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Monday 26 January 2015

St Petersburg Numeral Cancellations - Relative Scarcity

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One of my oldest and most loyal clients, M Jacques Vigneron, collects the Numeral Cancellations of St Petersburg. As a researcher, interested in all aspects of the use of the Numeral Cancellations, he buys nearly everything that he finds so that his collection probably gives a very good idea of relative scarcity. At the last count, he had 1556 items in his collection, and with his kind permission I reproduce below the breakdown by Numeral, but ordered from most common to least common:

# 1     536 items    = 34.4%

# 4     148    = 9.5%
# 9     148    = 9.5%
# 6     136    = 8.7%

# 7     109    = 7.0%
# XI   109    = 7.0%

# 5        87    = 5.6%
# 8        84    = 5.4%
# 3        83    = 5.3%

# 14      54    = 3.5%

# 2         31    = 2.0%
# 13       22    = 1.4%

# 15         7    = 0.4%

# 31         2    = 0.1%

# 16         0    = 0%
# 17         0    = 0%

A notable feature of the Numeral Cancellations is that though they are found on letters, cards and banderoles, their use is confined almost entirely to cancelling low value stamps so that a numeral cancel on a stamp above 20 kopecks in face value is really very uncommon.

Added 31 January 2015: Kaj Hellman kindly contributes the following Comments from Helsinki:

It is  very interesting to see these statistics about SPB numeral postmarks !  Most probably nobody has ever done it before.

I had a collection of these already when in secondary school  (that is a long time ago !) .  Then I even exhibited them in the AMPHILEX 1967 youth class.  I had never found the highest numbers , but my dad found the number 16 on a fragment in an antiquarian shop -  that was a lucky day !  This number 16 is perhaps the rarest.  I believe that Oleg FabergĂ© did not have it. To see in these statistics  that #14 is in scarcity so close to #3 ,  #5  and  #8  is a bit astonishing.  I was always thinking that I can always find the numbers between 1 - XI ,  even in quantities, but that  2, 13, 14 and 15  are the difficult ones .   And the highest numbers  16,  17 and 31 are rarities .  

There was plenty of mail between  St.Petersburg and Finland .  Therefore these numbers can still easily be found here on cards and covers.  Also they have been a very popular field of collecting among Finnish collectors -  especially because there are so many different types.

By the way,  Numbers 16 and 31 I will have in my big March Auction in Helsinki!

Kaj Hellman


Saturday 24 January 2015

Armenia: Imperial "Erivan" cancellations

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Stefan Berger (ArGe Russland), Edward Klempka (British Society of Russian Philately) and I are making a study of Imperial Erivan cancellations which continued in use after 1917. In particular, we are interested in the common and much-forged ERIVAN "d" shown above in an early state. I will add to this Blog any examples, genuine or forged, which readers send me to

We are particularly interested in 1917 -1925 uses. As with other Imperial cancellations of this period ( for example, for Baku), the date uses a style in which there is a dot (punkt) after the month but not after the day, so in the above example 24 4. 15  Forgeries do not always get this feature right. However, it may be that for a short period , the dot after the month is missing (maybe it fell out). We would like to see examples that may show this variety. The cancellation is normally found in black or grey-black. However, for a short period a violet or violet-black ink pad was used and we would like to see examples of this use. Thank you! 

Added 2 February 2015: Here is an unusual philatelic cover, cancelled with ERIVAN "d" on 21 4. 20. At this time, favour cancellations on framed Z stamps were often made with this canceller using a fairly intense black ink, though one which is probably diluted in comparison to the 1915 ink. The name  ERIVAN prints crisply but the two stars *  * at the bottom of the cancellation are no longer sharply defined as in the 1915 cancel above and nor is the "d". The dot after the month is  clearly visible. Because of the date similarities between the 1915 and 1920 cancellations, it can also be seen that the same numerals are in use - look at the first closed "2" and the open "4" of the month:

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The cover is interesting because made by a British visitor to Erivan. Commander Luke also visited Baku and at one time I owned a similar cover, which I bought from Eric Peel, similarly self-addressed, but franked with a set of Musavat stamps. I forget who bought it from me but I would welcome a scan of it in order to confirm Commander Luke's handwriting. Interestingly, none of the framed Z overprints on this cover are in violet and none are values which one associates with Serebrakian's activities at this time - for example, 7 and 10 kop stamps. So Peter Ashford may be right in his suggestion that Commander Luke simply bought what was available at the counter. Maybe he used up the money in his pocket to arrive at a franking of 56 roubles 34 kopecks

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Armenia 1920 Chassepot Issue: Why Do Collectors Prefer Chicory to Coffee?

In the just-ended Internet auction at, I consigned twenty or so Lots of Armenia. As usual, I described all the material as Genuine, Reprint or Forged - and the Genuine material came with good signatures like Romeko, good provenance like Ashford, or new Stefan Berger Opinions. I have studied Armenian stamps for over 20 years but I like to have a Second Opinion.

Some of the Genuine material sold, but there was very little competition and some collectors got some very nice items very cheap. All the Reprints and all the Forged material sold, and there was a lot of competition - the material was sold at three or four times the Start prices.

For the 1920 Chassepot issue - so-called after the Paris printers who produced it - I only sent Reprint material to the auction. The genuine Original stamps do not sell - I have tried and the results are disappointing. It's a bit of a puzzle why buyers prefer the Reprints - including the Makulatur varieties which are common: imperforates, missing centres, inverted centres and so on. You don't usually expect people to prefer Chicory to Coffee, Ersatz to Original.

I remember twenty years ago visiting Dr Ceresa. He produced a box. It had come from a Swiss auction and had originally weighed 12 kilos. Dr Ceresa had taken out what he wanted for reference and offered me the remainders, all of it Chassepot reprint material. I paid a penny a stamp. I think Dr Ceresa made a profit. I made a profit too because I soon found someone who wanted to buy thousands from me, at 3 pennies a stamp. But that was in the days before the Internet.

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, I can get more than 3 pennies a stamp and for the Makulatur Inverted Centres and Missing Centres, a lot more. Other people have made the same discovery.

Here for example from a current auction in Germany - a leading auction house - is a sheet of the 70 rouble Spinner, imperforate with Inverted Centre. The Start price is 2500 euro. Of course, it's  Reprint material - even the small picture allows you to see this but if you want to see more clearly what Reprint material looks like, I show a half sheet of the same Inverted Centre stamp which I happen to have lying around the office. Like the sheet in the auction, my half sheet is gummed:

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In contrast, I can only show you a block of 4 of the same variety from the Original printing. Probably nothing bigger than a block of 4 exists. This one came from the Robert H Cunliffe collection of Inverted Centres of the World. I paid over 1000 euros for it. It's most unlikely that I will ever get my money back. But I will cover the loss with profits on the sale of Chicory.

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And here is a matching block of four from the Original printing, but with the centre the right way up:

And here is a block of Reprints with the centre inverted so that you can see the coarse printing, especially of the centre:  

REPRINTS were made from a re-set plate with wider spacing between stamps. The printing method was changed, the printing is coarse, the inks different in colour, the paper and the gum different. As Reprints go, they are very, very easy to distinguish.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

John Bulat on the First General Issue of Ukraine 1918

An article by Roman Procyk in the latest Ukrainian Philatelist (# 112, "Shahivky and Perforations: 50 Years after Ian Baillie's Pioneering study") reminded me of one of the stupidest remarks I have ever read in a stamp catalogue.

In his much-used book of Ukrainian Philately,John Bulat lists the First General Issue of Ukraine, including what he regards as the officially perforated varieties (which command a premium on the imperforates) and then adds, "Privately rouletted perforations and rough perforations have also been reported but these command no premium" (p 3).

Really? Since when have postmaster provisional perforations or perforations made privately for use in the mail rooms of large companies not had a philatelic interest? And when you come across them - which in the case of the First General Issue of Ukraine is rarely -  do you sell them to your chums at "no premium"?

I don't think I have seen the "Official" perforations postally used on cover, but at some point I acquired a stock of Cancelled to Order multiples of the 50 Shahiv, all cancelled KIEV 23 10 18, as on the block of 4 with full gum shown below, which may provide reliable information about when and where they were issued:

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Perforations or roulettes ordered up by local postmasters are, at this period, likely to show up on Money Transfer Forms or Parcel Cards. I forget where they came from, but I once had quite a stock of 20 Shahiv stamps crudely perforated - sometimes only vertically - and clearly used on formular cards in vertical strips. They were all cancelled TROSTYANETS and in the case of those that remain with me they are dated 27 10 18. The stamps had been soaked from the formular cards after those had been pierced with punch holes: see the two strips below where the punch hole damage is visible on the reverse. Curiously, other values do not appear to have been perforated at Trostyanets, or at least that is true of this multiple cancelled 11 10 18:

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In 1918, Ukraine's economy was more active than Russia's and it would have made sense for banks or other businesses with busy mailing rooms to perforate imperforate stamps. There was already a precedent: the Imperial Arms imperforates of Russia issued from 1917 on had already been subject to private perforating, most frequently on the 5 kopeck. But I cannot show a cover which would link a perforation to a particular company. As loose stamps, like the one below, private perforations cannot be fully assessed. But note that once again it has an October 1918 date:

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The Zelonka collection contained quite a number of private perforations and roulettes on the Shahiv stamps, some of which were in Lot 50 at the 2011 Corinphila sale (Start 3000 CHF; sold 6000 CHF)

Get past John Bulat's stupid remark and a specialised but rewarding area of collecting opens up, as Roman Procyk illustrates in his interesting article

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: