Saturday, 19 December 2015

Stamp Exhibitions: Could these be the new FIP Rules for Judging Exhibits ...

Recently, I bought some material from the estate of a collector who had won Gold Medals in international stamp exhibitions. It surprised me that much of the postal history I had acquired was of below average quality. It was obvious that some of this was the fault of the collector: he had opened out envelopes, re-folded entire letters, trimmed roughly opened envelopes, scribbled on his material as if it was scrap paper. How do you get to win Gold Medals if you do that, I wondered?

I took a look at the FIP (Federation Internationale de Philatelie) rules for exhibits in the Traditional Philately and Postal History classes. They say that exhibits should aim to show material of the “highest available quality”. But when it comes to the allocation of Points by juries, only 10 points out of 100 are awarded for “Condition”.

I therefore propose a very simple rule change:

FIP wishes to encourage recognition of the  fact that stamps and covers are autonomous, historically interesting artefacts which deserve careful treatment, handling and conservation in a state as close as possible to that in which they originally existed. In order to discourage dealer, expert and collector damage to items, FIP will increase the points allocated to the category “Condition” from 10 to 30, reducing other categories as indicated in the revised schedule.

Specifically, FIP Juries will regard all of the following as things which reduce the Condition of a particular item and make it ineligible for the award of Maximum points:

Stamps: hinges on mint stamps; absence of gum on stamps which were originally gummed; ownership, dealer or expert handstamps; ink and pencilled notes of any kind. Exhibits should be mounted in such a way as to enable Jurors to examine the backs of stamps.

Postal History: opening out of covers, trimming, re-folding; owner, dealer or expert handstamps; all ink and pencil markings including dealer prices and expert signatures (especially when in close proximity to stamps); evidence of the use of an eraser to remove pencilled markings. Exhibits should be mounted in such a way as to enable Jurors to examine the backs of covers and cards.

Where a photographic Expert certificate is held, it should be mounted on the back of the relevant page of the exhibit. No other form of Expertising (handstamps, signatures) will be accepted.

Exhibitors are advised that in some cases it may cause further damage to an item to erase a pencilled note and they should use their judgment in deciding whether or not to erase. In some instances, they may wish to indicate on their Exhibit why they have decided not to erase such graffiti.


Er, that’s it. 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Visit London in the Middle of Winter ...


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I will have a Stand at London STAMPEX in February - upstairs in the Gallery where it is warm and just a few steps from the café. Stampex is held at the Business Design Centre in Upper Street Islington, a short distance from Kings Cross St Pancras ( Tube station: Angel)

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Russia 1919: Northern Army OKCA covers

This Blog follows on from the previous post.

Here is one of those rare things, a Northern Army OKCA cover which appears to have travelled through the post:


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A photo of this cover was published in 1991 by Dr R J Ceresa in vol 3, Parts 19 / 21 of his The Postage Stamps of Russia 1917 - 1923 handbooks. He gives its provenance as the collection of a Herr Muller (not Müller - see Ivo Steijn's Comment below). Now it looks at least semi-philatelic but the important question (at this point) is whether it did go through the post.

At the top is a Manuscript registration cachet "N 112 Gdov" in a different pencil and handwriting from that which produced the address. The address is an army hospital in Ivangorod - Narva and the addressee is named Klever and is identified as a hospital or medical orderly. The stamps are cancelled POLNA SPB 28 9 19 and we know (thanks to Alexander Epstein) that this canceller was in use at Gdov at this time.

On the back is the name and address of the sender, another Klever, but in a different pencil and handwriting. It links the sender to the Northern Army.The letter has been roughly opened - but in such a way as to create in my mind the suspicion that there was nothing in the envelope.

Most importantly, the cover has a new style Estonian cancellation for NARWA "a" 1 10 1919, perfectly genuine ... BUT not quite enough to rule out this possibility, that Klever carried this letter himself to Narva and got it backstamped there. There are no Registry markings which one could link to Narva.

However, on the same day Klever sent another letter with Registry number "N 117 Gdov", this time addressed to the well-known stamp dealers and catalogue makers Senf in Leipzig. This cover is illustrated in poor quality by Dr Ceresa and not in my possession, so I cannot improve on it:


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This cover has an Estonian censor triangle on the front and a LEIPZIG receiver on the reverse. This cover surely did go through the post, suggesting that the previous one did too - unless Klever carried them both to Narva. But if he had done that, even the most co-operative post office would probably have backstamped the Leipzig letter with a NARWA cancellation in order to indicate the transit. This cover also has Klever's pencilled address on the back but again in a different handwriting and pencil.

The fact that Klever was writing to Senf indicates a clear philatelic motivation, most likely informing them of the existence of this stamp issue. It is in fact good news for the authenticity of this issue that someone was doing this from the right place and at more or less the right time.

It would be good to know who Klever was. The point of this analysis, however, is to argue that the likelihood that the first cover travelled through the post to Narva is increased by the near-certainty that this second cover travelled through the post to Leipzig. What would really help the analysis along would be to have the covers in between Gdov 112 and 117 and on either side of those numbers. How many letters did Klever send on that day? Who else used the post office that day?

Added 8 December 2015: Carsten Alsleben provides this reference to a very interesting article in Russian by Igor Myaskovsky:









What's Wrong With Stamp Catalogues

I was thinking about the general catalogues we use without thinking – Michel, Gibbons, Scott, Yvert, in Russia Standard and maybe a few others. Some are good, some are not. It often depends on the country you are interested in.

But all these catalogues date back to the days when collectors were most often one of each collectors and dealers one of each dealers. The collectors wanted to stick stamps in pre-printed albums or “write them up” and the dealers kept stockbooks by numbers.

You get lots of information which makes writing up easy: Date of Issue, Method of Printing, Paper type, Perforation gauge, sometimes (Gibbons) stamp designer and printer's name. You get a numbered list of stamps and Mint and Used prices, sometimes with some note distinguishing Used and CTO.

Many of these catalogue entries have been essentially unchanged for decades – well, a hundred years in some cases - as if there is no such thing as on-going philatelic research. Yvert is an example.

What you don’t get is a sort of overview which creates a context for understanding what you might find and what you will not find. In the days of one of each collecting that may not have mattered very much. Today, when people collect covers and do social philately, the old-style catalogue is not very helpful.

Let’s take an example. Look at your preferred catalogue for the Northern Army (OKCA) issue of 1919. It will be under “Russia” and will show five values, none of which is worth anything either mint or used. You will get additional information, varying from catalogue to catalogue. 

What you don’t get is a Thumbnail Sketch which sets out what we know about this issue, 100 years on. Here’s my own attempt at a Thumbnail, which could be made more precise from the literature available (mostly due, in this case,  to Alexander Epstein and Dr R J Ceresa):

This issue was printed in very large quantity in sheets of 200 made up of two panes of 100, separated by a wide gutter and printed tête-bêche to each other. Most sheets were separated into two halves, so that the gutter variety is quite scarce. Most of these stamps were sold to the stamp trade, at the time or later, and are very common as singles (often now in poor condition) and small blocks. Sheets of 100 are quite common. Despite being common, the stamps were forged and the forgeries are much scarcer than the genuine stamps. Very little Proof material or Printer’s Waste is known and when found is worth significantly more than the basic stamps. The absence of such material suggests that this issue was originally planned as a perfectly legitimate stamp issue.

The stamps were extensively Cancelled to Order in sheets and also CTO on philatelic covers, which are quite common and obviously philatelic. Specialists are not entirely clear which cancels were officially authorised. Some may have been manufactured by stamp dealers. It seems likely that some of the CTO material, and maybe most of it,  was produced in Estonia and not at the post offices in Northern Army controlled areas of Russia.

Postally used examples of the stamps are virtually unknown, and only about a dozen covers are recorded which appear to have gone through the post from the few post offices controlled by the Northern Army. Most of those covers originate from Gdov where however the Imperial Russian canceler of POLNA SPB was in use.  Any stamp or cover with a POLNA SPB cancel should be examined carefully and submitted for an Expert opinion.

A specialist could improve on that thumbnail and a good catalogue editor could make it shorter. If I am right about this, a Thumbnail like this orients you to a specific stamp issue and gives you some idea of what to expect and what to look out for.

For more dicussion of OKCA stamps,see my next Blog









Friday, 4 December 2015

Russian Consular Post in Tabriz; Imperial Russian Stationeries; Kerensky Chainbreakers ...

When I buy at auction, I never know what I have bought until I get home …

Yesterday, I viewed hundreds of Russian covers – mostly Imperial – grouped into about 30 Lots in an English auction. I didn’t have a lot of time and so I had to make quick assessments and valuations. The material was in very “Mixed Condition”  and I knew I would not see every missing stamp or cut down envelope as I worked through the material. Equally, I thought I would notice the important items.

So in one Lot I decided to bid on it when I came across the following cover, not mentioned in the catalogue description of a group of about  80 covers:


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Yes, it’s a  cover from the Russian Consulate in Tabriz sent to Tiflis, with Censor mark and receiver cancellation on the reverse. The French Consulate have patronised their Ally's consulate to send this letter ( putting a War Charity stamp into the franking). The letter would have travelled up to Dzhulfa on the border and then have been forwarded by TPO to Tiflis. It’s clean, attractive and scarce – maybe even rare. I felt it justified a Bid at the Estimate for the whole Lot even without looking at the other material. So maybe I skimmed through that too fast, because when I got home and looked again today, I pulled out this:


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This is such a “busy” cover that it is easy to miss the most important thing: top right corner. This is a stationery envelope for 3 kopecks. Wait a moment: When did I ever see a stationery envelope for 3 kopecks? I could not remember any … so I looked in Ilyushin and Forofontov’s 2004 Moscow – published book on Imperial Russian Stationery 1845 – 1917. Yes, this envelope exists , it dates from 1909 in two formats (this one the larger), and it’s # 51 in their catalogue with a valuation of “50” in used condition, which is really nothing in their scale of valuations. So I wonder now why I have never seen this envelope before .. perhaps I just did not notice it! At 3 kopecks, it would have been used for mailings benefitting from concessionary tariffs - printed matter or samples without value, for example.

Then I had another surprise. Nearly every item in the Lot was Imperial, though the catalogue description read “1910 – 1919”. Here's the 1919 cover. It was  among a bunch of covers collected for their Registration labels. I looked at the label on the front as I browsed through the bunch:


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 Today I looked at the back:


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This is a registered cover from January 1919 franked at the newly-introduced rate of 50 kopecks in the tariff of 1 January 1919 which made the sending of ordinary letters and cards Free. The 35 kopeck Kerensky stamp was widely distributed in Bolshevik Russia at the end of 1918 – it is usually said that it was issued to mark the 1st Anniversary of the October ( subsequently November) Revolution. But it's very scarce on non-philatelic cover like this, addressed from Kasimov in Ryazan guberniya to a People’s Court at Divovo in the same guberniya.

I won't spoil things by dwelling on the disappointments:


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Added 8 December 2015: Alexander Epstein sends me these examples of the 3 kopeck stationery envelope. Note that they are all with added stamps and none of them dated anywhere near Ilyushin and Forofontov's 1909 date. Maybe the issue of these envelopes was delayed?






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