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Wednesday 27 January 2016

Armenia First Yessayan Used Without Overprints

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The series of Armenian stamps known as "First Yessayan" were only issued in 1922 - 23 with overprints. However, since the overprints were all applied with single handstamps or in manuscript, it is inevitable that some stamps got missed. One should expect to find the occasional used stamp without an overprint.

In addition, both the Gibbons catalogue (following Tchilingirian and Ashford) and the Michel catalogue (following Zakiyan and Saltykov) list deliberate use of two values without surcharge.

Gibbons says that the 250 rouble perforated stamp was used without Manuscript surcharge " 1 k" ( in red or violet) at three post offices in March - May 1923. It lists those post offices as Delizhan, Karaklis and Keshikend.

Above are three used examples of the 250 r perforated stamp. Stefan Berger has studied all three of them with his microscope, telescope and goodness knows what else and can find no visible trace of a surcharge. The third stamp above has a readable ALEXANDROPOL cancel and I think the other two are also with Alexadropol cancels - the similarities are obvious. The first stamp in the row has an Agathon Faberge acquisition note from 1927, the second a MAISON ROMEKO mark. All three seem genuine in all respects to me and to Stefan Berger. So it looks like that at Alexandropol they also used this stamp without surcharge and probably deliberately since here we have three examples, not just a random one from a missed surcharge.

Michel says that the 25 rouble ( unspecified whether perforated or imperforate or both) which was later surcharged as a 4 kopeck stamp was also issued unsurcharged for use as a 1500 rouble stamp in the period January - May 1922. [This paragraph rewritten on the basis of a Comment from Alexander Epstein ] 

Anyway, the 25 rouble shown above with ERIVAN cancel of November 1922 does not appear to have any regular 4 kop surcharge. However, and just to complicate matters, there is a small violet ink mark under the day of the date line in the cancellation. This could either be randon or it could be a squiggle representing a number "4". Maybe this is a stamp from which the regular surcharge was accidentally omitted and a clerk made a manuscript correction. In the absence of other examples, who knows? All that is clear is that this stamp also lacks a regular surcharge. 

Saturday 16 January 2016

RSFSR: Franked Mail in the Free Frank Period

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Most stamp dealers know that Registered postcards are unusual items from more or less any country. Maybe you only Register a postcard if you are worried about the reliability of your postal service or because your postcard contains some very important Secret Coded Message ...

Anyway, dealers know enough to put the price up for a registered postcard, even one as unattractive as this (the picture side is just a photo of a painting in the Hermitage gallery) and for which I paid £35 (50 €) when I found it in another dealer's box. I didn't ask for a discount.

I don't know how much I would have paid to get it because I have never seen one before (unless I saw one and failed to appreciate what it was ...). 

What I illustrate here is a postcard from Bolshevik Russia during the Free Frank period  1919 - 21 when ordinary (non-registered) cards and letters travelled free. Not many travelled - this was the period of War Communism when the Bolsheviks were in a desperate situation with control over only part of the territory of "core" Russia. Even less Registered mail travelled.

Registered mail still had to be franked and the 35 kopeck paid on this 12 May 1919 card from Kozlov to Petrograd (the receiver cancel in red) represents 10 kopecks for postage ( suppressed for an ordinary card) and 25 kopecks for Registration. That was the Tariff set on 1st January 1919 when the Free Post was introduced. 

This card will join an accumulation of 1919 - 21 Franked Mail - all covers - which I have been keeping back to study and write up. That accumulation extends to about 50 items; this is the first Registered postcard. Of additional interest is the Kozlov registration in a smudged printing on a poor quality paper which I think is a War Time economy (or even post - revolutionary ) production. I have seen similar labels from other places.

How much is it worth? That is actually unknown until some early Bolshevik Russia collection appears at a serious auction and serious collectors have to think about what they will pay for things they are lacking and may never even have seen before. At the moment, there is no obvious market in such things. If I was working for an auction house (as I occasionally do ) and obliged to put a Start price on the card above I would Start it at 150 € and would be disappointed to see it sell for less than 300 €. If it went for 1000 € I would think that showed at least two collectors in the world clearly understood what they were competing for.

Added 22 January: Alexander Epstein kindly supplies examples of Registered postcards franked at each of the three Tariffs of the 1919 - 21 "Free Post" period: 35 kopecks, 4 roubles and 10 roubles. The last two show cards franked with kopeck stamps revalued x 100. Note that on the first card, the uprated "10" overprint counts towards the franking; the next three cards are used as Blanks (correctly so - statoneries were invalidated on 1 January 1919); the last card is a Ukrainian formular card. Epstein writes that it took him many,many years to find them. They are indeed rarities and I guess this is now the largest group shown on the Internet:

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Added 3 February 2016: Dr Hans Grigoleit sends me scans of the remarkable cover and card below. Azerbaijan also operated a Free Post system in 1920 - 1921.These items  illustrate the continuing use of Musavat stamps in the early Soviet period:

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Added 3 February 2016: Alexander Epstein now contributes a postcard and a cover from Azerbaijan for the 1920 - 21 Free Post period, both are rare items:

Added 7 February 2016: Robert Taylor contributes this nice Esperanto registered postcard from Petrograd to Switzerland, sent late in the Free Post period (May 1921; Free Post ended in August). Like many items mailed abroad at this period, it is franked at the Inland rate of 10 roubles not the advertised Foreign rate which at this date would have been 7 or 14 roubles.

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Wednesday 13 January 2016

Collecting the Uncollectable: Russian Tobacco, Cigarette and Cigar Strips (Banderoles)

Some things which are collectable are very rare for a simple reason. Before they became collectables, they were things which people threw away or recycled into something else. That is true, for example,of the tax bands which in the past (and even to this day) were wrapped around boxes of cigars or packets of tobacco. Even the history of these tax bands is rather uncertain - in some cases, so few exist that it is unlikely that we have the complete picture unless it can be found in a printer's archive.

For Imperial Russia, dated tax bands used on tobacco products can be found with dates as early as 1848 - one is illustrated in John Barefoot's Russian Revenues at page 14. On the Internet, I can find nothing that early and - indeed, very little at all. I am fairly confident that the two items I am going to illustrate now are rarities of their kind:

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My scanner will not take these unfolded so I only show part of two strips measuring 49cm and 51 cm long. I think both are complete or nearly so. One is dated 1855 and is a 50 kopeck tax band for 100 second sort (grade) imported cigars. The other dated 1857 is a 45 kopeck band for 100 second sort (grade) imported rolled cigars.

I could sell you these strips but I would have to tell you two things: first, that I doubt you will find any more this year or next year; second, that I hope you realise these things don't fit your album.

Tobacco strips are one of those things strictly incompatible with One Size Fits All collecting. These strips have been folded several times in their history and I have just unfolded them from the album pages on which they were hinged. It's a miracle that worse has not happened to them: they have never been cut up.

What you should really do if you want to collect things like this is simple: go to a very specialist art shop and buy an extra-large format sketch book or photographic album. If you can't find one in the shop, then find a company which will make one for you. Yes, it will be expensive. But then it is going to house things which exist in very small numbers. I can confidently say this: I will publish images here of  any identical strips to these which are sent to me. I would not say that for Russia's first 1858 stamp nor for Russia #3 or Russia #4 - there are just too many existing and I would get too many images sent me!

I am tempted to go out and buy that large album myself. But at the same time I would have to turn myself into a Paper Conservation expert, carefully removing hinges from these banderoles, smoothing or flattening them. It would be absorbing work - but a lot of work since I now have well over 100 of these strips from the pre - 1917 period - not all of them as rare as these two, of course. 

Postscript added 15 January 2016: Coincidence! John McMahon has an excellent article on the Tobacco Tax banderoles in the latest Rossica, Fall 2015; it is fully illustrated. He also scans me this 1855 Banderole in the same style as those illustrated above, though this one is for First Grade Cigars rather than my Second Grade:

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Imperial Russia: Judicial Fiscal Stamp Forerunners - examples from Saratov

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Imperial Russia introduced standardised fiscal stamps to signal the payment of judicial (Court) fees in the late 1880s. These stamps, printed in St Petersburg to the usual high standards, were attached to Court documents and normally cancelled and dated, most often in manuscript.

Prior to that, many local courts produced "Raffle Ticket" - style stamps (or tickets) to indicate payment of judicial fees. The "MAPKA" (Stamp) right part of the ticket was attached to the document relating to the fee paid and the middle "KVITANTSIA" (Quittance, Receipt) was given to the person paying the fee. The Court did its own financial accounting using a third, left hand part to the Raffle Ticket kept by the court clerk. John McMahon on his website shows a (unique) complete sheet of tickets from Kamenets-Podolsk laid out in the three columns just described.

Anyway, these Court Tickets are collected by Russia Revenue specialists as forerunners of regular judicial fee stamps. They are generally quite scarce and, for some courts, rare. Above I show a selection of items from Saratov. These were in a  large Russian fiscal accumulation I recently acquired for my stock. I have removed them from grubby album pages. 

Top left is a mint pair of tickets dated "187..". This mint pair is useful because on the back one can see that the Stamp is gummed (ready to be stuck to a document) but that the Receipt is not. Below the date you can see details of the Saratov court from which this ticket originated. On the right of the top row is a used ticket dated 1879  without indication as to whether it is Stamp or Receipt. From its left hand corner position, it is clear that this is a rare example of the accounting book ticket which was retained

In the middle row there is a used pair dated 1882 and a used stamp dated 1885

In the bottom row there are stamps and receipts for 1889, showing that these local Fee tickets continued in use after the supposed general introduction of Court Fiscal stamps in 1887.

The unusual presence of three pairs in this group may indicate that the Saratov court was careless about providing receipts. Any other ideas?

Russia: Maria Feodorovna Charities and the Playing Card Tax

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Philatelists are familiar with Imperial Russia's Maria Feodorovna administration and taxes mainly from the Advertising Letter Sheets produced in the 1890s and early 1900s.  The advertising allowed the sheets to be sold at below the face value of the postage stamp imprinted on them. They are attractive items, popular with collectors, and command 150 - 300 euro each at auction. There is a book which illustrates them in full colour by Dr Arnold Ryss, Charity Letters bearing advertisements for the benefit of orphans 1898 - 1901 (2004)

The distinctive feature of all Maria Feodorovna related items is the presence of an image of a Pelican feeding its young - traditionally, with its own blood. The Pelican also appears on the Theatre Tax stamps which are familiar to Russian revenue collectors. Some of those are common, others - notably the later high values - are scarce. I blogged about them on this site on 28 February 2012. Here is a set of the 1892 isue; the 25 and 50 kopeck top values on the right are rarely seen:

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The Maria Feodorovna administration dated back to 1797 when the Emperor Paul entrusted his wife with control over the orphanages established by Catherine the Great. The administration expanded its work to include promotion of girls' education and provision of institutions for the blind and deaf. It was funded by charitable donations but also by the Theatre Tax, the profits of a factory producing playing cards and a tax on Playing Cards. 
Above is an image of a Playing Card tax label for 30 kopecks. This label is very scarce but quite well known and it has been reproduced on the Internet - for example, by John McMahon at McMahon dates them to 1892 onwards.

Mentioned but not illustrated in John Barefoot's Russia Revenues catalogue are the orange and black banderoles used to seal packs of playing cards and illustrated here (I think for the first time on the Internet). The Barefoot catalogue is almost useless except for the section on tobacco and other banderoles which is based on the collection of the late Steve Alushin.

Finally, an item I cannot find listed or illustrated anywhere, a long banderole (illustrated in two images which are of different widths only because of cropping) which is a playing card tax strip for 30 kopecks applied to  bundles of playing card packs designed for distribution at clubs or meetings - this is spelt out in the text of the banderole on the pink background.The banderole has been extensively repaired but appears complete. At the very least, it is very rare and it may be unique. Click on the Images to Magnify

All these banderoles, like cigar and cigarette tax bands, are printed on the thinnest of cigarette paper (or "Bible paper") and the fine quality engraved printing was done by the Imperial State Printing Works in St Petersburg. 

Thursday 7 January 2016

Washing Stamps

My latest acquisition is a large (1500 stamp) collection of Russian fiscals, vignettes and bus tickets. Though sold at a fancy auction with a fancy name attached, it's basically a schoolboy collection, the large album pages filled with stamps, often mixed up and none written up. There are a few pencil notes made with a thick pencil. The stamps have been hinged to the pages, and the hinges are often enough on the top of old hinges - or in many cases, on top of  bits of old mint postage stamps cut up and used as hinges. It's a pity because there are some rare stamps present. I will show you some pictures when I have solved my problems with Windows 10 - today it tells me I don't have enough memory to do what I used to be able to do every day before I upgraded. I have concluded that it is a virus, designed to make me replace my computer and scanner and printer and ... I think it will succeed.

Anyway, when I look at some of these old stamps, I think there is just one thing I can do to improve them. I never repair stamps but I do wash them. I think that is legitimate because it returns the stamp closer to its original state before collectors got hold of it. More or less, you can get back to the state a stamp was in at the moment the first dealer or collector washed it off an envelope or a document. Unused stamps pose a separate problem: if there is no gum left, then it is reasonable to wash them. But if there is still some gum, it is probably important to retain it. So washing is ruled out.

I never wash stamps in batches, always one at a time in small dishes. That way, if the colour of one stamp dissolve  it does not affect the others. I use warm water not hot and I find that very few stamps or cancellations are fugitive at that temperature. Finally, I rinse the stamp in cold water to make sure I get rid of all the dirt and particles of hinge and so on.

Of course, some times you discover more Bad News: a thin in the stamp hidden by a hinge, for example. Or a stamp which breaks into two when the hinges come loose. But most of the time you end up with a stamp with better colour, a more even surface and no accumulation of  stuff on the back which does not belong to the stamp and should never have been  there in the first place.