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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Single Frankings

One way to combine stamp collecting with doing postal history is to collect covers with single frankings, one cover for each stamp issued. It should be easy – after all, stamp denominations relate to tariffs. Or do they? Inflation is the main enemy of single frankings. Another is the inability of Supply departments to get the right stamps into the post offices at the right times.

For Imperial Russia, there are really a very small number of stamps to collect from one kopek to 10 rubels, which is just like the range 1 cent to $10. Ignore the rubel values and surely the kopek values will appear as single frankings….

It’s actually very difficult to complete this relatively small set. It seems that collectors quite often get stuck on the 70 kopek, so here is a cover to prove that 70 kop single frankings exist.

BUT it’s a use in Bolshevik Russia in September 1918 – and a very unusual one. This is a registered court envelope sent from Petrograd to Sestoresk. There is a cachet on the back and a number (450) bottom left of the cover which together entitle this letter to a privilege. The Court did not have to pay for the basic letter ( a 35 kopeks tariff at the time) ONLY for the Registration fee (70 kopeks at the time).

If you have interesting single frankings at 70 kop, send me a scan and we can expand this section …

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Added 17 November 2018: Here's a very fine cover from Howard Weinert (USA). This 70 kop franking from 1916 represents a sixth weight step ( 6 x 10 kop) plus 10 kop registration fee on a large envelope from Tiflis to the Psycho-Neurological Institute in Petrograd. Mail to this Institute does turn up in dealer boxes so at some point I guess its archive was sold off.

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Added 19 November 2018: Here's a very nice 1911 registered cover scanned to me by Henri Taparel (France), this one going abroad. Note that this cover shows an early printing of the 70 kop in a paler brown. Howard Weinert's cover above shows a later printing of the 70 kop in a darker brown:

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Friday, 2 November 2018

Russia 1920s Tula Local Revenue stamps for agricultural improvement

For many countries, fiscal / revenue stamps issued by national governments for general use are very common. In contrast, stamps issued by provincial or local government organisations can be scarce or rare. The obvious reason is that fewer  copies were used; the less obvious reason is that dealers or collectors at the time may not have known of their existence and so did not seek them out.

Early Soviet Russia was a very bureaucratic society but also one where local improvisation and local initiatives were common. There are a LOT of early Soviet fiscal stamps which were not issued by the national government.

I illustrate here one example since I cannot find these stamps already illustrated on the Internet. They were issued and used in Tula and they imposed a local tax on land transactions in addition to that nationally prescribed. This local tax was intended to fund agricultural improvement. It’s possible that there was some continuity with the activities of the Tula Zemstvo organisation. 

The stamps which indicated payment of the local tax were locally produced on poor quality coloured papers and had no gum – sometimes they were attached to legal documents by overlapping the gummed national-issue stamps. There is evidence of their use in 1922, 1923 and 1924. There were three values: 5 k orange, 10k pink and 20k green. The high value appears to be the scarcest. The stamps were also modified in three different ways as I illustrate below. Click on Images to Magnify.

5 kop without modification used here on a May 1924 document:

5 kop with revaluation to rubels by means of manuscript Руь in tablet at base used here on 1923 document:

10 kop without modification used here on May 1923 document:

10 kop with handstamp Γ.Ο.З. in tablet at base used here on June 1923 document:

10 kop with handstamp С Д А Н О in tablet at base used here on February 1923 document:

20 Kop without modification used here on February 1922 document. The 20 kop appears to be the scarcest value and the strip of three on this document is the largest multiple on any of the documents I have seen:

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Crimea in Sindelfingen 2018

I am just back from a visit to the annual Sindelfingen (Stuttgart) stamp show – the Briefmarken Messe Sindelfingen. It’s still very good, even though visitor numbers were clearly down as they are at every stamp show now. That did mean that I was able to look through dealer boxes - some with thousands of covers -  without too much fighting with other people’s elbows. 

I found a couple of Crimea items from the period when Stalin’s nationalities policy meant that local languages were officially recognised alongside Russian. In Crimea, the other recognised language was (Turkic) Tatar. Originally, this was written in Arabic script and some postmarks can be found in that script. But later Tatar was written  in the modernised Roman script introduced into Turkey by Ataturk. I have blogged about this before on 6 March 2014.

I now add to that Blog with the two cards below. You can see a cover with a postmark of Cyrillic Yalta ЯЛТА and Tatar UALTA  and then a card with Cyrillic Simferopol СИМФЕРОПОЛЬ and Tatar AQMESCID.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Was There A Post Office?

In my areas of philatelic specialism the question is often asked, Were these stamps really issued?
To answer this, you need answers to several other questions:

Was there a post office or post offices?

Were these stamps “available at the counter” – even if only for a short period of time – and would they have been used to frank mail brought in by “an ordinary member of the public”?

What did the post office/s do with the letters franked with the stamps? Did they have the ability to put them into a mail delivery system – and was that system local, regional, national or international?

A key part of this set of questions is played by the “ordinary member of the public”. If the stamps will only be brought out for known philatelists (dealers or collectors) or, say, for the local military commander who has ordered their production, then in the ordinary sense of the word, they are not a regular issue. They are stamps produced by or for favours. On the other hand, the stamps may have franking validity and may succeed in getting a letter carried from A to B in which case one might say that they had a “limited issue”.

For many stamp issues, the vast majority of used stamps are found on (obviously) philatelic mail. The British Empire used to control many small and remote islands – still does – and issued stamps for them. But in some cases as many as 99% of all covers now existing are philatelic.

But what counts is the 1% of non-philatelic mail – the same stamps were available to “ordinary members of the public” (maybe there were just two of them) as well as philatelists.

That is why the 1% (or even the 0.1%) is so important. For example, it is the 1% or less which shows that the stamps of the Northern Army and the North West Army were issued. There clearly exist cards and covers which were not sent for philatelic motives. It’s true that the distances they travelled are mostly quite limited – backwards into Estonia, most notably. But a few made it as far as Finland and in that case you have an even stronger case for saying that the stamps were issued and served to get mail put into a mail distribution system. Similarly, though their period of use in December-January 1918-19 was very short, the original map stamps of Latvia saw limited non-philatelic postal use, both on internal mail and on mail to Germany.

The really difficult questions arise with stamps which appear to have been issued but for which evidence of ordinary postal use is now missing. In some cases, there are not even philatelic covers. There are undoubtedly stamps which were officially prepared and would have had postal validity if used but which went straight from post office counter to waiting philatelists who bought everything for onward sale as mint stamps, none even stuck on philatelic covers. This would be true of an unknown proportion of the combinations of stamp and overprint  issued by Dashnak Armenia which could have been used but weren't.

The only really clever guy in the confusing postal history in which I specialise was Dr Ivan Cherniavsky who produced the 1919 CMT overprints of Kolomea in co-operation with the occupying Romanian military commander. Cherniavsky required that quantities of the stamps be distributed to the post offices which the Romanian authorities controlled. These post offices actually served very few people in a widely illiterate countryside. But they did serve local lawyers who were always sending petitions to the district court in Kolomea, and the stamps got used on their registered mail.

Dr Cherniavsky was in charge of the district court in Kolomea. His clerks simply passed to him the one hundred percent genuine commercially used envelopes which brought petitions to the court. Cherniavsky was an unusual collector. He was interested in ordinary commercial mail.... He took a chance that no one out in those small towns and villages would spot the opportunity to buy the CMT stamps for onward sale. As far as I know, only at one office did some other collector/dealer get to secure part of the issue. Elsewhere, it seems that everything went to the lawyers and back to Kolomea, as Cherniavasky intended.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Review: Ahto Tanner, Postage Due & Postal Markings in Estonia 1918 - 1944

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Ahto Tanner sent me a copy of his 57 page A4 Handbook. It’s very clearly written and presented. It feels easy to use and I think the author is to be congratulated. To obtain a copy, contact Ahto at

I was very interested by the short account (pages 12-13) of the Estonian Venemaalt [ From Russia] markings of 1920 – 21. When Bolshevik Russia re-introduced a foreign mail service in June 1920, the new Foreign Tariff schedule provided for Free Post on unregistered mail going abroad. Registered mail had to be franked. This arrangement was identical to that applied to domestic letters. However, the new schedule was replaced by a new foreign Tariff on 30 September 1920 which required all mail going abroad to be franked.

So there was a three month period when unfranked ordinary mail leaving Russia would not attract any internal Postage Due marking because there were no charges due. But nor were there any payments scheduled to the postal administrations of foreign countries. Ah.

The Estonian authorities did not really want to deliver Russian mail for free. But rather than charge the usual  x 2 the postage deficiency, they decided to apply the ordinary inland Estonian rate to incoming Russian mail. This is the origin of the Venemaalt markings. Ahto Tanner illustrates a very nice item at page 12.

In the early period June – September 1920 it’s likely that anyone in Russia who could afford to register mail would do so. Unfranked foreign mail is now very hard to find – no doubt also because people were more likely to throw away cards and letters without stamps.

After the external free post tariff ended, there were people who did not realise that things had changed or who had no money to frank mail anyway. They continued to send mail unfranked, which explains why the Estonian Venemaalt markings continue in use until 1921.

Most of the research on this topic is due to Alexander Epstein.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Transcaucasian Federation 1923: First Star Overprint Issue (Michel 1 onwards)

Towards the end of his life, the late Dr R J Ceresa accumulated a large quantity of stamps from the first Star overprint issue of the Transcaucasian Federation, together with examples of their use (mostly on Money Transfer Forms). I bought some of this material at the London auction of his collections this week.

Some preliminary conclusions:

- The Star overprint on Imperial 10 kopek is by far the commonest stamp of this issue (#1 in most catalogues); this stamp also exists in mint remainders and is the most likely stamp to turn up in a mint multiple. It’s a pity since the dark background of the  10 kop stamp makes it difficult to study the overprint.

- The 50 kopek is the second most common stamp

- The 1 ruble perforated is by far the scarcest of the basic set, except for the unissued overprint on 3 rubel 50 perforated (my 2007 Michel catalogue mistakenly gives this as an imperforate stamp).

- Of the listed varieties, I have never seen the 25 kopek with Armenian overprint under the later Star overprint; and I have only once seen the Armenian 5r overprint on the 10 kopek and under the Star – that copy was in the Voikhansky collection. Neither variety was in the stockbook of 1000 stamps which I bought. Big rarities.

- The 50 kopek with Star over unframed Armenian Z is quite scarce but definitely not rare, though mint copies are almost never seen. In contrast, the Star in violet instead of black (which Michel lists) is rare. There were three copies in the stockbook, one a copy I had previously sold to Dr Ceresa. One of the two new copies had a legible cancel of AKSTAFA ELIS[avetpol] and is the most violet of the three. I have never seen a mint copy of this variety which I do not think had any philatelic motivation. You need to work under good light to spot this variety.

- The 1 rubel perforated is the only stamp I have seen with Armenian framed Z under the Star. This combination is very scarce.

- Forgeries are not common and most are badly done. The commonest forgery has curved lines making the rays of the star; on genuine stamps the lines are always dead straight. Other forgeries are in the wrong inks – there is consistency in the genuine overprint inks which is very obvious when you look at a large quantity of used, genuine stamps. Though Dr Ceresa collected forgeries, there were only a small number in the 1000 stamp stockbook. Below I show most of them, and most are obviously pathetic. Note that many involve combinations of Armenian and Star overprints.

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Saturday, 15 September 2018

Dashnak Armenia: A Small Reward for Looking Closely

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Tidying up my stock the other day, I came across these three stamps in a packet. I was about to add them to a section of common 5r Dashnak Armenian overprints when I realised they were not quite right. They are, in fact, overprinted centrally with a 3r handstamp and its accompanying monogram above. So that suggests they are “counter surcharges” – unofficial combinations of stamps and overprint done as a favour to a collector or dealer. For Dashnak Armenia, Michel does not list these counter surcharges but Gibbons does and so does Ceresa in his handbooks. Both are following the listings in Tchilingirian and Ashford’s books ( now over sixty years old).

But then I noticed something else. On all three stamps, you can find part of a “5r” overprint above and to one side of the 3r overprint. But you cannot find more than a trace of a 5r monogram. What is going on?

I think this is a case where a clerk may have made a genuine mistake and tried to correct it. So these are corrected surcharges, not counter surcharges. To avoid the mess of two monograms, he tilted the 5r handstamp so that the monogram does not print. But this also meant that the 5r does not print properly either. On the dark background, it’s not clear what has happened. Whatever has happened the reuslt is a mess and from a practical point of view, a failure.

All three stamps are from the same sheet – they are all off-centre in the same way. All were signed by Theodore Champion, a careful Paris dealer of the time, and all were later signed RJC [ Dr Ceresa’s first handstamp]. But Ceresa does not list this variety in his Armenia handbook. Perhaps he also put these stamps into a packet and forgot about them.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Armenia: the ARTAR catalog again

One of the frustrations of my job is that I have to work with unsatisfactory catalogues. So for Ukraine I use the Bulat catalogue because it has numbers (unlike Dr Seichter's handbooks)  and is in English and in one volume (unlike, say, Dr Ceresa's Handbooks). It is easy to obtain. But it is littered with typographical errors which make it impossible to sell some stamps because they have been omitted altogether, don't have numbers, or have misprinted prices. The illustrations are pretty useless.

For Armenia, Michel is good because it bases itself closely on Zakiyan's work but it omits philatelic counter productions. Gibbons is quite good because it bases itself on Tchilingirian's work which does list counter productions but Tchilingirian's research was done over fifty years ago. Zakiyan has good illustrations, it's usefully in Armenian, Russian and English but it does not give valuations. The presentation is not helpful. Equally, it's true that Michel's numbering system drives everyone crazy.

I was browsing Philasearch today and noticed that Raritan Stamps, a serious specialised auction house, is using the Artar catalog for Armenia. I think this is a bad idea. The problems with the Artar catalog are many but important ones are internal to the catalog itself. I reproduce below my two long reviews of Artar,  first published here in 2010. More up to date relevant discussions can be found on Stefan Berger's website


I just acquired my first copy of the ARTAR Stamps of Armenia catalog; $100 from Loral Stamps. It's the work of a lifelong, dedicated collector

One of the things I learnt early on in my career as a dealer is that most collectors do not look at their stamps. That is why most collections - in the areas in which I specialise in - are full of fakes. As someone once said, when you buy one of these collections in auction, you know that somewhere in it there will be a genuine stamp.

You know that there is going to be a problem with the ARTAR catalog when you look at the cover. Ten stamps from the 1919- 23 period of classic Armenian philately are illustrated, in colour. If I was looking at these in an auction catalog, I would count at least one as a fake.

Inside the catalog, there are beautiful illustrations of fascinating material, well presented. But the high quality of the production also allows you to see much that is doubtful or bad. Two examples:

The most common Armenian cancellation of the 1919 - 23 period is ERIVAN "d". It came into use some years before and it remained in use until 1924 - 25. Not surprisingly it has been forged: Tchilingirian and Ashford illustrate four different forgeries, Ceresa lists six. Since they wrote their books, new forgeries have been made.

The ARTAR catalog contains at least 25 colour illustrations which include strikes of ERIVAN "d", the first ones on page 9 and the last on page 183. I count 11 illustrations which show genuine examples of this cancellation; 7 which show forged cancellations; and 7 which I would not want to determine on the basis of a visual inspection of the catalog page - some are cancellations on dark stamps and so on. Some of the faked cancels I have seen before, outside the pages of this catalog.

If you want to see how I am doing it, compare the cancellation shown on page 12 with that shown as a receiver cancellation on page 49. Pay espcial attention to how the serial "d" is formed (I am sorry; I do not have Cyrillic on Blogger). The item on page 12 is the one with a forged cancellation. The item on page 49 shows an example of the genuine cancellation.

In my view, the author of a specialist catalog - someone with over 40 years' collecting experience - ought to have weeded out most of these fake cancels - they are not so hard to detect.

It is even easier to detect the faked ALEXANDROPOL "zhe" cancellation which seems to be of just one recent type and which I have seen before outside the pages of this catalog. I count at least 7 illustrations showing ALEXANDROPOL "zhe", of which 2 are genuine, 4 are fakes, and 1 not possible to determine.

Go to page 17 to see a very clear example of the fake, and page 166 to see a clear example of the genuine item on a lovely piece. Look at the serial "zhe" ; on the fake, this is a very poor copy indeed and its thin and elongated form has nothing to do with ageing or inking. The shape is completely wrong.

I use the word "fake" partly because I have been able in the past to carefully examine examples of actual faked cancellations rather than just illustrations and have been able to discuss with other collectors and dealers the provenance of such material. I have written about this in such articles as "Is this cover genuine in all respects?" (British Journal of Russian Philately, number 87, December 2001, pages 38 - 42; "The Sad Fate of Armenia's Archives", Rossica, No 137, Fall 2001, pages 8 - 13 where due to an editorial mix-up Figure 5 is labelled "genuine" when it should be labelled "Fake" ...). If I was working from the ARTAR illustrations alone, I should probably use the word "doubtful" pending the actual examination of the material, though in most cases the illustrations are clear enough for a verdict to be given.

I have always believed that when the Paris printers Chassepot prepared the first pictorial stamps of Armenia in 1920, they despatched only the low values in the Eagle design to Yerevan. By the time they got to print the high values in two colours, the Dashnak regime had collapsed. The high value stamps were remaindered from Paris, which is why they are more common in Europe than the low values, many of which had been despatched to Yerevan. (For the later crude Reprints, all values are equally common).

This story would explain why Christopher Zakiyan, in his book Armenia: Postage Stamps, Fiscal Stamps, Postage Cancels (Yerevan 2003, pages 63ff) lists Soviet fiscal overprints on only the 1,5,10 and 15 rouble Chassepot stamps, which are also the only values which appear on the documents he illustrates (There is an unexplained mystery about what happened to the 3 rouble Chassepot stamp).

In the ARTAR catalog, it seems that the same account is going to be accepted from the text on page 126, but then on page 132, we are shown fiscal overprints on all the high value stamps with accompanying high valuations (minimum $450). But if the conventional wisdom is correct, these high value stamps were not available for overprinting because they had not been sent to Yerevan. So any fiscal overprint on these stamps, whether Originals or Reprints, must be a fake. (On page 131, ARTAR also lists the 3 rouble with fiscal overprint and also gives it a $450 valuation).

These overprints on high values were first announced to the philatelic world in an article by Joseph Ross ("Armenian Revenue Stamps and their Uses", The Post-Rider, No 41, 1997, pages 40 - 48). I replied in issue 49 of the same journal (November 2001, page 111). By this time I had seen actual examples of the overprints on the high values, all of which were identical in terms of frame line breaks and so on. From this I concluded that they had been digitally produced on the basis of a scan from just one stamp. Examples I saw included ones on reprints, so necessarily fakes. These stamps had all come from one source in the USA. All were mint, as are all those illustrated by both Joseph Ross and ARTAR.

The conservative and, I believe correct, position is this: there is no good evidence for the existence of fiscal overprints on the Chassepot high values. The best information we have is against the possibility. The stamps listed at page 132 of ARTAR must be fakes. The listing given by Zakiyan in his 2003 book should be retained.

As a general point: Armenian revenue stamps of this 1918 - 23 period are actually more common on documents than as loose stamps. Mint stamps are rare. This is because most examples remained locked in Armenian archives until around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, quite large quantities of documents became available in Europe and America.

[Added 31 August 2018: Not so long ago, the stockbooks of the American dealer who distributed some of the modern Armenian fakes appeared in auction at David Feldman, Geneva. It was possible to see supposedly rare stamps in fine quality and great quantity: June 2017 Lot 20419 and others]

Monday, 6 August 2018

Latvian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic 1919 - 1920

Someone once said to me that postal history collectors are really stamp collectors in disguise.

Part of the evidence, the fact that pre-philatelic mail trades at a huge discount on the prices achieved for early franked mail even when the cancellations, the routes, etc are very much the same. In addition, pre-philatelic mail is often in excellent condition because dealers and collectors have not been adding their pencil notes, their hinges, and their autographs for the past 150 years or more.

More evidence is in the fact that big areas of postal history are neglected because the stamps on the covers are the wrong sort of stamps. Collectors who supposedly specialise in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) of 1917 – 23 generally show very little interest in the period 1917 -21 when mail continued to be franked with Imperial adhesives. Likewise, collectors of early post-Imperial Latvia want to see Rising Suns on their postal history, not Imperial stamps.

But from 1917 to January 1920, there also existed Bolshevik-controlled areas of Latvia and even a Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic, with is capital first in Riga from January until May 1919, then in Dvinsk [Daugavpils] and finally in Rezhitsa [Rezekne] where a new Cyrillic canceller was used which included the word “Latvia” rather than old Imperial “Lifland”.

It’s true that it requires a bit of work to establish what is and isn’t Bolshevik mail and also to get over the fact that much of what exists was seriously damaged by The Cutter - a post office clerk employed in Riga to clip stamps on Money Transfers and Parcel Cards and who took an utterly pointless job very seriously. 

Here for example is what could have been a very attractive Money Transfer Card.
Addressed in Latvian, this card sends 3 rubels to the editorial office of “Zihna”, founded in 1904 as a Latvian Social Democrat journal and in 1919 the journal of the Latvian Communist Party, headquartered in one of Riga’s main streets, Elisabetes iela. 

The card is an Imperial card and so is the etiquette bottom left which reads SEGEWOLD LIFL. in Cyrillic. But with the declaration of Latvian independence, Segewold became Sigulda and acquired a nice new Roman script canceller and a nice supply of red ink. But when Sigulda came under Bolshevik control in December 1918 (and remained so until October 1919 – von Hofmann’s dates), the Soviets used boring Imperial stamps in preference to Rising Suns, in this case 5 x 5 kop imperforate stamps paying the minimum Money Transfer fee of 25 kopeks. The card arrived in Riga on 2 May 1919, shown by an old Imperial Cyrillic canceller for RIGA applied on the reverse. The representative of Zhina signed for the card on 6th May.

Unfortunately, as you can see, The Cutter went to work on this card which is otherwise in very good condition – over a century not many collectors have taken an interest in it

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Previous Blog on this subject: 23 October 2015

Sunday, 5 August 2018

A Rare One Kopek Franking

On 1 November 2013, I blogged here about the One Kopek Tariff which existed continuously in Imperial Russia from 1866 to 1917 and ended only under the Provisional Government: from 14 August 1917, the lowest tariff was set at 2 kopeks. The conditions of eligibility for the 1 kopek rate varied a great deal in that 1866 – 1917 period, but in principle, it is possible to find every type of Imperial 1 kopek used as a single franking. 

It may be that the hardest one to find is the imperforate 1 kopek issued in April 1917. April to August sounds like a reasonable period of time, but if a post office or an individual still had perforated 1 kopek stamps available, then they might well choose to use those because easier to separate – try finding a pair of scissors when you need them!

Since I began looking for 1 kopek frankings many years ago, I have only found one with the imperforate. It is used on the circular shown below and cancelled at the Petrograd 57th office on 25 5 17. I am today writing up the item for despatch to auction.

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BREXIT Preparations (continued)

My preparations for BREXIT are very simple.

By the end of March 2019, most of my better stock will be physically located in Finland and Germany, queued for auction at Suomen Filateliapalvelu and Heinrich Koehler.

If there is a Hard Brexit with traffic chaos (including chaos in postal services) and bureaucratic confusions about tariffs and whatever, then I will be able to wait for sanity to return – which may be never, of course. If sterling goes the way of the pesos and liras of the world, then I will benefit from my €uro-denominated auction sales (and so will Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs). 

I have already benefitted in the past two years with sterling an average of 15% down against the €uro since the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum. There is no scenario in which sterling will regain that loss. Just think, when the €uro was introduced - I was in Amsterdam on changeover day and Guilders had disappeared by lunch time - the rate was 1.40 €uro to one £ sterling and climbed to a peak of about 1.75 in the year 2000.

Back in England, I am afraid I shall only retain cheap stock with a low value to weight ratio which does not justify shipping to Europe. Since it is likely under every scenario that my UK clients will have less money to spend as consumer prices rise and the economy shrinks, then cheap stock is the sensible thing to have – and even then, not very sensible. But it will be something to do, a hobby, and I think it will increasingly remind me of how things were in the old, poorer, eastern Europe. I recall one day in Prague in the 1990s going to the weekly collectors’ bourse where I asked to take a table for the afternoon. It cost me the equivalent of one euro – and I got a receipt! Of course, I didn’t sell very much but it was a happy afternoon.

Meanwhile, like many UK-based businesses large and small, I am buying (investing) very little. I am sitting on money in the bank and letting my stock levels fall, waiting to see what happens and for the moment assuming the worst.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Globalisation? Nothing New to Stamp Collectors

Globalisation is nothing new to philatelists. From the moment that collecting stamps became a hobby in a few countries, it also became a global trade. When a country joined the club of stamp-issuing countries, at least one person started to ship the new issues out of the country and make some kind of business out of doing so. In some cases, they shipped to lots of other countries; in other cases, they shipped to a select few and specifically to the biggest dealers: Moens in Belgium, Senf in Germany, Gibbons in Great Britain, and so on.

One hundred and fifty years ago and even more recently, there were often restrictions on both exporting and importing. In some countries, like the old Soviet Union, private individuals could only export through official channels, specifically the Soviet Philatelic Association. Even now, there are “heritage” restrictions on exports from countries like Russia and Poland. Those restrictions are often ignored, and always have been. Stamps are very portable and if you don’t want to follow the rules, it’s very easy not to.

Countries  sometimes impose restrictions on imports, making duty payable on stamp imports. If I buy something in a Swiss auction, then I expect to be charged 5% import VAT. But sometimes an official mistakenly charges me 20% and sometimes nothing at all – when they can’t cope with the volume of work, I suspect they just let some things through. If people don’t want to pay import duties, then often enough at the airport they walk things through Customs.

One way or another, we have globalisation and it’s a bit like the famous Six [ or Seven ] Degrees of Separation. In fact, for New Issues it must be unusual for there to be as many as seven links between a person buying stamps at a post office counter and a collector buying those stamps across a stamp dealer’s counter. It’s more likely to be two.

When we move away from New Issues to material which has been inside the philatelic world for decades or more, there is an interesting distinction between those stamps which constantly churn and those which are still only a few degrees of separation away from their starting point. For example, there are “Investment” grade stamps like the 1929 British PUC Congress £1 stamp which circulate more or less continuously in auctions and have no obvious “provenance”. They are both common and anonymous. It is really only because they are investment items that they command prices which make it worthwhile for an auctioneer to present them as a Single Lot item. The PUC £1 is a common stamp.

Over my quarter century as a stamp dealer, it has interested me that some of the material I handle is only a few  degrees of separation away from its original starting point even when that starting point is over a hundred years away.

For example:

In 1861, the Moscow Police authority issued its first stamps to indicate that someone had paid the fee to register their residence in the city with the police. In 1881, the rather crude first issue was replaced by a State Printing Works-grade second issue. I guess that it was around this time, that PERSON 1 approached someone in the Police department and enquired whether it would be possible to buy the unused remainders of the first issue (which might otherwise have been destroyed). With or without bribery and corruption, PERSON 1 got the stamps. They sold them on to PERSON 2, the famous Belgian dealer Moens, who put the sheets and part sheet into his stock. It’s possible that Person 1 and Person 2 were the same person, namely Moens, but I assume there was an intermediary.

Much later, PERSON 3 bought some of the stamps from Moens – some in large blocks. That person was Lentz, who sold on to PERSON 4 , Agathon Faberge who helpfully recorded on the back of his blocks that he got them on 21 I 07 from Ltz Moens Lager [Lentz Moens stock]

When Agathon Faberge died, the stamps passed to PERSON 5, his son Oleg Faberge, who probably put them onto new album pages. Late in his life, Oleg sold the stamps to PERSON 6, a Finnish collector B E Saarinen who took them off the new album pages. Then it becomes a bit unclear. 

We know that he sold on parts of his Faberge fiscal collection to another Finnish collector and to a British collector, but neither was the PERSON 7 who (probably after Saarinen’s death) kept or bought the best bits of the collection, including the ex-Moens mint stamps, and sold them at auction a couple of years ago to me, who is therefore PERSON 8 at the current end of a chain which stretches back to the 1880s. 

That’s a very short chain for 130+ years.  In those 130+ years, the stamps have crossed from Russia to Belgium, back to Russia, out to Finland in 1927 when Agathon Faberge fled/ was allowed to leave Russia, and finally from Finland to the UK [directly?] under EU single market rules.

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Friday, 4 May 2018

1917 Russia 10 rubel imperforate Plate Flaw?

During the printing of a stamp, it is possible that bits of dirt or bits of paper get stuck to the printing plate or to the sheet of paper being printed. This produces accidental varieties, often in the form of  small white or coloured areas. For example, if there is a scrap of paper on the sheet of paper being printed, then if and when it falls off it will leave a white space. Accidental paper folds also produce accidental varieties.

A plate flaw is a fault of some kind on the printing plate itself and will repeat until someone notices and corrects it.

I was going through a stock of Russia 10 ruble imperforates, probably all from one internal accounting sheet in Moscow,  when I noticed a white area on one stamp, top right after the word MAPKA. The white area extends to the margin. This looked to me like some accidental variety resulting from something on the paper being printed. However, when I looked closely, I could see that the yellow frame line in fact continues through the white area. That suggests that there was not some bit of rubbish on the paper being printed but some fault on the plate.

Then I looked through my stamps again and found a second identical example of the fault. Well, that points towards a plate flaw. Maybe one of my readers will tell me it has already been noticed and recorded in some specialist handbook which I ought to know about …. The stamp o the left is a Normal example, the two other copies show the possible Flaw.

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Saturday, 28 April 2018

Grading Rarities: A Case Study of Kyiv 1 Tridents

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One problem with rare stamps is that we cannot always get them in the exact quality we would like; we have to make do with second best. Above, for example, is my stock of Russian 7 ruble black and yellow stamps overprinted with single handstamp tridents of Kyiv type 1. This is a rare stamp: as Bulat #12 it catalogues $500 mint and $400 used. I comment on the advantages and disadvantages of each stamp, left to right:

Stamp 1: Superb! Probably CTO with a neat, central KIEV 3 12 18 cancel and the back of the stamp perfectly clean. Probably washed off a philatelic cover or sheet of paper. The date is a bit late for this Trident which was one of the first to appear and the 7 ruble value was used non-philatelically on Money Transfers so could not easily be obtained genuinely used. BUT main drawback: no one has ever signed this stamp. Maybe it was signed on paper which has been removed from the back but that’s no help. And who will sign it now?

Stamp 2: Nice perforations and clean back, but messy cancels. It could have been genuinely used since the messy cancels look like overlapped KIEV and KHARKOV and helpfully a .. 10 18 date is readable – early dates are good on these stamps. BUT the Trident is a bit washed out and the stamp is unsigned

Stamp 3: Oh, a variety INVERTED OVERPRINT not listed by Bulat. Most probably CTO since there is gum on the back. Rather messy trident. On the back a big handstamp AUFDRUCK FALSCH. Oh dear …. However, look more closely and you will see that FALSCH has been crossed through in pencil and beside it there are the initials of Dr S in what I believe to be the  handwriting of Dr Seichter and bottom right is his handstamp Dr Seichter in violet. It looks like Seichter made a mistake which he corrected. The overprint is not a forgery – I don’t think it is. But who wants a stamp with a great big AUFDRUCK FALSCH?

Stamp 4: Oh …Oh… Kyiv 1 Trident and underneath Kyiv 2 (I’m going to propose sub-type 2a) in similar or identical inks. Unreadable cancel. Clean back, no gum, tiny pencil annotation.. Signed UPV! I think it’s genuine though unlisted and, of course, philatelic. Still, if you like rarities this is one you are not going to see again next week ….

Your task: Suppose you had to price these. Which would you ask most for?

Friday, 13 April 2018

Post Office Formulars: Money Transfers in Independent Ukraine 1919

In many countries and until very recently, post offices used formular cards to register despatch of parcels and money transfers. Fee payments from the customer were matched by adhesive stamp frankings on the formulars. In most countries, these formulars were archived in large quantities and eventually sold off or, quite often, looted . So for some countries formulars are very common: Latvia’s Parvedums are a good example

Formulars were also used for internal post office transactions and these are less often seen, perhaps because they were unfranked. In case of a temporary shortage of regular formulars, official business formulars were sometimes used with some handstamp or manuscript modification to indicate the different use. This is the case with the two items below which both use Official Business money transfer forms for ordinary over the counter transfers.

The first one was used in January 1919 at ULADOVKA in Podolia to send 283 rubels to Vinnitsa where it arrived and was signed for. The correct 3 rubel franking was all on the front with the right edge officially clipped (to prevent re-use of the stamps) before being sent to the archives. From there it found its way into the Vyrovyj collection and was sold as a single lot (Lot 303) in the 1986 Schaetzle sale of that collection. The formular is on thin paper and looks like a cheap post-1917 reprint and it is modified at the top left in manuscript to indicate its use for an ordinary post office counter transaction.

The second card was used at VOROSHILOVKA in Podolia to send 30 rubels to Shargorod where a receiver mark was applied though a note suggests that the money was not collected. This card has been expertised bottom right by UPNS ZELONKA.

Both formulars are rarely seen.

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Thursday, 12 April 2018

Harvesting Stamps - How They Did Things Then

You can harvest crops, you can harvest organs, and you can harvest stamps. You do the last of these when you have no interest in postmarks or postal history. Here’s an example of what is left when you have harvested most of what you want:

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Originally, this was quite an interesting item which shows that at the end of December 1918 it was possible to send a Telegraphic Money Transfer from the small shtetl and town of SOLOBKOVTSI [ now Ukrainian Solobkivtsi] in Podolia to Kiev. The franking was probably provided entirely by Trident-overprinted adhesives. It looks like there were four rubel values and one kopeck value on the front. They have all been peeled off.

Three stamps remain on the reverse, all with punch holes, and in a pencilled note beside the bottom one, John Bulat has identified them as Podolia tridents type XIbb

Someone has used the back of the card to scribble notes about various stamps which may be ones which were harvested from the front. Someone has also done a bit of crude repair work, covering up two holes and a large tear with a bit of brown paper.

When I look at what I am left with, it is tempting to go on harvesting: to cut out neatly a piece with the three stamps, preserving Bulat’s note. It would show three strikes of a scarce cancel. The remains of the body would then show one good strike of the cancel and a Kiev cancel which might be worth 50 cents if I could find someone in search of the Podolian postmark. But should I deliver this coup de grace?