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Friday 21 December 2012

End of the World Predictions from St Petersburg

Here's a card with a nice cancellation OTD. EXSP. GOR. POCHTI. sent from St Petersburg on 18 November / 1 December 1903. The writer asks for cuttings from the Westminster Gazette and adds 
There is a strong rumour afloat here that v[on]. Plehve [the Interior Minister] is going and that your old friend [Count] Witte is coming - in the former's place. Can't vouch for the truth of it, but I was assured today that it is definitely settled; the date is the only matter in doubt. I don't like the look of things in the Far East. It smells somewhat [gun]"powdery" over there, I guess"
Well, the unpopular and reactionary von Plehve did go - but not in the way the writer imagined. He was assassinated in 1904. But Sergei Witte did not replace him: Chairman of the [unimportant] Committee of Ministers in 1903, he became Chairman of the [important] Council of Ministers only in 1905, when the Tsar was under pressure from popular unrest and Witte's more conciliatory approach was (briefly) needed

So much for Predictions. And I don't think the World has come to an end today, either.

Anyway, this is my last Blog Post for 2012 and I wish all my readers an enjoyable end to this year and Good Health and Good Collecting in 2013.  

Thursday 6 December 2012

Armenia 1920 Combined Surcharges

I was browsing Philasearch today and looked at the Armenia on offer or recently offered. I was pleased to see that Viennafil had sold a Combined Surcharge for 180 €uro + commissions. The stamp was genuine (Congratulations, Viennafil, you are doing better than many auction houses!) and the price seemed about right: Michel's 2200 €uro for this stamp (Michel 111) is too high.

Combined Surcharges are not common and they are not very popular: they can look very messy with the rouble surcharge over the framed or unframed Z. Quite often, one of the overprints is forged in an attempt to create a more valuable stamp from a less valuable one.

When I checked my stockbook, I found I had five copies of the type sold by Viennafil: see the image above.
On closer inspection, I think all my five and the Viennafil copy may be from the same sheet. The basic shade of the 35 kopeck stamp is the same and - more to the point - the perforation is slightly off centre: the design is close to the perforations at top and left hand side. It's quite possible that only one sheet with this particular combination was produced: the large Z in violet is not common as a basic stamp.

The stamp is a nice example of a combined surcharge because the fact that the large Z is in violet and the 10 rouble surcharge in black allows you to see what has happened more clearly than when both overprints are black (I don't think they are ever both violet).

Anyway, Christmas is coming: if any collector wants one of the stamps above, then my price is 180 €uro with no extra charges for postage. I advise against the fourth stamp from the left which has one short perforation. The third stamp from left is with a tiny hinge remainder; the other stamps are never hinged. Probably, they all came to me when I bought the Tchilingirian - Ceresa holding of the Combined Surcharges.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Azerbaijan 1921 Soviet Pictorials: More on the Varieties

For those who like Plate Flaws, there is a nice one at Position 291 in the 304 - stamp sheet of 500 rouble Blacksmiths. This results in the "500" in the bottom left value tablet looking like "50". Since it occurs only once in the 304 stamp sheet, chances of finding it by chance are - well, 1 in 304.

The example above on the right is combined with a significant downwards shift of the background colour print. As a result, you can see (and I am seeing for the first time) that somehow the background also got affected at the same point. How to explain this I don't know.

In general, these pictorials were quite carefully printed and - even with the massive lithographic stones involved - very few varieties are found, whether damage to the stones or colour shifts. The only really remarkable variety seems to be the five inverted cliches in the bottom row of the 3000 rouble sheet producing the tête-bêche variety listed in catalogues. The variety seems to be non-philatelic since it is found in multiples of the stamp used on entirely non-philatelic covers. Here, for example, is the back of a Registered cover from ELENENO ELISAV 14 11 22 to Munich (no receiver). The franking may be incomplete - see part cancellation at the very top - even though it comes to a round number (30 x 50 000 = 1 500 000), but the inverted cliché in the bottom left corner has not been removed ...

Saturday 24 November 2012

Armenia 1921 First Star Overprints (continued)

Following on from my recent Blog about Armenia 1921 First Star Overprints, I can now show 12 more examples. These are in a British collection and reproduced here by kind permission of the collector. None of them is identical to any shown in the previous Blog post. However, there are intriguing relationships. For example, my 1 kopeck perforated is overprinted with an unframed Z and a numeral "1" both in what I think of as Aniline Rose. The stamp in the collection above does not have a "1" but does have the unframed Z in the same ink.

I believe that with these two Blog posts, colour images of the First Star overprints have been made available for the first time - and they can be enlarged for study with a simple click. But to do research on them requires more examples. Any reader who has copies and is willing to let them be shown here (with or without mention of their name) is invited to send me 600 dpi JPG scans.

Private Postal Stationeries and Private Modifications to Postal Stationeries

Some postal administrations produced postal stationeries to order. This is true, for example, of Great Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Such Private Order stationeries are often attractive (for example, using distinctive papers) and popular with collectors, Sometimes Private Order stationeries  were  taken back to have the face value modified (usually by the addition of a second value imprint) when postal rates changed. For Great Britain, there are detailed listings in Alan Huggins and Colin Baker, Collect British Postal Stationery (2007)

In Imperial Russia, Private Order stationeries were produced but they are rare. Basically, one must look for envelopes in sizes which are not listed in Michel and  refer to specialist publications such as A. Ilyushin and O. Forafontov's 2004 Moscow - published catalogue of Imperial Russian stationeries, which covers the period 1845 to 1917.

Rather different to a Private Order stationery is one which has been privately modified - for example, by the addition of a pre-printed address or advertising matter or both.

When I first saw the little 7 kopeck cover shown above (cancellations on the reverse show it was used in 1891), I thought it must be a Private Order envelope. But the measurements are 115 x 82 mm which  means it is surely an example of Ilyushin and Forafontov's regular stationery # 40, for which they give 114 x 81 as one standard version. (The rare version of this 7 kopeck envelope measures 95 x 70)

Nonetheless, it's a very attractive little envelope and you can see why there are collectors for such private modifications to standard stationeries.

My London Shop - The Strand Stamp Fair

This is where you can meet me in London - just click on the image to read the dates easily. I hope to have a table at all the Strand Stamp Fairs in 2013, except in March. I open my shop at about 08.00 and close about 15.00

I take a different selection of stock every month - I really do - so if you are going to visit send me an email a week or so in advance and I will make sure to bring things likely to be of interest to you. For example, at yesterday's Strand Fair, four collectors sent advance emails and for all four of them I found something they wanted - in a couple of cases, very much wanted!

You will find other dealers at The Strand who have Russia and East Europe in their stock. The Fair takes place right in the centre of London, close to Euston, St Pancras International, the British Museum and Covent Garden. Make a visit in 2013!

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Armenia 1921: Early Days in Soviet Armenia

This is Armenia in 1921, a few months after the Bolsheviks took power. This is not a part of a folded letter but an entire letter: to economise paper, the sender has used only half a sheet. His (probably his) signature and maybe a second signature (as is common on official communications in the early Soviet period) is at the bottom right of the message. My guess is that this is an educated person writing, able to handle a steel pen to write neatly in this small Armenian red script. 

Top left you can see that this is N. 58 in a series of communications, written on 10th October 1921. There is a N. 515 at the top dated 20 X 21 in a different ink and a No.16 to the right, in yet another ink. Someone has pencilled across the letter in pencil in Cyrillic. I guess that all three of these notes were applied at the destination.

The letter is addressed entirely in Armenian, this time in purple ink, with the first word reading "Yerevan". At the bottom left of the address the No 58 is repeated with a note underneath and a faint violet seal applied to the right (and after the letter had been folded and sealed with a paper strip). The seal is inscribed in Armenian in the outer ring and in Cyrillic on the inner circle. I can't read it all but I can see the letters "S.S.R.A." for Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and the abbreviated word "ECHM." for Echmiadzin. Then it looks as if there is the word "REVKOM" - Revolutionary Committee - with other words or abbreviations which I can't read but which someone else might be able to reconstruct or guess at.

Together, the No 58 and the Seal probably gave this letter Free Frank privileges. However, at this date - October 1921 - Armenian post offices were only accepting payment in cash for letters and not using stamps (see Zakiyan and Saltikov's 1988 book for the archival evidence). There is a short  note in Cyrillic which would have been on the back of the folded letter but which is at the top of this Blog and which I can't decipher but which could include a signature. If it was a receipt for payment in cash, I would expect (from previous experience) to see a number.

Finally - and this is what you have probably been waiting for - there is a double ring ECHMIADZIN ERIV 14 10 21 cancellation, in a small style illustrated in Zakiyan as Type 13 among the Vagarshpat / Echmiadzin cancels he records (Ashford does not list this cancel). 

So here we have one of those rare things, a postal item from the first year of Soviet Armenia's existence. Don't expect them to look much more exciting than this one. 

Sunday 18 November 2012

Wales in Ukraine

The postcard, sent in 1913, shows the Yuzovka Iron Works which in that year produced 74% of all Russian iron output . Yuzovka was a new town, dating from 1869, and it was basically created through the efforts of a Welsh engineer and businessman, John Hughes (1814 - 1889) after whom Yuzovka [ Hughes-ovka] was named. At the invitation of the Imperial government, he moved to Russia at the age of 55, travelling with eight ships and many Welsh workers. 
His first task was to supply iron cladding for the fortifications of Kronstadt. Hughes constructed the iron works, shown on the postcard, with eight blast furnaces; opened coal mines and iron ore fields; built a railway; and provided Yuzovka with an infrastructure of schools and hospitals.

The Money Transfer Form was sent in June 1919 from Yuzovka, Katerinoslav guberniya to Rostov on Don. The 1% franking (front and back) is provided by imperforate 5 rouble stamps overprinted with Kharkiv II Tridents. At this date, Yuzovka was (I think) under the control of the Volunteer Army.

Yuzovka continued to grow from the 1920s. Between 1924 and 1961 it was known as Stalino and is now Donetsk, a city of one million at the centre of the Donbas region. (To see a Stalino - related item, click on the label "Donetsk" below).

I have relied on the short Wikipedia entry for John Hughes (businessman)  - it is very interesting. Both the items shown above are for sale.

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 14 November 2012

The Romanovs and Philately

The Grand Duke Alexis Mikhailovich (1875 - 1895) was the son of Grand Duke Michael, Governor of The Caucasus, and Grand Duchess Olga Fedorovna. This is a letter from his Secretary (I guess), addressed to the Philatelic Society (forerunner of the Royal Philatelic Society of London) and publisher then (as now) of The London Philatelist.

The Letter was sent from BORZHOM TIFL G. 4 X 1894, franked with 3 x 10 kopeck adhesives on the reverse [ second weight step] and was received in London on 25 October 1894.

Alexis died in 1895 from tuberculosis.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Armenia 1921 First Star Overprints

I am going to work backwards. In April 1922, exactly one year after the Bolsheviks finally obtained power, the Armenian SSR was able to put into circulation two sets of pictorial stamps printed in Constantinople at the Yessayan Printing Works. Christopher Zakiyan credits the design of both sets of stamps (a total of 26 designs!) to the artist, Sarkis Khachaturian / Khachaturyan. 

Back in August 1921 Khachaturian was sent to Constantinople (in the company of one G.Babaian) with Mandates from two Armenian state bodies: NARKOMINDEL [People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs] and NARKOMPOCHTEL[ People's Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs]. In Constantinople, he must have gone to the Yessayan Works either carrying his art work or to review progress in the production of the pictorial stamps issued in 1922. 

But he was also carrying - for official export sale - 100 sets [series] of 10 stamps - and so was Babaian - of what are known as the "First Star" overprints. In the distressed circumstances of 1921 Armenia, it was no doubt hoped that sale of these stamps would at least  fund his and Babaian's living expenses.

These 2000 newly-overprinted stamps were envisaged as a trial for a potentially larger edition, aimed at the export market but possibly also for internal distribution. Armenian post offices stopped selling stamps in July 1921 and instead accepted payment in cash for letters. But NARKOMPOCHTEL held a large number of stamps left over from the Dashnak period. They made an Inventory of what they had and Zakiyan and Saltikov published it in their 1988 book Post and Postage Stamps of Armenia (see page 99 - it is this list which the Michel catalogue mistakenly uses as a list of quantities issued, leading to completely wrong valuations of several stamps). 

Anyway, the Inventory lists a total of 1 960 588 stamps - all but a handful with Dashnak rouble re-valuations already applied. Well, two million stamps seems way in excess of any likely short-term requirements in Soviet Armenia and there was no obvious reason not to export those surplus to local requirements, as they were or overprinted (yet again)  to signal the arrival of Soviet Armenia.

It was the Bad Guy, Paul Melik-Pachaev, who suggested the latter strategy and, indeed, it was followed - even if never followed to completion. New handstamps were made - two small, two large - and, in addition seven new punches showing just figure of value to be added separately as required. All this information is in the NARKOMPOCHTEL archives studied by Zakiyan and Saltikov. The Council of People's Commissars took an active interest: the project of selling stamps abroad for hard currency looked like a way of funding the desperate needs of the Post and Telegraph Department (reduced to 90 telephones and 32 Morse telegraph devices).

Zakiyan and Saltikov think that more stamps were produced than the 2000 carried to Constantinople, but they do not know how many or in which combinations. But at some point the whole project was abandoned. Maybe it just seemed simpler to accept cash payment for letters until new stamps arrived. Maybe sales of the stamps sent to Constantinople were disappointing. Maybe someone pointed out that the stamps looked ridiculous and totally impracticable for any use. Maybe NARKOMPOCHTEL was becoming suspicious of Melik-Pachaev, based in Tbilisi. The overprint handstamps contain spelling errors (as both Zakiyan & Saltikov and Thcilingirian & Ashford point out). They may have been a gift by Melik-Pachaev to Narkompochtel and he may have had duplicate handstamps made - though I think this unlikely given the fact that the quantity existing of First Star stamps - regardless of whether they are genuine or not - seems very small.

In addition, it seems likely that Meilik-Pachaev became disillusioned with his attempt to work with NARKOMPOCHTEL and proceeded  on his own initiative to produce the outright fakes known as the Second Star set. It seems certain that he was in possession of the Imperial ERIVAN "k" canceller and was able to use that on the Second Star stamps even though he was not in Yerevan. In fact, from Tbilisi he proceeded to Vienna and Leipzig where in 1924 he was convicted by a court of selling fake Armenian stamps (in Moscow, his brother was imprisoned around the same time for the same reason). Here is a September 1923 letter to Leipzig from Baku addressed to Melik-Pachaev [but spelt Pachaian - one of several variants]

There is a clear difference between the status of the First and Second Star stamps. The First Star stamps should be listed in catalogues as trials which had a limited but 100% Official distribution through the emissaries to Constantinople. The Second Star stamps should be mentioned as Bogus but passed off as official issues - and which have been forged. 

Now to the stamps illustrated, all that I have. Only one of these is consistent with the Inventory reproduced in Zakiyan: the 3 kopeck imperforate already has a 3 rouble and Monogram overprint and this is one of the basic stamps listed in the Inventory. HOWEVER the Inventory may have simplified matters: since there was a scheme of overprinting used by the Dashnaks, the Inventory may have counted (for example) all 2 kopeck stamps as 5 rouble stamps even if they had not yet been rouble-ised. In the light of this suggestion, look at the two kopeck stamp above. This already had a genuine unframed Z when overprinted with the new boxed Star. And it has had a new value inserted, "50". Now if this "50" is applied with the punch documented by Zakiyan and Saltikov (page 94) then this must be a stamp originating in Yerevan. The same argument can be readily applied to the 1 rouble (genuine unframed Z, new value "500" applied) and the 3r50 (genuine framed Z, new value "1000" applied). Note the pattern here: if the Dashnak value would have been 5 roubles (as on 2 kopeck\) stamps, then the Soviet revaluation goes to 50 roubles; 50 roubles goes to 500 roubles (on the 1r) and 100 roubles goes to 1000 roubles (on the 3r50)

The 5 kopeck is puzzling because the "5" looks like a Type 2 "5 r" overprint but the "r" is missing. The 1 kopeck could generate another Blog ... 

Postscript added 4 June 2013

I show below all the copies of First Star overprints in the collection of Peter Ashford, sold at auction in May 2013:

Katerynoslav Type I Tridents: Varieties

Above are some forged Trident overprints. All have the large red Soviet guarantee on the reverse which Alexander Epstein identifies as a forgery dating from the 1950s or 1960s. On the example I have chosen to turn over, both the Trident showing through and the forged guarantee mark appear to have been struck from the same ink pad.

The forgeries are not very impressive but they all seem to be attempts at Katerynoslav I with an emphasis on colour varieties. Now, it's true that colour varieties on Katerynoslav I Tridents are known and listed. Bulat offers the following:

1 kopeck perforated with violet overprint $50 mint unpriced used
3 kopeck perforated with violet overprint, - - mint and - - used
5 kopeck perforated with violet overprint, unpriced mint [maybe a typo for - - ]  - - used
10 kopeck with red overprint $50 mint $100 used
1 kopeck imperforate with violet overprint $35 mint - - used

Of these, those on the 1 kopeck can be found mint (though I have none in stock at present: see Lot 88 in the Corinphila sale of Ron Zelonka's collection for an illustration) and so can those on the 10 kopeck, also mint. On the latter, the ink is very distinctive:

The mint copy on the right is signed Dr Seichter - I have chosen this copy with an ink smudge to emphasise the colour of this overprint.In the Ron Zelonka collection there were significant quantities of this stamp ex-Seichter including two blocks of 25 sold as a single Lot (Lot 90 - illustrated in the catalogue). However, the damaged used stamp on the left is rare. It is from the Philipp Schmidt collection and was seen and OKd by Dr Seichter.

The 3 and 5 kopeck are much more problematic. I am holding the two stamps below but would hesitate to sell them. They are both plausible as Katerinoslav I Tridents but completely different in style to the 1 kopeck and 10 kopeck overprints:

On the 5 kopeck I cannot offer an interpretation of the cancellation but on the 3 kopeck it is clearly EKATERINOSLAV in both cases.


Alexander Epstein (Tallinn) provides the very useful images above. They show violet Katerynoslav I Tridents on used stamps - and both stamps have cancellations in violet from LYUBIMOVSKI POST. This suggests that a Trident handstamp was sent to Lyubimov where the violet overprints were then made. Note the fine, sharp style of the overprint which can also be seen on this block from the Zelonka collection. These overprints are not at all like the violet ones I illustrated above. It does look from this block as if this was a handstamp with five positions - see how position 5 is dropped a little in each row:

To make matters more complicated, Bulat lists "Special Katerynoslav Types" which are basically single handstamps in the style of Katerynoslav I (Bulat 844 - 854). They are all applied in black and as with Kyiv II single handstamps you should be looking for multiples to confirm that a single handstamp is being used. Unfortunately, these Special Types appear to be rare (only two are priced by Bulat, at $150 and $250)  I have put aside the two stamps below as possible examples of Bulat  852 but I don't think they can both be examples. The left hand stamp is signed UPNSZelonka (don't know why he signed it) and the right hand stamp has a small Soviet guarantee mark in violet - which would be unusual for any kind of ordinary Trident, so I think there is something going on here - I am just not sure what. These could be perfectly normal Katerynoslav I Tridents:

Apologies for the complicated Blog.

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 9 November 2012

Armenia Second Yessayan Pictorials: For Sale

This Blog isn't a shop but today I am going to say I have something for sale. 

The 1921 /22 Second Yessayan [Famine Relief] pictorials were printed in Constantinople, sent to Yerevan, and issued with surcharges. Unsurcharged copies are normally only found for the values which were not issued at all.

To meet demand for the stamps, Reprints were produced (probably unofficially) by the printer of the original stamps, V M Yessayan. He made two sets of Reprints. The Original stamps had been produced, as normally, one value per sheet. For the First Reprint, Yessayan economised on his lithographic plates by resetting all values onto two sheets - maybe they were one large printer's sheet originally. Each value is printed 18 times, except for the 5000 rouble which has 21 impressions. So there are 147 stamps in total, printed on white paper which is ungummed about 50% of the time and otherwise with a white gum
For the Second Reprints, Yessayan put everything onto one sheet. The sheets are always gummed and the gum is yellow.

I have one set of First Reprint sheets, partly illustrated above - my scanner cannot accommodate the whole sheets. I could cut 18 sets of 8  from these sheets - which is what packet makers did in the 1920s and 1930s -  and I would sell a set for 80 euros (10 euro each fresh never hinged - ungummed - stamp). So the potential total for 18 sets is 1440 euros.  But I don't want to cut these sheets which, for example, show a se-tenant arrangement not found in the Originals and which changes again for the Second Reprints. Are they of interest to anyone as they are?

Thursday 8 November 2012

Slania? Yes. But what about Zarins?

Every dealer at  stamp exhibitions has been asked for examples of the work of Czeslaw Slania (1921 - 2005), the engraver of many beautiful stamps. Look on the Internet and you will find websites devoted to him with comprehensive listings of his work.

But Rihards Zarins (1869 - 1939)? No one has ever asked me for examples of his work. You can find a short Wikipedia page for him but I don't think you can find an inventory of his work. He wasn't an engraver but rather a designer.

Zarins (sometimes Zarinsh or Sarrin) was a highly trained graphic artist who became Technical Director of the Imperial Russian Printing Office. In this capacity he was involved in the design and production of the  War Charity and Romanov Tercentenary stamps. Later, he is credited with the Kerensky Chainbreaker stamps.

In 1919, he was appointed Director  of the Latvian State Printing Works and designed several early stamps - the Dragon Slayers for example. He retired in 1934.

He is also credited with the design of  the unissued Asobny Atrad stamps of the Belarus National Republic. I think these were printed in Latvia and sheet margin enumerator marks are like those found on Latvian sheet margins of this period, so they were probably printed in the State Printing Works. To my mind, all this shows a serious intention behind the production of the Asobny Atrad stamps - they were not cheap and quick productions for some philatelic swindle.

This is also suggested by a curious detail of the set. The design of the 15 kopeck differs in several details from the design of the other values. Someone  has gone over the design. To the left of the girl's shoulder some messy background detail has been removed. The shading on the bench at the left side has also been simplified - cleaned up. The plant growing at bottom right has been toned down . Everywhere you look there are small differences. In addition, the inscription ASOBNY ATRAD is completely different and at the base the flowers on either side of the "B.N.R" have seven petals on the 15 kopeck and eight petals on the other values. I have no explanation of why this 15 kopeck is so different...

Maybe out there somewhere is a Zarins collector who knows a lot more and who has produced an Inventory of Zarins' work. If not, there is an interesting challenge here.

My illustrations of the BNR stamps show ungummed, imperforate examples from the original printing. Forgeries exist but are easy enough to recognise.

[Note added: I discover I have an undated but probably 1926  article by George Jaeger, the Libau/Leepaja stamp dealer, who writes ( under the pen name George Neljubin) about a 1926 New York exhibition of Romanov essays and proofs. He credits Zarins (which he spells Sarrin) with the design of the 2,3,10, 15, 20 kopeck and 5 rouble Romanov set. His name does not appear on the list of engravers. There is also relevant information in  L.L. Tann's The Imperial Romanovs (1977) but this is probably not easy to find ]

Russia: Three Triangle Censorship in 1919

Postal Censorship in Russia is a popular collecting field. The interest of the cover above is that - according to Robert Taylor - it shows the earliest recorded use of a Three Triangle censor mark. The ordinary letter has been sent during the Post Free period from a small town in Nizhni-Novgorod guberniya to Nizhni - itself. Here it received two strikes of a rather strange NIZHNI NOVGOROD * 1 C   5 12 19 cancel - Taylor says this is a machine cancel  but there is something odd about "* 1 C" - I would expect "* 1 * " . I will have to find some more examples of the machine cancel to see if my expectations have any basis ... [Note added: Go to Ivo Steijn's Comment below for a response to my doubts]

It also received one strike of a NIZHNI - NOVGOROD 5 12 19 with three triangles at base. These are so clearly struck (as are the letters "NIZH.." that it is clear a brand new device is being used. According to Taylor, the only other Three Triangle censor mark known used in 1919 is one from SARATOV used on 19 December 1919.

The First Latvian SSR 1918 - 1920

When I think of the Bolshevik Occupation of Latvia, I think of Riga and the philatelic covers with Chainbreaker stamps which are quite common. But this is only part of the story. 

After the Armistice of November 1918, Germany lost power in the Baltics. The Latvian nationalists led by Ulmanis took control of Latvia but the  Bolsheviks also stepped in and proclaimed a Latvian Socialist Soviet [not Soviet Socialist ] Republic on 17 December 1918. Troops entered from the east and Riga was not the first area to be taken. And when Riga was recaptured by nationalist Latvian forces on 22 May 1919, the Bolsheviks remained in control of "rump" areas to the east until the beginning of 1920 when combined Latvian and Polish forces drove them out.

This explains the cover above. It's easy to think that the cancellation on the front "KORSOVKA LATVIJA "a" 10 1 20" is an old Imperial canceller - until you realise that there was no such guberniya as "Latvija" . There was Kurland and Lifland and so on. The canceller is a new post-revolutionary cancellation and the clarity of the cancellation suggests that the canceller has seen very little use. It is a Bolshevik-prepared cancellation for the new Latvian SSR. However, registration details are all in manuscript.

On the reverse, the 4 rouble franking corresponds to that for a registered letter in the Russian SFSR. The letter is addressed to the 6th Latvian Soviet Infantry Division. Korsovka is now Karsava in Latvia and it is a town in the east, very close to the border with Russia

I haven't seen anything like this before - and I am reminded of the second World War when both German and Russian occupying forces arrived in newly conquered areas with shiny new cancellers  ready for use.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

A Curious Fact about Ukraine Tridents

Collectors, dealers and speculators who made it up as they went along - all these people got involved with Ukraine Trident production and some of them tried to get limited edition specialities created to make a fast buck. In some districts they were successful - Odesa for instance - and in other districts they seem not to have had much influence. In some cases we can link an individual name to a particular "Philatelic" Trident variety - Svenson, Trachtenberg and so on.

But it's a curious fact that with  few exceptions (mostly in Kyiv), no one fools around with ink colours. Maybe post office officials said No to that - it would confuse matters too much for clerks handling mail. In Odesa, for example, whether they are upside down, sideways or whatever, the handstamped tridents are always black. Exceptions are rare and don't look like deliberate creations.

For example, Bulat lists just two cases of Trident overrprints in violet-black (Bulat 1179a at $30 and 1304c at $18). 

The only examples I have ever seen do not look at all like deliberate colour varieties: in the two blocks of four above which have violet in the ink you really have to look for it (click on image to get a full screen view). To me, it looks like there was a bit of violet in the ink pad and that's about all. In contrast, as far as the left hand block is concerned (with Odesa Vb, Bulat 1253 - a stamp on which there are quite a lot of odd varieties listed) what you first notice is that the trident has been applied at an angle - to my mind, probably deliberately at someone's request. But the ink variety is almost unnoticeable.

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:

Sunday 4 November 2012

Russia : Literacy Campaigns after the Russian Revolution

In stamp dealers' boxes, you rarely come across picture postcards which reference the changes being brought about by the Russian Revolution. Perhaps they are all in postcard dealers' boxes or in Museum collections. Anyway, here is an unusual and nice example sent by a Danish traveller in Omsk on the 14 February 1918, when Omsk was still under Bolshevik control. The writer seems to link the image in the photograph to the (similar) literacy work undertaken by Danish Landsbyskolen ( which I translate as something like rural elementary [primary] schools). Since the writer labels this card to his or her mother "No 310" perhaps someone reading this has another card from the sequence.

The card also refers to the Calendar change in Russia implemented on 1st February / 14th February 1918. The writer exclaims that it is for the first time the 14th February in both Denmark and Russia. 

Saturday 3 November 2012

Russian Mail after the Treaty of Brest - Litovsk

There are probably many postal history collectors who pick out Registered postcards from dealers' boxes. They are not common and they are often interesting. The one above is very interesting.

Despatched from ARCHANGELSK 18 6 18 it is franked to 42 kopecks which, according to Epstein's table of Tariffs, is the correct RSFSR Foreign Registered postcard rate introduced in March 1918. The word "Zakaznoe" is written in ink below the stamps and below it, in pencil, is the Registration number 923.

The card is addressed to Minsk. It has travelled straight down the railway from Archangelsk through Vologda and Yaroslavl to end up in Moscow, where it has been censored - see the circular violet cachet to the right. It has then travelled on to Minsk where an ordinary Cyrillic receiver cancellation (bottom right) indicates its arrival on 25 7 18. However, Belarus was at this time under German occupation (accepted by Russia in the Treaty of Brest - Litovsk of March 1918) and in the middle of the card there is a German censor mark, a W in a circle. On the left, some (German) postal official has written "Minsk" in Roman next to the Minsk in Cyrillic.

By the time this card arrived, Archangel was under British Occupation - they entered the town at the beginning of July. The sender may have known he needed to send this card before it was too late. If anyone wants to attempt a translation of the message in the Comments box below, they are welcome to try.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Bolshevik Russia and the Baltics 1918

Wars and Revolutions cause mail bags to accumulate in post offices.

In December 1917, the Bolsheviks concluded an armistice with Germany but this was repudiated by Germany on 18 February 1918 which then proceeded to occupy the Russian Baltic provinces. So this card with its statement of account, initially postmarked 27 2 18 at the Petrograd 44th Otd., was just a few days too late to make it to Reval. This is indicated by the two straight line violet cachets in  Cyrillic indicating that the card should be returned ("OBRATNO" - equivalent to German "Züruck") because there is no postal service to the destination. 

My guess is that the card stayed in a mail bag until taken out again at PETROGRAD 1st Exsp. on 4 AUG 1918. By this date, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918 had seen Bolshevik Russia accept the German Occupation of the Baltics and allowed postal services to resume. At second attempt, this card arrived at its destination as indicated by the German REVAL 24 8 18 at bottom left. 

You can see a boxed Russian censor cachet at the bottom of the card and a German cachet (R in a circle) at top right. The large "10" in blue crayon looks like a Postage Due marking. If the card was treated as Printed Matter, then in February 1918 it should have been franked at 10 kopecks not 5 kopecks and 10 kopecks would then represent double the deficiency.

But the real interest of this card is the way it failed at first attempt and succeeded at second attempt in getting to its destination, neatly illustrating how Russia's relations with Germany changed during 1918.

Monday 29 October 2012

Correspondence in Hebrew and Yiddish

Anyone who goes through dealer boxes for Central and Eastern Europe at stamp exhibitions will soon come across postal stationery cards with the message written in Hebrew or (much more often) Yiddish. Such cards are quite easy to find for the period before 1914 from Austria-Hungary, Romania and Russia. In America, one university (Boston) has used such cards as historical evidence of Jewish commercial life before 1914 - go to for more information 

After 1914 and until the 1930s, these cards become scarce for reasons connected to the changing character of Jewish life - secularization, urbanisation, the decline of the shtetl. This change is characterized in such books as Bernard Wasserstein's recent On the Eve which surveys Jewish life in Europe between the two World Wars. From the early 1930s through to 1945, as persecution extends across Europe, Hebrew and Yiddish correspondence becomes a rarity.

Above I show just a couple of cards. 
The first dated  1913 is sent from Warsaw to Switzerland, the message spilling over onto the front of the Romanov card. 
The second is most unusual, sent from Odessa on 4 October 1941 and only arriving in Budenny (Voronezh Oblast) on 20 December 1941. Romanian troops occupied Odessa on 16 October and, in just a few days, 22 - 24 October, some 25 000 to 34 000 of the city's remaining Jews were killed (according to the Wikipedia entry on the 1941 Odessa Massacre). 

Friday 19 October 2012

Who sends What to Whom and How: the example of Halukkah

As I have Blogged previously, I think of postal history as the study of Who sent What to Whom and How.

It's not uncommon to see pre-printed envelopes like the one above sent from Moscow in March 1903 and containing one rouble. Sealed with five Moscow Post & Telegraph seals, this money letter transited through Odessa and arrived at the ROPIT post office in Jerusalem in April.

It's obvious that the money is going to be some kind of donation. But only today did I Google and Wikipedia  a bit and discover that it is a specific kind of charitable gift which is being made which goes under the name of Halukkah.

Samuel (Shmuel) Salant was Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem for over sixty years and as such he was responsible for collecting and distributing Halukkah relief funds. 

Salant was born in Byelostok in 1816 and died in Jerusalem in 1909. By 1900 he was blind and requested an assistant. The person appointed was Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomin whose name also appears on the envelope. Earlier envelopes bear Salant's name alone. His assistant died in 1905.

One could make a nice collection of these envelopes, noting the towns and cities from which they have originated and the amount of money they contained. And Google and Wikipedia make researching the background to such material much, much easier than it would have been even twenty years ago.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Ukraine: Tridents of Zhytomyr

The Type I Tridents of Zhytomyr are not  a local issue but the regular issue of a Postal District, Volhynia  - in Imperial Russian times, Volinsk Guberniya. It is irrelevant that they were quite quickly replaced with overprints supplied from Kyiv and overprinted with Kyiv Tridents.

As mint stamps, they are a nightmare - the ink is a distinctive bright violet but is so fluid that often the Trident impression is no more than a smudge or a blob. Mapping an individual Zhytomyr Trident  to its position in one of the three multiple cliches apparently used (see Bulat page 18) is generally impossible. It is really only the ink that tells you that what you have is a Zhytomyr Trident (Type I).

As a District issue, it should have been distributed to post offices outside Zhytomyr and in fact it was. Only the 1 rouble imperforate stamp is likely to be found in used condition (Bulat 210, $20 which is probably too low). Above I illustrate use of the Trident stamps at three offices:

In the top row, a strip of three used at LUGINI VOK [ = Volinsk] 1 10 18. This strip is signed Dr Seichter. Luginy is a small town north of Zhytomyr and closer to Ovruch.

Bottom left, ZDOLBUNOVO VOL 12 9 18. Zdolbuniv also issued its own Local Trident, most commonly found on the 1 rouble imperforate but this is clearly not that type. This stamp is signed UPV and Schmidt. The town itself is west of Zhytomyr just south of Rivne.

Bottom right, LUTSK 8 11 18.This stamp is signed UPV and Schmidt. The town is in the far west of Volhynia, geographically closer to Lviv than Zhytomyr.

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:

Monday 15 October 2012

Postal History of Azerbaijan 1917 - 23

By 1917, Baku with its oilfields was the fourth largest city of Imperial Russia but away from Baku, the areas which became Azerbaijan were basically rural. But between 1917 and 1923 over forty post offices outside Baku operated at some time or another - Voikhansky gives a list (pages 207 - 208) in his 1976 book Postage Stamps of Azerbaijan (in Russian). 

However, material you can find from these offices - loose stamps, covers and cards - probably adds up to less than ten percent of the total available. Material from Baku dominates overwhelmingly. Nonetheless, with such a modest number of offices it is tempting to try to collect examples from all of them. It will just take a very long time ...

Some offices clearly ran into problems. At Anneno (the German colony of Annendorf) they never seem to have had a proper canceller, making use of official seals instead. At Shemaka, the mechanism for changing the dates on the canceller stopped working so that the dates had to be entered by hand. And at Alty Agash, after making use of a boxed cachet (illustrated in the 1971 edition of Voikhansky's book, Plate XX) it seems they changed over to manuscript as shown above.

This item just came into my stock. The Money Transfer Form is overprinted at the top with a cachet of the Transcaucasian Commisariat of Posts and Telegraphs. The stamps are cancelled with the date (6 July 1923) in manuscript and at bottom right this date is repeated with the place name Alti Agash Baku Gub[errniya] also in manuscript. At bottom left, you can see that this is the first or fourth Money Transfer despatched from Alti Agash Baku Gub. The Transfer arrived in Baku the next day and was paid out on the 9th July.

Stamps of Azerbaijan 1919 - 1921

Between 1919 and 1921 the first stamps of Azerbaijan were all printed in Baku and all printed by lithography. The paper used was in very large format - most often, a full sheet of news-paper -  with two or three hundred stamps fitted on to the sheet.  This has attracted the attention of several prominent collectors interested in plating: Voikhansky in Azerbaijan and Peter Ashford and Ian Baillie in England (where many of the sheet remainders were exported by the Soviet Philatelic Agency).

There were two printings of the first (Musavat) stamps and for the second (Soviet) printing some sheets were reorganised. There was just one printing of the Soviet pictorials and the Famine Relief issue. Most sheets contain one or more gutters, horizontal and vertical. The main gutter which divides top from bottom or right from left to create two half sheets is rarely found intact. It seems that the difficult- to- handle big sheets were cut in two before being sent to post offices.

The 1000r Famine Relief stamp shown at the top was printed in a sheet of 15 across and 18 down (270 stamps) with a single horizontal gutter between Rows 9 and 10. The block above (ex - Ian Baillie) is the first one I have seen with a gutter. You can also see very clearly across the top of  Row 2 the guide marks used in the transfer of the plate block of six (2 x 3) to the large lithographic plate. There are both outer marks every second stamp and individual corner marks on each stamp. Normally, such marks were cleaned off the plate before use and it is unusual to find them so clearly as on this value.

The 5r block below is also unusual. It is from a re-set plate used for the Soviet reprint. There are no wide horizontal or vertical gutters. Instead, each transfer block of six (3 x 2) is separated from the one below by a slightly wider margin than within the transfer block itself : about 6.5 mm instead of 4.5 mm. This pattern is not, however, repeated horizontally.

To a modern eye, these first stamps of Azerbaijan may look "primitive". However, the printing process was actually complex and sophisticated. Very large lithographic plates were created using complex transfers and "infilling" to deal with single rows or columns left over after the regular transfer process was completed. Though minor colour shifts and offsets are frequently found, major varieties - dramatic colour shifts, missing colours, inverted backgrounds - are rare. So too are proofs and printer's waste. The printers in Baku behaved like modern "Security Printers" - in fact, more so: they did not have anything going out the back door to supply the needs of the stamp trade!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Russia 1913 Romanov Tercentenary stamps

We are only three months away from the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Russia's Romanov Tercentenary stamps. They are always popular and will be more so in the coming months. But how much are they worth?

Used stamps with nice postmarks are not difficult to obtain and dealers accumulating used stamps in quantity should be able to offer a Set of 17. But four catalogues which give Set prices offer very different guidelines:

Stanley Gibbons specialised Russia 2008 has £40 (about 50 € at today's rate) with £19 of that in the 5 rouble alone
Michel Osteuropa 2010 / 2011 proposes 60 €, with the rouble values little differentiated (1 rouble - 10 euro; 2 rouble - 12 euro; 3 rouble - 12 euro; 5rouble - 15 euro)
Russia's own Standard catalogue 2009 suggests 1400 roubles, about 42 €, with the highest price on the 5r at 450 roubles 
The Russian Soloviev catalogue of 2009 / 10 has 550 roubles, about 14 €, with no stamp higher than 150 roubles (the 5r gets this)

So the range is from 14 at the bottom to 60 at the top, with an average of 41.5 euro.

Personally, the values I sometimes can't find for set making are the 2 and 3 roubles. The 1 rouble is very common and the 5 rouble is not hard to find. I ask about £20 (25 euro) for a used Set with nice postmarks. The chalky paper used for the kopeck value Romanovs does mean that a lot of those stamps have unattractive smudged cancels which I would not include in a Set.

Mint stamps are more complicated. For a few values there do seem to be remainder stocks available, even today, so that is is possible to get ** stamps and blocks 4. But to make a Set which is ** is extremely hard. For some values, most collectors will have to accept * stamps. In addition, many stamps now suffer from gum toning.

Let's look at our four catalogues again:

Stanley Gibbons has £95 (about 119 €) for a * Set and, as normal, offers no price for **
Michel has 75 € for * and offers no ** price
Standard has 5000 roubles(about 125 €) for * and 30000 (about 750 €) roubles for **
Soloviev has 4500 roubles (about 112€) for * and 12000 (about 300 €) for **

So the range is 75 to 125 for * and 300 to 750 (from just two catalogues) for **

All the catalogues except Gibbons make the 2 rouble the scarcest stamp. Gibbons price the 5 rouble highest but here I think Gibbons is wrong, even allowing for "extra" interest in Nicholas II. The 1,2 and 3 rouble stamps are all harder to find * or ** and different collectors and dealers will have different ideas on what is the scarcest - quite often, I am told the 1 rouble * or ** is hardest to find. 

As for kopeck values, I give one example, the 35 kopeck illustrated at the top of this Blog gets these valuations:

Gibbons £1.40 (about 1.75€) for *
Michel 2.50 € for *
Standard 120 roubles (about 3 € ) for * and 800 (about 20 €) for **
Soloviev 60 roubles (about 1.5€) for * and 150 roubles (about 3.75 €) for ** with 700 roubles (17.5 €) for a ** Block 4.