Friday, 28 July 2017

New Online Auction in Finland ....

The next internet auction is now on line at The closing date is 18 August.

I have contributed a very large number of lots for Russia, Transcaucasia and Ukraine. Take a look!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Private Overprints on Imperial Postal Stationery Cards

For some countries, it is very common to find official postal stationeries modified with private overprints of company names and sometimes associated advertising matter. Rules differed between countries, I am sure, regulating what could and could not be done and whether without or with permission.

There are many collectors who look out for such modified stationeries and interesting collections can be made. But for Imperial Russia, private modifications are not common and I assume that this was because regulations were not very helpful. Maybe one of my readers knows what the rules were.

When I go through dealer boxes, it is only very occasionally that I find examples of modified cards. Here is one I found last week in a dealer box. As is often the case, this card has been modified by overprints printed in Polish rather than Russian. The modification in this case is very modest, though the fact that it is also on the front is still very unusual. The card has been used in 1914 from Warsaw to Novoelnya in Grodno guberniya with the addressee's name written in Polish and the rest of the address in Russian. Novoelnya returns only a couple of Google results and Rohotnej is not much better but I think it is now in Belarus.

Some of the more elaborate overprints sell for 100 - 150 euros. Even this modest one is probably worth 50 euro or more to a specialist. You should be able to work out the name of the famous writer whose Works (Dziela) are being advertised on the front of the card 🎭

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Friday, 30 June 2017

Book Now for London Stampex 13 - 16 September 2017

Sterling is down against the euro and is likely to stay that way. London hotels are expensive but, in September, less so than in August. London STAMPEX takes place from 13 to 16 September inclusive at the Business Design Centre, Upper Street, Islington - a short tube journey or taxi ride from London King's Cross / St Pancras Eurostar terminal. I have a stand and so do over a hundred other dealers. Think about it? 
And dealers are usually happy to accept payment in euros or Swiss francs or US dollars if you want to save on foreign exchange fees. Most are set-up for credit cards or online transfers which can be made on the spot nowadays, so you can keep your currency advantage against sterling whatever method you use to pay

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Inside the Laboratory of a BPP Pruefer

Stefan Berger, the new  expert for Armenia appointed by Germany's Bundes Philatelistscher Pruefer, is now open for submissions. He has a very expensive microscope:

and he has the necessary bits of paper and seals to certify your stamps:

Most important of all, he has spent over a decade familiarising himself with Armenian stamps and postal history; with their many forgeries ancient and very modern; and with the contents of major Armenia collections in several countries.

The BPP website is at and you can contact Stefan there or directly from the information provided below:

Stefan Berger

Neunkirchner Straße 3
07749 Jena

Expert areas:
Armenien Mi.-Nr. 1-180

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Problem of Large Format Items

Albums and many other philatelic accessories were originally created for collectors of single stamps and, in many ways, they still are. Large format albums, protection plastics and storage boxes do exist but they tend to be expensive – perhaps because there is not much demand. Over time, large format items get folded, creased and otherwise damaged so that they attract even less interest from collectors. 

What, for example, am I supposed to do with the item shown below? It was a bit too big for my scanner but you can see most of it. It’s not valuable but it has some nice features: it’s a Registered banderole, the ODESSA 1 cancellation is a very good strike, the boxed and dated Odessa censor mark in violet – two strikes - is readable (it’s No.237), the franking at 26 kopeks will be fun for someone to convert to weight steps, and so on. The Registration label has been modified in violet ink with the addition of a Cyrillic letter “zhe”.  The trouble is, the whole thing is now very fragile and will separate into two halves unless put into a protective plastic (which I will do).

My guess is that at bottom left, the recipient tore out the address of the sender - maybe the Botanic Garden in Odessa - to keep for reference and some of the other minor damage may have originated in transit. So, in this case,  it’s not all the fault of dealers or collectors. There are no hinges or pencil scribbles. But if I put it out for sale at a stamp exhibition, what do I put on it? Ten euros? Probably less – and for that, you will be getting quite a lot of quite interesting postal history.

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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A Comedy of RRRRs

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This is just the first act of the comedy.To see the rest of this enjoyable farce, go to Christoph Gaertner's June sale, Lot 21778

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Review: Kaj Hellman and Jeffrey C Stone, Agathon Faberge

This remarkable book closes with two complimentary remarks made by contemporaries speaking about Agathon Fabergé; one described him as “a charming gentleman” and another as “a great philatelic scholar”. Those remarks could be applied to the co-author of this book, Kaj Hellman, who died shortly before it was completed. His fellow author, Dr Jeffrey Stone, has carried through the work to a splendid completion assisted by Kaj Hellman’s son, Oskari, and Kaarina Martilla who are responsible for an exceptionally well designed and illustrated book produced to a very high standard.

Agathon Fabergé (1876 – 1951) was one of the sons of the Imperial Russian court jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé. As a young man, he both worked for the family firm as a gemologist and became an avid collector of stamps and many other things besides. He had the resources to spend lavishly. The war and the revolutions closed the family business, resulted in the confiscation of many of his collections, put him in to a Bolshevik prison and - no doubt to survive - obliged him to work for the Soviet GOKHRAN organisation describing and evaluating Imperial jewels for later sale – in the end, it was the USA which would provide the market for them. It was not until December 1927 that Agathon escaped from Russia to Finland where he settled for the rest of his life.

My guess is that his decade in revolutionary Russia was traumatic. He never took employment after he left but also found it hard to downsize his lifestyle. He became a gentleman philatelist in constant financial difficulty, taking out loans against his collections and then losing them because he could not repay. Much of this is documented in this book. Kaj Hellman once told me that Agathon’s son, Oleg, on his father’s death had found his father’s office desk heaped with unopened letters, many containing bills long overdue.

Agathon Fabergé applied himself to his stamp collections in a spirit of scholarship making many discoveries which he simply noted for his own use and never published. This book retrieves some of that scholarship and makes it available. It also reconstructs many aspects of the ways in which “top end” philately was conducted in the first half of the twentieth century. We are introduced to a world of dealers who have very considerable financial resources to commit, to collectors who network extensively and exchange material privately, of international exhibitions, of personal feuds. Some of this reconstruction is enabled by Fabergé’s well-known habit of annotating his purchases, recording on stamps and covers who he had got them from, when and for how much. Hellman and Stone have made a big start on constructing a modern database of the annotations and this strikes me as an important piece of philatelic work. The Appendices to the text also contain valuable research material, notably in Appendix 2 which reconstructs Fabergé’s 1933 WIPA exhibits and Appendix 4 which is an inventory of known 1846 – 1851 Moscow postal stationery envelopes.

I would have welcomed a brief discussion of how Agathon’s collection was continued by his son, Oleg, who like his father periodically disposed of material ( Imperial Russian fiscals, Transcaucasia 1917 – 23) but also mounted up an extraordinary Zemstvo collection, which after his death was sold by Corinphila (1999) in what was the last remarkable auction of the twentieth century.

The book has been carefully proof-read, is surprisingly readable, and strikes me as a major contribution to the history of philately.

Kaj Hellman and Jeffrey C. Stone, Agathon Fabergé, published by Oy Hellman-Huutokaupat 2017, hardback, 370 pages, price 50 €

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Dr R J Ceresa

Dr Raymond J  Ceresa, who was best known for his encyclopaedic series of Handbooks on 1917 - 23 Russian area stamps and postal history, died on 10 June 2017. Ray Ceresa who was born in 1929 had been ill for some months. He is survived by his wife June and their three children. A fuller notice will appear here in due course, but readers who wish to post Comments can do so here.

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Sunday, 4 June 2017

Is the SPhA a Reliable Partner?

After the creation of the Soviet Union, all stamp issues previously in use were quite rapidly withdrawn from sale. Imperial stamps at last disappeared, except when overprinted as Philatelic Exchange stamps, and so too did the issues of the Far Eastern Republic, Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian republics. At the same time, the Soviet Philatelic Association (SPhA) was attempting - with some success - to establish itself as a commercially important entity, able to generate foreign exchange from stamp sales, but also able to control private philatelic speculation through the use of philatelic exchange controls.

In both contexts, the SPhA sought to centralise all the remainder stamp stocks and associated material which were scattered across the Soviet Union. I think there were just three centres: Moscow, Kharkiv and Baku – though over time I think everything gravitated to Moscow. According to C Zakiyan and S.Saltikov in their 1988 book Post and Postage Stamps of Armenia, a Soviet delegation arrived in Yerevan in September 1924 and took away some of the handstamps used in the period 1919 – 23 and still lying around in the post office. I have no doubt that they also organised the transfer to Baku and/or Moscow of very large quantities of remaindered stamps and that they did the same when they visited Tbilisi. The SPhA outpost in Baku was manned by S.Kusovkin who owed his appointment directly to Chuchin (I once owned the appointment letter ex the Voikhansky collection). Kusovkin is known to have organised the AzVoka reprints of Azerbaijan overprinted stamps, taking the opportunity to create new varieties from the old handstamps and it’s therefore possible that he did the same if he was entrusted with any Armenian handstamps.

There has, for example, long been a suspicion that the SPhA created varieties of overprint colour on the 1923 Yerevan pictorial issue. It does seem that though some values of this set acquired red overprints from the rubber handstamps in Yerevan which then went into normal postal use not all values were overprinted in red. It does seem that if for no other reason than to please those who like things in Sets, the SPhA did fill in the missing combinations of value + red, but in very small quantities so that they are rare. The alternative explanation is that those overprints were created in Yerevan as trials or proofs and not put into use so that they were all available for transfer to Baku or Moscow in nice MNH ** condition. Either way, there is a small group of value + red rubber handstamp combinations which did not see postal use.

Added 30 June 2017 from Alexander Epstein:

I would like adding to your blog as to the SPhA machinations something more concerning the rubber surcharges on the Armenia last definitives.
I visited Moscow as early as 1951 when one still could purchase some Transcaucasian overprinted stamps through the State shops. I bought there some rubber surcharged stamps of  the Yerevan issue - all in some black-violet or violet black colour, although the catalogs list only pure violet or red surcharges. I have never seen used copies of stamps with rubber handstamp surcharges in these black-violet shades.
Several decades later, I learned from a very knowledgeable old collector that those were actually reprints made by the SPhA. Thus, one more confirmation!

Centralisation put the SPhA in a strong commercial position but, as far as both domestic and especially, foreign sales were concerned, catalogues of what was in stock were also needed. These were duly provided under the editorship of the energetic F.Chuchin and those catalogues continue to have an influence since the 1920s holdings of the SPhA provided the largest assembly of many Russian stamp issues, especially those of the Civil War period.

But were the catalogues reliable? The SPhA certainly had qualified philatelists on its staff who knew how to go about things and, for example, the clearly understood a great deal about the 1920 Postmaster Provisionals which they catalogued. But I think there were also temptations which were created by the fact that the SPhA had also acquired at least some handstamps which had been used to create overprinted issues and this I have already suggested in relation to the work of Kusovkin in Baku.

This is one reason why it is extremely difficult to make sense of what happened in the Armenian post office in 1921. For most of that year, letters were paid for in cash (not that there were many) – a claim for which Zakiyan and Saltikov found archival evidence. At the same time, various trials were going on in the back room aiming to turn the very large stamp stock (about two million stamps) inherited by the new Bolshevik regime into properly Sovietised issues. These trials were messy, improvised and inconclusive. At the end of the day, there was an awful lot of material put in a cupboard and just 200 sets of 10 stamps handed over to S Khatchaturian and G.Babaian to see what they could sell them for in Constantinople, where the young painter Khatchaturian (1886 – 1947) would also have chance to discuss with the printer his stamp designs for the forthcoming First and Second Yessayan issues - stamps which would provide a decisive break with the past of messy overprinting.

We only have a sketchy idea of what those 200 sets of 10 looked like because we somehow have to locate them behind a much longer listing in the 1926 Chuchin catalogue and an even longer one in 1960 Tchilingirian and Ashford. Basically, the set of 10 has got submerged into all that went into the cupboard in Yerevan and – possibly  - all that Kusovkin or the Moscow SPhA added to the stock by way of new combinations of overprint. Zakiyan and Saltikov try to separate  out the set of 10 but provide no illustrations to help the matter.

In this context, it is interesting to see how a distinguished Soviet philatelist, Ustinovky (author of a big handbook on Tannu Tuva), went about the matter in the 1980s. See the page from his collection shown below. He is still trying to do it with Chuchin numbers and the simple truth of the matter is that for most of his stamps, the forgers have got their first – they have made the stamps which are otherwise impossible or almost impossible to find.  In this case, I don’t think we are looking at things from the Yerevan cupboard or even at old SPhA  material made from genuine handstamps. I think we are looking at modern forgeries using fresh MNH** clean Imperial stamps and newly-made handstamps. 

But when you turn over the stamps, as I have done in the second illustration, you see that some of them have old signatures notably VINNER (who is known to have been familiar and reliable with Postmaster Provisional handstamps ) and a BH which I have yet to identify [See now note at end of this piece]. These stamps are also not so pristine – they have been in other collections as you would expect. Ustinovsky seems to have made this little collection in the 1980s and mentions Zakiyan and Saltikov's book in his notes. But he is relying on Chuchin.

It is on the copies with old handstamps that I will focus my attention as I continue to try to work out what did happen in the back room of Yerevan post office in 1921.

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Note added: Philippe Gueniot suggests V.N.Ustinovksy as the user of the handstamp BH which can be seen to include an extended "Y" to make three Cyrillic initials BHY:


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Saturday, 3 June 2017

Stamps Which Don't Exist

This would make an interesting Exhibit. Here are some categories of stamps which don't exist:

(1) Stamps which did once exist but of which all copies have been lost or destroyed and only descriptions or photographs remain. You can always hope ...

(2) Typographical errors in catalogues which tell collectors to look for a 1 Dollar Blue when they should be looking for a 10 Dollar Blue. Dealers who accept Wants Lists soon discover these catalogue errors.

(3) Chinese Whispers. In the past, not every stamp issuing authority had a philatelic bureau or even answered the telephone. Collector A is looking at a set (?) of stamps in the same design and with values 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10. Puzzled, A asks B Is there an 8? Says B, Probably. So A asks the local stamp dealer for a copy of the 8. Is there one? says the stamp dealer. Oh, I think so, says A. The dealer does work for a stamp magazine, helping list New Issues and so includes in the next list sent off a set containing  1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 values.

(4) The Fraudsters. In the old days, you could send stamps to weekly magazines or catalogue makers, giving details and they would get listed. So you could write:

Dear Philatelic Paper,

I enclose four stamps which have just been issued here. In addition to the 5, 10, 20 and 50 overprints on the old stamps, there are also overprints of 100 and 200 which I could not afford to buy but the details of which are these ....

When the Philatelic Paper duly prints the details, the fraudster starts to produce the 100 and 200 high values which everyone will now be looking for. Similar scams still occur. In the 1990s, fraudsters (in California, I think) noted that four values of the 1920 unissued set of Chassepot stamps of Armenia were overprinted in 1923 for fiscal use. The fraudsters saw an opportunity: they decided that all ten values of the set had been overprinted and set about producing the missing scarce values for gullible collectors. It's really that simple.

(5) Catalogue Fraudsters. This is the one that interests me at the moment. Suppose you are a company or  organisation which both produces catalogues and sells stamps. Why not insert a few extra stamps into the sets you are listing, and in particular ones which you could easily produce using surplus stock and even handstamps which have found their way into your offices? I have a suspicion that something very much like this occurred in the Soviet Philatelic Association in the 1920s and 1930s, with or without official sanction. More on this in a future Blog ....

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Postally Used or CTO?

For many stamp issues, there is an important question which can be asked: Was this issue available at post office counters for regular postal use? This is not a new question. You can ask it, for example, about the first issue of Honduras. But it is not a simple question.

For example, we probably have an image of a post office counter. Anyone can walk in off the street, present a letter and ask for a stamp to put on it. If Christmas is coming, they can ask for a Christmas stamp if such things are issued. They don’t have to be a stamp collector to ask for that.

But some post office counters are inside exhibitions and congresses where you have to pay to get in or be a delegate to get in. There are sometimes stamp issues which are only available behind a ticket wall. You won’t find them at regular post office counters. But it’s quite possible that someone with real business to transact needs to post a letter at a Congress counter and gets handed the special stamps on sale. So you do get “genuine postal use” even in these circumstances.

In the field of Russian area philately, there are plenty of “issues” where it is not entirely clear if and when and where the issue was available. The matter is complicated by the existence of cancelled to order material. Some CTO material is easy to spot but not all of it. In some times and places, stamp dealers have broken up sheets of stamps and put them one by one on plain sheets of paper and got each stamp neatly cancelled at a post office counter. Maybe they borrowed a canceller for the purpose or maybe one clerk had the job of dealing with the dealers. In this case, it is often the case that just one canceller gets used for CTO material and other cancellers for regular letters taken across the counter or brought in from post boxes. So the CTO material can be distinguished. Of course, if sheets are cancelled then if the gum is not washed off it is easy to see that you are dealing with CTO material. But there are more complicated cases. 

In the case of issues like those of the Northern, North West and Western Armies in 1919 it is really hard to get a sense of how much ordinary business was being transacted at the post office counter and whether these stamps were freely available there. The same is true of some Ukrainian Trident issues and many Armenian Dashnak issues. In contrast, the issues of Azerbaijan and Georgia all seem to have been freely available.

The problem of assessing the availability of a stamp is made worse by the fact that at the time – say the 1920s -  it was relatively unusual to keep ordinary private or commercial covers – everyone just tore the stamps off. So you may have plenty of what look like used copies but few or no covers, which creates the suspicion that all the “used” copies may actually be CTO.

In this situation, it is worth while spending a bit of time on forensic approaches which may help determine whether a loose stamp is CTO or postally used. Consider a simple example.

Below is a pair of fairly common Armenian stamps with ERIVAN “b” 11 3 20 cancellation. This cancel is very common on CTO material and March 1920 is within the period for which we know there is CTO material. However, the CTO cancel was normally applied either to each stamp individually (“socked on the nose”) or applied in the centre of a block of four stamps, a very common CTO practice. But here the cancel is over two stamps. It is also not as clear as those normally seen on CTO material. Could this pair be postally used? If it is, we gain quite useful information – it suggests that Erivan post office was open on this date and that this stamp was available at the counter. Will anything settle the matter?

Well, if we turn over the pair there is a very small amount of paper adhesion and, more importantly, the outline of what could be an envelope flap. So it seems possible that this pair sealed an envelope flap  a common practice. My scan does not really help establish this, but I can make the point more clearly from a different item, the strip of three which follows. In the case of the strip of three, I originally thought this might be fiscally used. But the evidence on the back is that it is from a letter. The small framed Z placed at top left of the stamp is an early style of overprint and so this strip could date from late 1919 or very early 1920 and from outside the two main cities, Erivan and Alexandropol. Beyond that I don’t want to speculate! But it gives every appearance of having been genuinely used to frank a letter.

Part of the interest of these items is in the fact that they are from an old English collection with some internal evidence that the collector got material from either Tchilingirian or Ashford. 

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Monday, 29 May 2017

Travelling Post Offices in Early Soviet Russia

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The postal history of Imperial Russia's Railway Travelling Post Offices is well understood and there are very informative reference books and articles, notably those authored by Anatoly Kiryushkin and Philip Robinson and now also by Valentin Levandovsky. Other collectors are undertaking very detailed researches to expand on the knowledge base we already have.

The first world war and then the civil war in Russia was a catastrophe for the country's railways. Rail lines were physically destroyed, rolling stock was also destroyed or became unusable, there were repeated fuel shortages. The army, civil war armies and even bandits took over trains. As a result, the range of TPO services available greatly declined from 1914 onwards. I don't think it ever recovered.

So it is quite unusual to find in  a dealer's box an item like that shown above. Here we have a new  post-Imperial cancel for POSHT 68 VAG 30 4 24 - Postal Wagon 68 - operating a short time after the creation of the Soviet Union. The letter, franked at 20 kop is addressed to Mr J [ or possibly I] Brodsky, 48 Reynolds Ave, Provedence [sic] R.I [Rhode Island], America. But there are no transits or arrival markings. At some point, the well-worn envelope has been folded in half centrally perhaps to be sent within another envelope.

I have no idea of the route on which Postal Wagon 68 operated or for how long. So it is over to my readers ... who have very rapidly obliged - see the Comments posted below by Howard Weinert and Ivo Steijn. Thanks to both of them!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

This Is Why We Need a Bundespruefer for Armenia ...

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My previous Blog was about the welcome appointment of Stefan Berger as BPP Bundespruefer for Armenia. The above cover is an example of why we need him. It's on offer right now from a major auction house who point to the amazing Inverted Overprint at top right of the cover. This overprint has also excited someone else, who - thinking that the envelope is just a piece of scrap paper -  has scribbled "Inverted" in English at top left. Catalogue numbers have also been scribbled and it might be possible to work out which catalogue was being used when and where.

The cover is an old-fashioned fake. The three 100r overprints are fake and the ERIVAN cancel is a well-known fake showing a date 24 1 21 which would be very, very rare for an Armenian letter. This fake cancel was already known to Tchilingirian and Ashford in the 1950s. 

The envelope is old but I hesitate to date the Cyrillic address - the letter is supposed to be going to Tiflis. There is something about the handwriting I don't like but I can't put my finger on it - apart from the fact that the address seems to have been written in two separate attempts in two different inks.

Two things are interesting. The stamp at bottom left does have what looks like a genuine unframed "Z" overprint in violet - not rare - to which the fake 100r has been added. And at the top right there is a pencilled signature at the bottom left corner of the stamp, done Italian style. What I would like to know is whether this is a genuine expert signature applied by someone who did not know what they were doing or whether it is a faked piece of expertising. 

Added: Stefan Berger points out to e that this cover comes with a 1986 Peter Holcombe certificate which , unfortunately, is simply wrong. The pencilled signature is his when compared with that illustrated at 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Stefan Berger, New BPP Bundespruefer for Armenia

Stefan Berger from Jena - well-known for his Blog and for his "Short Opinions" on classic Armenia stamps - has been elected as Bundespruefer for classic Armenia by the Bund Philatelistischer Pruefer E.V. (BPP)

The BPP is probably the world's most respected expertising organisation, with rigorous tests. Candidates are examined on such things as their ability to recognise repairs, re-gumming, printing method, etc as well as their ability to recognise forgeries. BPP experts are expected to hold extensive collections of genuine and forged material and to keep systematic records of their work as an expertiser. For an example of what a BPP expert's office looks like, see my Blog here of 30 April 2012.

One of Stefan's first tasks will be to revise the Michel catalogue listings for Armenia. About twenty years ago, Michel made the good decision to bases their listing on Christoper Zakiyan's archive - based researches.Unfortunately, someone made a mistake in translating Zakiyan's Russian text. Zakiyan found in the Archives an inventory of stamps remaining in the Yerevan post office when the Bolsheviks took power at the end of 1920 - beginning of 1921. But Michel thought it showed issue numbers and so gave very high pries to common stamps like the Dashnak 10 rouble surcharge on 35 kopek perforated stamp. See my Blog of 4 July 2010.

With Stefan Berger at BPP and a revised Michel a sound basis will be created for serious collecting of classic Armenia. At the moment, the collecting area suffers a great deal from ebay forgeries and bad catalogues - from Artar to Yvert with many in between.

Best wishes, Stefan!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

New Internet Auction from

Now open: the latest Internet sale from the excellent Turku-based auction house
This time, I have contributed extensive offers of material from Russia, Transcaucasia and Ukraine including scarce and rare material. 

Have a look and bid now at! will also get you to the auction :)

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

ISKOLAT: Executive Committee of the Workers, Soldiers and Landless in Latvia 1917 - 18

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I illustrated this cover some time ago but could not explain it. It was sent from Cyrillic ZELZAVA LIFL[and] 17 1 18 addressed in Cyrillic with a Cyrillic STOMERSEE LIFL [and] 17 1 18. It's registered and franked at 45 kopeks, which probably represents 15 kop for postage and 30 kop for Registation - not an RSFSR rate. Both the postmark towns are in the district of Madona on the Plavinas - Vecgulbene railway.

The most notable feature of the cover is the presence of an Imperial style Registration but one which is bi-lingual with both Cyrillic and a Latvian  SELSAWA [ a variant - other possibilities are Dzelsawa and Dzelzava and German Selsau ]. This label is the only internal bi-lingual Registration label I have ever seen before they were introduced and became common in the 1920s in various Soviet republics.

Now I have the explanation. As early as 29 July 1917 an Executive Committee of the Workers, Soldiers and Landless in Latvia [ISKOLAT] was established in Riga. Russia at this time was under the Provisional Government. German forces advanced on Riga capturing it on 3 September 1917. The ISKOLAT then moved to Cesis [Wenden] and then to the Valka [ Walk ] district. When the Germans renewed their offensive in February 1918 [ Operation Faustschlag] the ISKOLAT moved to Moscow. But for a brief period at the very end of 1917 and into early 1918, following the German-Bolshevik Armistice of December 1917, there were some areas of Lifland under accepted Bolshevik rather than German control.

I think the above cover is an example of mail from a Bolshevik-controlled  area of Lifland, and I think the Registration label is a locally-produced post-Imperial effort opening up an acknowledgment of the linguistic character of the area.

This cover is for sale.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Guest Blog by Howard Weinert: Captain Prince at the American Embassy in Vologda 1918

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The envelope shown above is stationery of the Office of the Military Attaché, American Embassy, Petrograd. The enclosed letter, typewritten in Vologda on 14 April 1918, is embossed with the Great Seal and “Embassy of the United States of America”. Sent via diplomatic pouch and postmarked in Washington in August. The sender, Eugene Prince, affixed 21 kopecks in postage stamps to pay the 20 kopeck international letter rate, but the rate had increased to 30 kopecks on 10 March. Inscribed “Capt. E. Prince U.S.A.” on front and “Captain E. Prince. U.S.N.A., Asst. to Amer. Military Attaché Petrograd” on back. Fearing that the Germans would occupy Petrograd, the American Embassy left the city on 27 Feb. and moved to Vologda.

Prince [1890 – 1981] was born in St. Petersburg to an American father and a Russian mother. In 1911 he was working in the Moscow sales office of International Harvester Co. In that year he went to the USA to study manufacturing methods at International Harvester in Chicago and Milwaukee. He returned to Russia in 1913 as IH representative, came back to the USA in 1916, and returned to Russia in August 1916 as representative of Willys-Overland an American automobile and jeep manufacturer. In 1917 he served as interpreter for the Root Mission, sent by President Wilson after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas, and the Stevens Railway Mission, and then was appointed Captain with the American Military Mission and Asst. Military Attaché at the American Embassy in Petrograd. He returned to the USA in 1919, and afterward continued to represent Willys-Overland in Europe. He was a member of the Rossica Society.

In his letter, Prince says, “When we left Petrograd we had fairly good hopes of going straight on to Vladivostok and then to Japan and the States, but now I am certain it will be quite some time before we get home. The situation here is getting all the time more and more complicated. As usual I am in the thick of most everything. When I shall see you again I shall be able to tell you a lot of interesting incidents, of which now I have to be silent. Vologda where we are now is a dirty small town, it is continuously raining and the mud on the streets is so deep, it is impossible to walk”.

Prince was in charge of identifying routes of Allied occupation and getting copies of German and Bolshevik battle plans. He worked to sabotage property taken over by the Germans and to funnel money to the Czechs fighting the Reds along the Trans-Siberian railway.

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Thursday, 13 April 2017

Review: Jay Caplan, Postal Culture in Europe 1500 - 1800

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Jay Caplan is a Professor of French at Amherst College in the USA with a special interest in eighteenth century literary history. Struck by the constant references to the workings of the post in French writers like Voltaire and Rousseau, he became interested in the development and organisation of the postal service itself and this short book is the result. It is clearly written, lively and accessible to a non-specialist reader though the text does sometimes lose the battle with the footnotes; the solution is to ignore the footnotes.

Except in Venice, it is only from the sixteenth century on that “the public” began to get access to what previously had been the private courier and messenger services of kings and princes. Opening up and expanding the post proved a significant source of revenue for those kings and princes and, in addition, made it possible to spy on those who made use of the expanded postal services. The development of the post goes hand in hand with the development of secret offices dedicated to opening people’s letters, especially the letters of dissidents like Voltaire and Rousseau. Caplan devotes a chapter to the “Black Cabinets” which did the work of opening and reading letters and tries to assemble what is known about how (specifically in France) they worked. Many aspects of their operations remain unclear.

He focusses on the posts of Thurn and Taxis, France and Great Britain, noting in passing in the case of the latter how Queen Elizabeth the First opted to discourage the development of communication among her subjects, opposing herself to better roads and posts. He looks at how the posts were managed, how they were supervised, how work was divided between those who accepted and delivered letters and those who transported them from post to post – the horse relays which allowed the mails to speed along at a few kilometers per hour. He notes that it was the posts between big cities across the continent of Europe which developed first, the city and town posts for local correspondence - things like la petite poste in Paris and Dockwra in London - coming later. Governments were generally keen to preserve postal monopolies, even if they sold leases to operate services to “farmers”.

Caplan points out several features of the dominant practice of requiring the recipient to pay for a letter, not the sender. For example, it gave an incentive to these for-profit postal services to actually deliver the mail because only then did they get paid. I had never thought of that before! But for someone like Voltaire or Rousseau, receiving sackfuls of fan mail, the fact that the recipient paid for the fan mail was a financial disaster and both Voltaire and Rousseau ended up posting public notices that they would only accept mail from correspondents know to them. It didn’t solve the problem.

Caplan does not mention the interesting practice which allowed poor servant girls or apprentice boys living far from home to  send empty letters to their parents who would then refuse to pay for the letter, but would know from the fact of it being sent that their children were at least alive.

The postal service and letter writing develop in symbiotic relationship and, at first, being able to write to someone a long way away was as novel as was being able to telephone them or Skype them was at later dates. Caplan quotes very interesting passages from Madame de Sevigné which indicate how the development of a frequent and reliable letter service altered daily life, habits and expectations so that something like impatience became most clearly illustrated by the feeling one had waiting for a letter. An etiquette to letter-writing developed, even written out in Handbooks of how to do it, and covered such things as when to use a single sheet (what we now call entire letters) for both correspondence and address, and when to wrap the letter sheet in a separate sheet, the enveloppe.

Conventions developed about folding the paper and tucking in flaps. It was not until the 19th century that the technology for machine folding envelopes was perfected. Sealing was also an important matter and there was some obvious etiquette, like black seals for mourning letters. Interestingly, the spies who opened letters had to deal with the problem of repairing the broken wax seal and it occurred to me reading Caplan that we probably don’t look out for censor-repaired or replaced wax seals in the same way as we look out for other signs of later perlustration.

This is a book which will have considerable interest for collectors of pre-philatelic letters. Unfortunately, the 210 page paperback is priced at £60

J.Caplan, Postal Culture in Europe 1500 – 1800. Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation 2016) ISSN 0435-2866

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Brexit Sale of My Stock

For the next two years, businesses like mine based in the UK will probably still have access to the European Union single market. After that, who knows.

I have decided to sell as much of my existing stock as I can and not to replace it during this 2017 - 2019 period. I hope to make most of my sales through European auctions in Finland and Germany. If by some miracle, the UK ends up still in the single market after March 2019, then I may start up in business again - I do have a stand booked at the London 2020 International Exhibition but, in the worst case scenario, a London show in 2020 might end up as accessible as a show in Pyongyang.

I will continue to supply with material for their Internet sales and for their Kaj Hellman auctions. I may also offer more material through

I will not take on new Approval clients during the 2017 - 2019 period. However, collectors and dealers who are already known to me are welcome to ask  if I have material that is of interest to them. 

UK-based dealers who are interested in buying  bulk cheap (under £5 per item) material and who are willing to come and take it away may like to know that I have a very big cupboard of such things and not just from my specialist areas ....

Monday, 27 March 2017

Wilfried Nagl

Wilfried Nagl, the well-known Russia specialist from Bamberg in Germany, has died at the age of 76. His funeral is on 27 3 2017. For many years, he produced auction catalogues to a very high standard with detailed descriptions of specialist material.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Early Bolshevik Russia 1917 - 1921 - Unsold Lots at Heinrich Koehler

The unsold lots from my Early Bolshevik Russia collection are now available at Heinrich Koehler. I have authorised sale at 20% below the Ausruf prices. Take a look! Some "White" mail at the end.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Something Is Always Missing: Podolia / Podilia 1917 -21

Something is always missing. If you try to reconstruct the postal history of a place or period, there will always be gaps. Only some archives have survived. Some got burnt, some got bombed, some fell into the hands of stamp dealers who soaked the stamps off. Sometimes, you end up with a very unrepresentative picture of what went on in the post offices of some place at some time.

I have accumulated material from the Podolia / Podilia government of Ukraine over many years. Most of the material is concentrated in the 1917 – 21 period. I have a lot of Money Transfer Forms and Parcel Cards, the things you most often see. My assumption is that when the government of the Ukrainian Republic moved into exile through Podilia, they took the post office archives with them. A great deal ended up in the well-documented collection of Eugene Vyrovyj before 1939. 

Then I have Registered letters addressed to Kamenetz Podolsk court which have appeared much more recently on the market. After that, there is very little in the collection.

Private correspondence is remarkably scarce. I don’t think this reflects a high level of illiteracy. I think it just means that during the Holodomor of the 1930s and the Holocaust of the second world war, a great deal was destroyed, sometimes simply burnt for fuel or used as cigarette paper.

Then there are the Remittances from the USA. Migrants to the USA, mostly Jewish, sent money back to Imperial Russia. The Advice cards for these money transfers are common, usually with the addresses for the Russo Asiatic Bank in Petrograd and M.I.Blitzstein and Co in Philadelphia. These cards can be found up to and including the period of the Provisional Government in 1917 but then they stop and do not resume until 1923/ 24 when the Russian Commercial Bank in Moscow now sends out the advice cards. Here it seems likely not that cards from the 1917 – 23 period were destroyed,but that there was no service available.

Railway cancellations in the 1917 – 21 period are rarities. In the 1918 period of Austro-German occupation, this may be explained by the use of railways for military purposes. After that, there was no period of stability in which railway post offices could resume normal service. But here was surely some railway post in the 1917 -21 period. But the most I can show is one General Issue stamp with a ZHMERINKA VOKSAL cancel for 30 10 18.

Podolia / Podilia had a large, literate Jewish population, living in the many small towns which cover the map of Podilia with dots. Their names can be found on Money Transfers and Parcel Cards. But as part of the general lack of personal correspondence, there is simply no surviving Jewish correspondence whether written in Yiddish or in a Roman or Cyrillic script which shows that it is written by someone more familiar with Hebrew script. But when you get into the 1920s, some Jewish correspondence re-appears, but not sent locally. It is mail going abroad to the USA or to Dr Brender in Berlin and so escaped whatever happened to local correspondence in the 1930s and 1940s.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Esperanto in early Bolshevik Russia

As would-be world revolutionaries, the early Bolsheviks were sympathetic to Esperanto. It provided a means of international communication before the hegemony of English was established. Since Esperanto is basically a Romance language with a Roman alphabet, Russians who used it were making a bigger effort than those they were writing to. In any case, as Leninism turned to Stalinism, Esperanto fell out of favour as did any kind of private international communication even through authorised channels. This can be seen for example, in the decline of Philatelic Exchange letters in the 1930s. Private individuals were simply too afraid to send them.

The card below caught my attention first because of its date. It was sent from Petrograd to Switzerland in May 1921 and arrived the same month - the receiver mark is on the picture side. So it was sent within the scarce 1920 - 21 period when foreign mail services had just re-started. They were all suspended in January 1919 and resumed in June 1920. It's a registered  postcard and as seems to be normally the case, it is franked at the registered letter rate of 10 roubles using a 10 kop stamp revlaued according to the March 1920 x 100 revaluations.

But then I looked at the Esperanto Star and Flag printed in pale ink on the card and realised that this is in fact an old Imperial formular card which has been recycled with these symbols on the address side and Zamenhof's picture on the correspondence side. All Imperial postal stationeries with a face value were invalidated on 1 January 1919 but continued in use as blanks, as did formulars without a face value.There were huge quantities available and the practice of overprinting them was common in the early Soviet period. The dealer Tarasoff did it in Archangel and the Soviet Philatelic Association did it in Moscow. You could probably make an interesting collection of all the different overprints, say from 1917 through to 1925 or so.

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I have taken the following from the Comments section below:

The sender of this card is of interest to me. S.N.Podkaminer (1901-1982) was an aircraft engineer by profession, He also worked as a college lecturer. As a Red Army volunteer he took part in the civil and Great Patriotic wars. Having learned Esperanto in 1920, the young Semyon Podkaminer immediately became active in the movement. He took part in the 3rd Russian Congress of Esperanto, at which the Soviet Esperanto Union (SEU) was founded, then he led their youth section, and was repeatedly elected as a member of the Central Committee of the SEU. In 1926 he was secretary of the 6th Congress of a left-wing body called SAT in Leningrad, when special stamps were published. When in the late 30's Stalin undertook purges against speakers of Esperanto, he was fortunate enough to avoid arrest, but was expelled from the Communist Party.

This card was sent when he was 20 years old and relatively new to the language. In it he appeals for people who want to correspond with him about political and other matters.

The original card was oprobably produced in 1912 on the 25th anniversary of Esperanto.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Women on Stamps: Armenia

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I am sure one of my readers can answer this question to which I don't know the answer:

When and where was the first stamp issued which showed a woman who was not a queen, princess, president or mythical figure? Maybe someone famous, maybe an ordinary person ...

And then maybe a second question:

When and where for a stamp showing a woman doing an ordinary job as on the stamp above?

In the United Kingdom, a woman who wasn't the Queen did not appear until 1968 when the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst appeared on a stamp. In contrast, Turkey had put suffragettes on stamps as far back as 1934, the year in which all Turkish women got the vote. The Soviet Union depicted a female worker and peasant in two of the designs for the 1929 definitive series - earlier definitives showed only male workers, soldiers and sailors (Correct?).

I like the Armenian stamp and think it's a pity it was never issued. It exists in both slate and red as do all the stamps in the series. But another value in the set was issued, with a surcharge and this shows a woman carrying water:

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The stamps are all from the 1921 Second Yessayan series printed by the Armenian firm of Yessayan (or Essayan) in what was still Constantinople. The stamps were ordered by the new Armenian Soviet government and the designer was Sarkis Khachaturian. Yessayan had fairly recently printed the Wrangel Refugee overprints and the Levant ship fantasies which did not stop him getting the Soviet order.

Part of the original printing of the Second Yessayan stamps was on a porous, yellowish paper rather than the usual white and non-porous paper. The 100r above is on the yellowish paper but both of the 1000r are on the normal white paper. The stamps on the yellowish paper are normally in an ink which is nearly black rather than grey and they are sometimes mistaken for proofs. All the reprints of the slate colour of this stamp are a paler grey and the red stamps a paler red, and only the forgery uses a yellowish paper - but then the paper is not porous and the yellow gum is laid on thick. The unissued 100r stamp above is really quite scarce but the issued stamps with surcharges are not so hard to find.

It would be interesting to know the source of Khachaturian's designs - he also has a shepherd boy, for example, and a train leaving Yerevan station (popular with Thematic collectors). Did he have photographs of the woman spinning and the woman carrying water? Or did he make a sketch? Note that the woman fetching water appears to be barefoot.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Guest Blog: Howard Weinert on Money Letters

Postal Rate Chronology for Russian Money Letters 1872-1917

Compiled by Howard L. Weinert

1 January 1872: A unit weight fee of 10 kopecks*, an insurance fee, and 5 kopecks for a receipt. The insurance fee was determined as follows: a) for a declared value of 1 ruble up to 100 rubles – 1 %, b) for a value above 100 rubles up to 400 rubles - ½ % plus 50 kopecks, c) for a value above 400 rubles up to 1600 rubles – ¼ % plus 1.5 rubles, d) for a value above 1600 rubles – 1/8 % plus 3.5 rubles. Values expressed in rubles and kopecks are rounded up to the next ruble before the insurance fee is calculated. A full kopeck is collected for any part of a kopeck. No postage stamps are used on money letters. *The weight fee for money letters sent abroad varied by destination.

20 March 1879: A new unit weight fee of 7 kopecks for all money letters. New insurance rates as follows: a) for a declared value of 1 ruble up to 600 rubles – ½ %, b) for a value above 600 rubles up to 1600 rubles – ¼ % plus 1.5 rubles, c) for a value above 1600 rubles – 1/8 % plus 3.5 rubles. Money letters now had to be registered for a fee of 7 kopecks, but the fee for the receipt was discontinued.

1 April 1889: For international money letters, the unit weight fee and the registration fee were both increased to 10 kopecks.

            1 June 1893: New international insurance rates: 3 kopecks for each 75 rubles of declared value for countries bordering Russia (Germany, Austria, Rumania, Turkey, Sweden, Norway), and 7 kopecks for all other countries.

            20 December 1898: New international insurance rates: for each 112.5 rubles of declared value - 4 kopecks for countries bordering Russia and 10 kopecks for all others, with a 4 kopeck supplement for sea transit.

            1 January 1903: New domestic insurance rates: a) for declared values up to 600 rubles - ¼ %, b) for a value above 600 rubles up to 1600 rubles, 1/8 % plus 75 kopecks, c) for a value above 1600 rubles - 1/16 % plus 1.75 rubles.

            1 July 1904: Henceforth, all money letter fees will be paid for with postage stamps.

            1 August 1904: Instead of clerks writing serial numbers by hand on money letters, a blue-bordered printed label will be affixed, showing the serial number and the post office name.

            1 January 1905: New domestic insurance rates: 10 kopecks for declared values up to 10 rubles, 25 kopecks for values above 10 rubles and up to 100 rubles. For values above 100 rubles, the rate was 25 kopecks plus 15 kopecks for each additional 100 rubles or part thereof. The fees for registration and sealing wax** were eliminated for domestic money letters.

            1 May 1909: New international insurance rates which varied on the destination – from 4 kopecks (Germany) to 22 kopecks (Somaliland) for each 112.5 rubles of declared value.

            21 September 1914: For domestic money letters, the unit weight fee and the registration fee were both increased to 10 kopecks.

            15 August 1917: New domestic insurance rates: 15 kopecks for declared values up to 10 rubles, 30 kopecks for values above 10 rubles and up to 100 rubles. For values above 100 rubles, the rate was 30 kopecks plus 30 kopecks for each additional 100 rubles or part thereof. These insurance rates remained unchanged until 28 February 1918 (new style).

**Each money letter has either official wax seals or those of the sender or some combination of both. The number can vary from two to six or more, but is usually five. The sender could use his own wax or purchase it from the post office. Based on empirical evidence, the cost of wax was one kopeck for five seals before May 1898, and 1 kopeck per seal after March 1901. The price change happened sometime between 1898 and 1901.

Below are some fine examples of Money Letters for the period 1876 - 1913, from Howard Weinert's Collection and with his descriptions. Thank you, Howard, for providing this very informative Blog - TP

1876 money letter enclosing 83 silver rubles sent from Bolkhovskoye to Constantinople for transmission to a Russian monastery on Mt. Athos in Turkey. The total postage was 1 ruble, 8 kopecks (20 kopecks for double-weight, 83 kopecks for the 1% insurance fee, and 5 kopecks for the receipt).

1885 money letter (stationery of the Imperial Russian Technical Society) enclosing 50 rubles (equivalent to 200 francs) sent from St. Petersburg to the director of the Berlin Trade School. The total postage was 46 kopecks (14 kopecks for double-weight, 25 kopecks for the ½% insurance fee, and 7 kopecks for registration).

1891 money letter enclosing 1060 rubles (equivalent to 4240 francs) sent from St. Petersburg to Vevey, Switzerland. The total postage was 4.65 rubles (40 kopecks for quadruple-weight, 4.15 rubles for the insurance fee [1.5 rubles plus ¼% of the insured value], and 10 kopecks for registration).

1896 money letter enclosing 5 rubles (equivalent to 20 francs) sent from Sochi to Berlin. Total postage was 24 kopecks (10 kopecks for weight, 3 kopecks for insurance, 10 kopecks for registration, and one kopeck for sealing wax).

1904 money letter enclosing 5 rubles sent from Vorontsovskoe-Aleksandrovskoe to Worms, Germany, then forwarded to Speyer. The total postage was 29 kopecks (10 kopecks for weight, 4 kopecks for insurance, 10 kopecks for registration, and 5 kopecks for sealing wax).

1905 money letter enclosing 100 rubles sent from the fieldpost office of the First Siberian Army Corps in Manchuria to Borga, Finland. Total postage was 39 kopecks (14 kopecks for double-weight and 25 kopecks for insurance).

1913 money letter enclosing 5 rubles (equivalent to 131/3 francs) sent by the Kiev provincial prison inspector to the Hachette publishing house in Paris. The total postage was 26 kopecks (10 kopecks for weight, 6 kopecks for insurance, and 10 kopecks for registration).