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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:

Click on Image to Magnify

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:

Click on Image to Magnify

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