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Friday 31 August 2012

Transcaspia, Bukhara, Khiva and Tashkent before 1924

You come across postal material from Russian Central Asia so infrequently that you forget the geography and the history between one item and the next.

I have just tried to improve my background knowledge by reading Seymour Becker's Russia's Protectorates in Central Asia, Bukhara and Khiva 1865 - 1924 . This is an old book (1968) re-issued in 2004 with minimal changes. So it does not make use of any archive material released after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, I found it interesting and helpful.

For example, it gave me an explanation of why stamps with Bukharan (and to a lesser extent) Khivan cancellations are quite common - compared to previous periods - from the period of the First World War and even immediately after. The War disrupted the supply of American cotton to Russia. As a result, Russia turned to Bukhara and Khiva and their cotton production very significantly increased after 1914. So there would have been more commercial mail.

Becker's brief account of the evolution of Bukhara and Khiva in the years immediately after the Bolshevik revolution, when short-lived People's Soviet Republics replaced the Emirate and the Khanate, also helps situate the popular Bukharan fiscal stamps of this period and the rare stamps, apparently prepared for postal use, which come from Khorezm (as Khiva was briefly re-named).

In the Imperial period, Russian fiscal stamps would have been used in enclaves and activities under Russian jurisdiction. But neither the Khan of Khiva or the Emir of Bukhara used fiscal stamps in their own jurisdictions which were, for most of the nineteenth century, without any kind of printing shops.

Before the fall of the Romanovs, neither Bukhara or Khiva ran independent postal or telegraphic services; these were provided by Imperial Russia and stamps used in Khiva and Bukhara are classified as "Used Abroad" (for example, in Part Three of Tchilingirian and Stephen's Stamps of the Russian Empire Used Abroad (1958)). But as supposedly independent people's republics, from 1920 to 1923, both Khiva and Bukhara operated independent post and telegraph services, though how extensive those services were I do not know.

The Bukharan fiscals of the early Soviet period belong in the context of the modernisation of Bukhara's independent administration.(I am always a willing buyer for these stamps)

From the period before 1900, and except for Tashkent, material from Central Asia is pretty scarce. Someone had to point out to me the significance of the cover below. It was sent from MERV ZAKASPS OB[last] 6 NOV 1888 to Finland. Well, Merv [Mary] an oasis of a few thousand people in the fairly lawless and Turkoman Kara Kum desert was only annexed by Russia in 1884. The Central Asian railroad from Krasnovodsk through Ashkabad only reached Merv in 1886, so this is a very early cover from the interior of the Transcaspian Oblast.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Baku Court Revenue Stamps before 1917

I don't enjoy plating stamps, but I make an exception for Baku Court Fiscals. They were printed in vertical strips of six, like raffle [lottery] tickets - on the left was a counterfoil [receipt] and on the right the stamps. The stamps are always imperforate on the right side. The stamp in # 1 position is also imperforate at top and the stamp in position # 6 is also imperforate at the base. So, in fact, there are really only four stamps to plate :)

Complete strips do exist, but if you do not have them, you can still plate using overlapping smaller multiples. This is how I worked when I first acquired a stock of these stamps about 15 years ago - see an example of my working notes above showing how I used overlapping pairs as the basis.

In a 1996 article, Jack Moyes listed 13 different styles, all produced in the lottery ticket format, but only four of these are normally encountered - these are the ones shown at the top. In all cases, the counterfoils (the left hand parts) are rare - I have never handled a single example. Complete documents with these stamps are also rare which is the main reason why it is not easy to date the different types accurately. Cancellations are generally undated so little information is available that way. But with patience, it might be possible to make more progress.

At some point, it seems, someone clipped hundreds of these stamps from original documents and they ended up (inevitably!) in the collection of Agathon Fabergé. He passed them to his son Oleg, who did not do much work on them, and from Oleg they passed to the great collector of Finnish revenue stamps, B. E. Saarinen who died this year at the age of 90. He sold his Russian revenue collection many years ago and I was (eventually) one of the buyers for parts of it.

Jack G Moyes, "Russia - A Classification of the Baku District Court Stamps", The Revenue Journal of Great Britain, vol VII, No 2, September 1996, pages 27 - 33

Friday 17 August 2012

Armenia: Postally Used Dashnak Stamps 1919-21

Postally Used Dashnak Stamps? Mission Almost Impossible.

Over the past twenty years, I have handled thousands of Dashnak stamps - and maybe six commercial or philatelic covers and cards, which can only be obtained as expensive single item Lots in auction.

At one point, it occurred to me to look at my stamps and take out any that looked postally used as opposed to Cancelled to Order (Favour cancelled).

CTO stamps normally have neat, full cancels "socked on the nose" or they have neat quarter cancels. Only four places seem to have cancelled to order: Alexandropol, Erivan [ maybe 90% of the total], Elenovka and Katarsky Zavod (the copper mines at Giryusy). The last two places favour cancelled only a tiny number of stamps. Most CTO stamps will have gum but, of course, this can be washed off and sometimes is.

From my stocks, I picked out maybe thirty stamps. A few were on pieces and one had a violet Censor cachet across it. These I sold. The rest are shown above.

Given the Tariffs at this period, you would expect to find mainly rouble value stamps or stamps with rouble surcharges. However, early on there was a 60 kopeck tariff and a 1 rouble 20 tariff. Since there is no 60 kopeck Imperial stamp, then a 50 Kopeck + 10 kopeck would have been an efficient two stamp way of reaching 60 kopecks [ 25 + 35 is also possible but no other combination]. For 1 rouble 20, 1 rouble + 20 kopeck is one of two ways of obtaining that rate; the other is to use two 1 kopeck stamps with 60k Armenian overprints. [At Katarsky Zavod the local 1 r 20 overprint on 1 kopeck would have also served].

This reasoning leaves some puzzles in relation to the stamps shown above which include a 2 kopeck and 3 kopeck imperforate with unframed Z. These stamps could have been soaked from philatelic covers, like those sent by Souren Serebrakian to his brother in Tiflis. These are normally correctly franked, but with a variety of low value adhesives.

I also have some doubts about the 3r on 3 kopeck and 5r on 2 kopeck imperforate shown in the top row on the right. These have ERIVAN "k" cancellations which are associated with the speculative activity of Paul Melik - Pacher / Pachaev / Pachaian about which I have Blogged before. It's possible that these two stamps are also soaked from philatelic covers.

This perhaps shows that though they exist postally used Dashnak stamps are needles in haystacks or hen's teeth.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Turkmenistan's Officially Damaged Olympics Stamps

First of all: A reader of this Blog asks me about Turkmenistan postal rates since 1991. I have no idea! Does anyone know? Are they published somewhere? If you can help, please use the Comment box to help. Thanks.

A year ago I blogged about Turkmenistan's officially damaged stamps, but I did not have a scanner able to show them properly. Now I do. See the cover and the enlarged section - and look at the right margin of the stamp.

Some stamps sold at post office counters in the 1990s had perforations cut off on one side. Stanley Gibbons says this was done to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics set and the 1993 overprints on this set. Maybe other stamps were also treated this way.

The idea was to protect the revenues of the official New Issue sellers. You could not compete by going to the post office and buying stamps because you would be supplied with pre-damaged copies.

This idea was not a new one. In Hungary in the 1920s, stamps sold over the counter had three pin holes punched in some of the stamps in the sheet. So if you bought a sheet of mint stamps, some of them would be damaged (the Perfin was regarded then as a form of damage).

Of course, today Hungary collectors pay a premium for stamps with the three hole Perfins, especially when used on ordinary commercial covers.

In the case of the Turkmenistan stamps, it is not really possible to collect the damaged copies in mint condition or used off cover - they need to be on cover and used at the time.

Why? Well, it's just too easy to fake the interesting stamps by cutting off the margins of any loose stamp you happen to have.

That reminds me of a story. Once upon a time, a man walked in to a stamp shop in England and said that a dealer had once sold him some really rare stamps. And now the man wished to sell these really rare stamps. He had bisected stamps from the German Occupation of the Channel Islands - unmounted mint!

Friday 10 August 2012

Postal History and Social Philately: Russian Possibilities

Postal History involves looking at

Who sent
What to
By what Means (How)
At what Cost (Tariffs)
and at what Risk (Loss, Censorship, etc)
And Why?

What makes this History is that it is looked at over time. But the interest in Who, What and Whom is also an interest that might be called Social Philately.

Consider an easy example. You could study, for Imperial Russia, Who sent Visiting Cards and to Whom and Why. You would learn about social class, about etiquette, and so on. Along the way, you might look at who produced visiting cards, and how much they cost, and you might notice that there were even postal stationery envelopes produced for them (some of them privately ordered).

More obviously connected to postal history, you would soon notice that special reduced tariffs were available - for much of the Imperial period, this can be summarised by saying 1 kopeck for local sendings; 2 kopecks for anywhere in the Empire (including from Levant or China post offices); 3 kopecks for abroad. This is maybe a bit surprising; after all, you will have already realised that the people who send visiting cards are people who can (easily) afford to send them. They don't really need reduced tariffs. Nor do visiting cards obviously benefit Trade and Industry, unlike commercial printed matter.

So this could be an interesting collection with lots of scope for setting it in context. And you will be able to explain why you don't find Visiting Cards being sent after 1917...

I just finished reading Orlando Figes, Just Send Me Word (2012). This is based on a 1246 letter correspondence between Lev Mischenko in the Gulag at Pechora in the Komi ASSR 1946 - 54 and Svetlana Ivanov in Moscow. The letters are now held by Memorial in Moscow. Lev Mischenko published part of his autobiography before his death: Poka ia pomniu (Moscow 2006).

To make a serious collection of Gulag correspondence would not be easy. Letters to or from prisoners are not common. Letters to or from the central and local branches of the Camp administration (the MVD) also seem to be uncommon. I have only handled a few examples of Gulag-related material in recent years. Maybe much more material exists in Russia. Maybe much of it passes unnoticed in dealers' boxes - it rarely looks very interesting.

There is also the fact to be taken into account, and which Figes discusses in his book, that prisoners often tried to get their letters sent for them outside the Camp so that they were able to avoid censorship. This involved bribing guards or finding free workers willing to help. Likewise, if prisoners could find an address outside the Camp to which their families could write - the final stage of the delivery then being undertaken privately - then they too could write more freely. These "outside" addresses are like the "undercover addresses" in Neutral countries, which during the second World War allowed people to correspond with relatives living in enemy territory.

Visiting Cards and Gulag letters are two completely different worlds, and not the easiest. In contrast, Prisoner of War correspondence is an "easy" field in which to do interesting postal history - especially for World War One, it is freely available and cheap. Correspondence to or from Arctic and Antarctic stations is another "doable" field. But, really, the list is as long as you like to make it. At the moment, I am looking at Parcel Cards from the 1917 - 1921 period - and I am interested in buying more.

Monday 6 August 2012

Russia and Ukraine 1917 - 23: Private and Postmaster Perforations

Local perforations are usually neglected. There are two main reasons, I think. First, they are usually rare - an exception would be local perforations on stamps of Estonia 1918 - 1920. Second, partly because of this, it is often difficult to establish whether a perforation was the work of a post office (a "Postmaster provisional perforation") or the work of a private company (which wanted to speed up work in its post room) or the work of an enterprising philatelist who saw the chance of creating a variety.

The perforated Denikin stamp shown on the Money Transfer Form above is likely to remain a puzzle. It is being used in the Soviet period, revalued x 100 times. It has a heavy strike of the postmark of VOZNESENSK - RUDNIK, EKAT [erinoslav] 8 6 20, tying it to the card in such a way that it rules out any kind of manipulation of the stamp after use.

It is being used in an area of Ukraine occupied by Denikin's forces, so is a stamp left behind and now used as a Trophy stamp. The card is addressed outside Ukraine to Ivan, Orlovsk where it did indeed arrive 15 6 20.

It is perforated 9.5 - 10, so not the gauge used for officially perforated rouble value Denikins.

So who did it? The postmaster in this small office? It seems unlikely. But who else?

The only way to begin to solve the puzzle is to find more examples of low value Denikins perforated like this and maybe cancelled from the same office. Out there, such stamps probably exist, since when you perforate stamps you perforate sheets of them.

(This Money Transfer Form was in the Robert Taylor 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: