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Wednesday 30 April 2014

Europhilex London 2015

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I have booked a Stand at this show. See you there! 

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Forgeries of 1992 St Petersburg Overprints

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I was looking for something else and found these items which I had kept for reference.

The 1992 St Petersburg local overprints illustrated here on late cover from that city to me dated 06 01 93 were very quickly forged. Around the same time, I was sent a supply of all four values (200, 353, 450, 500) from Kyiv, with both normal and inverted overprints. My reference copies are shown at the top. They are forgeries.

The easiest thing to see is that the wavy lines which cancel the old 1 kopeck value are thicker on the forgeries than on the Originals, where they are very thin. The value "450" is also noticeably larger on the forgeries - though this could just be a plate variety.

I am sure several other - maybe many - forgeries of these local provisionals exist. Probably someone has written about them. Readers?

Just think, though, already it is over 20 years ago!

Saturday 19 April 2014

Armenianization of Imperial General Fiscals

The last General Revenue stamps of Imperial Russia, issued from 1907 onwards on unwatermarked paper, were printed in sheets of 80, with two panes of 8 x 5 side by side separated by a central vertical gutter. Within each pane the top four rows are organised tete-beche with (as it were) half a tete-beche in the bottom row. Quite why such a complicated sheet make-up was selected, I don't know.

In independent Armenia, these Fiscals were first Armenianized in the Dashnak period with perforated initials - a subject too complicated for a poor old Blogger - and later in the Soviet period overprinted from lithographic plates. I do not know if the plates were "double size" to print a sheet of 80 at one go, or arranged as 8 x 5 plates to print half the sheet - the latter seems much more likely.[ See Footnote] What is clear is that there was one plate to overprint the Fiscals with the Soviet Arms of Armenia and another to print the new value. This is clear from the examples below:

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The first image shows a strip of eight with selvedge at the right showing that it is from the left of the sheet. The Arms are printed low down in the upper half of the stamp but the value is in the middle of the bottom tablet (along with later Mss revaluations which turned Zakiyan # 16 into Zakiyan # 23). In the second image, what is probably a divided strip of eight shows the Arms a few millimeters higher than on the first strip but the value overprints still centrally placed. In other words, the two overprints are independent of each other from two plates.

Closer inspection shows that the form of the value "1 rf" varies from stamp to stamp. In principle, it is plateable and if a plate of 5 x 8 was used, then it should be relatively easy - a plate of 10 x 8 is going to be at least twice as hard!

The Arms must in theory be plateable but the density of the overprint makes it very difficult to attempt in practice. We don't know what the size of the transfer block might be (though Zakiyan suggests a single cliche). If I was going to attempt to plate the Arms (I'm not),then I would start with something relatively clear like the hammer and sickle and look for variation there. But it's possible that if a single cliche was used for the Arms, then all we will find is idiosyncratic variation from the way in which an individual sheet happened to be printed (from a re-inked plate or a dry plate and so on)

Meanwhile, the examples above show how Armenian documents of this period (1923) are often attractively franked with multiples of the same revenue stamp.

Footnote 28 April 2014: I have been looking at a large collection of documents with these Fiscals. Horizontal strips of 8 or broken strips of 8 are quite common. Frankings of more than 8 stamps also exist (the highest I have seen is 20), but in no cases are there any examples of cross - gutter [inter-panneau] pairs. This suggests that at point of use, the sheets of 80 were received in half sheets of 40. That is also a reason for thinking that the cutting in half was normally or always done as part of the printing operation using an 8 x 5 not 16 x 5 plate. A convincing [ genuine] example of a used cross-gutter pair would necessarily modify these claims

Transcaucasian Federation Revenue Stamps and Documents

I've always liked the general issue postage stamps and revenue stamps of the Transcaucasian Federation. It's relatively easy and inexpensive to build a specialised collection and there is no major Forgery problem to deal with. But one challenge is to find the stamps and revenue stamps used in Armenia - they constitute only a small percentage of the total available material.

Below are images of parts of two Revenue documents originating in Yerevan. I liked these when I saw them. They are neat, they are simple and they are entirely credible.

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Both documents are the work of the same clerk, a person with neat handwriting and a consistent style. He or she has the habit of writing across the fiscal stamp, thus tying it to the document, a bonus for the collector.

The first 1923 document uses an unoverprinted Federation general revenue stamp, the top value 500 000. Then in 1924 (February) , the clerk is using the new currency overprinted version [Zakiyan # 8] which revalues the stamp to 1 rouble 25 kopecks in "Chervonets" [ gold currency] roubles. It's interesting that the Currency change has - in effect - left unchanged what it takes to frank the kind of documents this clerk was working on. This is one reason why they make a nice pair for display.

Friday 18 April 2014

A Good Example of Genuine Use of Chassepot Revenue Stamps

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When I looked at this 1923 document, written in Armenian, I immediately concluded it was genuine in all respects on the basis of an entirely incidental feature.

The 1 rouble Chassepot stamp was overprinted with Soviet Armenia's Arms and simultaneously revalued to "3 rf" (Zakiyan # 17) and then revalued again in ink "300 000" (Zakiyan # 25). It was applied to the document probably on 13 August 1923 - the date in blue - green ink inside the boxed violet cachet at the top left of the document. The same blue-green ink pen cancels the stamp.

The incidental feature is this: the stamp is from the bottom row of the sheet with selvedge:

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Now in my experience, Chassepot stamps from the Original printing (like this stamp) are very rarely found with selvedge. For some reason / s it is almost always removed. It would be most unlikely that a forger looking for a genuine (Original printing) 1 rouble Chassepot stamp to overprint would happen upon a stamp with selvedge, even though 26 stamps in a 10 x 5 sheet begin life with selvedge,

That's the incidental reason which convinced me. On examination, one can also note that the overprint on the stamp has the generally strong and clear features found in genuine overprints and missing on the digital forgeries which I have seen. Compare the 1990s digital forgery which I have now placed beside the genuine stamp (the forgery omits the "3 rf" which is always present on the 1 rouble, but that's another fault with the forgery):

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It's also the case that the 1 rouble Chassepot is the most common of the fiscally used Chassepots and often occurs as a single franking. Multiples are not very common. For this reason, it would be very difficult to plate this issue and I do not think any collector or Expertiser has attempted it. But in an ideal world, an Expert would be able to Plate the stamp on this document as part of a demonstration that it is genuine and genuinely used. Most or all of the ink revaluations appear to have been carried out in batches rather than at the point of the stamp's use, and so only a limited number of inks are found - the violet ink of this revaluation being one of them. 

Assessing and Expertising Revenue Documents - Some Examples from Armenia 3

This is the last of three Blogs about forged and faked Armenian Revenue Documents. In the next couple of Blogs I will balance the story with some genuine material.

In 1920, the Paris Chassepot printing works produced for Armenia's new Dashnak government an attractive and well-printed set of ten pictorial stamps. According to all the authorities, only the low values - in principle 1 to 15 rouble - were sent to Yerevan. The high values never got sent because the Dashnak regime collapsed. The high values were sold off in Paris, along with the balance of the printing of the low values. It is also the case that, for unknown reasons,  the low value 3 rouble green was either not sent or never arrived: see Zakiyan page 59 and Artar page 126. Only the 1, 5, 10 and 15 rouble actually made it to Yerevan.

The best proof that the 3 rouble was not available in Armenia is the fact that when in 1922 the low values were pressed into fiscal use, the 5, 10 and 15 unit-of-currency stamps were not re-valued when overprinted whereas the "1" stamp was revalued to "3" in a separate printing operation. The need for a "1" stamp was met by overprinting an old 75 kopeck Imperial fiscal. Had the 3 rouble green been available then both it and the 1 rouble could have been pressed into service without the trouble of revaluation.

ARTAR's page 126 understanding of the position - that the 3 rouble was just not available - does not stop him from later  illustrating a  fiscal overprint on the 3 rouble green, giving it a $450 and $500 valuation (page 131). In contrast, Zakiyan remains consistent in his fiscal listing (page 66) making no further mention of the 3 rouble green.

Where is all this leading us? Look at this document:

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Here are two copies of the 3 rouble green, apparently overprinted for fiscal use, and apparently used on an Armenian document. Either the authorities have got it wrong or we have here a Discovery.

I won't prolong the story. The forger has taken a genuine document but made three striking mistakes, the last one of them Terminal for the credibility of this item:

1. The document is dated June 1924, by which date fiscal stamps of the Soviet Union were in general use in Armenia. The document appears to be cut down in size and may have originally carried a Soviet fiscal. Late use of Chassepot stamps - used in 1922 - 23 - is very improbable.

2. The forger has copied the overprint used on the 1 rouble, which underneath the Arms revalues it to "3 rf" in Armenian script. The revaluation is redundant on this stamp. The forged overprint is probably a digital one.

3. The basic stamps used on this document are not Originals but unauthorised Reprints, made later in Paris, and which would only have found their way to Armenia occasionally in later years in Philatelic Exchanges. They did not get sent to the Ministry of Finance! The Reprints are very easy to distinguish from the Originals - the plate has been re-set with wider spaces between stamps; the printing method is different and leaves white areas in things like the numeral "3"; the shades are different. I try to illustrate this below, using a mint block 4 of the Originals and setting it against the stamps on the document:

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Not even a Nice Try by the Forger. End of story, except for the fact of those $450 - $500 valuations sitting in Artar waiting to tempt another forger to create non-existent stamps.

Assessing and Expertising Revenue Documents - Some Examples from Armenia 2

This Blog is really about The Decay of Forging.

The great forgers of the past - Fournier, Sperati and many more whose names are less familiar - took their work seriously. They were very knowledgeable, they had remarkable craft skills, and they invested heavily in the reference material and equipment necessary for their work. They approached their business as a life-time commitment. They could claim a place on the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists.

Nowadays, forgers are looking for a fast buck (preferably a hundred bucks) on ebay.

First of all, look at this 1920 document from Erivan:

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For this Blog, I am not interested in the question, Do the stamps belong? I haven't even studied them. I am interested in the cachet at the top:

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This is a cachet of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Armenia, in this case dated 2 February 1920. I have seen this cachet before and I believe it genuine. It's very well made and here it is clearly struck (the strike repeated presumably to get it the right way up, on the left). The violet ink is in the range of shades and intensities you would expect in an office still probably using (up) Imperial supplies or still using old Imperial period suppliers. The only puzzling thing is that the cachet is in Russian rather than Armenian - maybe the workshop able to make such devices was not able to make them using Armenian script.

If a forger had made this cachet, they would have made more use of it than to decorate this document - they would, for example, have used it to tie stamps to the document since that is always more convincing than manuscript ties.

Now jump forward and look at this June 1923 document:

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This is a rather ordinary looking document, with a relatively common Transcaucasian fiscal on the left [Zakiyan # 8] but a rather exotic stamp on the right: a Soviet War Charity stamp denominated in US dollars (5 cents) and inscribed in English. The stamp has been overprinted to indicate a conversion to Gold [Zoloton] kopeck currency. Interesting.

Now have a look at the cancellation which ties this stamp to the document:

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Could this be the same cachet as I described above, but now struck in black and without a working date line ( just "192 _") even though we know that the Soviets generally hurried to replace old (in this case, Dashnak) official cachets with their own versions

Answer, NO! This cachet is a crude forgery of the Dashnak cachet. You would need specialist equipment to determine how the forgery was made and used, but my guess is that this strike could be computer-generated. You would start with a scan of the original cachet, eliminate the background, eliminate the unhelpful date details and finally print off in black. Along the way, detail has been lost.

So I conclude that the War Charity stamp does not belong to this document. It has been added and rather than tie it with a pen cross, the forger has made a little more effort with this cachet. After all, think of the appeal to the American market of this 5 cents label! 

But in the old days, a forger would have gone to his workshop and made a carefully-crafted replica of the original handstamp and would have tried to get right every detail.

Assessing and Expertising Revenue Documents - Some Examples from Armenia 1

Fiscal documents with revenue stamps attached are not easy to expertise. In many cases, we don't know much about the period of use of particular stamps, or about the tariffs applied and to what kinds of documents - and, in particular, about the cancellations used. We do know that cancellations were often manuscript and we know that manuscript cancellations are easily faked but difficult to detect as such unless you have high-powered equipment to analyse ink. Sometimes a forger will make it easy by using Biro on a 19th century document but quite often they do go to the expense of acquiring a bottle of ink.

Right now, there is a lively Alternative Investment market in Armenia with lots of people looking for old scraps of paper, preferably with old writing on them and even more preferably with dates between 1917 and 1923. To such scraps of paper, postage stamps or fiscal stamps can be added and cancelled. The result is to turn a worthless scrap of paper into something saleable on ebay for twenty bucks (or more).

Have a look at the item below. If you read Cyrillic easily, it is going to be easier for you than it is for me ...

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OK then. It's a receipt, written in Russian and accounting for items priced in roubles and kopecks.There is no date. There is a 1923 Transcaucasian Federation revenue stamp at the left [ # 6 in Zakiyan's listing], tied with violet ink. The question is this: Does the stamp belong?

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My first question is this: How come the stamp is dirty in comparison with the surrounding piece of paper? Was a dirty stamp used? But fiscal stamps don't usually get this dirty before they are used.

My second question is this: Look at the manuscript "2" at the bottom of the stamp. If you get something like this at the bottom of a fiscal stamp it's normally a date. So where's the rest of the date? Answer: on some other document to which this stamp originally belonged.

If you enlarge the image above you can see that the "2" does not spread onto the document but stops at the perforation. If you wanted to pursue the question of whether the ink lines cancelling the stamp are recent or original you would probably need some equipment - enlarge the image now and it is not 100% clear what the answer to that question is. You have to ask the question: Has someone inked in lines on the paper to match original lines on the stamp or are all the lines added?

Is there any other support for my conclusion that this stamp has been added (recently) to the document? Look at the bottom line of the receipt. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to add the cost of a fiscal stamp to the other receipted items ("Za gerb. marki" - for the fiscal stamp). But then the cost of the stamp is missing. So too is the entire bottom right of the document. Doh! On that bottom right corner, I think there was once a fiscal stamp and a date (probably not 1923) and that some collector tore off the stamp for his collection - leaving a scrap of paper.

Do you agree?

Sunday 13 April 2014

Armenia 1920, 10 rouble on 35 kopeck: The Old Jokes are the Best Jokes

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One morning, twenty years ago, I woke up to find myself a Deutschmark millionaire.

The editors at Michel had completely re-written the catalogue pages for Armenia. They had taken the 1978 book by Zakiyan and Saltikov and given their own listing a new and excellent structure, only unsatisfactory at the end where they ran out of space and compressed the listing of the 1923 overprints on the Yerevan pictorial set.

In addition, they had re-priced everything, for the most part intelligently - after all, Michel is a catalogue in a quite different league to Scott or Yvert where you don't expect any knowledge of the subject to be on display.

But they had made one big mistake. Zakiyan and Saltikov published (page 99 of their book) a Yerevan document prepared by the new Bolshevik administration in 1921, listing quantities of Dashnak stamps remaining in the post office - some numbers very large, some very small. The Bolsheviks located over half a million copies of the 5 rouble on 10 kopeck but - apparently - only 85 copies of the 10 rouble on 35 kopeck.

But Michel thought this was a list of numbers issued, not numbers remaining. Big mistake.

As a result some common stamps, notably the 10 rouble on 35 kopeck surcharge, appeared with fantastic never-before-seen valuations: 1500 DM and even more (3500 DM) when the 10r was applied over an existing framed or unframed Z.

In this way I became a Deutschmark millionaire. I had hundreds of these stamps then and I still have dozens (see the selection above).

Twenty years on, sellers regularly fall into the trap Michel has created and offer these common stamps as rarities - look at ebay or delcampe or Philasearch and you are almost certain to find one.

In reality, the 10 rouble on 35 kopeck perforated should probably retail for 10 - 15 € according to condition and when combined with an unframed Z maybe 50 - 75 €. With a framed Z it is genuinely scarce (as are all rouble overprints combined with framed Z) and it should probably retail at 150 € but could sensibly be offered as a single Lot in a specialist auction, something which is not true of the regular 10r or the 10r over unframed Z. At 150 € it would be cheap relative to its scarcity - but Armenian philately is repeatedly "spoilt" as a collecting area by the constant stream of new forgeries and the equally constant stream of catalogue errors, most recently in the ARTAR handbook. Both have the effect of making buyers cautious.

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Thursday 3 April 2014

Belgian Expeditionary Force in Russia 1915

Late in 1915, a group of about 350 men and 13 armoured cars and other vehicles were transported in British ships from the Belgian coast to the port of Archangel. They comprised the Belgian Expeditionary Corps in Russia, sometimes known as the Belgian Armoured Car Division and more long-windedly, Le Corps Expeditionnaire des Autos-Canons-Mitrailleuses Belges en Russie.

They headed from Archangel to the Peterhof outside Petrograd and camped there until being sent to the Galician Front in January 1916. The Peterhof is home to the Winter Palace where Nicholas II was in residence. He inspected the Belgian Corps on 6th December 1915. The letter card below describes the Inspection:

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The card is addressed to a Belgian soldier interned in the Netherlands, at the Harderwyk [Harderwijk] camp. It was sent from PETERHOF PETROGR on 3 12 15, and transited through PETROGRAD 18 12 15 (where it was censored) and the Dutch VELDPOST 14 1 16. The sender gives his name and address as "Aug[uste] Fileé (? see footnote), Corps des autos Canons Belge, Poste centrale à Petrograde". There is no Corps cahcet on this letter-card and it has passed through the civilian mail.

The letter, in French, dated 16 December [New Style, equivalent to the Old Style postmark 3rd December]. It records that the previous week they had been inside the [Winter] Palace "unknown to the Queen" [ " a l'insu de la reine"]. It looks like they ate there [nous avons diner ? though that doesn't seem grammatical ] and that the Tsar then inspected their armoured cars one by one and that photographs were taken which will make a very fine souvenir. As for the future, they are ready and awaiting orders.

 This item has now been sold

Footnote: Google returns several "Rue Auguste Filee" in Belgium but no other information

Tuesday 1 April 2014

A Place Called PAROKHOD

Assumptions and preconceptions colour the way we see the world. This is true of big things, where the results are often enough disastrous, and small things where the results can be amusing:

If you collect postmarks of Imperial Russia then you get used to working your way, quickly, through hundreds of covers and cards in dealer stocks and auction lots - every time you get the chance. You will probably assume that place name postmarks are round, TPO postmarks oval, and ship mail postmarks also oval.

When I picked up the card below I headed for the place name at the top of the round place-name cancel and read PAROKHOD. That's a funny name for a place, I thought. Why would a place be called STEAMSHIP? And where is it? I looked to the bottom of the cancel and, moving between the three strikes, made out KHERSON. Oh, so it's in Kherson guberniya - and I looked for a GUB. to confirm it. Instead, I got ODESSA.

At this point I had my Homer Simpson moment. Doh!

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Of course, how could I have been so stupid - it's a steamship cancel for the Kherson -Odessa line. Forget that I never even knew there was such a line. There clearly is and now I have to find out about it.

Ninety-nine point something percent of swans are white, but there are also black swans. Ninety-nine point something of circular Imperial cancels are place name cancels but some are steamship cancels (as I did in fact know - Batum-Odessa being a common one).

The Russian Cruiser ASKOLD

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The other day, I bought the postcard above. On the back, in a typical English handwriting style, is a note saying "Photo taken in Murmansk Harbour November 1918".

Twenty years ago, it would have taken at least an hour to find out more about this card - even though a lot of information is already provided. Unless you had a specialist reference book on your shelf, it would have meant a visit to a Library or possibly a decision to Phone a Friend.

Now, it takes a few seconds to pull up the Wikipedia entry for the Russian cruiser "Askold", built 1899 - 1901. It was seized by the British navy in 1918 during "White" operations against Bolshevik Russia. Wikipedia says it was seized at Kola Bay and if you then hop to the entry for Kola Bay that turns out to be an inlet (a fjord) at Murmansk.

The British renamed the ship HMS Glory IV but then offered it back to the Soviets in 1921, once they had decided to recognise the new regime. The Soviets looked it over, thought it only fit for the scrapyard, and to the scrapyard it duly went in 1922.