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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!


  1. It's a slippery slope...
    In my favorite backyard of Siberia, I am 99% sure the Nikolaevsk-on-Amur issue and the Vladivostok Airmail issues were completely speculative nonsense products. While there is some anecdotal evidence that the latter were sold at the post office it simply wasn't used to frank any real mail (the roughly two dozen concocted covers notwithstanding).

    An interesting borderline case occurs when the stamp issue itself is perfectly legitimate but there is an ungodly amount of proof/error/variety material in existence. My beloved Paraguay had a habit of this in the 1920s: simply every overprint existed inverted, double, double one inverted, triple one inverted, sideways, etc. as a matter of course, although the overprints themselves were fine...

  2. Mr. Pateman, I would appreciate your evaluation as to which of those categories you identified the six Turkestan pictorials would fit.

  3. I think the Turkestan pictorials were printed in Western Europe directly for the stamp trade. They were not ordered by any postal authority in Soviet Central Asia (asome of which in the 1917 - 23 had some local autonomy) and they were not distributed there. They are an interesting and popular group, but they were private productions for the European stamp trade