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Monday 23 February 2015

Ukraine Tridents Unlisted by Seichter or Bulat

It seems to be a never-ending task to catalogue Ukraine Tridents. None of the catalogues can claim to be complete. Neither Dr Seichter in his Sonder Katalog Ukraine (1968) and John Bulat in his Comprehensive Catalogue of Ukrainain Philately (2003) have a consistent policy for listing varieties like ink colour or inverted overprints. Anyone who begins to collect Kyiv or Poltava, for example, will find many more distinct varieties of ink than the catalogues list.

But it goes beyond that. There are standard overprints to be found on basic stamps which are not listed. And they are not all forgeries. In my stock I have maybe a dozen such stamps, waiting for careful examination.

In my last Blog, I wrote about the handstamp Odessa 6b (Bulat's Odesa 10). Here are a couple of genuine examples which I can use for reference:

Click on Image to Magnify

And here are some postally used copies, with low catalogue values, to add a bit more to the picture:

In addition to basic things like the structure of the Trident and the quality of the ink (fairly uniform for this handstamp), I note a few things which seem to repeat. For example, on the right hand side, the space between the inside of the wing notch and the vertical strut usually fills up with ink even when the handstamp is lightly applied. You can see this on the right hand stamp which has been pushed down on more heavily on the left than the right - but the blob of ink joining the right-hand inside and outside is still there. Again, the tip of the spike which extends beyond the wing tips and distinguishes this type from Odessa 6a (Odesa 9) never fails to print - it is always clear and often solidly black at the top as on the left hand stamp. This is maybe surprising since when using handstamps most people (I think!) tend to hit the paper first with the base of the handstamp.

Now we come to the problem stamps:

Click on Image to Magnify

Odessa 6b on the 10/7 kopeck stamp is not listed by either Seichter or Bulat, though they both list 6a on this basic stamp.  

Let's start with the left hand stamp. I am sure this shows a genuine Odesa 6b handstamp - it matches my reference copies very well - except that the ink appears more diluted (you can see this if you Click to enlarge the image). The cancellation does not help much - there is nothing legible - but it does seem to be over the overprint and contributes to the diluted ink appearance since it fills in what would otherwise be white spaces. You can see the same thing happening on the 3 rouble 50 stamps above.

The clipped side does help, a lot. This stamp was on a Parcel Card or Money Transfer Form and was clipped before being sent to the archives. No forger would have chosen this stamp to overprint - no one would want to buy it and undamaged 10 / 7 kopeck stamps can be bought for a kopeck or two which people will then buy for a lot of roubles if they are overprinted with Odesa 6b. 

The stamp isn't signed but came from the Schmidt collection with a typical pencilled "O" (for Odessa) on the back. A piece of paper had been pasted on the back of the stamp, probably  to stop the cut area getting caught and damaged,  but I have soaked this off.

Now turn to the right hand stamp. When I look at the overprint, it seems a bit bigger than than those on the other stamps and when I measure it is indeed a bit wider: 10.5mm as against 10mm and if we are dealing with a metal handstamp, that is not to be expected. I also have the sense that the right wing curves more smoothly down than on the other stamps. On the other hand, the ink is a very good match with my reference copies. In addition, the top of the spike prints clearly and an infill of ink on the right wing can also be seen. However, I cannot today persuade myself that the overprint is genuine - but if it is a forgery, it is a very good one. Either way, I could sell it much more easily than the clipped stamp! When I turn the stamp over, I find an Odessa dealer-style mark but it's one I don't recognise [ Note added 10 March 2015: Roman Procyk points out that it is a B.Trachtenberg house mark, but with the surname  abridged to "B.TRACHT"; it has previously been recorded and illustrated at ]:

Click on Image to Magnify

So: Today I claim to have identified an unlisted trident variety, Odessa 6b (Odesa 10) on 10 / 7 kopeck with one known used copy. Any more out there in collectors' albums? Do have a look!

But you can probably also work out why Unlisted tridents tend to stay in my back stock and never get processed: it's a lot of work to assess them! 

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 22 February 2015

Ukraine Tridents - The Punch Hole Question

Every collector knows that for classic imperforate stamps, you must pay more for a four margin copy than for a three margin copy, more for a three than a two,more for a two than a one. If the stamps were printed very close together in the sheet then for a four margin copy, you may have to pay a very big premium. Everyone understands, no one disagrees.

In Imperial Russia, stamps used on parcel cards and money transfer forms were often deliberately damaged before the cards and forms were sent to the archives. They had holes cut in them or pieces cut out from them and so on. Supposedly, the idea was to prevent fraudulent re-use of the (often high face-value) stamps though, actually, it was just a lot of work for very little gain.

The practice was continued after the 1917 Revolutions, notably in independent Ukraine where high volumes of formular cards were handled by post offices and regularly damaged after use. As a result, many of the stamps with Trident overprints which we encounter have holes or cuts - and from this, we infer that they have been soaked off formular cards by later dealers and collectors who got the cards when the archives were looted or officially sold off.

I have not met a collector who expects to pay the same price for a stamp with a punch hole as for a stamp without one. Some collectors won't even consider punch-holed stamps. But actually such stamps are an important source of information.

For example, many of the handstamped Tridents of Odessa (types 4 through 6) were or appear to be philatelic productions made for the benefit of big Odessa stamp dealers like Trachtenberg. I used to assume that the stamps with high catalogue values were generally limited editions produced for the stamp market. But, recently, looking at a mass of material from the Schmidt collection, I had to think again.

Look at these two stamps:

Click on Image to Magnify

Here we have type 6b on 50 kopeck perforated stamps, listed in the Bulat catalogue as # 1351 and valued at $175 for mint and $185 for used with Inverted overprints separately listed and valued at $175 and $200. From the catalogue listing alone I would infer "Trachtenberg".

But the two stamps above have both been used outside Odessa, in fact, a long way away at a small locality APOSTOLOVO KHERSON - and one stamp has punch holes. It's from a formular card and it's very, very unlikely that the holes are forgeries - forgers just do not punch holes in stamps especially holes of this complicated type.

So this rare Trident type was in genuine postal use. We might guess this from the copy without punch holes just because of the unusual cancellation, but the punch-holed copy is much more convincing. Of course, it's possible that the stamps were prepared in Odessa for some stamp dealer who then did not pick them up and they got put into regular stock for distribution. (The left hand stamp is dated 21 12 18 ). That does not matter. 

To return to the holes. No one is going to pay the same for the punch-holed copy as for the intact copy. I think this is short-sighted in the present case. Personally, I would want to have both of these stamps together in my collection to illustrate genuine postal use at Apostolovo.

Because no one likes punch holes, they are often repaired, sometimes very well as on the stamp below:

This is an example of Odessa 5a on the old 3 rouble 50. It's # 1184 in Bulat and is catalogued at $225. Now it's easy to think that these old high values were overprinted for stamp dealers. Maybe. But they were also put into use postally and are generally found with early Trident use dates ( September or - as in this case - October 1918 ). I get the impression that these old high values were used up in the context of a shortage of high value stamps. This one was postally used - you can probably see the repair which has filled the punch-hole with a piece of stamp cut from another adhesive. Click to enlarge if you can't see it. 

So is this repaired stamp worth more or less than an unrepaired stamp? The person who did the work thought the answer was obvious. His or her work is not disguised - it's not a forgery - you just have to look at the back of the stamp to see the patch. But the final appearance is better. For me, the interest is in the postal use and if I was making an Odessa collection I would try to get examples of genuine use of all the listed stamps and I would have no problem using punch-hole copies.

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:

Friday 20 February 2015

Their Post Offices and Ours

The Old Post Office, Tintagel, Cornwall, England

Some years ago I realised that when I thought of a post office, I thought of something just like the one I used at home. For example, the counter clerks had plenty of postage stamps available, neatly organised in fat books. Then in 1997 on holiday in Armenia, I went into the main post office on Republic Square, Yerevan to get stamps for holiday postcards. The clerk was sitting at an open desk and her stamps were in the desk drawer. She didn't have many and they were all loose and mixed up. Rather slowly, she found stamps - different ones - which would frank my cards. I was surprised - I had expected their post office to be just like mine.

Go back nearly a hundred years and think of post offices in Russia from 1917 through 1923. Think about the people, both clerks and customers. Many of them - probably most of them - were cold, hungry and sick. They were poor. They wore old clothes, probably hadn't a bath for some time and even their hands were dirty. Things they needed were in short supply - sometimes, you didn't even have a pair of scissors available at the post office counter. Sometimes the clerks had stamps, sometimes they didn't. More often than not, they had stamps in denominations which did not match current tariffs. Few clerks took pride in their work - they didn't clean their cancellers, for example. As a consolation,everyone smoked - and coughed.

The letters and cards people wrote often used improvised stationery and were written in pencil rather than ink.

In a sense, we know all this because we know how a 1917 - 23 letter or card is likely to look - a bit grubby and nothing like a modern FDC.

But forgers often fail to reflect the reality they are supposedly forging. Their covers look too much like FDCs: expensive stationery, nice handwriting, super clean postmarks .... You look at these things and you know they are too good to be true.

There was a failure of imagination: a failure to realise that people then were living differently and - in general - living badly.

Just by way of one example: here's a man ("A.A") in Borovichi in June 1922. It's part of a correspondence. He's an artist and is trying to get to England and is writing to the well-known English artist, Alan Beeton (1880 - 1942). For this latest instalment of his correspondence, he has cut the cover off an old notebook - no matter that the cover is blue and you have to work hard to read the address:

Click on Images to Magnify

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Russia 1917 - 23: Speculative stamp issues and Fantasy issues

Recently (2 February) I blogged about non-speculative stamp issues in the 1917 -23 period and gave some examples. Speculative stamp issues can be identified by their failure to meet some or all of the criteria I listed. Of course, most of the time there are shades of grey.

But when is a supposed stamp issue not a stamp issue at all but simply someone's private fantasy or business speculation? In other words, completely bogus and collectable only as such?

I suppose the fundamental questions are these: Was the supposed stamp issue ever available at a post office counter (even just one counter and even if only for a short period)? Could it be bought by (almost) anyone who walked in? Could it be used to frank mail which would then be carried from A to B by some post office delivery person (even if only within the limits of a town or city)?

Here are some "issues" (listed in some catalogues and some of which are popular with collectors) which I think had no real existence as stamp issues. There was no post office, you couldn't buy them there, and there was no mail delivery service which recognised them:

  • The so-called Refugee Post (Wrangel's Army) stamps, produced by a group of speculators who spent a lot of time fabricating attractive covers which circulated no further than the table they were sitting at. There was no Refugee Post which issued and recognised these stamps and delivered letters
  • The so-called Courier Field Post issues of Ukraine. Ditto as for the Wrangel stamps. There was no Courier Field Post which used these stamps even if there was a Field Post on whose existence they play.
  • The so-called "Beirut" ROPIT issues - overprints and ship designs (the latter I suspect - from the gum and paper - printed by Yessayan in Constantinople, just like the Refugee Post overprints)
  • The Georgia "Constantinople" consular stamps, undoubtedly linked to obliging consular officials who provided authenticating documents - but even if you were Georgian you couldn't walk into the consulate, buy the stamps and hand over the letter for delivery.

There are others like the Occupation Azerbaijan overprints but these are generally recognised as fantasies.

In contrast, though highly speculative, there are other issues which met the minimal requirements of availability connected to an actual postal service. I would include here the issues of the Western Army and the North Western Army. I have a feeling that the stamps of the Northern Army were - shall I say - less speculative. They were printed in very large quantities in the worst designs ever chosen for postage stamps and the amount of proof, trial and error material associated with them is very small. Given the chance, the Northern Army would have made more use of these stamps than it did: a few genuine usages exist and Alexander Epstein has chronicled them

The stamps of the Belarussian National Republic [Bulak-Bulakovich], designed by Zarins (the designer for some of the Romanov stamps) and beautifully printed in Riga - these I think of as simply unissued. The BNR would have used them if it could have ...

The issues of Western Ukraine fall into the same category as the Western Army and North Western Army, except for the Kolomiya Registration labels which have a much better claim to be regarded as genuine stamp issues.

Well, I suppose some of this may be controversial!

Monday 16 February 2015

Ukraine Tridents - The Importance of Raritan Catalogs

Back in 2011, I prepared the late Ron Zelonka's Ukraine collection for sale by Corinphila, Zurich. It was so vast that, inevitably, much material was sold in large lots which were unillustrated both in the catalogue of the sale and on line.

The sale did not tempt any Ukraine collectors from USA to Zurich, but it did tempt Raritan Stamps of Dayton, New Jersey who bought significant sections of the collection. In its regular auctions, Raritan now offers single items or small groups of items from the material it bought - and it illustrates them, in colour, in its catalogues.

This is important. The Zelonka collection included rare items from the Dr Seichter collection and the John Bulat collection which have never been illustrated or only inadequately illustrated in black and white. This is true for example of many local Trident overprints.

Now they can be seen in the Raritan illustrations and used for reference purposes. For example, here in the latest catalogue is a picture of the Hanebne local trident on 1 kopeck imperforate stamps (Bulat #2355), ex Dr Seichter. It may not look very impressive but it provides the basis to evaluate other examples of the much-forged Hanebne Trident and to distinguish this trident from the very similar Konstantynohrad trident:

Click on Image to Magnify

The current catalog for Auction # 64 also allows me for the first time to compare a copy of a rare stamp in my stock with another example of the same stamp.

Though Odessa type 1 tridents were printed from a lithographic plate of 100 positions suitable for overprinting Imperial kopeck stamps, both Dr Seichter and John Bulat list the overprint on the 3 rouble 50 imperforate (Bulat 1078, unpriced). This overprint canot have been produced from the lithographic plate and must have been made either by a handstamp based on the design for Type 1 Tridents or by a fresh lithographic plate. Given the rarity of the stamp, the latter seems unlikely. Below I illustrate my copy (ex Schmidt) with a punch hole and blue crayon strongly suggesting use on a formular card and with an ODESSA cancel of 10 10 18 and Raritan's Lot 1262 which has a different Odessa cancel for 3 10 18. Interestingly, in both cases the Trident is tilted to the left which suggests to me a handstamp rather than a plate. Raritan have an Estimate of $750 on their copy, which seems reasonable for a very rare stamp, despite the unwillingness of most Ukraine collectors to contemplate such a price:

Click on Image to Magnify

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 15 February 2015

Armenia: First Yessayan set 1922 - Forged Overprints

Most forged overprints on First Yessayan stamps are easy to detect: either they are on forged basic stamps or the overprints are very different from the genuine ones. Of course, there is still a good market for these forgeries on ebay and all over the world there are people who have paid fifty dollars for a stamp I would sell them for fifty cents.

But there are also serious forgeries which always use genuine basic stamps and where the overprint handstamps have been made by forgers who have seen the genuine item.For example, there is a good forgery of the "50k" in black on 25 000 Ararat, imperforate in blue, which copies the fact that the overprint is normally centrally placed at the base of the stamp. Here it is:

Click on Images to Magnify

And now here is the genuine overprint:

There are numerous differences which you can see if you examine from left to right. Look at the shape of the "0" for example. In addition, and not so clear from my scans, is the fact that the ink is wrong on the forgery: it is a paler blue-black or grey-black. But the genuine overprint is always in a fairly intense black, not diluted.This is the difference I look for first and the left to right examination then confirms it.

And now here is a multiple with the genuine overprint, which will become relevant in a moment:

If you look at the bottom right stamp in this block you will see that because of the way the handstamp has been held on that occasion, the "k" has not printed properly. This is useful to see because here is a single used copy from ALEXANDROPOL 3 2 23 showing the same failure of the "k" to print properly. But by using the mint multiple for reference, we can be sure that this overprint is genuine, as one would expect from the genuine Alexandropol cancel. You can also see how intense is the black ink of the overprint compared to the ink of the cancelllation:

The stamps on this Blog are for sale as one group for 500 €uro
The block of six comes with a Stefan Berger Opinion

Saturday 14 February 2015

Azerbaijan 1922 Postmaster Provisionals - Kusovkin Reprints

Click on Image to Magnify

In his Azerbaijan handbooks published over 20 years ago, Dr Ceresa established that the 1922 Postmaster Provisional overprints of Azerbaijan were very soon (within three years?) reprinted by the Azerbaijan Philatelic Association headed by Kusovkin, who was appointed to his (newly created) post by Chuchin's Moscow-based association which later became the Soviet Philatelic Association. Above I show a 1924 cover addressed from the Moscow VOF to Kusovkin at the Azerbaijan branch of the VOF. I once had a copy of Kusovkin's letter of appointment - I think it is now in a collection held in the Czech Republic.

Anyway, looking at the latest auctions I saw some Kusovkin reprints on offer. How do you tell the difference between Originals and Reprints?

1. Reprints are on original stamps but they are always mint, though possibly sometimes Cancelled to Order. Postally used overprints will always be Originals. Mint copies of the Originals do exist and some supplies may have reached West European dealers. Some bear old expert signatures.
2. The original overprints were made locally at post offices using counter stocks of stamps. These were often with gum. But Reprints were made from remainder stocks and these are normally without gum. It would be nice to think that the with gum / without gum test is decisive but I think it is only a matter of probability. 
3. The handstamps were cleaned for the Reprints and they are carefully applied, quite often inverted or double and so on. Original overprints are often unreadable from heavy inking or careless printing.
4. The handstamp of the Azerbaijan Philatelic Association was often applied to Reprints. It reads AZ VOKA in Cyrillic and is boxed - I don't have a copy at the moment. To the best of my knowledge, no Originals received this handstamp. 
5. It does seem that experts before Ceresa were aware of the existence of reprints - AZ VOKA signed stamps rarely if ever also show the signatures of W. Pohl, Dr Jem etc. However, not all Reprints were AZ VOKA signed and on unsigned reprints you do find what are normally reliable expert signatures. Surprisingly, Voikhansky in his important Azerbiajan handbooks seems not to mark the distinction between Originals and Reprints.
6. There are some differences in the ink, especially the black inks. These are generally greyer and less dense on the Reprints.

This is a case where pictures do not help much - the information I give above does however help solve at least half of all cases where one asks, Is this an Original or a Reprint?

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Agathon Faberge Acquisition Notes

As many collectors know, Agathon Faberge - son of the Court jeweller to Nicholas II - pencilled acquisition notes on stamps and covers he acquired. These usually give the date of acquisition, the supplier, and (in code) the price paid. Sometimes they include Comments. The style varies a bit over time - the example below (on a pair of Ananief Zemstvo seals) seems to give the coded price paid first whereas usually it comes at the end. The item was bought from Ruben in March 1901:

Click on Image to Magnify

Dr Jeffrey Stone is making a study of these acquisition notes and tells me that he has no examples of a note dated between 1915 and 1926. Can any readers supply examples? You can send him a scan at

Friday 6 February 2015

Azerbaijan 1921 Pictorials - A Curious Discovery

Azerbaijan's 1921 Soviet pictorials were printed on large sheets of newsprint and normally cut up along gutters into smaller half sheets before distribution; remainder uncut sheets were sold off in the 1930s but usually cut up either by dealers or collectors - they are just too big! The printing was actually carried out to quite a high standard and the one major error - inverted clichés in the 3000 rouble sheets - appears not to have been philatelically motivated.

As most collectors know, the 5000 rouble top value exists in a variety where the middle of the stamp has an extra green colour wash. This is normally regarded as an unissued trial, for example by Dr Ceresa in his Handbook. The issued stamp does not have the extra wash and as a result is rather less attractive. Here are images of matched corner blocks (from blocks of 36), the "trial" shown second for a reason soon to become clear:

Click on Images to Magnify

Now the 5000 rouble top value was widely used just like all top values in periods of high inflation. Mint multiples like my block of 36 are scarce, maybe even very scarce. There were few remainders of this stamp. In contrast, the stamp with the extra colour wash is common in mint multiples - it was sold off with the remainders of the issued stamps. But why wasn't it issued? If stocks of the 5000 r were running short, why weren't the large quantities of this "trial" pressed into use? I think I have an answer.

Look at the issued stamp. At the corners of the stamps you can see printer's guidelines which have not been cleaned off the lithographic plate. In my block of 36 it is only in the top two rows that these guidelines can be seen - in the rest of the block they have been cleaned off or weren't used.

Now look at the unissued stamp.There are some traces of guidelines under the darker wash but basically they have gone. They have been partially removed, cleaned off. For example, look at the top right corner stamp and look underneatth the "5000" and the "pyb" on both blocks.

This is strange - if the Trial was printed first, it would surely have the guidelines at least as clear as on the later printing.

I conclude: the so-called "Trial" was a second, later printing of the 5000 rouble made when stocks of that top value stamp were running out. The appearance was improved by adding the second colour wash. But then for some reason, the new printing was not put into use. Maybe it was made obsolete by the issues of the Transcaucasian Federation of 1923 or maybe the printers ran out of green ink before a useable quantity could be printed. Certainly, it was not issued and was sold off as remainder stock in the 1930s.

Michel mentions the unissued variety; Gibbons does not. 

Any Comments?

Postscript 15 February 2015: Just to complicate matters, I remembered I have the stamp below. No gum, no hinges, no signatures. I have only this one copy. It may be that rare thing for this issue - a Trial: 

Monday 2 February 2015

Russia 1917 - 1923 : Non-Speculative Stamp Issues

Very early on in postage stamp history, control over some stamp issues fell into the hands of people hoping to make a profit from sales to collectors rather than wanting to prepare stamps to meet a genuine postal need. Surprisingly, there are quite a few issues from former Imperial Russia during the 1917 - 23 period which were not speculative in this sense.

How to distinguish? Here are some of the criteria for what I would call a genuine stamp issue:

  • control over the issue is in the hands of a postal authority 
  • the printers have at least some features of what we would now call "security printers", securing the production process to prevent unauthorised printings by workers; disposing of printers' waste; keeping account of the number of stamps produced; not producing deliberate errors and varieties; and so on
  • the issued stamps are widely distributed to functioning post offices in the territory controlled by the postal authority
  • the stamps can be freely bought over the counter
  • more stamps are used non-philatelically than are stuck on philatelic covers or cancelled to order for collectors and dealers
  • the quantity of essays, proofs, trials, is reasonable in relation to what is required by the production process. If a committee of 20 has to decide on colours, then of course the printer will produce at least 20 sets of the possibilities on offer. But not 2 000. (In practice, a colour trial is produced by printing off at least one sheet so the minimum number of copies which can be produced corresponds to the sheet size)
  • no one value in a set is selected for production in artificially limited numbers and excluded from general distribution
And so on. Most or all of these criteria are met by:

  • the first issue (the "Flowers") of Estonia
  • the first general issue of Ukraine
  • the Don and Kuban overprints
  • the "One Russia" stamps of General Denikin
  • the first Musavat issue of Azerbaijan (though the short life of the Musavat regime limited actual postal use)
  • the 1921 "Chita" issue stamps of Siberia
  • the 1923 "Yerevan" pictorial set of Armenia
  • the 1923 pictorial issue of the Transcaucasian Federation - probably the most tightly controlled of all these issues
There are others: Podillia Tridents are a surprising example of good security printing: all those handstamps but no variation in ink colours and hardly any inverted overprints.

Anyway, all the above stamps have low catalogue values. They were definitive stamps (Dauermarken) intended for regular use and, in general, were actually used quite widely. So in each case - except Azerbaijan  - it is possible to make a collection, at fairly reasonable cost, not only of the basic mint stamps but of cancellations, covers - and, very occasionally and more expensively, errors and varieties; proofs and trials. (For some of these issues, trial and proof material does not appear to exist. In most cases, there was extensive remainder material later sold off - often by the Soviet Philatelic Association - to the stamp trade.)