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Monday 30 December 2013

New Year's Resolutions


I don't go around asking for discounts from dealers. But I am going to start in the New Year: if the Dealer has pencilled their price on a cover, I am going to ask for 10% discount. It's like a stamp hinge: you can remove a hinge from a mint stamp, but it leaves a trace. You can rub out a pencilled price, but it always leaves a trace - quite often a crease where your rubber snags against the paper.

If the dealer has added other random thoughts "Unusual destination", " TPO", "Early date" ... then I will ask for 20% discount.

If some Italian expert or Roger Calves has autographed the cover, I will ask for 10% discount for each autograph.

I suggest you do the same. Only in this way will we kill the lazy habits of some dealers. The place for a cover is inside a plastic holder and the place for the price is on the holder. The place for an Expert Opinion is on a Photo Certificate. There is really no room for debate about this.


I am going to sell most of my remaining cheap and bulky stock through Worthing Stamp Auctions in March. UK readers please note!

I have maybe 50 stockbooks and boxes with "back up" stock of the stamp issues in which I specialise - mostly Ukraine and Transcaucasia. Nothing very much happens with this material - it just gives me a sense of familiarity, a sense of how these stamps should look when they are genuine ... It's an expensive luxury which takes up a lot of space. I am going to drive the stock down to Heinrich Koehler in Wiesbaden and consign them for their March auction. European readers please note!

I will continue to consign nice items between 10€ and 100€ to the Internet auction Everyone have a look!


I am going to focus on Russia - mostly Bolshevik-controlled Russia - in the period 1917 - 1921, the period of the Civil War and "War Communism". If I need something else to keep me busy, then I am tempted by the first Moscow police fiscals in use from the 1860s onwards. Don't ask me why, but if you have any for sale, feel free to make an offer :)


It will continue :)

Saturday 7 December 2013

German Occupation of Crimea 1918

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I sometimes forget just how extensive was  the German Occupation of former Imperial Russia after the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. It is worth Googling and looking at the map! 

Here for example is an ordinary business letter from the port of KERCH on the extreme eastern tip of the Crimean peninsula, but occupied by Germany in 1918 after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It was posted there on 9 11 18 just two days before the general Armistice of 11 11 18 and despite all the military and political upheavals, appears to have arrived in Munich. Though the cachet on the reverse - the number 499 in circle - does not tell us when,  I think it is a regular Munich distribution mark, not a censor cachet which could have been applied anywhere along the route.

Though the address is typed in German, "Germany" is written in Cyrillic at the top left.

It's the Tariff of 25 kopecks which made me look twice at this apparently unremarkable letter. But if the port had been under the control of the Ukrainian National republic at this time, I would expect the stamp to have a Trident overprint - tolerance of unoverprinted stamps ended in October. So who was in charge of the civilian postal service at this date?

The cancellation is one which continues in use during the Civil War - I have seen it on Denikin 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:

Thursday 21 November 2013

Armenian Forgeries

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It's hard to get excited about forgeries of Dashnak Armenian stamps. They were produced on an industrial scale - and no doubt there is someone still producing them. You don't need more than kindergarten skills.

Many forgeries were probably produced by people who did not possess genuine examples and had only seen pictures. Some forgeries were produced by people copying forgeries which they may have thought to be genuine examples - for Dashnak overprints they may have put their trust in the illustrations of Yvert et Tellier, all of which are (or were - I last looked a few years ago) copied from forgeries.  Over the decades, Yvert probably did more harm to Armenian philately than any other catalogue. 

The forger who produced the small multiples shown above had almost certainly seen genuine stamps since he (it's normally he) has copied a feature you see on genuine sheets - the post office clerk testing out his (then it was always his) handstamp in the sheet margin. As forgeries, these are consequently Above Average.

The 10r on 25 kopeck imperforate forgery is interesting. This is a stamp which I think exists in genuine state, but it's rare - the 25 kop was not a common stamp imperforate and it would probably only have reached Armenia in the first Bolshevik period (end 1920 - beginning 1921) and would then have been used by Melik-Pachaev to produce scarce philatelic varieties in the second Dashnak period of 1921. 

Though basic stamps and Dashnak overprints are combined in a myriad of ways, many of the permutations the inspired work of dealers and speculators, there is one area where some kind of discipline was maintained. This is the case for high value overprints (50 rouble and 100 rouble) on rouble value basic stamps. The 50 r overprint was normally applied to the 1 rouble stamp and the 100 rouble overprint to the other high value stamps (3r 50, 5r, 7r, 10r). Though genuine 100r overprints can be found on the 1 rouble, 50 rouble overprints do not appear to exist on the higher value stamps. Some 5r stamps exist overprinted 25r - and then corrected to 100r. 

So it appears that either a ruling by the post office or the economics of the situation meant that no one got hold of surcharges below 100r on stamps above 1 rouble It's curious but seems to be true. 

But spaces for lower value surcharges on higher value stamps found their way into old French album pages and forgers obliged with stamps to fit. Or vice versa: the album pages were designed for the forgeries. Below I show an old album page, given to me at the Paris Salon d'Automne with spaces for 50 r surcharges on imperforate 3r50 and 5r stamps (#73, 74). And I also show a block of 50r on 5r forgeries from an old dealer's stock which I bought at auction many years ago in Paris's rue Druout stamp trade district. I think it's a chicken and egg situation: did the album page come first or the forgery?

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Thursday 14 November 2013

Post-Soviet Meter Frankings

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Some of us are slower to adapt to changes than others. Here is an office clerk stuck with a Soviet-era meter franking machine which only goes up to 9 rubles 99 kopecks. But he or she is trying to send a large envelope from Moscow to Estonia in July 1973. I count 86 individually-applied labels at 900 kopecks and 2 at 300 kopecks, yielding a total franking of 780 roubles. The Catch 22 is that the weight of these labels and the glue used to apply them probably altered the weight step for this letter ....

In other offices,clerks dealt with the inflation problem by removing the "k" for "kopeck" on the machine and inserting a "p" for "ruble". In this case, the franking could then have been applied by using just one label. 

This is by no means the most exotic item you could find from Russia's 1990s inflation.

Monday 11 November 2013

Soviet Union - Meter Franking and Stamp Automats

Meter mark frankings from the Soviet Union do not become common until after 1945. Some early meter marks command high prices - or at least, high prices in the catalogues.

An automat franking is not the same thing as a meter mark franking. With an automat you put in your money and the machine then franks your letter. It is then ready for the mail box. The cover below shows what I take to be an example of this kind of automat franking:

Click on Images to Magnify

I have never seen anything like this before. Can any of my readers help? 

The dates on all the postmarks are compatible with the automat date of 2 8 38 and the 5 kopecks would have to be a local tariff. The cancels on the reverse are all a bit exotic: the roller cancel reads LENINSKI UZEL and the two double ring cancels read FRUNZENSKI  and FRUNZESNKI UZEL (My dictionary gives "junction" and "centre" for UZEL)

I would guess that this is a philatelist's letter - it's partly the very careful handwriting which makes me think this and partly the fact that the letter has been opened at the bottom, not the top (leaving the meter mark neatly framed by the unopened top of the envelope). But I may be wrong.

Automats are things which go Out of Order. I cannot imagine that Moscow's AUTOMAT No. 1 was in use for very long. But did it even exist? Answers please!

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Romanovs in the Soviet Union

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I came across this Banderole in a dealer's box. It reminded me that there is an interesting collection to be made from the posthumous (post - 1917) use of the 1913 Romanov Tercentenary issue and its associated stationeries.

The item shown is of course a 1 kopeck Romanov newspaper wrapper. It has been used as a Blank in 1932 by the Soviet Philatelic Association sending a journal to Austria. This is a very late use but it continues a practice established by the S Ph A in the 1920s to use / use up Romanov postal stationery. 

The Romanov stamps themselves were invalidated in Bolshevik Russia at the time of the x 100 Revaluation in 1920 but even then some later, sanctioned (non-philatelic) uses can be found. In a previous Blog I showed the 20 / 14 kop Romanov being used at x 100 on Money Transfers in 1920 Siberia; it was almost certainly being used as some kind of Postmaster Provisional in the context of a stamp shortage.

It seems that the Soviets were reasonably relaxed about the Romanov stamps, except those portraying Nicholas II. Late uses of those stamps are rare and probably illustrate no more than a philatelist taking a risk. How big a risk, I don't know.

Friday 1 November 2013

The One Kopeck Tariff in Russia, Imperial and Soviet

Imperial Russia had a One Kopeck tariff from 1866 to 1917. The items of mail which qualified for this concessionary tariff varied throughout the period, but still it should be possible to find every variety of Imperial one kopeck stamp used as a single franking. This includes the 1 kopeck imperforate of 1917 (I have one example). Below I illustrate an early item from the well-known Gunzburg correspondence. This is a single sheet of printed matter sent in June 1869 from St Petersburg to Vilnius, franked with a 1 kopeck on horizontally laid paper. I show both sides of the lettersheet (Click on Images to enlarge them) :

Perhaps more surprising, a 1 kopeck tariff was re-introduced in the early Soviet Union. I have only a few examples and illustrate them below. The first from October 1923 is a printed item sent locally in Petrograd franked with an imperforate Worker stamp. The second item is an unsealed envelope containing Printed Matter (PECHATNOE) sent locally within Leningrad in 1925 and franked with a perforated Worker stamp. You can see that it was unsealed, with the flap tucked into the envelope, because the roller cancel on the back does not run all the way across the flap. The final item is a single printed sheet sent locally in Leningrad in 1929 and franked with a large Head Worker definitive. The printed text would make it a nice item for a Pushkin collector

Whereas auctions are full of high-value frankings you will very rarely see 1 kopeck frankings in auction. But some of them are much scarcer than the 30 or 40 or 50 kopeck frankings. You will have to look for the 1 kopecks in dealers' boxes ...

Wednesday 30 October 2013

A Puzzling Trident from Odessa

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The Type 1 Trident overprint of Odessa was printed from a lithographic plate of 10 x 10, designed for Imperial kopeck value stamps.

It is therefore rather strange that John Bulat lists Type 1 on two rouble values - the 10 x 10 plate would simply not work applied to rouble value sheets. But Bulat has the following:

1077 1 rub imperforate valued at - - mint and $125 used
1078  3.50 rub imperforate valued at - - mint and - - used

I can only illustrate one example of these stamps; I did not make a note of where I got it from, but it is probably from the Schmidt collection. There are no markings or signatures on the back of the stamp but nearly everything looks plausible:

- the stamp appears to have been postally used on a formular card and has a triangular punch hole and a trace of blue crayon
- the ODESSA 10 10 18 cancel looks good - the only doubtful element is the difference in style between the first "10" (which looks slightly doubled ) and the second "10" but this may be of no significance
- the Trident looks good too. It's in the right kind of ink and it's under the cancellation.

BUT if this is Odessa Type 1 then really only two possibilities exist:

- there was a second Odessa 1 plate adapted to fit ruble value sheets
- there was some kind of handstamp made based on Odessa 1 and applied by hand to ruble value stamps (just like Odessa 4 - 6 handstamps)

Can anyone show more examples of this stamp or find references in the philatelic literature? Do any multiples exist?

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 20 October 2013

Priceless Stamps of Ukraine

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Sometime in the 1990s - I forget when - I bought a Lot in an auction held by the nice Hamburg firm of Schwanke und Sohn. The Lot comprised about 20 000 or 30 000 Trident overprinted stamps, nearly all in complete sheets. The sheets were neatly folded but just once in the middle and they had been very carefully stored. Some sheets had pencilled remarks in the margins, always accurate. Most of them were common stamps and all were genuine. Over the years I have sold most of these stamps - and probably given away some of them in desperate moments.

Today I came across a few sheets which remain. Here is one sheet. These are 15 kopeck imperforate stamps overprinted with Kyiv type 2 using a single handstamp type 2a. This is # 285 in the Bulat catalogue where it is priced at  - -  mint and $55 used.

I think there was a second identical sheet or part sheet which I cut up into strips of 5 to supply clients with Bulat - based (or Seichter - based) Wants Lists. There has never been any temptation to cut up this sheet. There does not seem to be a queue of people looking for Bulat # 285.

Material like this is a bit of a headache, really. The sheet is not attractive. There are no Zeppelins. The obscure variety it illustrates is of interest to almost no one. And the stamp is priceless. 

You might say that this is ideal auction material - in the right auction, this sheet will find its price. Well, if I offer it for 10 euro then I guess it would sell for more than that. If I offer it for 100 euro, I am not sure it would sell. And yet the fact of Bulat's  - -  suggests that this is a scare or rare stamp. (He might be wrong of course. But maybe I picked up most of the global supply of this stamp in that Schwanke auction ...)

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 16 October 2013

Zemstvo Postmarks and Cachets

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Maybe someone somewhere is working on a Handbook of Zemstvo Postmarks and Cachets.  It will be an enormous and frustrating task. There must have been thousands of postmarks and cachets used by Zemstvo Posts - and probably 90% of them are rare.

In the previous Blog I wrote about going through Flea Market boxes looking for postcards. Look through enough boxes and you will eventually find something like the item above. But what is it?

It's a picture postcard of Essentuki, posted in that holiday resort on 23 VII 1907. The stamp is cancelled ESSENTUKI TERSKOE and this cancel is repeated twice to the left of the stamp. 

At the bottom of the card is an oval violet cachet struck in violet dated 26 JUL 1907 and with "2k" written in red ink. But the card is correctly franked at 3 kopecks so how come someone wants to raise 2 kopecks Postage Due?

The card is addressed to Poltava guberniya (in the first line) and then to what I read as Kobelyaki uyezd (District) in the second line. After that, it gets difficult. 

But my guess is that the violet cachet belongs to Kobelyaki Zemstvo and that it reads KOBELYAKI ZEMSTVO POST though only the initial "KO" and the final "Ta" of POCHTa is clear. The 2 kopecks represents the fee for local delivery within the Zemstvo.

The known postmarks of Kobelyaki at this period are struck in violet, they are oval, and they have a saw tooth outer frame like that on this cachet - they are however in a larger format.

That's as far as I can get with Google. And the chances of one of my readers being able to show the same cachet are, I suspect, very small - but not impossible, which is why I put up today's Blog.

Postscript: This item has now been Sold

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Zemstvo Stamps on Postcards Three examples from Ustsysolsk

In recent years, Forgers have spent many many hours going through boxes of cheap Russian postcards circa 1900 – 1917 looking for ones which could be “improved” by the addition of Zemstvo stamps – or even Zemstvo stamps combined with new Imperial stamps applied to replace the ones which unthinking collectors had removed in the distant past.

Some of these forgeries are childish but still fool collectors and the editors of serious philatelic journals: look at those below, two of many promoted to the pages of specialist Journals by the late George Werbizky. They hardly need comment. If you can’t see that they are Forgeries, you shouldn’t be collecting Zemstvos.

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But some forgeries are much better and, as a result, all late use of Zemstvo stamps on postcards must be treated with suspicion. But sometimes doing the necessary Forensics is not so difficult. Look at the two cards below, for example:

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The first card – a typical Easter greetings card - was posted in Moscow and cancelled there on 1 4 14 with one strike on the stamp (paying the correct Tariff) and a standard second strike to the left. In any of the world’s flea markets it would cost very little.

The Ustsysolsk Zemstvo stamp adds a lot of value, even though the basic stamp here is a common one. It has a cancellation which appears to be one employed in Ustsysolsk Zemstvo, but weakly struck. A perfect strike can be seen on a cover in the Faberge sale (Lot 2548) where it can be seen to read USTSYSOLSKAYAR ZEMSKAYAR POCHTA. 

But on this card, and unlike the two Moscow cancels, it does not come through as a raised impression on the front of the card. So could it be a fake?

You can safely conclude that the answer is “No” without elaborate Forensic examination of the cancellation. This is because the address is very helpful:

In the first line, partly obscured by the Zemstvo stamp you can work out that the card is addressed to Ustsysolsk in Vologda guberniya. That is the kind of address Forgers love to find. But what comes next in the second line is what decides the question: the sender has written the words “Zemstvo Post” and further specified what seems to be an address in the Zemstvo which is underlined in red (probably by a Zemstvo postal official).

Anyway, the address leaves me in no doubt that this is a genuine Imperial + Zemstvo combination card.

It also helps me with another card, the third one illustrated above, apparently locally sent within the Zemstvo. 
This is a New Year greetings card dated 24 XII 1912. On the romantic front of the card is the name “Maria” surrounded by flowers and the card is being sent to a woman called Maria.  In fact, it’s the same Maria at the same address as on the previous card. So I reckon that if the previous card is an entirely genuine item so is this card.

In conclusion, here is a third card sent to Ustsysolsk from Vologda in 1912. Same stamp, same Zemstvo Post cancellation, and genuine. And the condition is much more like that you should expect than that of the Forgeries which George Werbizky liked to show.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Monday 30 September 2013

"Archive Fresh" for a Cover is the Equivalent of a Fresh Unmounted Mint ** Stamp

From the very beginning, dealers and collectors have tried hard to damage the objects they sell and collect.

Remember that once upon a time, collectors did not use hinges - they licked their mint stamps and stuck them to the album page. Then they discovered hinges - but as new hinges were added, the stamps quickly became stamps with a hump.

Finally, dealers and collectors discovered hingeless mounts and the worst damage to mint stamps came to an end. Tweezers also stopped much of the damage done by sticky fingers, though use tweezers carelessly when taking stamps from a stockbook and you can very quickly damage perforations.

What about covers? From the Archive to the Album page, here are some of the things which dealers and collectors still do to covers:

- They write on them. Dealers pencil their prices and collectors pencil their random thoughts. Arrows are popular. Occasionally, to make the point clear, they use Biro. I have even seen typed descriptions added to covers, saying things like Rare!!  underlined twice
- They take scissors or a knife to them to trim them or cut them to fit the album page
- They carefully pencil in bits of the cancellation which are not clear to the naked eye
- They use hinges to mount their cards and covers
- They have a handstamp made with their name and stamp their name onto the cover, preferably in smudgy violet ink
- They send their covers off to "Experts". They have their own ways of damaging the Object. Italian graffiti artists autograph the cover, as close to the stamp as they can get. Sometimes the whole Italian Team signs.

German Experts traditionally handstamp the cover on the back but sometimes the front - a position also favoured by Italian Experts who use handstamps.

And so on. Thus do items which were once "Archive Fresh" turn into the much-abused covers you find in Dealers' Boxes or optimistic Auctions.

If you insist on Unmounted Mint **  for your stamps then you should also insist on Archive Fresh for your covers.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Postmarks of Austrian Galicia - Kolomea

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Sorry! Pardon! Entschuldigung! I have not been on holiday. I have not been ill. I have been moving house - and that was complicated enough to keep me away from my Blog. I hope that I will soon resume normal service ...

Here is a cover I found recently in a dealer's stock. Unusually for this period, the LEMBERG cancel includes the year and not just the day and month - so it reads 24 Mar 835. So we know that this KOLOMEA cancel with "27" and "3" added in ink was in use in 1835. I haven't seen it before and I guess it is rare ... but I don't have a Handbook of Austrian postmarks to tell me how rare.

But for specialists in the postal history of this region, I am sure it is of interest. And I just noticed a little red owner's handstamp on the back which reads "Mazepa" ...

Feel free to add a Comment

Friday 2 August 2013

Ukraine Trident Overprints on Imperial rouble values - Kyiv Type 2

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Kyiv type 2 Trident overprints are the most common of all Tridents; copies can be found in the most basic collections. Partly because of this and partly because there are so many collectible varieties (Bulat 229 - 581), they get neglected. I certainly neglect my stock of them.

But suppose you concentrated just on overprints on rouble value stamps?

First of all, you would have to improve on Bulat's listing of the basic stamps which is very poor. You need to go to a good catalogue (Michel and Standard, for example) and establish the full range of stamps potentially available for overprinting. They differ in perforation, direction of varnish / chalk (Kreide) lines, shades, printing varieties, and so on.

That need not be a main focus of research. The large format of the rouble value stamps makes them a good basis for a postmark collection and the basic stamp used need not interest a postmark collector.

Interestingly, though philatelically-inspired varieties on kopeck values are quite common, philatelic varieties on the rouble values are not common - maybe just because the basic stamps were so expensive. Even inverted overprints are rare - which is extraordinary when you think that every single overprint comes from  single handstamps and that millions were overprinted, probably by a small army of post office clerks. 

What you do find is variation in the shades of ink used in the overprinting process. The majority of stamps are overprinted in an obvious violet, but some are in an obvious blue. Then these two colours are sometimes found in a mixed state, which you would expect if a handstamp is switched from one ink pad to another. In addition, you find violets which are more or less grey. But grey on its own or black are rare or non-existent.
Red (or violet mixed with red, or red mixed with violet) does exist on the 1 rouble imperforate overprinted with Kyiv type 2ee (Bulat 404a). I think this is probably a philatelically-inspired variety.

At the top of this Blog, you can see my stock of Kyiv 2f on the 3 rouble 50 kopeck imperforate for which Bulat lists violet, gray violet and violet blue overprints (Bulat 439, 439b, 439d). These colour variants may also have a philatelic character - note, for example, that my current stock does not show any used copies. Note also that though Bulat lists violet and then violet-gray, he does not list blue, only violet blue. But blue could exist ...

Finally, of course, Kyiv 2 Trident overprints on rouble values have to be classified as coming from Handstamp Types a, b or bb, c, d, e? or ee, f, g or gg, a listing which serious work may show needs a bit of revision. 

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:

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Russia's Imperial Arms Imperforate Stamps 1917 - 1922: a Theory

I have Blogged before about the distribution of Russia's Imperial Arms imperforate stamps, issued from 1917 on as Emergency supplies. Today I was looking at a big collection (Peter Ashford's) of Dashnak Armenia surcharges. I realised that it is only at the end of 1920 / beginning of 1921 - when the Bolsheviks entered into or  formed the government of Armenia - that certain imperforate values become available in Armenia, notably the 20, 35, 50 kopeck and 7 rouble.

This led me back to my Theory. Let's assume that the imperforates were all produced in 1917. But they weren't all distributed in 1917. That's the first part of the Theory.

If perforate stamps became available - either from fresh printings or from supplies found in a cupboard - then those were distributed in preference to imperforates, which were a nuisance at the post office counter. So if you look at mail from Petrograd or Moscow, the busiest post office counters, then you see that low value Imperforates come into use early (1917) and then disappear - perforated stamps make a comeback. That's the second part of the Theory. In principle, you could probably establish rough periods of use. I would start with the 5 kopeck as an example.

Just as important, I think that some post office districts got preferential treatment and that others had imperforate stamps dumped on them. Petrograd and Moscow are the most obvious districts likely to have been favoured. That's the third part of the Theory.

So where were the stamps dumped? The biggest receiver was Ukraine - and it is possible that this happened as part of some bigger deal at the end of 1917 / beginning of 1918 between the Bolshevik postal authorities in Russia and the government postal authorities in Ukraine. That's the fourth part of the Theory. The evidence for this claim is the fact that postal use of higher value kopeck imperforates though not common anywhere occurs earlier and more frequently in Ukraine, both before and after Trident overprinting.

(In this connection, I actually have some doubts about the usual story of devalued Russian stamps being sold across the border in Ukraine as what we would now call "Postage", creating the need for trident overprinting in order to safeguard post office revenues. Were there really at this time  - mid 1918 say - dealers travelling from Russia to Ukraine to sell stamps for ordinary postal use at a discount on face value?)

Leave that aside. How does the story continue? As the Bolsheviks regained control of territory from the Whites, so they often had to distribute fresh supplies of stamps. For this purpose, unwanted stocks of imperforates - still held in the distribution centre in 1920 / 21 - could be used up. That's the fifth part of the Theory. So if Armenia put in a call for fresh supplies of stamps at the end of 1920 / beginning of 1921, then it's call was partly answered by new supplies of imperforates. The alternative is to suppose that Melik-Pachaev or some other dealer was instrumental in bringing previously unavailable imperforates (the 20, 35 and 50 kop; the 7 rouble) into Armenia at that point.

Of course, the kind of theory I am outlining can only be developed by someone able to study the Archives in St Petersburg and Moscow. Maybe it has been done ...

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Ukraine: Kyiv 2 Single Handstamps and the Bulat Catalogue

Why did I have to think of this today? The sun is shining and I should have gone for a walk, but instead ...

In his Ukraine catalogue, which we all use, John Bulat has a long list of stamps overprinted with single handstamps of  Kyiv 2 type. The list starts at # 257 and ends at # 581. That's a lot of stamps. Pity that no one collects them.

In notes in the text, Bulat says that on kopeck values sub-types bb, ee, f, g, gg are stand-alone single handstamps in the sense that we only need a single stamp to classify it as having come from a single handstamp. In other words, bb,ee,f,g, gg are never to be found in the standard a- b - c - d - e five-cliche handstamp.

But sub-types a, b, c, d can only be identified as from single handstamps if they occur in pairs or in right or left marginal positions (b,c,d) or in pairs or right marginal position (a).

Got it? Fine? Now I am going to spoil your day ...

 Consider the two strips of five below. Click on the Image to magnify if you think it will help:

At the top, we have single handstamp a on 4 kopeck perforate, Bulat # 262, catalogued $8

Underneath, we have single handstamp gg on 15kopeck imperforate, Bulat 536, catalogued $12.

What are his catalogue values values of? 

In the case of the 4 kopeck strip, you could extract three collectible units: two pairs and the fifth (right marginal) stamp.  

In the case of the 15 kopeck strip, you could extract five collectible units since these stamps are identifiable as coming from a single handstamp whatever - gg does not occur in any 5 - cliche handstamp

So what are Bulat's catalogue values values of? Here are some possibilities:

1. Bulat values are values for a strip of 5, whatever

2. Bulat values are values for whatever is the minimum unit from which you can identify a single handstamp having been used, so either a pair or - in some cases -  a single stamp

3. Bulat values are values for individual stamps but some stamps are only identifiable if they come in pairs

For the 4 kopeck strip that creates a range of possible Bulat values for collectible units in my strip ranging from $8 to $40 unless you think the two possible pairs are only worth the same as the one marginal stamp, in which case the top value drops to $24

For the 15 kopeck that creates a range for collectible units (all five stamps are identifiable singly) going from $12 to $60

Remember that in these same listings Bulat also gives values for rouble values which are always overprinted with single handstamps and always collectable as singles. So he must be valuing single stamps when he is valuing rouble stamps ...

I told you I was going to spoil your day .... Coming tomorrow: How many angels can dance on a pin head.

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 14 July 2013

RSFSR /Sovdepia, Ordinary [Einfach] mail abroad 1920 - 1921

In his article on RSFSR Mail Abroad, detailed in my previous Blog, Alexander Epstein inventories 129 Registered letters going abroad in 1920 and until end of August 1921. But he is only able to inventory 13 ordinary (Einfach, non-Registered) letters - so that these make up just 9% of all letters inventoried.

I can only illustrate two. The first is an extraordinary item posted on the Ryazhsk 61 Vyazma TPO on 24 10 20 and addressed to Belgium ( a country which does not appear at all in Epstein's 142 item inventory!). It is franked at the officially correct 5 rouble rate for an ordinary foreign letter, using an imperforate 5 kopeck revalued x 100. Censored in Moscow 27 10 20 ( and opened through the back flap), this letter received a BRUXELLES - BRUSSELS reciever cancel on 8 XII 20.

If Soviet postal history was taken seriously, this cover - October 1920! TPO! Belgium! Ordinary letter! - would be a 1000 dollar / euro / pound item though minus whatever discount is due for the idiot Biro marking, bottom right of the cover front.

The second cover, from the end of the period when 5 roubles is the generally correct franking, was posted in VETLITSKOE SMOL[ensk] on 1 7 21, though the date has slipped to August. A Transit from another town in Smolensk guberniya is dated 2 7 21, the Moscow roller cancel 5 7 21, and the inevitable three triangle Censor 21 8 21 - clearly they were busy and this letter has been opened through the back flap. It is also roughly opened on one side, suggesting that it did indeed arrive in Switzerland, a country which accounts for 9 items in Epstein's 142 item inventory. The 5 rouble Tariff is paid for with a 1 kopeck imperforate and pair of 2 kopeck perforate stamps, revalued x 100. The sender did plan to send this letter as a registered letter - you can see Zakaznoe crossed out top right on the front of the cover. Fortunately for postal history, the sender changed their mind... :

RSFSR / Sovdepia: persistence of the 10 rouble Foreign Registered tariff in 1921

Understanding the franking of mail abroad in 1920 - 21 is complicated by the existence of locally-authorised Tariffs. Alexander Epstein discusses this in his article, "Lokale Tarifautonomie 1920 - 1923, Teil 1, Auslandspost 1920 - 21"  in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Russland-Philatelie, Nr. 94, 2011, pp.26 - 36

However, there is what one could call a normal or dominant 10 rouble Tariff for Registered letters, that is 5 roubles for a letter of the first weight step plus 5 roubles for Registration. This Tariff persists at least until the end of August 1921, as illustrated by the following covers. I date them according to the postmark applied to the stamps:

Moscow 4 2 21 sent to England
Tambov 18 4 21 sent to France
Syzran 30 5 21 sent to USA via Berlin
Omsk 22 7 21 sent to Germany
Petrograd  12 8 21 sent to Czechoslovakia
Petrograd  25 8 21 sent to Germany
Petrograd   30 8 21 sent to Latvia

All these covers are franked with Imperial stamps - the new Arts and Industry stamps were not released until August 1921. The Omsk cover is franked with imperforate stamps. The last cover is franked with 10 x 1 rouble stamps with horizontal varnish lines.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Armenia 1922 - 1923 Postal Use of First and Second Yessayan

Evidence of private use of postal services in Armenia during the complete six year  period 1918 - 1923 is extremely scarce.

Mail in a few categories can be found as follows:

- Mail Abroad (mostly to the USA) during 1920 when the British facilitated its transmission
- As a sub-category, Philatelic mail to Tiflis sent during 1920 and notably by Souren Serebrakian
- Mail Abroad ( again mostly to the USA) during 1922 - 23
- Money Transfer Forms sending money internally or within Transcaucasia 1922 - 23

Peter Ashford's collection, about which I recently Blogged, also included a few examples of a further category:

- Internal private mail during 1922 - 23

His material comprised a few large fragments of covers or nearly-complete covers from the so-called "Law Courts Hoard" which was available to Ashford (and Tchilingirian) back in the 1950s and which appears to have been free of the kind of "improvements" made to more recently released archive material which started out as stampless, official letters but  to which stamps have been added in the recent past.

Ashford's material shows private individuals writing to the Courts ("People's Courts" on all the addresses). One puzzle concerns the status of the so-called "Second Yessayan" stamps - the slate and red stamps. These were supposedly Famine Relief stamps, issued around the same period as those in Azerbaijan and Georgia. As such, one expects to find them used in conjunction with "regular" adhesives as evidence of payment of a Charity supplement, as on this cover:

Click on Image to Magnify

This Registered cover started life in DZHELAL OGLY and is cancelled 22 2 23 on the front and 24 2 23 and 25 2 23 on the reverse. It was addressed to a People's Court in Alexandropol and a receiver cancel was applied ALEXANDROPOL 26 2 23. The letter was forwarded to Yerevan and got there though the dates on the two strikes of an ERIVAN cancel are not legible. The franking is provided by two copies of First Yessayan 50 perforated surcharged "5" together with Second Yessayan 2000  surcharged "5" . So one could suppose that the Tariff was 10 gold kopecks and the Charity surcharge 50% of that, 5 gold kopecks. 

However, it is possible to find Second Yessayan stamps used alone, as on this nice and nearly complete cover:

This Registered cover is locally sent within Karaklis, again to a People's Court. The cancellation on the front is date readable as KARAKLIS ERIVAN 8 7 22. Franking is provided by a single copy of the Second Yessayan 500 surcharged "3". Now, either the full (local?) Tariff was 3 kopecks and this stamp is used as a regular adhesive not a Charity stamp or - possibly - the Tariff was (say ) 2 kopecks and the Charity contribution 1 kopeck. In the absence of either a 2 kopeck First Yessayan or a 1 kopeck Second Yessayan, the postal clerk could then have decided to show the total paid by means of this one stamp. Does anyone have a better idea?

Ashford's material also included this third item which has no Second Yessayan adhesive. Sent just one month after the first cover I illustrated, it seems we get confirmation of a 10 kopeck Tariff. Sent Registered from KAMARLYU ERIVAN  29 3 23 it has no arrival marks (I am told that it is addressed locally to the Kamarlyu Court - the word in the top line is Kamarlinkskomu). It is possible that something has been left behind when this cover was cut from the archive book - the fragment is very reduced. But even so, one might expect to see at least a small part  of a receiver cancel to one side:

Saturday 29 June 2013

Soviet and Post Soviet Covers ... What Do You Think of These?

Some covers are interesting and frustrating at the same time. Maybe they are important and maybe they are rubbish ...

Here are three examples.

(1) On this first card, the bisected stamp does contribute the necessary 5 kopecks to make up the 10 kopeck postcard rate of 1 June 1931. The card was posted at ALEXANDROV VOKSAL 1 8 31 and arrived at BERDYANSK 3 8 31. There is a long family message in German on the back but at the end the sender writes, " Diese Karte bitte züruck" - Please send this card back (and underlined). So the sender knew that the card was philatelically interesting and maybe was responsible for the bisect. However, when this card was illustrated in The Post Rider in November 1998, Andrew Cronin commented that another bisect is known from the same region [ Added: See now below]. If the sender is not the same person, then the bisect may be non-philatelic but recognised by the sender as philatelically important. The fact that the post office clerk has cancelled the bisect carelessly does suggest that the clerk did not think of this card as philatelic. And another things I have just noticed: the pencil used for the "Please send this card back" is not the same pencil as was used to write the long message! The sender added it later ... So is this card worth 10 € or 1000 € ? Comments?

Added: Nikolai Kondrikov kindly sent me the scan below, showing a very similar card offered by Raritan Stamps in their Auction#54 (lot 936). Interestingly, this card is also written in German and makes reference to the bisect but the writing is different and this one is going abroad to Germany. It is sent from KHORTYTSA 11 8 32. The wording of the message [ Da ich jetzt in der deutschen Kolonie Choritza bin, benütze ich diese Gelegenheit ... ]suggests that the bisect is specifically linked to the German colony of Khortysta and though this is the latest known use, from the wording of the message one could infer that at the Khortysta post office pre-prepared cards were still in stock:

Added: Vasilis Opsimos has copied me the Andrew Cronin article from The Post Rider 1998 which gives the date of first known use as 17 7 31 from Khortytsa when a card with a bisect was sent to the German stamp dealers and catalogue makers, Senf, in Leipzig. They announced the local bisect in the German philatelic press. We do not have an illustration of this card.  Cronin does illustrate a card from KHORTYTSA 3 2 32 to Kiev, and translates the Russian message which makes reference to the bisect. Opsimos copied me the following images of a card sold on ebay (for $355) and going from ALEXANDROVSK VOKSAL 18 11 31 to Vienna. This card is also from a philatelist.

So in total we now have 5 recorded cards, all with bisects of the 1905 Revolution commemoration 10 kopeck. Two are internal uses, two are used to Germany and one to Austria (inland and foreign Tariffs were the same). Three are written in German and one in Russian. Three are from Khortytsa and two from Alexandrov Voksal. The period of use is just over a year. The message on the Raritan card with the use of the word "Gelegenheit" [Opportunity]strongly suggests these cards were linked to the German colony of Khortytsa and may have had their origins as a local post office provisional in July 1931, even if they were then sought out by philatelists. It may be relevant that at this time travelling in Ukraine would not have been a straightforward matter.

(2) Below there are two covers. In both cases, Imperial postal stationery envelopes have been used as the basis of philatelic mail posted on the Samara - 69 - Tashkent railway in September 1943. In both cases the Tariff is correct -  but of course, the late use of the 1934 "Horrors of War" stamps is philatelic. But it's more than that: the top cover shows the 20 kopeck brown issued stamp; the cover below shows a 20 kopeck in an unissued colour, blue, and with the design of the issued 35 kopeck blue stamp! This stamp is perforated 10 1/2 instead of 14. So the 20 kopeck stamp on this cover shows a Trial or Proof used postally and accepted for franking at 20 kopecks. So is this a 20 € cover or a 2000 € cover? ( In mint condition, my 2000 Liapin catalogue values the blue stamp  x 50 the value of the brown stamp mint)

(3) Finally, a post-Soviet example of an interesting but frustrating 1992 Belarus cover. Here the address and the sender's address suggest that this is non-philatelic (no Box Numbers, as one so often sees on philatelic confections of this period). But are these Manuscript revaluations the work of the NOVO POLOTSK VITEB[sk] 22 12 92 post office? That question can only really be answered YES if you can find other examples of these revaluations going to other addresses from other senders. Does anyone have an example? 

Friday 28 June 2013

Sovdepia: More About Mail Abroad in 1920

"Sovdepia" was a pejorative term used by the Whites to designate areas of former Imperial RussIA controlled by SOViets of Workers' and Peasants' DEPuties. But it's quite a useful term since it is a bit more accurate than "areas controlled by the Bolsheviks" which overlooks that there were - for short periods - anti-White and pro-Soviet areas controlled by other factions, notably the Left SRs.

Anyway, Sovdepia was without postal connections to foreign countries from the beginning of 1919 until mid-1920. This is a really remarkable fact - very rarely in modern history has a country totally lost mail links to other countries.

When mail services to abroad resumed in June 1920, then according to the Tariff of 7 June 1920 ordinary letters could be sent Free and Registered letters were charged at 10 roubles. A new Tariff of 30 September 1920 abolished all the remaining Free post services, and set a charge of 5 roubles for Ordinary letters sent abroad and 10 roubles for Registered.

With the final defeat of  Red forces in the second half of 1919, Latvia successfully asserted its Independence, though the Moscow government did not formally recognise Latvian independence until August 1920. Nonetheless, in the intervening period Latvia had become a Foreign Destination as far as mail was concerned. This is illustrated by the fact that the cover below sent from MOSCOW 25 6 20 to WAINODE 31 7 20 has a Registration label intended for foreign mail, as well as by the fact that it is franked at the Foreign Registered rate of 10 roubles ( 2 x 5 kop x 100 = 10 roubles) and not the Domestic Registered rate of 7 roubles:

The cover was top-opened by the recipient but was clearly opened through the back flap by the Moscow censor, as can be seen below. Note also that the cancellation is a new Latvian independence period device (Hofmann type 1525.1):

The next cover is particularly interesting because it shows the 10 rouble Tariff being applied on mail from another part of Sovdepia - Ukraine. In this case, the  2 x 10 Shahiv stamps have been correctly treated as equivalent  to 5 kopeck stamps and then revalued x 100 to yield a 10 rouble franking. That this letter is sent from UMAN 23 9 20 when under Soviet control is confirmed by the fact that it was routed through PETROGRAD 4 X 20 and 6 10 20 before arriving in RIGA LATWIJA 6 11 20 - again, this is a new post-Independence Latvian canceller:

The final cover I illustrate shows that the 10 rouble Registered foreign Tariff was still in place in April 1921.

This cover originated in PSKOV 29 4 21 [note the new Soviet cancel - the old Pskov cancel probably went missing at the time of the retreat of the [White] North West Army from Pskov] and was sent to MOSKVA 3 5 21 for censorship and onward transmission, reaching MAS-SALAZA LATWIJA 12 5 21. The 10 rouble Tariff is met with a 7 rouble perforated stamp used at face and a 3 kopeck perforated stamp revalued x 100:  

For the Tariffs, I have used Alexander Epstein's work as published in the Journal of Classical Russian Philately, 2, 1998, page 29.

Mail abroad in 1920 is very scarce - maybe one should say "Rare" - and the first half of 1921 is not much better! The trio above came from three different sources: the Robert Taylor collection (Moscow cover), a recent Christoph Gärtner Auction (Uman cover) and the John Whiteside collection (Pskov cover|).

Added 3 July 2013: Vasilis Opsimos kindly sent me scans of this very interesting cover which started out from PODOLSK MOCK on 23 2 [21], arrived in Moscow 29 II 21 [machine cancel on reverse] but held there at least until 16 4 21 when a Moscow three triangle censor mark was applied. It was then sent to Riga, where as an unfranked item it attracted Postage Due [ Peemaksat] - Latvian Postage Due marks are quite common at this period.

The really interesting thing about this cover, as Vasilis points out to me, is that it addressed to travel via the "Department of Diplomatic Couriers" in Moscow [ see third line of address beginning "Otdel ..."]. This may explain why it started out as a Free Frank item [ unless it was Paid in Cash and the fact noted on the missing back flap]. Perhaps it was delayed in Moscow because the "Department of Diplomatic Couriers" no longer functioned or would not handle this item. Who Knows?

Added 14 July 2013: Alexander Epstein kindly sent me the scans below. They show an unstamped letter addressed in both Estonian and Russian at the top and addressed to Tartu. On the back is a Tallinn transit roller cancel 3 VIII 20 and a Tartu receiver. On the front is an Estonian censor triangle and a Postage Due cachet. This cover is most probably from Russia, sent during the period when ordinary letters abroad were Free, but according to Epstein would have been sent with Russian diplomatic mail to Tallinn rather than through the Russian post office - there are no Russian markings at all. Epstein says that the Postage Due raised is the actual cost of an ordinary letter rather than twice the cost, as would be usual for Postage Due. This suggests that the letter was put into the Estonian mail stream in Tallinn as part of an agreed procedure for handling Russian mail. Of course, this is a rare item.