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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Russia 1917: Eyewitnesses to the Revolution

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Just occasionally you can find eyewitness accounts of the Russian Revolution on postcards or in letters. This Registered cover from industrial Druzkovka, Ekaterinoslav [ today's Druzhkivka, 80 km north-east of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine] posted on 5 November 1917 [Old Style] got through the Moscow censorship and then the British censorship of mail to a neutral power and finally did arrive in 'S. Gravenhage in March 1918. It contains a four page letter in French, most of which survived the ravages of the Censor:

The writer, an engineer, starts by saying that foreigners have become undesirables in Russia and that French and Belgians are fleeing en masse, though it is extremely difficult to leave. The majority of factories (in this iron and steel and coal producing area) are on the point of closing because of shortage of coal and because of the excessive wages demanded by the workers who have become absolute masters; "In every factory a workers' committee is formed which gives itself absolute power with the result that the Directors and Engineers no longer have the least authority". Worse, the workers dare to arrest and even assassinate them.

This week, in two villages near to Druzkovka, they have assassinated 75 people in one village and 40 in the other. Recently at Kiev, a passenger train arriving from Odessa was attacked by soldiers, all the doors and windows were broken, all the passengers including women and children thrown out of the carriages. All their hand luggage was stolen. In the stations, passenger trains are taken over by soldiers so that those with tickets cannot board them. Frequenltly, railway stations are looted as are warehouses of wine and spirits. At Bakhmut, according to those who were there, the pillage of the alcohol warehouse was followed by the lamentable spectacle of dozens of men and women in drunken collapse [ "crevés d'ivresse"] on the streets.

The peasants are themselves dividing the land, attacking only cultivated property and not satisfied with taking the land they steal cattle, set fire to buildings and destroy fruit trees. It's vandalism. Whoever has land is a "bourgeois" with the right to be looted ["il a droit aux honneurs de pillage"].

The shortage of coal is very disturbing. Already, parts of the factory are shut down. The workers are agitated and their anger at being spoken to by foreigners [ like himself] is increasing. "Our fate is tied to the operation of the factory".

In the south of Russia, following defeatist propaganda, the peasants no longer sell their wheat believing that by increasing distress they will hasten the end of the war. The slogan Down with the Bourgeois! has resonated in the countryside and has sown there a hatred against the Provisional Government and suspicion of credit institutions.

Anarchy and civil war prevent the defeat of the enemy but equally prevent the overcoming of the food crisis which become more acute by the day and famine - the first cause of revolution - approaches.

Here, the word "Peace" is on everyone's lips. The soviets demand it at any price ... Happily, they form only a part of this democracy, the part which has allowed itself to be swayed by German propaganda. Immediate peace means the loss of Russia, it will be the redistribution of property.

As I write this letter, the strangest rumours are circulating of events of exceptional gravity in Petrograd, Moscow and Kiev ...  [ censored passage ] ...For ten days no news has reached us, the telegraph and telephone lines are cut.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

More About Armenia 1920 Overprints - Combined Surcharges

Emptying one of my stockbooks which did not sell in a recent auction, I pulled out all my working notes on the 1920 Combined Surcharges - the ones which add a rouble surcharge to a framed or unframed Z overprint. These notes were mostly written when I acquired the Tchilingirian - Ceresa holding of these stamps, probably 1000 + stamps at the time, and then added to when I acquired material from Serebrakian and other sources.

Here are some of my observations:

(1) I have never seen genuine combined surcharges on any of the following stamps though some are listed in catalogues:

Arms stamps, perforated: 1,2,3,5,7,10,14 and 70 kop
Arms stamps, Imperforate: 4,10,15,20,25,35,50 kop 7 and 10 rouble
Postal Savings, War Charities and Romanovs: all values except the 4 kop Romanov which can be found with combined surcharges (though it's rare)

Since these claims allow falsification I should be pleased to receive scans of stamps which require that a stamp should be taken off my "Does Not Exist" list

(2) Some rouble overprints were applied to sheets with authenticating cancellations applied at the time of the original Z overprinting. So it is possible to find combined surcharges with cancellations dated in the first half of 1920 - these cancellations relate to the Z overprint only

(3) Melik-Pachaev was able to get some stamps overprinted with both the Z and the rouble value at the same time or with the Z applied to stamps which already had rouble surcharges. See the image below where the Z is over the 100 rouble surcharge in the left hand block 4 with part ERIVAN "k" cancel. The Z in such Melik-Pachaev varieties is always (I think) type E18:

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(4) Combined surcharges with framed Z are much, much scarcer than with unframed Z - this makes sense if the post office in Erivan was overprinting remainders of earlier stocks. Michel valuations do not recognise this difference - perhaps only 1 in 10 combined surcharges are with framed Z. In addition, fewer values can be found with the framed Z. At its most extensive, my stock included only the following values with framed Z;

Arms perforated: 10/7, 15, 20, 25, 35, 50 kop
Arms Imperforate: 2 kop, 1, 3.50 and 5 rouble

Again this list could be expanded if anyone can scan genuine examples of other values.

(4) Though the 1, 3, 5  overprints can be found in violet occasionally (and rarely for the 10 rouble), no combined overprints show the rouble surcharge in violet, though the Z's are found in both violet and black.

(5) Despite all the philatelic manipulation around this issue:

     IF the stamp has a rouble face value, THEN the rouble overprint will be 50 or 100 roubles (never lower)

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Every collector should know the answer to this question: When were Biro pens introduced?

I am not going to tell you when. You can Google it if you don't know. The Biro pen was invented some years before it came into common use, and is named after its Hungarian inventor. Maybe you call these pens ball-point pens but Biros is what I have always called them

It's essential knowledge if you want to date documents, and especially if you want to check whether the dating of a cover is plausible in relation to the periods Before Biros (BB) and After Biros (AB) The cover below from a recent auction is definitely AB which is also the historical period of the envelope used, a 1960s (plus or minus) Soviet-style Mongolia Air Mail envelope. I can't read the date on the cancellation but you can be sure it isn't 1933 which is the date assigned by the auction house. It's also not Ulan Bator, is it, also the auction house's claim. I have once before seen these 1932 Mongolian stamps used late, like this. What I don't know is whether post offices started using them again at some point or whether Soviet-era East German technicians in Mongolia spiced up their letters home with philatelic frankings

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