest items will be marked "Ex Zelonka".

It remains to be seen whether the material just sold now reappears, broken down further, in other auction sales or whether it has gone straight into collections. It will also be interesting to see if other Ukraine collections now come on to the market, rather in the way that Zemstvos suddenly appeared after the successful 1999 Corinphila sale of Faberge's collection. But even if they do, I am sure they will not match the quality of the Zelonka collection

*Corinphila normally has one auction a year, lasting one week. That auction has to generate enough to cover the cost of everything, not only catalogues and publicity, but also the year-round operations of the company, including salaries of permanent staff.

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:

Saturday 3 September 2011

Ukrainian National Republic: General Issues and Tridents

I was in Zurich on Thursday viewing Ron Zelonka's collection which is being sold at Corinphila on 6th September. It is probably the biggest accumulation in existence of Ukrainian National Republic material (much of it coming from Dr Seichter's collection) and West Ukrainian material (much of it from John Bulat). There are extensive illustrations on Philasearch and on (though use the online bidding catalogue not the online version of the printed catalogue which has far fewer images)

One thing puzzles me and one thing I have a theory about.

The puzzle is this. The Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) managed to produce a five value set of stamps - the first General Issue - early in 1918. It was produced in large quantities over several printings and never used up - mint remainders even in complete sheets are common. It would have been relatively easy to add a few more values to the set.

So why did the UNR go to all the trouble of Trident overprinting its stocks of Imperial stamps? They could simply have been locked away and, for postal purposes, invalidated. True, it may have seemed good housekeeping (economical) to use them up. True, they provided a wider range of denominations with much - needed higher values. True, many of the stamps were perforated and thus easier to use than the imperforate first General Issue - but Tridents were also applied to imperforate Imperial stamps.

So this is my puzzle: the Trident overprinting, often highly labour intensive, could have been avoided by adding a bottom value (2 Sh) and a few higher values to the General Issue set and simply invalidating Imperial adhesives, thus avoiding the supposed problem of imports of Imperial stamps from Russia being sold as "Postage" at big discounts on face value.

Any answers to my puzzle?


And here is my theory (which is about another topic).

In many ways, you would expect the "old" Imperial high values - the 3r50 and 7r of 1904 on vertically laid paper - when overprinted with Tridents to have been bought up by philatelists and speculators since the remaining stocks of these stamps was small and probably known to be small.

But when you do see these stamps with Trident overprints they have often been used on Money Transfer Forms, with later punch holes and so on, and they often have early dates of use (1918 rather than 1919). Mint versions are often scarcer than used ones - for example, Kyiv I on the 3r50 grey and black is a very rare stamp mint.

So my theory has to be this: for some reason, perhaps becaue it was thought to be "methodical", these old stamps were overprinted early on and sent out to post offices early on where they got used up before philatelists had properly organised themselves. That's my theory.

This is not the whole story: there are philatelically-inspired overprints on the old 3r50 and 7r. For example, in the Corinphila catalogue you will see a very pretty sheet of the 3r50 overprinted with Kyiv III. This is almost certainly a philatelically-inspired production (and the inspirer: Svenson) and the overprint is a later type.

So there must still have been a few sheets of the 3r50 around even after Kyiv I and Kyiv II overprints had used (most?) of them up. Interestingly, however, Svenson could not lay his hands on a sheet of the old 7r black and yellow which does not exist with Kyiv III and this may be taken as a small bit of confirmation for my theory.

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: