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Saturday 27 June 2015

Bolshevik Russia 1920: Availability of Stamps at Post Offices

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It is well known that after their seizure of power in 1917, the Bolsheviks continued to print Imperial Arms stamps in many of the previous denominations. This is most obviously the case for the rouble value stamps which were reprinted in a different sheet format with horizontal instead of vertical varnish lines. Most - but perhaps not all - of the stamps printed were perforated thus allowing imperforate stamps printed earlier in 1917 to be withdrawn from use if they had not already been used up.

I was assembling a collection of some 67 parcel cards and money transfer forms from the period April - December 1920, immediately after the revaluation x 100 of low value kopeck stamps up to and including the 20 kopeck stamp. The 25, 35, 50 and 70 kopeck stamps continued to be used at face as did all the rouble values.

I counted up the stamps of different denominations on my 67 forms, all of them franked with Imperial Arms definitives except for one solitary Postal Savings Bank stamp. Some interesting patterns emerged.

There were no perforated 1 kopeck stamps on any of the forms but there were 39 imperforate ones, which in context suggests that the Bolsheviks (understandably) were not reprinting the 1 kopeck stamp so that all that remained at post offices were left-overs of the 1917 imperforate printing.

In contrast, at the other end perforate and imperforate stamps are distributed as follows:

1 rouble: 27 perf, 4 imperf
3 rouble 50: 70 perf, 30 imperf [the latter all on one card]
5 rouble: 105 perf, 5 imperf
7 rouble: 135 perf, 0 imperf
10 rouble: 28 perf, 0 imperf.

Now the 10 rouble imperforate was never a common stamp and such used copies as there are date from end 1917 through end 1918. The 7 rouble imperforate is much more common but it seems that by 1920 it had been used up. Copies with 1918 and 1919 cancellations are quite easy to find. The perforated stamps on my cards are nearly all from obvious fresh printings.

There are no 35 kopeck or 70 kopeck stamps at all, perforate or imperforate, on any of the cards and only 24 perforated 25 kopeck stamps and 25 perforated 50 kopeck stamps. I think these stamps, in the same format as the revalued stamps were probably being held back to avoid confusion about their face value. Twenty two of the 24 copies of the 25 kopeck stamp are on just one card (and the remaining two used as a pair to make 50 kopecks). The 50 kopeck stamps are more widely distributed across the cards and charges for parcels quite often show a  50 kopeck component which this stamp then matches.

The 4 kopeck stamp is interesting. There are 31 perforated and 58 imperforate, the latter mostly in multiples on a few cards. This stamp is hard to find used in 1917 - 1919 when it was being sold at a face value which was unhelpfully low but revalued in 1920 to 4 roubles it finds a use, if only that of being used up in multiples.

Most cards are multiply franked with nearly 1300 stamps on 67 cards - roughly 20 stamps per card, which is wasteful of stamps and wasteful of time at the post office counter. The 10 rouble top value was clearly now too low and the revaluation of the 15 and 20 kopeck stamps to 15 and 20 roubles was still inadequate for post office needs.

The full Inventory for the 67 cards is as follows, showing perf / imperf numbers:

1 kop 0 / 39; 2 kop 18 / 18; 3 kop 19 /33; 4 kop 31 / 58; 5 kop 49 / 184 [92 on one card]; 10 kop 45 / 0; 10 on 7 kop 135 / -; 15 kop 98 / 44; 20 kop 55 / 5; 20 on 14 kop 10 / -;  25 kop 24 / 0; 35 kop 0 / 0; 50 kop 25 / 0 ; 70 kop 0 / 0, 1 rouble 27 / 4; 3r 50 kop 70 / 30 [all on one card]; 5 rouble 105 / 5; 7 rouble 135 / 0; 10 rouble 28 / 0

Added 30 June 2015: Alexander Epstein provides this fine example of the 50 kopeck imperforate used in 1920; I am sure this is a rare usage:

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Monday 22 June 2015

Mail between Russia and Austria-Hungary 1917 - 1918

Russia was at war with Austria-Hungary until the Bolsheviks called a halt to their side's hostilities and eventually signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers in March 1918. Back in 1915, the Russians had enjoyed one of their few successes of the war in Austro-Hungarian Galicia and the campaign there had harvested a very large number of Austro-Hungarian Prisoners of War most of whom ended up being sent in the general direction of Siberia.

Normally, you expect Prisoners of the 1914 - 18 War to communicate by means of stampless, free post cards and Austro-Hungarian prisoners did, But at some point they - or some of them - gained access to the civilian mail system. This occurred even before the end of hostilities.

The card below, for example, dates from the period of the Provisional Government. Cancelled at Slobodskoi 3 July 1917 it is correctly franked at the regular foreign postcard rate of 4 kopecks. At the top it is identified as POW correspondence in both German and Russian. It was censored in Petrograd with two violet cachets and on arrival in Vienna with a typical red triangular cachet applied at top right over the stamps. Helpfully, the recipient has noted bottom right in pencil that he received the card on 14 January 1918.

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 The card, written in German, begins by saying that the writer has received 50 roubles through the Stockholm Handelsbank and thanks his correspondent for the money.

The handwriting and the status of the recipient (Dr Karl Pribram) suggests that the sender - who does not spell out his full name or address - is an Officer and sending cards like this (and receiving money transfers) may be Officer privileges.

A bit more surprising is to find a franked letter from the period of the Provisional Government. Franked at 15 kopecks, this was sent from what looks like Makeevka / Makievka in the Don Cossack Oblast on 4 October 1917 and transited through Moscow on 29 December 1917 (there is a roller cancel on reverse) where it was censored with a typical small circular violet cachet (front middle towards the bottom). The letter was censored on arrival in Vienna with the prominent red triangle cachet and, helpfully again, the recipient has noted bottom right that the letter was received 29 October 1918 - over a year after its despatch. The letter is bi-lingually addressed and at the top the sender gives his name, number and what looks like a factory address all in Cyrillic.

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The next card dates from the period of the Armistice between Russia and the Central Powers. This was posted on 29 January 1918 - a couple of days before the Calendar change - at St. Duplesnskaya on the Sibereian Railway and franked at the 5 kopeck internal postcard rate. There are no markings indicating either transit or arrival:

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Then there is a pause - as the Central Powers renew hostilities at the end of February - until there is a flurry of activity from March through May 1918 after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. I have ten cards, nine of which went out westwards through Moscow or Petrograd and one of which (probably as a result of the Chelyabinsk Incident) though intended to go out West (with an RSFSR tariff franking of 20 kopecks) ended up going out East, receiving what I take to be American censorship presumably in Vladivostok. These cards can be described as follows:

From Turansk 24 3 18 franked 25 kopecks with a further missing stamp (which could have been a 15 kopeck to take this to 40 kopecks), addressed to Vienna, no transits, censors or receivers but pencil manuscript indicating arrival 26 November 1918

From Bocharevo Voksal 19 4 18 franked 20 kopecks, sent to a small town in Austria,  the sender giving his address as "auf der Reise in die Heimat" - on the journey home. No transits or censors or arrival marks

From Cheliabinsk Voksal 21 4 18, a picture postcard of Cheliabinsk, addressed to Prague franked 40 kopecks, no transits but Vienna red triangle censors

From Petropavlovsk Privoksal Akmolinsk 23 4 18 franked 20 kopecks addressed to Moravia, no transits or censors or arrival marks

From Novonikolaevsk Voksal 2 5 18 franked 20 kopecks addressed to Vienna, no transits but Vienna red triangle censor cachets.

From TPO Krasnoyarsk Novonikolaevsk 13 5 18 franked 20 kopecks censored in Omsk, sent eastwards and with  PASSED BY CENSOR 351 cachet in violet and two line violet "Correspondances des prisonniers de guerre"

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From Ankovo Vladimir 18 May 1918 franked 40 kopecks addressed to Galicia [ and written in Ukrainian] franked 40 kopecks, Petrograd censors, Vienna red triangle censor

From TPO Omsk Ekaterinburg 21 May 1918 franked 15 kopecks addressed to Innsbruck, Petrograd censor, Vienna red triangle censor, Innsbruck civilian receiver not date legible but probably 1919

From Petrograd 31 5 18 (picture postcard of the city) franked 40 kopecks, Petrograd censor, Vienna red triangle censor, pencil Mss for arrival 30 August 1918. The sender writes cheerfully that he is on the way to the border and will telegraph from the Quarantine Station there.

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One of the puzzles with this group is the sense it conveys of two tariffs operating - the 20 kopeck RSFSR Inland postcard rate and a 40 kopeck tariff.

Then there is a gap in my collection until I come to the only item which looks like regular post-Brest Litovsk mail, an ordinary letter sent from Petrograd on 14 October 1918 addressed to Vienna, franked at the 30 kopecks one expects for ordinary letters sent under the Brest-Litovsk arrangements, censored in Petrograd, routed through K√∂nigsberg with a boxed German censor but with no arrival marks. This is a late date for any foreign mail from Russia in 1918 - though foreign  mail services were not officially discontinued until 1 January 1919, they had come to a nearly complete stop before then.

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Added 30 June 2015: Alexander Epstein provides this second example of an English-language "Passed by Censor" cachet on an outgoing card, this one franked at an anomalous 18 kopecks [ the Tariff was 12 kopecks but that is rarely seen, most senders or postal clerks opting for the Inland tariff of 20 kopecks or something higher up to as much as 40 kopecks as shown above]:

Sunday 21 June 2015

Mail Between Russia and Ukraine 1918

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Relations between Bolshevik Russia and independent Ukraine were constantly changing during 1918 and this is reflected in the postal history. A period of stability was created by the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and associated agreements which provided for a German and Austrian Protectorate-like Occupation of independent Ukraine, administered by the subordinate regime of the Hetman Skoropadsky which was headquartered in Kiev/Kyiv. Russia accepted the occupation of Ukraine - for example, surrendering Bolshevik Kharkov / Kharkiv to German troops in April 1918.

Postal relations were resumed after Brest-Litovsk but my notes say not until July (I don't know where I got this information but probably from Alexander Epstein). As soon as Germany and Austria collapsed in November 1918, Russia moved to take the place of those powers in Ukraine.

For the period July - November it should be possible to find mail in both directions. Either I have not been looking carefully enough or such mail is very scarce. I can show only the one clear example illustrated above.

This is a double weight Registered letter, charged at the RSFSR inland rate of 35 kopecks for the letter + 70 Kopecks Registration + 35 kopecks for a second weight step = 1 rouble 40 kopecks. It was sent from PETROGRAD 1 EXSP 28 7 18 using an inland Registration label. It has KIEV 8 8 18 receiver cancellation on the reverse - and I assume both sides were using the New Style calendar. The cover was posted a couple of weeks after the assassination of Count Mirbach, the German Ambassador in Petrograd so at a time when Bolshevik - German relations were under renewed strain.

In the reverse direction, it should be possible to find mail franked with Imperial adhesives but also Ukraine General Issue and Trident stamps.

Friday 12 June 2015

Russia: Local Tariffs for Moscow and St Petersburg / Petrograd/ Leningrad

For much of the Imperial and Soviet period, reduced Tariffs applied to mail sent within the city limits of Moscow, St Petersburg / Petrograd/Leningrad and some other cities. You would expect to see a lot of such mail - lots of businesses are local businesses, lot of families are in one city but spread out in different districts.

But at some periods you don't see a lot of local mail. Just now, I am mounting up a collection of covers and cards for the Tariff period February - September 1918. It's quite a long period of time and I have a lot of postcards at 20 kopecks, inland letters at 35 kopecks and inland registered letters at 1 rouble 5 kopecks (the Registration fee set at 70 kopecks). But I have just two local letters at 30 kopecks and 2 local Registered letters at 1 rouble ( 30 + the fixed Registration fee of 70 kopecks).


It's relevant that these charges are high both with respect to previous and later tariffs: the postcard rate had jumped from 5 to 20 kopecks but drops back to 10 kopecks in September 1918. And the discount on local letters (30 kopecks against 35 kopecks) has been reduced (in percentage terms): the previous differential was 10 kopecks for local against 15 kopecks for national. The September 1918 Tariff improves the relative situation again with 15 to 25 kopecks. So in the period February - September 1918 sending a local letter was relatively more expensive than it had been or would be in future.

I tried to find some data on Moscow and Petrograd wages in 1918. Googling yields figures which suggests that 10 roubles a day would be a good skilled worker wage and 5 roubles a day the sort of money a junior clerk in an office might get.

So if you had an office regularly sending out local letters or local Registered letters it would make sense to ask whether some or all of them could be delivered by a junior clerk walking the streets or riding the trams. It's not the middle of winter, and even if it takes all day, it will be cheaper to walk deliver by hand six potential Registered letters which would cost a rouble each to send than it would be to walk them to the post office and pay 1 rouble each for them.

In my small group of four letters, shown below, it's interesting to see the use of 2 kopeck imperforates, some pre-separated, on a letter from a Gazette which I guess was set up to send out Printed Matter at 2 kopecks.

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Thursday 4 June 2015

Ukraine Tridents of Kherson 1918

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The cover was Lot 1850 in the 1995 Christie's sale of the C.W.Roberts collection

Speculation in stamps has a long, varied and interesting history.

One way to speculate is to “issue” stamps, with enough control over the issue to be able to benefit financially from sales of the stamps and any essays, proofs and errors with which you are able to enhance the enterprise.

It helps to be a printer, or have ready access to one. It helps to have some connection to a recognisable postal or a quasi-postal authority which might provide authorisation or at least give cover of some kind. It helps if there is a credible-looking (but probably false) document giving Numbers Printed. And, if you are really serious, you will want to persuade the publishers of stamp catalogues to list your product. In the past, they often did. Finally, you might like to see the stamps on covers with genuine post office cancellations, something which in the past and even now is not so hard to arrange.

The Tridents linked by name to the city of Kherson are certainly a speculative stamp issue, but one which is still in the catalogues and reasonably popular. But we don’t know for sure who all the speculators were. We don’t know who printed the stamps or where they were printed. We do know that it was in the Kherson postal district that someone (just one person?) put them on Registered covers which travelled through the post. And we can be pretty sure that the Numbers Printed given in John Bulat’s catalogue are bogus, just as they are bogus for the Courier Field Post and Ministerial tridents – two other speculative issues. There are just too many copies of the stamps around for the numbers to be credible.

But the stamps are very well and carefully printed and are some of the best looking Tridents. This has given rise to claims that they had some serious organisational provenance: the serial philatelic con-man Captain S Schramtschenko  said they were authorised by “Ukrainian Military Headquarters” of the Hetman period and that they were printed  “in the Army Field Printing Office” presumably in Kyiv. These claims are made in an article in The West End Philatelist, undated in the reproduction of the article by Dr Ceresa in his Special Tridents handbook but probably dating from the 1920s or 1930s. Even if the stamps originated from a scheme of Schramchenko's, they may indeed have been printed (for him) by the Army. [ Wikipedia's profile of Captain Sviatoslav Shramchenko links him to the Ukrainian Navy and says that in 1919 he was even for a period Minister of Marine.]

Very recently in The Ukrainian Philatelist (issue 112), Peter Cybaniak – who may well have the largest collection of the Kherson Tridents – makes the same attribution but writes of the “Corps of the Ukrainian Legion” – also Hetman period – and reckons they were prepared at Bila-Tsverka, just outside Kyiv. He then explains the fact that - unissued in Kyiv - they turn up only in Kherson district as a result of an onward sale – precipitated by the fall of the Hetman and the assumption of power by Petliura’s Directory. The onward sale put them into the hands of  another speculator, Rutkovsky, who was based in Kherson. He in turn sold the bulk of his holding to the London stamp dealers Bright and Son in November 1920 (a date which coincides with the final evacuation of white forces from the Crimea). The rest is history.

But the stamps themselves are also problematic. I recently made a mistake and classified a forged Kherson trident as genuine – Mark Kornitschuk pointed out my error. This led me to go back and review my understanding of how the stamps were printed. This is what I found:

Captain Schramtschenko (no date) “impressed“
Dr Seichter (1966) “Buchdruck” [Typographed]
Dr Ceresa (1987) “lithographic plates“
John Bulat (2003) “Metal handstamp or plate”
Peter Cybaniak (2014) – “Most likely they were lithographed”

So we have a problem. How is this level of disagreement and uncertainty possible?

Part of my holding of Kherson Tridents is in mint multiples which came to me with that part of the Vyrovyj collection which I purchased. I have always just assumed them genuine on the basis of that provenance. So I looked at the backs in good natural daylight and ended up with two groups – some with no signs of an impression on the reverse - therefore must be Lithographic; some with clear reverse impressions – therefore must be Typographic. I looked at the fronts of my multiples: no obvious differences in form of the Trident or colour of the ink. From the front, they all look genuine.
I hazard as my own conclusion:

Pateman (2015) – Printed with care from typographic plates. In order to avoid ink spreading and filling the fine outlines of the tridents, the printing plate was lightly applied so that there is often no impression on the reverse visible to the naked eye. There must have been two plates, one for kopeck and one for rouble values.

One further point: Shramschenko, who one must remember is an unreliable witness, nonetheless makes the useful observation of the overprints that “In most cases they show through clearly to the back” though it is frustratingly unclear whether he is referring to the colour (which he has just been discussing) seeping into the paper- which it often does - or whether he is referring to the raised typographic impression.

Added 12 June 2015; Alexander Epstein sends this remarkable image of a Kherson postal stationery. The overprint appears genuine but the stationery is unrecorded in any catalogue and it is not mentioned by Shramschenko or Cybaniak. Epstein takes the view that the Kherson overprints may have had some kind of official or semi-official origin and finds Shramshenko's account credible:

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Tuesday 2 June 2015

Armenia Fiscal Stamps: A Variety Not Listed in Zakiyan

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The fiscal stamps on this little document have been Armenianised three times over.

First, the Imperial Russian 75 kopeck General Fiscal stamps were perforated in Cyrillic with the initials " E.K.P" standing for the Yerevan Chancellery (or Exchequer) Court. Zakiyan in his 2003 book dates these Perfins to September 1919, so quite early in the Dashnak Armenian period. On the 75 kopeck, the Perfin is listed as #8.

Then the Dashnak fiscals were Sovietised with a lithographic overprint comprising a Coat of Arms (over the Imperial Arms) and a new "1 rf" value in Armenian script. This would be Zakiyan's # 16 but for the fact that the stamp has the E.K.P perfin - Zakiyan does not list the overprint on this stamp, though it makes sense as a way of using up old Dashnak stamps. Zakiyan dates the lithographic overprints to September 1922.

Finally, the stamps have been revalued in Manuscript violet ink to "75 000", written in the bottom tab. Zakiyan dates these manuscript revaluations to May 1923 and this stamp would be his # 23 but for the Perfin variety, The revaluation handwriting on my document matches that on a fine document illustrated by Zakiyan at page 68 of his Fiscal section and since I have seen the same handwriting on other documents I conclude that only a few clerks were involved in the laborious work of writing these revaluations onto sheets of stamps prior to use. In general, the stamps were uprated in sheets before being broken up for use on documents, 

My document appears to date from July 1923 with date endorsements at top centre and in the very bottom line.

Monday 1 June 2015

Dashnak Armenian Stamps: Relative Values

Stefan Berger has just published a short piece on his website about the relative values of Dashnak Armenian stamps. He takes as an example the framed Z overprints of 1920. Correctly in my view, he makes three claims:

- small framed Z overpints are much scarcer than medium or large size framed Z
- black overprints are more common than violet ones, except on one or two values (he lists the 5 rouble imperforate)
- some low value perforated stamps are scarce with these overprints, in any size or colour. He instances the 2 kopeck perforated with black overprint.

Of course, I immediately thought that I had just offered a 2 kopeck perforated with large framed Z in black in the last auction. It had a Stefan Berger Opinion included. I described it as a "scarce value with this overprint" - an understatement, of course, so as not to exaggerate. It sold for 20 euro, the start price, with just one bidder. That's basically giving it away - and that's because very, very few people know what Stefan Berger and I know: it's actually quite a rare stamp.

The real problem is this: there is a very big market in Armenian stamps, mostly on ebay and other sites, dominated by sellers who don't care what they sell and buyers who don't care what they buy. There just aren't many serious collectors of Armenian stamps, just as there are only a few serious collectors of Armenian postal history a couple of whom exhibit at International shows (Nagapetiants, Sarkissian)

Maybe 20 year ago now, I was asked by an Armenian dealer to supply him with stamps. He sold album pages, very nicely produced, aimed at the Armenian "Heritage Collector" market. He explained to me that it didn't matter if the stamps were genuine or forged, his people weren't worried about that. As long as the stamps cost less than the album pages, they would be happy. They would have something to show their families and friends.

That Heritage Collector market has now shifted onto the Internet where it combines with the market of one-of-each collectors or filling-an-album collectors who aren't much worried about rarity or authenticity but who just want some cheap stamps. And in the case of Armenia, there are so many forgeries around, sure, you can have as many cheap stamps as you want.

Matters are not helped by the fact that the catalogues are often useless. Yvert traditonally used forged stamps as the basis of all its illustrations, and now has them in colour; the supposedly specialist Artar catalogue uses a mix of genuine and forged material in its illustrations. Michel has got the structure right but relative prices wildly wrong. Only Stanley Gibbons gets its reasonably right, basing itself on the old Tchilingirian and Ashford listings. (I haven't seen Liapine; Ceresa's pricings are unfortunately spread out over several A4 handbooks but are no longer valid in any case).

It's a bit depressing. If I can only get 20 €uro for a rare stamp with a good certificate (for which I have paid), I may as well give up and start selling forged Armenian stamps on ebay.