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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.)

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