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Thursday 28 March 2013

Maison Romeko

Click on Image to Magnify

When you start collecting Russian stamps and postal history, you soon discover Maison Romeko. It was the creation of Serge / Sergei Rockling [ various spellings] and [...] Meckel. (ROckling MEckel KOmpanie)

About Meckel I can find little information. There was an Arnold Meckel who lived in France and occasionally contributed to philatelic journals in the 1970s and this may have been Meckel's  son. But it could have been the original Meckel. Google throws up a lot of information about an Arnold Meckel who was based in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, but this Meckel was an Impressario with strong connections to Argentina. Maybe this Meckel provided the finance for Maison Romeko?

Whatever the details, it is clear that Rockling was the driving force of Maison Romeko. He was born in Tiflis in the 1890s and left when the Bolsheviks arrived in 1921. He went to Constantinople and, according to several sources, was part of the Sredinsky - Rosselevich  - group which produced dubious issues for the stamp trade: the Georgia Consular overprints, the Refugee Post stamps, the Levant "Ship" phantasies (which like the Refugee Post stamps appear to have been printed at the V M [ Y]essayan works).

Like Sredinsky, Rockling moved to Paris and from the first letter shown above was already installed in the rue Bucharest in 1924. But whereas Sredinsky made his money from reprinting Refugee Post stamps in Paris, Rockling clearly set out to establish himself as a serious and reliable dealer. When sheets of stamps came into stock, he would often pencil in the corner of the sheet the word "Bon" with his initials - and his "Bon" is almost always correct. Likewise,his famous oval house mark "Maison Romeko Paris" is only rarely found on fakes - and then it seems to be a case of human error rather than intent to deceive.

According to Dr Ceresa, Rockling was a major purchaser of Civil War period stamps when the Soviets cleared out their stocks in the 1930s. His purchases included early Soviet Armenia - and this may explain the second letter shown above, addressed to an Armenian in New York. The printed address shows that the Romeko shop was still in the rue Bucharest.

At some point, the Romeko shop moved to 41 rue des Martyrs in the 9th Arrondissement (the stamp District which includes the rue Drouot). It was there in 1962. I have a date of death of 1975 for Rockling.

It seems likely that his business was disrupted by the War - I think the family may have been Jewish but this guess is based only on the names of another family member (Zachary Yakovlevich) which appear on 1921 philatelic covers with  the doubtful  De Jure overprints

Russian Occupation of Galicia 1914 - 1915

At the beginning of World War 1 Russian troops successfully occupied most of Austro-Hungarian Galicia. Only the fortress of Przmesyl resisted capture. But by the end of 1915, the Russians had been driven out of Galicia. 

During the Occupation, civilians had access to Army Field Post Offices. For example, you can find commercial correspondence and private greetings cards going through the Field Post in Lwow [ FPO 114]. The mail is always franked with regular Russian stamps.

The two covers above are from a group of 8 covers sent to KĂžbenhavn (German spelling "Kopenhagen" on 7 of the covers). The name of the addressee, the street address and the business identification ("Reklambureau") are spelt differently on every cover, making it difficult to Google .... But the important point is that these are civilian letters. Two of them have the sender's name and address on the reverse and it is these that I have chosen to illustrate. One sender is in Rawa Ruska and has used Field Post Office 214, the other sender is in Brzezany and has gone through FPO 228. Both places are now in Ukraine.

All 8 covers are franked to 10 kopecks, the regular Russian tariff : 6 of them have 3 + 7 kopeck Romanov adhesives and 2 have regular 10 kopeck Imperial Arms stamps. The Field Post Office cancellations all read ETAPNOE POCH TEL  OTD and the numbers are all different: 214,215, 216 [in blue], 217, 218, 225,228,237.The dates are between January and May 1915. 

This is an interesting group and rarely seen: the 1914 - 1915 Russian occupation of Galicia is one of history's "forgottens".

To Comrade Stalin, the Kremlin, Moscow

If you go through enough dealers' boxes, eventually you will find a letter to some Soviet leader - most often Stalin. Lots of people wrote to Stalin, like this 1941 correspondent from Svisloch in the recently-occupied Belostok (Byelostok) area. Interestingly, the stamp used commemorates Ukraine's national poet, Shevchenko. I have also shown the receiver cancel, the only mark on the reverse.

I speculate that at least some of the thousands of envelopes which came into the Kremlin and addressed personally to Stalin were sold officially. I don't know when or at what prices. Perhaps some reader has information?

Stalin read some of the letters sent to him and sometimes interested himself (sympathetically) in the issues they raised. Some historians see the letters as a continuation of the tradition of petitioning the Tsar, seeking his personal intervention.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Stamps on the Move: More On Out-of-District Trident Use in Podillia

Stamps overprinted with the distinctive Trident handstamps of Podillia were introduced in the Podolia postal district - that is, in post offices using cancellations ending in "POD" - at the end of August 1918. Some were also distributed to Bessarabian post offices (notably Khotin). They continued in use into 1920 and even later.

At the same time, stamps with the overprints of other postal districts were distributed in Podillia for normal use. Of course, philatelists also brought Tridents of other districts to the counters of Podillian post offices for cancelling. But with that I am not concerned.

Basing myself on a quite small collection of Podillia postmarks, I find Tridents from other Districts used as follows [ I transliterate from the Russian language postmarks, none of which were modified in this period]:

List last updated 13 March 2013

Used at Mogilev [illustrated on my Blog of 8 January 2013]

Used at Vapniarka, Proskurov, Smotrich [ example below from March 1920],

Used at Brailov, Gusyatin, Kamenetz,  Murov - Kurilovtsi [ 5 rouble imperforate example below from December 1918], Nemirov, Ternovka, Tomashpol, Yaroshenka, Zinkov

Used at  Bershad, Bratslav, Verkovka, Voroshilovka, Dzhurin, Dzigovka, Golovanesk, Kodima, Krasnosleka, Letichev, Litin, Mogilev, Nemercha, Nemirov, Novaya Ushitsa, Proskurov, Tivrovo, Trostyanets, Cherni Ostrov, Josefpol, Yaltushkov, Yampol, Yaroshenka, Zhenishkovtsi, 

My guess is that this list starting with 33 Out-of-District uses can be extended to about 100. I base myself on the fact that I once had an extensive but not complete Podillia postmark collection with examples from about 150 offices in the 1917 - 1923 period. It's quite clear that Odesa Tridents (almost entirely rouble values) were widely used in Podillia.

Friday 8 March 2013

Forensics can be fun ...

In 1918, Ukrainized postal stationeries - like the one above (it's Bulat #1) - were often cancelled by favour. How do you know if that is the case for any individual card? Normally, you just have to turn over the card and nothing is written on the back. Very simple.

In the case of this card, it is not necessary to turn over and look at the back. Why? Take your time. Click on the Image to magnify. The Answer is below.


The card is cancelled ZVENIGORODKA 30 10 18. The top line of the address reads "Leningrad".  Petrograd was not re-named until 1924, after Lenin's death. So the address was only added much later to a philatelically cancelled card. Whether it is a real address on Vasilevsky Ostrov [Island], I don't know - I can't get a result from Google.

When I click on the image to magnify it, it looks as if the address is written in Biro. Laszlo Biro first demonstrated the biro pen in 1931 and patented it in 1938 ...

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 7 March 2013

Polish Occupation of Kamenetz Podolsk 1920 Part II

Back on 24 September 2011 I showed a cover from Dr Seichter's collection with a Cyrillic but Polish-derived cancellation [ KAMIENIEC] for Kamenetz  Podolsk dated May 1920. I had no other examples to compare it with.

Now I show a document dated 10 June 1920. This was prepared by the Executive of the Jewish Community, using a bi-lingual handstamp top left. It is franked with three Polish fiscal stamps, with the "Z.Z.W." overprint applied to those used in the East. But these stamps are cancelled with a seal of the same Jewish Community Executive - and incorporating a Ukrainian Trident.

The document attests to the tax status of one Gitli [Hitli] Urman in relation to the Jewish Community.

It's a most interesting - and I guess, rare - document which shows that the Polish occupiers had at least some kind of civil administration in Ukraine - enough to put fiscal stamps into the hands of a local organisation.


In the first line of the POSVIDCHENNYA ,  you will see the word KAMYANETSKA. The third letter is the Cyrillic reversed "R" which is transliterated as "YA" or "IA". This is the Ukrainian spelling of [Russian] KAMENETZ. Now, there is a cancellation which is supposed to be a fake, identified on the basis of its "YA",  yielding KAMYANETZ - POD or KAMIANETS - POD :

The stamps cancelled with this postmark (always philatelically) are often late prints or fakes. But it is I suppose conceivable that the cancellation is genuine and thus a rare example of a Ukrainian-language cancellation from the 1918 -20 period. But I would want to see it used on a Money Transfer Form before accepting that conclusion.

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 3 March 2013

Auctions or Stamp Shows? One Dealer's Perspective

Here in the UK, the tax year ends 31 March or 5 April (you can choose a bit - to me 5 April is dumb though it goes back a long way). So as we enter March my mind concentrates on putting my accounts in order - and gently approaches the question, Have I actually made any money this year?

At the same time, I am looking at my results from the Corinphila auction just closed. It looks like I sold 19 of the 35 Lots they accepted - 54% -  which is in the Could Do Better class. But the 19 Lots which did sell sold for 57% over their combined Start prices. That is in the Good or more likely Quite Good class since the Start prices are meant to be attractively low.

The gap between what an auction buyer pays and the seller gets probably averages about a third: buyers pay 20 - 25% in commissions and VAT on premiums and so on and sellers pay 10% in their own commissions (maybe 7% on very big consignments). Some inefficient auction houses create a difference of 40% or even more between buyer price and seller payment, but the average seems to be 30 - 33%

That's still a big gap. However, if a small dealer like me takes a Stand at a big stamp show, the cost of the Stand, travel, hotels, food ... will easily eat up a third of the gross turnover. Big dealers aim to work on a smaller ratio of costs to turnover and some may achieve 10% - 15%. In the past, more dealers than now probably achieved lower figures like that - today, fewer collectors attend stamp shows and there is less money being spent.

However, there are two big difference from a dealer's perspective between Auctions and Shows.

At Auctions, prices can go UP and quite often do; at Shows they can only go DOWN and quite often do because every one wants a DISCOUNT. I have even been asked the question, What is your Discount? before the inevitable question, Do you have Tierra del Fuego?

In addition, an auction can  reach a world wide audience through catalogues and online catalogues. Provided these are precise ("450 covers" not "hundreds of covers") and profusely illustrated, the cost to the buyer of participating in an auction can be almost non-existent  - it's not necessary to travel to view - whereas the costs of attending a  stamp show a long way from home are considerable.

As a result, dealers now tend to shift better material to Auction since they can avoid the tiresome debates which selling at stamp shows involves and they can reach a wider market. But moving material away from stamp shows creates a vicious circle - collectors start complaining they can't find anything to buy and so spend less, pushing up the share which expenses take for the dealers who have taken selling stands.

Of course, shows provide an outlet for material which sells for prices below those a serious Auction house will accept for Start prices. So shows remain outlets for items under, say, 100 (£, $, € )

There is also a low cost alternative to auctions and stamp shows. This is supplying clients by post, where expenses drop virtually to the cost of postage and keeping the office warm. For this reason, I try to treasure my regular postal clients. They always see new stock first, they are offered it at a competitive price, and usually (except for small transactions) they will get some kind of discount without having to ask. Of course, they have to put up with my way of doing business - my handwriting, my efforts to sell them a bag full when they only want one ... and so on - but over time I hope they get used to me. And additionally, their own costs are virtually zero - no travelling to stamp shows or auction viewings.