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Friday 31 July 2015

How To Arrange and Write Up a Postal History Collection ....

Over the next few months, I want to "arrange and write up" an accumulation of about 1000 covers and cards. Yes, that's the scale of the backlog....  I don't exhibit at National or International shows which means that I am free to do what I want. I sometimes exhibit to collector societies (my national one is the British Society of Russian Philately) and I want a system which will allow things to be picked up and turned over and which has an Easy to Read write up.

I have settled for the "Cosmic" display system and specifically sheets divided into two pockets. The top pocket is large enough to take most covers and cards. For an outsize item I can use a single pocket page.

Since none of my material is shiny white FDC stuff, I wanted to avoid white paper for my write up which would just make my postal history look grubby. (It is grubby but let's not emphasise that). I wanted to use grey paper but that has to be ordered each time - you can't just pick it up at your nearest copier paper shop. So I am using cream as a second choice.

The write up is done in grey brown rather than black (which from a computer printer is too stark) and I use larger font sizes, 18 for headings and 14 for text. I try to vary the text and not to spend time on the Obvious - so I don't in general describe the stamps (which anyone can just see ..) unless they have some notable feature.

This is what it all now looks like:

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I think my biggest problem is to maintain consistency in the write-ups. I can and do save the templates with the underlined header, but I doubt I will maintain consistency in transliteration. I just know that sometimes I will write VYATKA and the next time VIATKA. 

Anyway, in the last couple of days I have produced about 50 of these pages which reduces the backlog to about 950 ...


Some of you will have spotted where my title came from: as a boy, I read a book "How to Arrange and Write-Up a Stamp Collection" by Phillips and Rang and now freely available on Amazon.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Archangelsk - Vardø Steamship Route: A Fantastic Rarity but...

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In the previous Blog post, I returned to the theme of Collector Damage. Here is an item which  made me think about it again.

It's a Money Letter containing 50 roubles addressed to Archangel with an Archangel receiver cancellation on the reverse. 

From the original 1905 letter still contained in the envelope, it's clear that it was put on board the Vardø - Murmansk - Archangel steamship at the small port of Teriberka on the Barents Sea ( see Dr Raymond Casey, "Ship Mail from North-West Russia" in British Journal of Russian Philately, Number 63, 1986, pp 14 - 28). 

Since it was handed to the ship's postal clerk, it was supplied with a Money Letter etiquette # 81 which reads "Murmanskoe 1 Parokh P. O" - Murmansk 1[Steamship Number 1] Steamship Post Office. This label may be unique. 

And as a Money Letter it was then sealed five times in wax and the seals are also inscribed with the identity of the Archangel Murmansk Steamship Post Office and, if not unique, they are very rare. The cancellation on the front of the cover is recorded.  But it's still a scarce cancel. 

In a recent Heinrich Koehler auction, two matched Registered covers posted on this steamship in 1915 sold for 36 000 €uro (hammer price). Yep, 36 000

And now for the Bad News -  you have already noticed, I am sure. At some point someone very carefully cut out from the back of this envelope the stamps which franked it. You can be 100% sure that the value of those stamps was and is of the order of 10 cents in any currency.

The Good News is that the person with the scissors did not then throw the envelope in the bin.

Added 3 August 2105: This item has now been Sold

Philately and Creative Destruction

Economists talk about “creative destruction”. By this they mean that over time whole industries disappear and get replaced by new ones, generally more productive and generally improving the quality of life. Candle-making factories disappear and are replaced with electricity generating stations. And so on.

And most industries thrive on the fact that their products get used up or wear out: agriculture only exists because food gets eaten; shoe factories because shoes wear out.

Philately is very unusual. Every year, the available world supply of stamps and stamp products (“produits philatéliques” they call them in France) increases. It increases very many times faster than the world’s population and has done so for most of the time since stamps were invented. As a result, since demand cannot keep up with supply, there is a long-term tendency for stamp prices to fall. (Marx, however, didn’t notice it – he was writing too close to the invention of the postage stamp).

Some destruction goes on: most stamps don’t survive for more than a few hours or days after the envelope to which they are stuck arrives. The same is true of the envelope. Those which do get preserved are then sometimes destroyed by fire, floods, insects, dealers and collectors. But not enough of them!

There are just too many stamps. Some are thankfully locked away in attics and bank vaults where they deteriorate and do no harm. Others are constantly churned through small collections and small auctions, their quality deteriorating with each churn. A very, very few are in large, serious collections and change hands – with remarkable frequency – in large, serious auctions.

I sometimes think that philately would benefit from creative destruction. A world-wide bacterial plague which eats up stamps, a Pandemic plague which spares very little but very definitely eats up all those terrible “schoolboy” collections and shoebox “hoards” and definitely all the Produits Philatéliques of all those countries which produce horrible looking stamps (you choose the ones).

Then the Plague would come to an end and  we could start again with a worldwide stock of stamps more proportionate to the number of collectors, their capacities and their budgets.

But like most collectors, I find it very difficult to destroy stamps or covers. This week, my new stock included a few thousand cheap covers bought in a few big Lots, cheap at auction. Cheap and in some cases, nasty.

I threw away the ones with fungus or lots of water damage but not the ones with creases or tears or sellotape stains from tears which had been “repaired” or notes written in biro …  in other words, the ones which had passed through too many careless hands. 

But I hope a day will come when I do throw them in the bin because they are things of no interest to a sensible collector and their destruction would be a creative act. If everyone did it, then it would reduce the amount of time we waste having to look at rubbish to find something which isn't rubbish. 

Friday 24 July 2015

RSFSR Mail Abroad 1919 - 1921: More Fun than Sudoku

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It's a wet day here and I have been writing up a small collection of Soviet mail abroad for the 1919 - 1921 period. It's very difficult to find any mail abroad for this period and what you do find is often puzzling. Sometimes I give up and consult Alexander Epstein,

Today, I left to last the real headbanger items, like the one above. But it can be understood even if it leaves a puzzle.

The sender has folded a sheet of lined paper into an envelope. He or she has then written the address in Cyrillic at the top and Roman at the bottom but upside down - but from folds in the envelope it looks as if it was originally posted folded in half:

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The letter is addressed to Jos Skopal, cetnicky strazmistr [Google gives me "gendarme", so "policeman"], Kelc i Hranic-Morava, Ceskoslovensko. The cancellation top right on the first image shows that it was sent from IKOVSKOE in Tobolsk on 23 November 1921. Google gives me ONE result for "Ikovskoe" - it's a village east of Chelyabinsk, from which I guess that Jos Skopal was once a Czech Prisoner of War in the region.

Anyway, the letter picked up a DOPLATIT IKOVSKOE TOBOL oval postage due cachet without any indication of how much postage was due. But since there are no stamps on the cover and never seem to have been the Postage Due should have been a massive 10 000 roubles, the ordinary foreign letter rate having been increased to 5000 roubles (from 1000 roubles) two days before this letter was sent.

The letter travels to Moscow where it gets cancelled three times: with an oval Three Triangle censor cachet dated 3 12 21, with a circular MOSKVA 1 EXSP 4 12 21 - both these on the second image above - and with a MOSKVA roller cancel 3 12 21 and probably applied first and shown on the first image above. 

Now in a thoroughly messy and partly illegible condition the letter travelled on - and made it to Kelc where it was very cleanly cancelled KELC CSR 19 XII 21. But no evidence that the Czechs did anything about the Postage Due. Maybe Josef Skopal was well-known to the post office. 

Anyway, I now have an account of this letter and now I need a drink and will reflect on the fact that sometimes the letters you think will never arrive do arrive.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Russian Brides

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I guess this Blog post is going to get a lot of hits ...

The card above is of interest in at least four ways.

For the Russian Tariff collector, it's a nice example of the RSFSR's  27 rouble foreign postcard rate, in force from June to October 1922, and paid for here by a combination of kopeck stamps revalued x 100 together with three one rouble stamps used at face value. So 5 + 5 + 14 + 1 + 1 + 1  = 27 . But the Tariff is not a particularly scarce one and on its own makes the card worth maybe 30 €

For the Russian Censorship collector, there is a Petrograd Three Triangle civilian censor in the middle of the card. But it's upside down and only a part strike, so you wouldn't choose it if you had the choice of a better one.

For the Russian Stamp collector, this is really interesting (and I didn't at first see it). Look at the one rouble stamps on an enlarged image. They are perforated well off-centre. More importantly, they are examples of the scarce post - revolutionary perforation 12.5 which all catalogues give a big premium on. I hate measuring perforations and rarely do but I have checked these all round and, yes, they are 12.5. Pity about the brown toning at the top. That said, I have absolutely no idea what this card is worth as an example of that perforation used on a regular item of mail. But examples must be scarce if the catalogues are right about the basic stamp.

For the social historian - and this is what I first noticed - the interest is in the addressee, Mrs L F Mead. She was the wife of Lieutenant Leonard Frank Mead (b 1898) who served with the Royal Flying Corps and then with the Royal Air Force in British-Occupied Batum. His letters home are well-known to collectors of British Batum. 

He also visited Tiflis and it was probably there that he met Nadia Archangelsky who became Mrs L F Mead. [See now the Postscript] The card is from her family who had by 1922 moved to Petrograd.

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Postscript added 25 November 2015: Here is an envelope sent within Tiflis by Leonard Mead (his initials bottom left) to Mlle. Archangelsky; the billet doux is no longer inside the envelope:

Added 22 March 2016: And here is a card from TIFLIS VOKSAL 13 12 24 addressed to the same Nadia Archangelsky but now Mrs Mead living in Reading, England. That the card was underfranked was noted in Tiflis and Postage Due was raised by London's Foreign Section:

Monday 20 July 2015

A Rare Armenian Cancellation

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Today's post brought me something I have not had in my stock for a long time: an example of the very first Armenian script postmark, introduced in 1922 for Yerevan Railway Station. It is listed in Christopher Zakiyan's book and is rare. I have never seen it on cover. This clear part strike on a Second Yessayan stamp is worth about 100 € [ 22 July 2015: SOLD]

And here is a train leaving Yerevan Railway Station, pictured on stamps of the same 1922 Second Yessayan series. One writer (I forget the source of this) thinks that on the front of the train the three letters read "USA", put there as thanks for American famine relief work in Armenia, but I don't know if this is true. The group of four stamps is worth about 120 €uro - the mint stamps are hinged, the red used stamp with ALEXANDROPOL cancel is toned and creased; the grey stamp has part NOVO BAYAZET cancel. 

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Odessa 1918: Changing the Rules

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This innocent little card was written on 30 January and posted in Odessa on 31 January 1918 - incidentally, the last day of the Old Style calendar in Russia which then jumped forward to 14 February. Addressed to Helsinki, it has been franked at 8 kopecks - the correct Provisional Government  tariff for a foreign postcard, applied since 1 September 1917 and continued in the RSFSR until replaced by the Tariff of 10 March 1918.

So why has it attracted an Odessa Postage Due cachet, claiming 4 kopecks - indicating a deficiency of 2 kopecks in the franking? The answer is very simple: the post office has (just) adopted the first Ukrainian National Republic Tariff of 28 January which prices postcards, wherever they are going, at 10 kopecks.

Less simple is the answer to the question, Did it reach Helsinki? Well, in favour of that is the fact that the card was in a collection formed in Finland. And it's true that at this early stage of Ukrainian independence some mail exchange with Russia seems to have continued and Russia definitely continued exchanging mail with Finland - though delayed at this period by Finland's own Civil War. On the other hand, Finnish mail whether Registered or not usually picks up a Helsinki roller cancel on arrival and this card has nothing at all to indicate arrival.

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:

Thursday 16 July 2015

Russia 1917: the transition from the Provisional Government to Soviet power

In the Soviet Union, the anniversary of the (Bolshevik) Russian Revolution was celebrated on 7 November, the New Style equivalent of 25 October. The Russian calendar was changed (by the Bolsheviks only) in 1918, when the calendar jumps from 31 January to 14 February. Before that, all Russian mail (but not Finnish mail) is cancelled with Old Style dates.

It might seem that the 25 October is the first day of Soviet mail. However, as I understand it, the Second Congress of Soviets meeting in Petrograd did not vote to depose the Provisional Government until late in the evening of the 25th. So mail cancelled on the 25th is still Provisional Government mail. Only on the 26 October did the Soviet mail period begin - and then perhaps only in Petrograd.

It was, however, not until the 27 October that a Decree was issued subordinating the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to the authority of the Council of People's Commissars and the first Commissar of Posts and Telegraphs, Nikolai Glebov-Avilov.

The Bolsheviks did not at any point close the post offices, before or after the coup of 25th October, and it should be possible to find mail from Petrograd cancelled right through the immediate revolutionary period (say, Tuesday 24 October - Thursday 2 November: the Ten Days Which Shook the World, to take the title of John Reed's famous book). At the moment I have examples of mail posted in Petrograd on 24,25,26,30 October and 1 November (and then after that 3,4,5,6 November).

I would welcome Comments on the accuracy of my views.