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Wednesday 29 November 2017

Why Stamps In Multiples Are A Good Idea

I have been preparing small groups of Ukraine tridents to send to auction at, mostly from districts (Odesa, Podilia, Poltava) which used single handstamps. It reminded me that multiples are often preferable to singles for purposes of stamp identification. This is true not only for single handstamp overprints. For a regular stamp printed by typography or lithography even, a small multiple will quite often enable identification of a particular printing. This may be because clich├ęs have been moved or repaired, or because the setting has changed – distance between stamps may have been altered and a multiple will make that clear. For overprints from a plate rather than a single handstamp, a small multiple allows plating and that may be a very good test of whether or not the overprint is genuine. Very few forgers have had the resources to reproduce plating varieties in the right positions in a sheet. They may have had no access to a whole sheet and certainly neither the time or money to carefully reproduce plate faults. Digital forgeries can do that, but then they are detectable as digital. And, of course, even a pair of stamps can be definitive evidence that a stamp is genuinely imperforate and not just a cut-down perforated stamp.

One-of-each collectors working with album spaces lose out heavily on such helpful collecting possibilities. In the past they lost out even more: when miniature sheets were first issued, spaces for them in albums were often smaller than the sheet so collectors cut down the sheets to fit the spaces. This happened to early Poland mini-sheets, for example. It’s a good job that art collectors have never used one-size fits all frames.

Expense is one factor which encourages one-of-each collecting but the expense of upgrading from a single common Trident stamp to a block of four or a strip of five may be of the order of one or two euros, one or two dollars. It’s silly not to take the opportunity, especially in an area like Podilia tridents where sub-types which are hard to distinguish from single stamps become easily visible in a strip or block.

But it’s also sometimes the case that a group of single stamps if brought together can be used to identify each other, as in the example below. The 7 rouble imperforate with Podilia Trident is always a scarce stamp, regardless of sub-type of overprint. The group below all have type 12b (which Bulat values at $75 each) but it is only when they are grouped together that one can be sure of the identification. It helps that this group were all used at Kamenets and that they may be from the same transfer form or, at least, the same sheet. Note things like the way the handstamp is tilted and the greyish colour of the ink which is paler than most Podilia inks and may represent a late batch of work. So these stamps will go to auction as one lot because it's then very clear what you have in front of you. Of course, it's only because over a twenty five year period I have bought Ukrainian stamps in thousands that I have been able to assemble groups like this. These four stamps have been in different collections since they were first used in 1919 as can be inferred from the pencil notes etc on the back of them:

Click on Image to Magnify

Thursday 23 November 2017

Do Bad Stamps Drive Out Good?

Gresham’s Law states that bad money drives out good. The basic idea is simple. Suppose I have two gold coins in my pocket, made of the same quality of gold. But one has been clipped at the edges where someone has taken a little bit of gold off (someone who has done that to lots of coins and so has accumulated a pile of gold). Which coin do I spend first? Gresham’s Law says that I will try to pass on the clipped coin and try to keep hold of the unclipped one for as long as I can. Likewise, if old silver coins circulate alongside cheap alloy ones, then people will start saving the silver ones hoping that the silver will soon be worth more than the face value (it may already be worth more than the face value). Why give away silver when you could give away alloy?

I thought of Gresham’s Law thinking about Russia #1. There are people who collect Russia in mint condition and Russia #1 is a problem. It is rare in mint condition and people used to say to me that it does not exist mint. So there is demand and no supply. As a result, for a very long time, people have taken pen-cancelled copies of #1 and chemically removed the pen cross. They have washed the stamp and, in some cases, they have gummed it. These stamps are then offered as mint copies, and still are, and they sell – basically, as “spacefillers” to mint stamp collectors. In the December David Feldman auctions, you can find two examples:

Lot 41768 described as (*) … very good margins, very good gum, at front some surface rubbing at the positions of slight ink traces, a very presentable example, various sign. incl Th. Lemaire  Estimate 3000 euros

Well, that’s more or less telling you that this was a used copy which has been cleaned and gummed. Before that alchemy was accomplished, the stamp was probably worth 300 euros, since it does have nice margins. But it did not have surface rubbing before it was cleaned. Three thousand euro is a lot to pay for someone’s work cleaning, rubbing, and gumming this stamp. So why not look for something cheaper, for example and next up:

Lot 41769 described as (*) … large margins all around, unused no gum, usual penstroke removing, otherwise excellent fresh example. Estimate 500 euros

The margins aren’t quite so good on this stamp as on the previous one and the alchemist hasn’t bothered to add gum and hasn’t been so successful in removing the ink cross. But forced to choose, someone looking for a space filler might prefer to pay 500 than 3000, the bad stamp trumping the slightly better. Before it was treated, this stamp was probably worth 200 – 250 euros.

But suppose you want the real thing? The real gold coin. Well, then you have to go to Lot 70107 which gets a whole page to itself. There you are offered a stamp which has a * not in brackets and with exceptionally large and even margins - and three certificates stating that the gum on the reverse is original. The estimate is 20 000 – 30 000 euros.

So are you going to buy the good stamp or the bad stamp - which isn't mint in any sense of the word even though it gets a (*) - to fill that annoying space for Russia #1 mint?
On ebay, there are hundreds of stamp issues where bad stamps have really driven out the good and where people looking for spacefillers are quite happy to buy the fakes and forgeries on offer from sellers who seem to make a good living out of it.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Where Can I Buy Genuine Dashnak Armenian Stamps of 1919 - 21?

Well, try

where bidding closes on 1 December. There is a page for Armenia, most of the items from my stock, and separate pages for Azerbaijan and Georgia and, finally, a separate page for Transcaucasia as a whole.

Friday 3 November 2017

The Basic Rule of Stamp and Postal History Conservation

Today I was breaking up a collection of Latvian stamps and a collection of pre-philatelic Gibraltar covers. This rather depressing task reminded me of the one basic rule of Conservation:

Aim to pass on your stock or your collection to the next owner in as good a condition as you received it

This rule says nothing about cleaning or repairing; that’s a separate topic. But the rule can be converted to some simple tips, some handy hints, about how to treat stamps and covers.


  Do not put hinges on mint stamps or used stamps
  Always use tweezers to handle stamps
  Store albums and stockbooks upright; don’t lay them flat
  A slip-case helps keep out dust and sunlight. If it doesn’t have a slipcase, then don’t use the top row of a stockbook.
  If you are going to divide a block of imperforate stamps, use a cutting knife and a metal ruler – don’t use scissors
  No damp storage, please!


  Do not write on them, in pencil or ink. Ever. Your scribbles do not add value with the one exception of Agathon Faberge's and then not even all of his. Expect a discount from any dealer who prices by writing on their stock. Do not ask any Expert to sign your cover. Ever. Look what has happened to classic Italian covers.
  Do not use photographic mounting corners. About one in ten will find a way to stick to your cover and when someone removes it from your mounts, the cover will tear.
  Do not use sellotape for any purpose or metal staples (yes, today I was handling a collection full of metal staples)
 Do not trim roughly opened covers, open them up “for display”, or re-fold them. Keep the cover in the state you received it.
Store albums upright and out of sunlight. Don’t lay them flat. Use slipcases.
  Think twice about using black backing to enhance the appearance of your cover; cheap black paper is often acidic
   No damp storage, please!

Well, that’s not a long list. Maybe ten percent of dealers and collectors follow something like those simple rules, which is why so much philatelic material is now damaged beyond repair.

Thursday 2 November 2017

The Importance of Dealer Boxes

I think very few people – and certainly not tax and customs authorities – understand what is involved in stamp dealing and how it is different from other retail activities. It has always been the case, and still is, that most dealers are one-person businesses but holding stocks of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands - of potentially separate items. The standard business model is to buy in bulk and sell individually. The standard business failure is to buy more than you can possibly sell. So stocks accumulate over a dealer’s lifetime.

In the past, dealers made Approval books (carnets a choix; Auswahlheften) which is what I did when I started. Nowadays they sell on ebay or delcampe (which I have never done). Either way, the time it takes to prepare one item for sale is just too much to allow more than a few thousand items to be offered at any one time. For many dealers, they never get past a few hundred.

The time-saving solution which many dealers use (and I use) is to heap cheaper stuff into boxes, load them into a car or even a van and put them out at stamp shows, where like fresh vegetables you try to sell as much as you can in one day. Collectors or other dealers do the time-consuming work of going through the boxes.

So at the annual Sindelfingen Briefmarken Messe, from which I have just returned, there were hundreds – maybe thousands – of such boxes around the hall. The well-known dealer Peter Harlos had a whole corner stand, well-organised with every item at 2 euro and the well-known dealer Christian Arbeiter had his usual big and rather chaotic stand overflowing with cheap and very cheap boxed material. But these are just two from a few dozen dong similar things.

The boxes are often full of things which are valuable to other dealers or to specialist collectors. If you spend a day going through them, you will handle many thousands of items and surely find something and maybe enough to justify the cost of the trip. It is probably less labour intensive than trawling the internet, bidding and so on.

The nature of stamp dealing and of these boxes means that they are only viable if items don’t have to be bar coded. Harlos does barcode for all his stock down to 4 euro but even he does not do it for his separate 2 euro stand. To insist on bar coding there would be like insisting that each apple have its own label because it is potentially a separate item. 

Harlos and Arbeiter are two of the big attractions at Sindelfingen; whether they actually make money, I don’t know. If you pay say 3000 euro for a whole stand, and on top of that, have travel and hotel costs and not forgetting the stock costs, you have to sell an awful lot at 2 euro to get your money back. It is a problem which arises from the original business model: you buy too much relative to what it is easy to sell.

Many collectors who don’t go to stamp shows are missing something. Unless your Wants are very specialised or very expensive, a stamp show is still a good place to find material

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Sredinsky's Russian Refugee Post in Constantinople

In World War One, the Ottoman Empire was one of the defeated powers and its capital, Constantinople, was occupied by the victorious allies – France, Great Britain, Italy. But for the Russian Revolution, Russia would have been there too. Even if Russia was not, Russians were: “White” Russians who had the sympathies of the victorious Allies could make their way across the Black Sea and seek refuge in Constantinople. Many did.

Until end 1920, the Civil War in Russia continued with White forces still controlling areas in the south and mainly around the Black Sea. It was even possible to send mail abroad from White areas and that mail went via Constantinople, where an improvised Russian Post (not ROPIT) based in the Pera district received it and transferred it to the Turkish postal system. A transit mark was genuinely used on such mail and I have illustrated it on this Blog  on 8 October 2016 - thereis a lot of background information there.

When the last White forces evacuated from Crimea at end 1920, there was no more mail for transit. But there were now many more refugees in Turkey. Someone had the idea that a Russian Refugee Post could replace the Russian Post and, though it did not happen, an elaborate scam did happen, headed up by Alexander Sredinsky, the existing Postmaster who later became the stamp dealer Thals in Paris.

You could write to Sredinsky in Constantinople using normal mail services and you could use the address of “La Poste Russe” and it would get to him. He would apply a receiver cancel to his own mail, for which purpose he used violet ink and a cachet which was once a Russian Army Sanitary department seal. See the illustration. Note that the letter from BELGRADE 23 XII 20 has been handled first in Galata and then in Pera. The sender seems to have given up trying to use a typewriter which clearly did not work:

Click on Image to Magnify

But you could not  take a letter to Sredinsky and have it sent through the Russian Post, nor could you do that in any of the refugee camps around Constantinople. But an elaborate scam tried to prove that you could. Here for example, is a book of Registration receipts supposedly used at Gallipoli. It contains 199 receipts. Of these, 196 have been filled out and the KVITANTSIA part at the right removed and supposedly given to the sender. Three complete unused forms remain at the end.

Click on Image to Magnify

Remarkably, there exist letters which correspond to the receipt book. Here is one with its No. 108 Kvitansia attached and which matches the half coupon remaining in the Receipt book. Amazing. But the fact that the Kvitansia is attached to the April 1921 cover is the give away: this is what you did in those days with a philatelic cover which you had fabricated, normally slipping the receipt inside the letter as proof of its original posting. Serebrakian did it with the letters he sent from Yerevan to his brother in Tiflis. It implies, at the very least, that the letter was not sealed until it  had been Registered. In this case, I don't believe the letter was ever in Gallipoli or carried from there to Constantinople. But a big effort has been made to convince me - and many people were convinced. The stamps of the Refugee Post got into all the catalogues and commanded high prices before 1940.

Click on Image to Magnify

In my view, this letter started out on Sredinsky’s desk in Constantinople where both the GALLIPOLI despatch cancel and the  CONSTANTINOPLE arrival cancel were applied. But what a remarkable effort to convince us otherwise: a 199 coupon Registration receipt book!

More to follow ...