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Monday 28 May 2012

Turkmenistan since 1991

Today I was asking the question, From which former Soviet Union republic is it most difficult to find mail?
In the 1990s, several of the ex-Soviet republics experienced some disorganisation at some point and mail - internal or external - becomes very scarce. I think this is true for Georgia in the early 1990s for example.
But over the ten year period from 1991 to 2001, my guess is that mail from Turkmenistan (internal or external) is the most difficult to find. Maybe this is only true for someone living in Western Europe - perhaps there is lots of Turkmen mail going East and I haven't seen it.
Anyway, I have only about 20 items of mail from the 1991 - 2001 period, all going out of the country and only two or three items from a place other than Ashgabat - one is shown at the top of this page.

The country has issued very few stamps compared to the other ex-Soviet republics. At first, there was a philatelic agency involved which protected its New Issue revenues by issuing stamps locally in a damaged state (see my previous Turkmenistan Blog for an example). Later stamp issues were often simple in design and imperforate - I show a couple of examples above.

There have also been postal stationery revaluations which I am sure are interesting. I can only show two examples above.

Wenden: Cheaper than Zemstvos!

The district of Wenden, now in Latvia, operated a postal service from 1863 to 1903. The service functioned very much like a Zemstvo post: Wenden stamps carried mail only within the district; outside, Imperial stamps needed to be added.
Though Wenden stamps were often reprinted to satisfy the demands of collectors, the postal service was perfectly genuine. The Arms type stamps shown in my illustration were in use for nearly twenty years and a useful study can be made of papers, perforations and shades. Cancellations other than pen crosses are very scarce, however.

Most of the stamps of Wenden are inscribed in German reflecting the language of the dominant families of this region, but I notice that the last stamp of Wenden (1901) - showing the castle - is inscribed in Cyrillic.

Coveres and cards are not that scarce. They are usually combination items with Imperial stamps and can be found priced from about 100 euro to about 300 euro. Ideally, the Wenden stamp should be tied with the Imperial cancellation since it is easy to fake a Wenden cover by adding a pen cancelled stamp like those shown above.

It occurs to me that I do not think I have seen a combination cover going into Wenden, with the Wenden stamp paying for local delivery. Perhaps local mail delivery was free and did not require a stamp. Perhaps incoming mail is just that much scarcer. Comments?

12 November 2016: In relation to the Comment below, Wenden was not a Zemstvo because the Imperial government's authorisation of Zemstvo organisations did not extend to include the Lifland guberniya. I just assume that the Wenden postal service was really an exercise of some Baltic Baron's historical privilege and which was tolerated. But I have not read the history.

Monday 21 May 2012

Romania Bulls Head Forgeries

In the last Blog post I showed what I believe is a genuine Bulls Head (of course, I need to get a Certificate and hope to do so). The price of getting this stamp was that I had to buy the forgeries shown above.

The two forgeries of the 54 Parale are not really serious: for example,the "4" in "54" is closed. It should be open. That is like a Big Mistake.

The 81 Parale in the top row is trying harder but when I compare it to the colour illustrations in Heimbüchler, I notice first of all that the ears are quite wrong. Also, the left foot of the "P" of "PORTO" does not have the characteristics decribed by Heimbüchler - the left foot should be sloping away to the left.

The 81 Parale on the "Hamburger" fragment is more interesting. The paper is too blue - it's very pretty - but the design is quite good. I had to study for some time before I could pick out an obvious mistake: in the double oval around the "81", to the right (south east) side, there is a fine line of shading inside the double oval. I cannot see anything like this in Heimbüchler's illustrations. And, once again, the left foot of the "P" of "PORTO" does not slope away to the left

The real failure is perhaps the cancellation. Ignore the weak RECEPISSE. The WASLUI / MOLDOVA 28/8 in pale grey is not a plausible colour - and, I then discover, Heimbüchler actually lists this WASLUI 28/8 as a cancellation which appears on modern (1960s onwards) forgeries (page 217)

Sunday 20 May 2012

My First Bulls Head! 108 Parale used

I have never had a first issue Bulls Head before. And I don't think I have ever before had a stamp with a catalogue value of 10000 €uro (Michel). It's genuine.

Actually, it is a much more common stamp than many of the stamps of Ukraine and Armenia that I handle but which have catalogue values a fraction of the Bulls Heads.

In his very big book on the Bulls Heads, Die Ochsenköpfe der Moldau, Fritz Heimbüchler records no less than 177 used copies of the 108 Parale, over half of them used at Jassy.

My stamp is in poor condition though it looks quite good from the front. I have spent some time trying to figure out the postmark. It could be BAKEU, BERLAD or BOTUSCHANI.

Now at Bakeu, they cut the stamps round and my stamp is cut round ... Heimbüchler records just two copies of the 108 Parale used at Bakeu.

At Berlad, the dates slugs are often reversed with the month at top and day at bottom. My stamp shows this. But Heimbüchler says that they also did this at Bakeu. He records 9 copies of the 108 Parale used at Berlad.

He records two copies used at Botuschani. All three offices with names beginning with "B" cancelled in blue ink so this one could have been used there.

I am inclined to the view that the cancel is BERLAD. Heimbüchler illustrates over-inked examples of this cancellation like the one on my stamp. But if it is Berlad, then the stamp has probably been cut round by some past philatelist - they did things like that :(

It would be nice if it was Bakeu, in which case you would expect it to be cut round.

The stamp is for sale.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

St Petersburg / Petrograd Prigorod Fiscals: a Correction!

I have removed two of my Posts about these Fiscals.I got things wrong.This is partly because I was only looking for one thing and partly because there is a confusion in the Barefoot Russia Revenues catalogue.

Above is my current stockbook holding of the Fiscals in question. All are inscribed S. PETERBURGA on the right, except for one 3 kop imperforate stamp stamp (bottom left) which is inscribed PETROGRADA.

In the Barefoot catalogue, page 76, the Petrograd issue is not listed. It looks like some text got left out. Before the listing of numbers 21 - 24 there needs to be a line identifying these stamps as Imperforate and inscribed Petrograd. But in the catalogue, 21 - 24 are included with the perforated stamps of 1901 inscribed St Petersburg.

As a result, I only looked at the left hand side of my stamps, looking for the plate error Reversed "I" in "PRIGOROD.." which means that the Cyrillic "I" looks like a Roman "N". I found examples on the 3 kop and 15 kop imperforate. But Barefoot lists them only on the perforated stamps (21a, 23a) and not on the imperforate issue of 1883. So I thought I had found something new. What I failed to notice was that my stamps were inscribed Petrograd not St Petersburg and it is on the Petrograd - inscribed issue that one should be looking for this known plate variety.

My apologies. This is what happens when you look at only the left hand side of your stamp when you should also be looking at the right hand side :)

Monday 7 May 2012

Souren Serebrakian Specials: Armenian Dashnak stamps

A few Blogs ago, I wrote about the "Constantinople Group" and included Souren Serebrakian (1900 - 1990).

Though born in Tiflis, Souren Serebrakian found himself in Yerevan in 1920 where he put together a stock of Dashnak Armenian overprints which lasted him a lifetime. His philatelic activity began in February or March and came to an end in August or September, when he made his way out of the Caucasus.

I started collecting and dealing in Armenia just after his death and acquired a lot of material from Serebrakian's widow in New York who continued trading until her own death (in 1997). I remember her as a lively and interesting person. Eventually, all the remaining Armenia stock was auctioned at Cherrystone.

I always kept the photocopies of stocksheets which Mrs Serebrakian used to send me - now I have passed them to Stefan Berger to assist his work as an Expertiser for classic Armenian stamps.

I was once told (I think by Dr Ceresa) that Souren Serebrakian was the nephew of a post office official in Yerevan. This may explain why he was able to obtain all kinds of "counter surcharges" to enhance his stock, notably overprints on Imperial stamps which were not being officially overprinted. Some of these stamps he put on postcards which he sent to his brother in Tiflis (they arrived).

Maybe he was also allowed behind the counter to use the handstamps himself and to fool around making small varieties. The illustration above shows two "Serebrakian Specials", created on stamps which were being officially and regularly overprinted in large quantities.(In the catalogue, they are Michel 8 and 12, with modest valuations).

In the first case, he has angled the large framed Z handstamp, pressing down on the right hand frame. The handstamp has also been inverted. I show a pair of normal overprints, with the framed Z the right way up, for comparison.

In the second case, he has used a medium framed Z handstamp (probably E4) to create smudged overprints placed in different positions on the stamps. I don't have a regular E4 for comparison. Note that all the 35 kop stamps are in the same shade - they could even be from the same sheet (see how the right hand side perfs touch the frame line of the design)

In both cases, it is only when you have a few copies of the Specials that you can really see that you are dealing with a deliberately created small variety. Probably each Special was created in small quantities: you did one sheet using one trick, then the next sheet using another trick. Occasionally, Serebrakian signed these varieties. In later life he used a small boxed SER - and as far as I can tell, he usually reserved this for stamps which he knew to be scarce (like framed Z on 1 kop perforated or 7 kop perforated). None of the stamps shown above have this boxed signature.

These little varieties are collectible as part of the philatelic history of Dashnak Armenia. What are they worth? In many cases, not very much. I suppose they merit a premium of about 100% on the basic stamp value, so in the example above 10 to 15 €uro each. But I think yo will agree with me, they do look more interesting when shown as a small group

Postscript 8 May: In his Comment (see below) Vasilis asks the interesting question, How do I know the overprints on 35 kopeck are original, from genuine handstamps.

It's true that I assumed that because they were from Serebrakian stock they must be OK. In my experience, even after 70 years the stock was remarkably free of contamination by forgeries. But there are two other things to consider:

(1) the ink is within the range of those found at this time. It looks to me like someone has added some oil or even some water to the ink pad to produce the smudged effect, but it is still ink in the right ball park;

(2) there is a family of these smudged / unclear overprints with some of them showing more clearly the outlines of the handstamp used. I have picked some from my stockbook and show them below - not all of these are from the same handstamp (some are medium and some are Large).

To get a better answer, we need to ask Tobias Huylmans to use his microscope again (see his recent Blog) or Stefan Berger to join the discussion ....  Postscript 20 April 2013: Tobias has looked at the stamps, including the 35 kopeck smudged overprints, and concludes that the ink is the same type on all stamps

Thursday 3 May 2012

Baltic Fiscals? Estonia, Latvia 1918 - 1940

First, Thank You to Tobias Huylmans for providing the previous Blog post. It's already had a lot of readers.

In the office this morning I was looking for things to put in auctions. I found a box of Fiscal stamps from 1918 - 1945 Estonia and Latvia, lots of individual stamps - many of them "better" sorts like Court fiscals from both countries. I have had this material for years. There is very little interest - well, it doesn't come my way

I don't often try to sell things on this Blog, but today: if anyone wants a stock of Baltic Fiscals (or even part of a stock ...) I've got one :) Just send me an email to