Saturday, 14 October 2017

Kaj Hellman Auction AFTERSALE

The  Kaj Hellman Auction in Finland is now open for online bidding for the LOTS WITH NO BIDS (Unsold Lots) at There is plenty of good material available at the Start prices.

As usual, I  contributed to the sections for Baltic Sates, Russia, Transcaucasia and Ukraine. 

You can still find genuine Armenia, for example, on offer (with Berger Opinions) at a small fraction of the prices achieved in the recent Heinrich Koehler auction!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Postal use of Dashnak Armenia stamps

The new Armenia listing in the Michel catalogue (see previous Blog post) gives separate prices for used stamps in the Dashnak period, but they are prices for CTO copies. A note simply indicates the scarcity of postally used material, and its rarity for anything used outside Erivan and Alexandropol.

There are two problems about postally used Armenian material: finding it and identifying it correctly. As for Danzig and other territories, if gum is washed off CTO stamps they often look very much like postally used stamps – especially where centrally placed cancels are applied. Worse, in some places dealers and collectors applied mint stamps singly to sheets of paper or blank envelopes and got them cancelled in bulk. But a single stamp when removed from its backing paper looks like a used stamp. This is true for all the Baltic countries after World War One and also for Armenia.

Philatelists do archive research and often find helpful information, as Christopher Zakiyan did for Armenia. But unanswered questions remain. In the Armenian case here are some of my thoughts and  speculations:

Between 1917 and 1921 postal activity was often disrupted and some Armenian post offices disappeared forever: those in the areas of eastern Anatolia taken by Turkey (all of the Kars district, notably). Alexandropol was occupied by Turkey for a period. Conflict with Georgia disrupted the postal service. It wasn’t always possible to get the trains to run. Civil conflict, famine and disease were more or less permanent features of Armenian life.

Postal activity was modest. The practice which was standard at least until 1939 of soaking stamps off covers makes it seem even more modest than it was. In addition, a significant part of internal Armenian mail would have been stampless official correspondence of which little survives which has not been faked by the addition of genuine stamps cancelled with fake handstamps. But even those fakes provide useful information.

Erivan could not always maintain contact with other post offices. It did not always supply them with stamps so cash payments were accepted – this became official policy in the transitional year 1921 (Zakiyan’s research). Conversely, those post offices could not always get things into the postal network even if they were open and a clerk on duty.

But the post offices were always there and the best evidence for that is the rapid revival of the internal post in 1922 – 1923 where old Imperial cancellations suddenly re-appear on the new Soviet Armenian issues, sometimes very dirty and worn (BASARGECHAR a good example).

A significant part of franked mail in the Dashnak period was foreign mail destined for the Allied countries – the USA, France and Great Britain – who were providing some minimal support to the new Armenian republic and sometimes helped the mail along its way, as the British did in Batum. Those covers often had stamps soaked off and that is one reason that when I try to assemble examples of postally used stamps, it is the higher values which are more common. See the scans below. Tariffs during 1920 rose through rouble steps: 2 and 4 and 8 roubles. But mail abroad seems to have reduced and even stopped before the end of 1920 – postally used examples of rouble overprinted stamps are rare. There are only two examples on my scans (both of 1 rouble overprints).

Inland mail from Erivan or Alexandropol probably had a poor delivery and survival rate. In addition, though stamps may have gone into Armenian collections, they did not leave the country once Soviet control was established. This is probably why I can show so few kopeck value stamps which would have made up tariffs of 30 and 60 kopecks and 1 ruble 20.

The stamps on the scans are ones I think probably or certainly postally used, though I cannot tell whether they were originally on philatelic covers which (for example) Souren Serebrakian sent in quantity to his brother in Tiflis. In sorting the stamps which are shown, I have looked at such things as paper adhering to the back of the stamp, careless cutting of imperforate stamps and even hand tearing, smudged postmarks which don’t look like the usual CTO. In among all the Erivan and some Alexandropol cancels, you will see a couple of manuscript cancels and just one identifiable as from another town, Karaklis, flagged up on a 3 rouble 50 kop imperforate.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The New Michel for Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

Stamp catalogues never know where to put the countries of Transcaucasia – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In the 2006 Michel they were included in Mittel-und Ostasien, a fat catalouge which runs from Afghanistan to Usbekistan. The new replacement 2017/2018 catalogue cuts down the number of countries included, taking out China, but still leaves the Caucasus housed beside Japan, Korea and Mongolia. It doesn’t make much sense and it’s a pity because the new Michel includes a completely re-worked and expanded listing for pre-Soviet Armenia. 

For the first time, black and violet Dashnak overprints are separately listed  and so too are Combined overprinted stamps (Z + rubel value) which come with and without Monogram. The scarce to rare second type of the ten rubel overprint, which is just a “10” without the letter “r”, is listed for the first time. The last series of overprints on Erivan pictorials are now separated into those made from metal and those made from rubber handstamps.

All this moves Michel closer to the Stanley Gibbons listing but Michel stays with the approach of Christopher Zakiyan who listed only the overprints which were officially authorised and not the counter-surcharges, the inclusion of which makes the SG listing much longer than that in Michel.

There were serious mistakes in the 2006 listings and these have been removed. The revised valuations go a long way towards getting it right with regard to what is common and what is rare. It is to be hoped (but is not very likely) that auction houses in France and Italy will take notice of the new Michel listings. In Germany, of course, it will be automatic.

There are a few things which could have been included without making the listing longer. No example of the first Soviet Star set, which Zakiyan thinks an officially authorised trial, is illustrated. But the bogus second Star set gets its regular illustration and there is space beside it for an example of First Star. The SPECIMEN overprints on  low value Chassepot stamps could have been mentioned, but then it needs to be said that all Specimen overprints on the higher values are fakes (mostly from the 1990s and mostly Californian - David Feldman was selling the remainder stocks recently). The two unofficial Reprints of Second Yessayan, made by the printer,  could have been identified in a sentence and that would have been helpful because most unoverprinted stamps in collections are Reprints – very few are Originals and very few are the obvious Forgeries.

But these are relatively minor points. The important thing is that we now have a short listing which is fully based on the best available research (Tchilingirian & Ashford, Zakiyan) and a reasonable assessment of market conditions. In that it is unique. The revised Michel pages are the contribution of Stefan Berger, the new BPP accredited expertiser for Armenia. He is to be congratulated on his work.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Russia Revenues: Imperial Moscow Police residence permit stamps, first issue

St Petersburg and Moscow police departments began using adhesive stamps to record payment of residence permit fees in the 1860s. Most St Petersburg stamps are common, though one is a great rarity, but Moscow’s are not common even though they remained in use until at least 1881 when new stamps prepared by the State Printing Works were issued.

Nothing about the first Moscow issue suggests it was printed by those State works. The gum, the variable paper, the wide variation in colour, the deterioration of the printing plate, the lack of alignment of individual stamp clichés – all this is well below the standard achieved by the State works. The stamps look like a job which might have been done in-house by the Police department itself. To me, the stamps look as if printed by lithography, the plates retained over a long period and the quality of the print greatly deteriorating.

It is quite difficult to study the issue for four reasons. First, the scarcity of large mint multiples for plating purposes. Second, the impossibility of dating the use of stamps which have been taken off document, where they were always cancelled by a simple pen cross. Third, and connectedly, the difficulty in distinguishing printings when there appears to be wide variation within printings and not just between them. Fourth, the scarcity of stamps used even on a fragment of a document. In addition, lacking access to the relevant sources I do not know what the fee structure was or how it changed.

On the pages illustrated below I have assembled over 100 Moscow stamps now in my possession. About half of them have pencil notes on the reverse which indicate that they are from Agathon Faberge’s collection. These notes are dated between 1900 and 1907, though some notes do not give a date. It is my belief that Faberge annotated stamps that he bought individually but that, in addition, he bought bundleware or kiloware of these stamps for research purposes and only annotated those where he noticed something unusual. My guess is that in the 1900 – 1914 period Faberge owned and studied many hundreds of these stamps, now dispersed across many collections.

My assembly does not include two varieties listed in the John Barefoot catalogue: an error of colour on the 5 kopeck printed in blue instead of the correct green; and a perforated version of the 5 kopeck green. I have never seen either and would be pleased to illustrate them here if anyone has either of them. Added: John McMahon has kindly provided the following scan of his error of colour stamp. This appears to be the only recorded copy,from the Marcovitch collection. However, to my eye, the blue would be more convincing if it could be matched to the same blue appearing on a 3 kop stamp (the 3 kop stamps were printed in blue). 

I can show two varieties identified by A Faberge: bisects on the 2 kopek and manuscript revaluation of a 2 kopek stamp to 3 kopeks.

On my very provisional pages, I have copied back-of-stamp A Faberge’s notes and written them underneath the stamps on which they are found. Any notes above the stamps are mine. Click on Images to Magnify.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

More from the Faberge Fiscal Collection

This Blog post assumes you have read the previous Blog post.

In the period before World War One, obtaining older fiscal stamps and documents from smaller cities and towns was probably as difficult as finding stamps and covers from the more distant Zemstvos and perhaps more difficult. The collector societies in St Petersburg and Moscow eventually set up arrangements with many Zemstvos to supply new issues, and the Zemstvos were often co-operative when they realised that their stamps could yield a significant income. In consequence, they began to issue stamps rather in the way that Liechtenstein or Monaco do today. But I doubt that writing to distant courts asking for their stamps would do anything other than create suspicion. To this day, the pre-1914 fiscals of small administrations are very scarce, especially on document. So it was a nice surprise to find in my London purchases the following item:

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I have seen the stamps of Yaroslavl before but not on complete document. This one, dated 1878, and folded for the illustration was obtained by Agathon Faberge in September 1913. He got it from Göschiel [ not a supplier I have encountered before ] and paid 15 rubles [ pd – k – 20 IX 13 Göschiel: I decode the “k” as “ kauft” meaning purchased rather than “k” as in kopeck. See Hellman and Stone, Agathon Fabergé, page 242 ].

It seems that B E Saarinen picked out some of these provincial fiscals for re-mounting and I assume that the simple exhibit page below is his work (further information welcome). I haven’t seen the two listed stamps of Kolpino before. Agathon F got the top piece with the red stamps from Karing in 1914 but no price is indicated. Agathon has also worked out the date written across the stamps as 15 September 1898. There are no notes on the back of the strip of blue stamps but I suspect they are also ex-Faberge.

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Faberge was able to acquire some court fee stamps in bulk, notably from Baku, where someone cut off many hundreds of the locally-produced stamps from their original documents. They ended up in Faberge’s hands and were eventually dispersed. The Faberges did begin to study them, though the published plating study is due to Jack Moyes. The stamps were printed like raffle tickets in strips of six. The counterpart to the left of the MAPKA part was a receipt KVITANTSIA. These are rare. There is one example in my new acquistions, and on the back Oleg F has written FOTO, suggesting that an article or book was contemplated on the lines of the Zemstvo book for which Oleg also wrote FOTO on the back of items. 

Despite having had a stock of these Baku stamps since the 1990s I had never seen a strip of six until the London sale and now I have just one such strip, with no acquisition note on the back

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More difficult than any provincial revenue stamps are the tax banderoles and labels applied by the Maria Feodorovna charities to packs of playing cards, over the production of which they held a monopoly. People who played cards were wasters rather than hoarders and simply did not think to keep the bands and labels for future collectors. So it was an agreeable surprise to find in my London purchase a complete but empty playing card packet.

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The blue front packet design is less elaborate than the beautiful red and black design illustrated in John Barefoot’s Russia Revenues catalogue [Plate I ] and on this Blog on 13 January 2016, and does not look like the work of the state printing works. But whereas the tax work is done by the later red and black design, the actual tax work is done here by the black strips which seal the packet horizontally and vertically and which are intact on the reverse of the pack. Like the blue design they incorporate the image of a pelican feeding her young which is the logo of the Maria Feodorovna charities. I illustrate these sealing strips on my Blog of 13 January 2016

Friday, 22 September 2017

Faberge Imperial Russia Fiscals Collection

Faberge is the collection which keeps on giving. Agathon and Oleg never organised it all or disposed of it all in a systematic fashion and undocumented material still keeps appearing, as it did on 21 September in a London auction which offered 27 lots of mainly Faberge Imperial Russian fiscal material.

In the same period of fifteen years before World War One when Agathon was assembling his Zemstvo collection, he was also assembling a Russian Imperial fiscal collection in very much the same way. He bought common stamps in big quantities and then tried to plate them or looked for errors and varieties (and found them). He made notes on the backs of stamps recording his discoveries, though in the case of common stamps I do not think he always wrote the name of his supplier and the price paid. He bought scarce stamps and also fiscal documents and stamped paper, though some categories of document were hard to obtain. Only when things like court archives were later disposed of or simply looted did complete documents become available. When Agathon got to Finland in 1927 there were probably some emigres happy to sell him old documents from their family archives.

I think Agathon mounted some of his collection on album pages and I think that Oleg re-mounted them, as he did the Zemstvos. Oleg also put on to album pages stamps which had never been there before. This much I infer from the hinges on the backs of a great deal of ex-Faberge material. But at some point all the material was taken off pages. In contrast, when after Oleg’s death, Corinphila sold the Faberge Zemstvo collection in 1999, about ninety percent of it was on modern, massively annotated album pages which represented many meters of shelf space.

The recent London Faberge sale included a modern stockbook which includes both stamps which look like remainders of something else, but also carefully selected choice pieces which would display well or which have research interest. As an example of a visually attractive piece, see the scan of this Moscow Court stamp. Oh, and I nearly forgot - it's not only pretty, it's also imperforate between vertically:

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As an example of a research item, consider the scan of this Moscow Police stamp. On the 21 January 1907, Agathon bought two blocks of four from Lentz [abbreviated as often the case to Ltz] who in turn had got them from the stock of the Belgian dealer Moens [ Moens Lager, in pencilled German]. Separately, a pair has been acquired and either Agathon or Oleg has then re-joined what are parts of a separated block, using slips of stamp hinge. This gives an unusually large mint multiple for this early stamp. But though the block has two modern hinges (presumably Oleg’s), we now have no indication of how it was written up.

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Agathon’s and Oleg’s close attention to the detail of common stamps did pay off. The stockbook contains, for example, a bisected 2 kop stamp used to make up a 3 kop rate. That is not unusual. But it also contains a 2 kop stamp uprated in black ink to make a 3 kop rate, a fact I only discovered when I turned over the stamp and read on the back 3 auf 2k! I would be interested to know if this variety has been recorded elsewhere. I show it above along with an example of the bisect.

More to follow.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Who Is Trevor Pateman?

Who is Trevor Pateman?

There are now several Trevor Patemans on the Internet…. I am the one born in England in 1947 with a previous academic career which is easily tracked. I am not on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram. Those are other Trevor Patemans J  

This Trevor Pateman spent last week 12 – 16 September working at STAMPEX London. My stand was busy and now it is all over, I am very tired. On the front of my stand, my assistant was selling All World liquidation items at £3.50 each item – there were a few thousand items to pick from. I sat at the back of the stand selling mostly Russia, Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, including collections as well as single items. 

It was a bonus in the last afternoon of the show when an ebay dealer sat down and ended up buying some bulky Latin American accumulations based on the ancient stock of Errington & Martin [Errimar]  and Oswald Marsh. The dealer's smartphone App. allowed him to make an immediate transfer to my bank account.

I hope to have some new Russia stock soon which I can Blog about but I have not been a very active buyer recently. The adverse exchange rates make it difficult for me to buy outside the United Kingdom right now.

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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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!