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Friday 18 November 2016

Imperial Russian Mail to Mont Athos

In the decades before World War One, the Orthodox Russian presence on Mont Athos grew considerably and there were probably more Russian than Greek monks there by the end of the period. Things changed once Greece took control of Athos from Ottoman Turkey in 1912 - 1913 and as Russia itself descended into Civil War.

The Orthodox Russian community was centred on the Andreevski Sikt / Sekte - basically a monastery but technically not eligible for that title. There was an Ottoman post office on Athos and from the 1890's a ROPIT post office.

Mail from Russia to Athos seems always to have been routed via Odessa and this fact is explicit on nearly all the mail one sees. After that, mail was  sent by sea to Constantinople and then by land to Athos. Despite the fact that Athos was clearly part of Ottoman Turkey there seems to have been some confusion about mail franking with correspondents using Russian internal tariffs and then getting charged Postage Due - or not.

Most of the mail one sees comprises Money Letters with elaborate addresses and manuscript markings not always easy to interpret. So I was pleased to come across a piece of mail which at first sight could hardly be simpler, though it does soon get more complicated:

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This is an ordinary letter which started out in Tver guberniya in a small community which today appears to be written in English as MOSHKI. It is located due south of TORZHOK, a larger town.

This letter started out in Moshki and bears a Free Frank privilege seal on the reverse which spells out that the privilege is being claimed by the Volost of Moshki's Starshina [head man] and further locates Moshki in NOVO-TORZHOK Uezd [district]. "Novo-" is a bit puzzling since the Imperial cancellation on the front of the envelope reads simply TORZHOK TVER and modern maps know only a Torzhok. So maybe Staraya Torzhok was something which existed only in memory 

Anyway, in addition to his free frank seal, the Starshina applied a violet cachet on the front which simply says MOSHKI VOLOST STARSHINA to the left of which is the essential Registry number always written bottom left to complete the claim to Free Frank Privilege.

The Starshina may have had a postman or courier to take his letter to Torzhok or maybe he went to the Imperial post office himself. On this the cover is silent. But from Torzhok the cover did indeed make it to Odessa on 26 October 1905, just over a week after despatch from Torzhok. It is addressed to the Andreevski Sikt and I am sure did get there since the cover is in an accumulation of Athos material.

What happens after Odessa is not shown by any marking which is unusual. On the front in the middle of the cover there is a smudge of violet ink. in which I am tempted to see a date - in which case it could be the trace of a ROPIT AFON postmark. or a ROPIT Constantinople. Under high magnification the latter is possible with adate in the middle which includes a 2 and a 1 and letters which could include a C, A and O 

What is perhaps most interesting about this cover is that a Volost Starshina's Free Frank privilege carried a letter all the way to what was at least technically a foreign destination

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Tweezers, Magnifier, Perforation Gauge, Watermark detector, natural daylight ... but most important of all....

...a large computer screen. Mine is currently 60 x 30 cm and since I have upgraded several times since I became computer-literate circa the year 2000, I realise that I am taking for granted now very big advances in my ability to study material easily. Most times, I do not even bother with the magnifier - I simply scan an item, crop the scan, and then display on screen an enlargement big enough and bright enough  for most normal purposes - and that's an understatement. Most of the time, the screen is showing information way beyond the level  I need.

I only use mobile devices for text messages and phone calls so I don't know how good they are for serious work but I very much doubt they can achieve what a 60 x 30 full screen can offer.

I also make quite a lot of use of natural daylight as well as a desk lamp for spotting defects and identifying repairs, faked elements and so on.

I have several times had the experience of buying at stamp shows in halls with poor light, items which fail one or other test the moment I look at them again in good natural daylight. Surprising perhaps but true. And, for example, in many stamp exhibitions the light would not allow you to distinguish typographed from lithographed by looking at the back of the stamp - you need natural daylight or an equivalent.

Zemstvos which did not issue stamps but did run postal services

In recent years, Zemstvo collectors have become interested in those Zemstvos which did not issue stamps but which did run postal services, the evidence for which is found in cachets and cancellations. This is not an easy interest to pursue. First, as far as I know, there is no Directory of Zemstvos which did run postal services - and some of them, presumably, for only a short period of time. Second, forgers have been quick to spot an opportunity in this recent area of collecting interest - they add cachets and cancels of their own making to boring items of mail with vaguely relevant despatch or arrival points. Like most forgers, these Zemstvo forgers make fairly obvious mistakes.

Money Letters are things I usually avoid - collectors hate them because of the wax seals which break up and leave trails of red or balck  flakes and so on. But recently I bought an old and unstudied accumulation which looked interesting. In the end, it wasn't very interesting apart from a few items including the one below. In order to avoid re-typing I have scanned my write up so you have to go to the end to see what it is all about ....

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Tuesday 8 November 2016

Russia: The Office for Government and Diplomatic Correpondence

Howard Weinert in the USA sent me a query about the cancellation used by the Office for Government and Diplomatic Correspondence, in St Petersburg and then in Petrograd. When did the cancel go out of use? Iain Baillie and Eric Peel in their work on St Petersburg postmarks record no Petrograd-version examples after 1916. However, it can be found used in 1917 even after the Bolshevik Revolution - I have two examples as shown - and Howard Weinert has an example from 1918, also shown below. So the question is, When did it go out of use?

The Soviets moved the capital from Petrograd to Moscow in March 1918, largely because of the vulnerability of Petrograd to German attack. Even before, some embassies had moved out to Vologda with Soviet assistance. Despite this, the cancel is still in use in April 1918 on the Weinert cover.

How long did it continue in use? Was a new office created in Moscow and did it have its own cancellation?

My November card is addressed from Station Vyiya on the Bogoslov railway to the Italian Embassy in Petrograd, where the Government and Diplomatic office handled it on 6 November 1917. My December card is addressed to the Swedish Mission (or Legation) from Sukhrinskoe in Perm guberniya and was handled by the Government and Diplomatic office on 10 December 1917. Howard Weinert's 1918  item is fully written up below:

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Added 9 November 2016: Here are two more I found, one from September which is addressed personally to Alexander Kerensky - it's from a provincial lawyer who fancies a job in Petrograd. The other December card is another Swedish Legation item:

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Saturday 5 November 2016

Appearance Can Mislead - an Unusual Russian Tariff from 1917

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When I saw a small image of this cover in an auction lot, I immediately assumed this was an ordinary letter abroad from 1920 - 1921 at the rare 5 ruble rate, the 5 kop stamp revalued x 100. So I bid and discovered I was wrong. It is a 1917 letter at the scarce 5 kopek rate allowed for letters sent to soldiers on active service at the front:

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The letter was sent from UST NAROVA ESTL[and] 27 3 17, early in the period of the Provisional Government. This one lacks a Field Post receiver cancel which would often be applied. I can't interpret the remarks pencilled in violet. The normal letter rate was 10 kop at this time.

Such letters are scarce for at least two reasons: their survival rate cannot have been high; the parents of most soldiers were probably illiterate and so would need someone to write for them so perhaps not many were sent.

Added 5 November 2016: Hannes Westendorf in Luxembourg sends me the following scans which show the corresponding reduced Tariff for postcards, 2 kopeks instead of three. I have never seen an example before. According to Alexander Epstein in an article in POCHTA (New Zealand) 1996, the  Tariff was applied only between 1 February and 27 March [Old Style] 1917 which also helps explain the scarcity I referred to above. However, the Tariff may have been renewed - see the cover from my own collection below sent from SAMARA  7 6 17 and as with the other two examples headlined "To The Active Army" - the equivalent of "On Active Service".

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Added 7 November 2016:
Alexander Epstein writes to me from Tallinn, "By the way, I was going to contact you myself just today concerning your recent blog. You are quite right writing that such covers are scarce, since this rate was lasting for 2 months only. However, you are wrong when stating that the rate was later restored again. This never happened and the bulk of mail to Active Army was free also after March 1917. Indeed, one can find covers franked later according to this rate as well as those according to the normal inland tariff, but all those are occasional deviations. The same concerns the mail from Army or hospitals for wounded soldiers franked by this privileged rate. The arrival postmarks of FPOs are found on such covers rarely, since the addressees could be located also outside the theater of military activities, at the rear localities etc. Generally, such postmarks are rather often missing in those years on the usual mail as well. 

 Alexander Epstein's also sends scans from his collection. The last scan shows a PROJECT for a 2 kop postal stationery card:

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Tuesday 1 November 2016

Imperial Russian Money Transfers: the Coupons

Money Transfers are an alternative to Money Letters. The Imperial Russian PEREVOD forms which you find in dealers' boxes are from post office archives but they are usually not complete.When the money was paid out at the receiving post office, the coupon at the left of the form was cut off and given to the person receiving the money. The post office kept the main part of the form and archived it. The coupons were less often saved and so are less often found. They very often contain messages which indicate why the money was sent.Usually, they are not franked though they may have cancels and marks of various kinds.

Here are three coupons from Money Transfers sent from Russia to the Russian Andreevski Monastery (Sikt) on Mont Athos, the money sent to pay for prayers and lighting of candles and so on. There are a number of things to note. First, that the three I show are from different printings. When the Perevod forms did not have any stamped value, they did not require Security printing and so could be locally produced. There are many variants and in 1917 - 20 many were locally re-printed with the Imperial Arms defaced or removed. The coupons shown are from the period 1906 - 1917.

The one from 1917 in the middle of the top image has a pre-printed message as well as the manuscript message. 

Second, note how much information is squeezed onto the coupons.

Third, note that on the 1906 coupon the monastery has attached its own form which is pre-printed to allow for notes to be made on the handling of the transfer.

A collection of Money Transfer material should include examples of such coupons to show how the system worked. Telegraphic Money Transfers require separate treatment.

These coupons will be offered for sale in the Turku auction of 

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