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Wednesday 29 February 2012

Russia 1887 General Revenue fiscal stamps

Here are some pretty items: trials for Russia's 1887 [Ribbons pointing Downwards] General Revenue stamps. They are in unissued colours, on unwatermarked paper, perf 11.5 x 12 - the issued stamps are perf 12.5

In addition, they also appear to be gum trials: only part of the back is gummed perhaps with a view to seeing how the gum affected the appearance of the front of the stamp. Any suggestions?

These lovely blocks 4 were in the Agathon and Oleg Faberge fiscal collection but, unfortunately, Agathon has not provided an acquisition note on either block. Single copies from the same source also exist - Cherrystone sold a single copy of the blue and black stamp for $260 hammer ($320 with commissions) in their May 2005 sale (Lot 2012). Now I think it is probably time for me to let go of these blocks of four.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Russia: Theatre Tax Revenues

Can someone sell me a copy of a modern, reliable Russia Revenues catalogue, in Russian?

For many purposes, it is convenient to use John Barefoot's English language Russian Revenues, but unfortunately the very hard-working and conscientious editor of this book was provided with "information" on bogus "Revenues", produced - I believe - in the last twenty years, and persuaded to list them (Armenia, RSFSR, Ukraine listings are affected). At the same time, the listing of genuine issues is far from complete.

For example, Imperial Russian Theatre Tax revenues (the "Maria Fedorovna" issues) include the unlisted set of eleven shown above which according to the Spravochnik catalogue date from 1915. The higher values of this set seem quite scarce.

Also unlisted is the 2 [kopeck] brown stamp shown bottom right which is a Theatre Tax stamp from HARBIN, but I have no idea from what date. The high quality printing, with security network,perforation and gumming makes it look like a production of the St Petersburg Printing Works. Any information? There were copies in the Agathon and Oleg Faberge Fiscal collection.

Barefoot does list the 35 kopeck blue stamp from Elisavetgrad which he tentatively dates at 1910 and which I show above in a block of 4. It seems to be quite common. It looks like a local printing and both the format and inscriptions imitate the regular Theatre Tax stamps (for example, "KORESHKA" for "Counterfoil"). But is it a Theatre Tax stamp? 35 kopecks seems a lot of money. Maybe this stamp also dates from the Civil War period rather than 1910 when 35 kopecks would be a large amount of money. Any information?

Friday 24 February 2012

Early St Petersburg Postmarks

It is not unusual in Western Europe to see pre-adhesive international mail from St Petersburg before 1830 and with cancellations in Roman letters: SANCT PETERSBOURG or ST PETERSBOURG. But Cyrillic cancellations, used on internal mail, are rarely seen outside Russia.

The cancellation shown above only rates a "4" on Manfred Dobin's 1993 rarity scale (it runs from 1 to 10, with 10 the rarest). But this is only the second example I have seen in 20 years.

Maybe ten years ago, I bought the collection of the late George Henderson and with it the example of this cancellation of which Baillie and Peel say, "We know of only one example, on an entire ... with a message dated 16 11 1820, addressed to Narva." I sold this entire to a collector in England.

The example above is an outer letter sheet with nothing to indicate the date. The paper is unwatermarked. Someone has pencilled "1818" bottom left and it may be that the person who made the pencil note had access to the letter enclosed in this outer sheet, otherwise the date is a guess. Dobin gives 1815 - 1830 as the period of use for this cancellation and always in red.

St Petersburg Numeral Cancellations: Number XV

There are lots of collectors of St Petersburg Numeral cancellations, but not everything about these cancellations is known. For example, Baillie and Peel in their book St Petersburg: the Imperial Post (2001)list the dates of introduction of the different Otdyel numerals according to different authors. For number XV Wortman and Prilutzki give the date 1894, Imhof 1899, Ratner 1899, Kiryushkin and Robinson 1894.

I illustrate above strikes of Number 15 on three postcards, the first postmarked 19 May 1898, the second with Finnish receiver cancel for 9 XI [19]01, and the third with St Petersburg postmark 30 X 1902.

The 1898 strike looks like a strike from a brand new canceller, with sharp lines and no build up of old ink. So I make the following hypothesis: this numeral 15 canceller was introduced probably in 1898 but maybe a little earlier.

An Interesting Item of Persian - Russian Mail 1907

This attractive Money Letter puzzled me. It was sent from DZHULFA ERIV[an] 28 3 07 and arrived in Belgium at the end of April - there are two arrival cachets. The red wax seals were applied at the Dzhulfa Post and Telegraph Office.

But in Imperial Russia there was no "Province of Azerbaidjan" and I had never heard of a Russian "Ministry of Customs". Then I realised: this "Azerbaidjan" is across the border in Persia - in modern-day Iran there are still Provinces of East and West Azerbaijan (sometimes still spelt "Azerbaidjan"). It seems that this Persian - originated item was taken across the border at Dzhulfa so that it could be entered into the Russian mail stream - and, specifically, put aboard a train going north.

I am told that if this item had been put into the Persian system, it would have had to be sent down to Tabriz and even to Teheran and then put in a special bag for Europe. This would have delayed the item by two or three weeks - or more. So even though it was Persian Official mail, it was taken across the border to get faster delivery.

Comments welcome!

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Azerbaijan: Imperforate Stamps from the 1990s

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, a large number of state and private printing companies, along with philatelic agencies, offered to print and distribute postage stamps and banknotes for the New Republics. Many of the Republics did not have adequate production facilities: Lithuania, for example, produced its first stamps in imperforate form simply because adequate perforating machinery was not available. The first perforated stamps were printed in (east) Germany.

Azerbaijan contracted production of some of its first stamps to a company called "DSR Holdings Ltd" based in Jersey. This company had some connection to France's La Poste - it may have been a subsidiary - and Azerbaijan's stamps were printed at La Poste's printing works.

Both France and Monaco (for whom La Poste traditionally produces stamps) officially prepare imperforate stamps for sale to collectors - this subsidises the production costs for regular stamps. DSR did the same for Azerbaijan - but the Azerbaijan postal administration did not at first know that imperforates were being produced and sold. None were sent to Azerbaijan. Later, the situation was (I believe) regularised with some imperforates being sent to Baku.

At the time (without knowing all this background) I was able to buy imperforates of the 1993 Aliyev issue (Michel 105/106), the 1994 Rasulzadeh stamp (Michel 131), and the 1994 Minerals set (Michel 136-39). DSR also produced two other issues: 1994 Mammadguluzadeh (Michel 130) and 1994 Nobel (Michel 132-35) but I do not recall handling imperforates of these issues.

Above I show the letter I received to accompany my sheet of Aliyev stamps and the supporting documentation in the form of a print record from La Poste's printing works. Note that as well as imperforates, stamps with missing colours were also printed.

I have no reason to believe that the print run figures I was given were false. There were 100 Aliyev imperforates (in four sheets of 25) and the later issues were, I recall, in editions of 300. Occasionally, you see these scarce items for sale. Some of them will have originated in my stock.

With the passage of time, I think one can see this little episode as part of the "Wild East" period of post-Soviet history, when all kinds of adventurers and speculators were trying to make money. Whether anyone actually made a fortune out of post-Soviet stamp issues is another question ...

Monday 20 February 2012

Ukraine Tridents: Different Kinds of Rarity

In English, two things which are opposites are sometimes called "chalk and cheese".

Here are two very different kinds of Ukraine Trident rarity, chalk and cheese:

On the left, a Parcel Card fragment with badly clipped stamp cancelled ODESSA 2 10 18. The overprint is Odesa VIb. Go to Bulat and it is number 1369 valued at $275 mint and unknown used. Go to Dr Seichter and it is valued at 450 DM mint but, again, is unknown used.

So here is a stamp which, from the catalogues, you will probably think a philatelic production and yet here is a copy used in the most non-philatelic way possible at an appropriate date. The stamp was even torn before it was used(* see footnote). Maybe it is the "only known" used [part of a] copy. It was in the Ron Zelonka collection.

So what is it worth?

On the right, a 5 rouble Romanov overprinted with Kyiv I Broken Trident and cancelled KIEV 20 7 19 at which time Kyiv may have been under Red control. Anyway, go to Bulat and this stamp is unlisted; go to Dr Seichter and it is unlisted. Dr Zelonka signed it for me back in 2006. It's 100% genuine and 100% philatelic and may be the "only known" copy. It came from the Iwan Bobyn collection, part of which was sold at auction a few years ago.

So what is it worth?

Which of these two items would you rather have in your collection, the chalk or the cheese? Both are for sale.

* The fact that is torn may be a clue: suppose this stamp was produced for sale to a philatelist like Trachtenberg. Suppose it got torn by accident so could not be sold to him. Then maybe it was put into counter stock to be used up without causing an accounting problem.

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 19 February 2012

Ukraine: Poltava Tridents - Bulat 943d

The 2 kopeck perforated Imperial Arms with Poltava I Trident in violet is probably the most common Trident of Poltava (Bulat 943). But here is an interesting variation: weak strikes of Poltava Ia applied in violet as a single handstamp have been corrected by subsequent application of Poltava Ib in black (on its own, this would be Bulat 982). The quality of the scans I can now produce allows this to be clearly seen.

Bulat lists this variety, but simply as "corrected overprint" (Bulat 943d).

The "violet" overprint is actually quite blue and this is quite common (sometimes the blue is even blue-green).

This block of 25 is from the Lindenmeyer collection, but there were no doubt similar items in the Zelonka collection

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:

St Petersburg Residence Permit Fiscals, 1908 issue

Maybe one of my readers can explain why the last (1908) issue of St Petersburg Residence Permit stamps is so scarce. The earlier issues are quite common, but for this last issue I cannot even show a complete set: the 1 kopeck and 2 kopeck values are missing. Maybe the Residence Permit rules changed in the final years of Imperial Russia? Or did people just stop paying?

Russian Poland: A Scarce Lublin postal marking

Collectors of Russian Poland will know the "Morning" and "Evening" arrival markings of Warsaw. They are quite common and a nice collection of them can be formed.

On the card above is an oval "Evening" arrival mark of Lublin. This is the only example I have seen. The card travelled from from BIELOSTOK GRODN[o]. G[uberniya] 6 III 1901 to LUBLIN 7 III 1901. The oval mark is inscribed "LUBLIN." at the top and "POCHT.-TEL. KONT." at the bottom; in the middle is the (unabbreviated) word "VECHER".

This item was in the Jack Moyes collection; it is for sale.

Saturday 18 February 2012

A Postmaster Provisional in a Dealer's Box!

Some of my readers will know that at stamp shows I often have boxes where every item is priced the same (Einfachpreis, Prix Unique). It cuts down my work in preparing material for sale and it makes the mental arithmetic of selling easy.

Today, I was tidying and counting items in my 5€ boxes when I came across the above Money Transfer fragment. It's probably been in my boxes for a very long time: who would want this at 5€? But it reminded me of something I had seen recently....

Lot 3477 in the current Cherrystone sale is a complete Money Transfer Form sent from the same office in the same handwriting to the same destination on the same day and for the same amount (20 000 roubles). The Cherrystone item is numbered 36 (bottom left); mine is numbered 33.

The Cherrystone item is franked two 5 kopeck perforated stamps with the 1921 Minsk Postmaster Provisional Control overprint, which revalues them to 250 roubles each (Michel 3a, catalogued at 120€ each).

I looked at my fragment. Sure enough the 5 kopeck stamp has the Control overprint, top right of the stamp. I had missed it, probably seeing just a smudged cancellation. The top half of the MTF which has been cut off almost certainly had another copy of this 5 kopeck stamp.

One day, I will find it ....

The moral of this story? It pays to look through Dealers' Boxes, even your own!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Odesa I Tridents: Seichter, Bulat, Zelonka

Everyone agrees that the common Odesa I trident overprints were produced by typography (Buchdruck) using a plate of 100. In his 1953 publication - the cover is shown above - Dr Seichter says (in effect) that there was a master horizontal cliché of 5 positions (a - b - c - d - e) which he illustrates (see also above). From this master, all the cliches were made and minor variations can be found giving rise to Plate varieties occurring only once in the sheet: John Bulat illustrates 5 notable varieties at page 79 of his Handbook though, of course, since this is a typographic overprint one should be able to plate all 100 positions as slightly different.

In his 1953 publication, Dr Seichter does not discuss Reprints but in his 1966 Sonderkatalog he lists "Neudrucke" sold by the "Sowjet-Agentur" and values them all at 40 DM each. He does not give any indication of how to tell Reprints apart from Originals and I don't think I have ever seen a Seichter "Neudruck" mark on the back of Odesa I stamps.

John Bulat lists Reprints on more values than Dr Seichter (Bulat 1079 - 1095), giving them a uniform mint price of $25 each which is much higher than for most of the Originals. He heads the list, "Overprinted in different variety of black ink" but does not say what the difference is.

Before his death, Dr Ron Zelonka helpfully expertised for me two copies of 20 kopeck perforated stamps with Odesa I overprints, identifying one as an Original (Bulat 1068, $75) and one as a Reprint (Bulat 1084 $25). See the illustrations above.

It seems that the Reprint is characterised by ink infill between the double outlines giving an overall blacker appearance - something you might expect from a re-used typographic plate with a build up of old ink. However, this alone is not the whole story. Ther are heavily inked Originals which look similar. And some cliché positions seem to fill with ink more than others. What is distinctive on the Reprint is the overall uniform darker impression.

What someone with a taste for research could do is this: assemble copies of a basic stamp for which there are no Reprints: for example, both Seichter and Bulat reckon that the very common 2 kopeck perforated is found only with Original overprints. Then assemble stamps which only exist with Reprint overprints: for example, the 1 kopeck perforated. (This will not be easy!) Then try to work out the distinguishing features. In some cases, it will also turn out that the shades of basic stamp used for the overprint also differs between Originals and Reprints. This is the case for the 4 kopeck perforated.

Postscript May 2012: A reader in the USA has kindly provided the illustration below showing Odesa I overprints which have been classified by Dr Seichter as Reprints (ND, Neudruck) - something I could not do. It can be seen that on all the stamps the overprints show what I called above an "overall darker impression". Thanks to this anonymous contribution, the reader is now in a much better position to set about classifying Odesa I overprints as Originals or Reprints according to the Bulat catalogue. It is just important to remember that in general Reprints are much scarcer and are unlikely to be found in small accumulations of Odesa I stamps.

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 12 February 2012

Ukraine: Tridents of Odesa Va, Vb, Vc, Vd

My Odesa Tridents are in a 64 page stockbook. Today I was taking out some stamps for a client. I realised that some of the stamps were in the wrong places - the Type V Tridents were not always correctly classified. So to remind myself what the four different types look like, I made up this card: top row, Va; second row, Vb, third row, Vc, bottom row, Vd. For some reason, I don't have Vb on any one kopeck stamps so I have used the 5 kopeck value instead. All the stamps shown above have good signatures - Bulat, Seichter, UPV and Trachtenberg (which is fine for Odesa)

The type V overprints are usually clearly struck - none of my copies above have unclear overprints - though they vary from deep black to grey. When the base cap does not print clearly, then it can be difficult to decide what type of overprint you are looking at. The same is true, of course, if a cancellation obscures the Trident. For the Vc Trident, horizontal marks or a line of marks often appear to the left, above the top of the wing and extending across to the top of the prong. For a very clear example, see the first example in row three above.But this line does not always appear.

Hope this is useful!

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Frustration: Kaluga? Zemstvo? Rosselevich? ... My Guess?

For someone who is supposed to be a Dealer, I spend far too much time puzzling over items like this one. A collector I know was having a clear out - I bought a box of stuff and this was just one item.

Rosselevich guesses the handstamp of a Zemstvo letter-carrier (you can read what he has written on the scan).

I guess differently: these are stamps from sometime after 1908. Not many Zemstvo letter-carriers about then. And unlikely that one would have put his mark neatly on the stamps rather than on the letter.

The vertical pair suggests to me that these stamps could have been on a Money Transfer Form or Parcel Card. So my guess is this: the handstamp has something to do with 1920 provisional revaluations of Imperial kopeck value stamps.

There can only be guesses really until someone can find this handstamp on a letter or formular. Anyone?

Added 31 October 2017: Joseph Geyfman in the USA translates the postmark as DERMINKA KALUGA and Google tells him that there was indeed a Derminka in Kaluga. But the status of teh handstamp is still to be clarified.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Postmaster or Philatelist Provisionals?

The imperforate Russian Imperial Arms stamps issued by the Kerensky [Provisional] government in 1917 were occasionally perforated locally by postmasters, private companies or by philatelists. Unfortunately, you probably need several examples to establish to what category a perforation belongs, though if you have a Money Transfer Form or Parcel Card it is almost certain that you are looking at a Postmaster Perforation. Normally, it's not that easy.

Above is an ordinary letter from ZOLOTONOSHA [ Polatava Gub.] 26 8 17 addressed to Petropavlosk in Akmolisnk Guberniya - there is a weak receiver cancellation on the reverse dated 3 9 17. The 7 kopeck stationery envelope has been uprated with a strip of 3 imperforate 1 kopeck stamps which have been neatly perforated 11.5 [line perf I think]. It is impossible to say who did this in the absence of more examples.

What is perhaps most surprising is that if this perforation was done locally, then someone had a very good perforating machine out in mainly rural and poor Poltava guberniya. Perhaps a printer of Zemstvo stamps had one ...

Other Uses for 3 kopeck Imperial Arms stamps

Every Russia collector must be familiar with 3 kopeck Imperial Arms stamps used to frank postcards and picture postcards in the period between, say, 1900 and 1917. That was undoubtedly their main use.

But 3 kopecks was also a tariff for other categories of mail and these are worth looking for. Above you will see a "Sample Without Value" [ text saying this on the left of the envelope] sent from PETROGRAD / 53 OTDEL / 18 7 17 to Helsinki, with Finnish censor cachet in red dated 2 VIII 17. The envelope was sealed only with a string or metal tag [ now missing] so that it could be easily opened. The franking is provided by a 3 kopeck imperforate from the 1917 provisional issue of the Arms stamps

I think this is a nice item and it's not for sale :)