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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?

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Ukraine Tridents of Kherson - Part Two

On 4 June 2015 I blogged a long piece about Kherson Trident overprints. I am now preparing my whole stock of about 200 stamps for auction sale and looking through them, I can add a few additional points.

In 2015 I said that I think the overprints are from typographic plates but carefully applied so that there is not always show through at the back. This claim is supported now by the block of 50 kop shown below. It's from the top left corner of the sheet and if you look at position 1, you can see that there is a slipped cliche - a cliche out of line. This is not always present as is shown from the block of four 1 kop also from the top left corner. So this suggests fairly definitely a typographic plate and the slipped cliche would explain the occasional single copies of Kherson tridents which look as if they are from a handstamp, carelessly applied:

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I found I had only one expertised copy of a Kherson Trident, the stamp below which is signed Dr Seichter and which could be used for reference. But the one kopeck block above also provides essential information.

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Monday, 9 April 2018

Desperate Philately

Stamp dealers and stamp speculators often end up with unsaleable stock. Maybe they just bought too big a quantity. What can you do with it? Well, you can try to pass the parcel or you can wait for better times or you can try to add some fresh touch to what you have.

There were large remainder stocks of the Ukraine National Republic fiscal stamps of 1919, especially the two low values of 40 and 50 Shahiv, which were probably bought very cheap in the 1920s and 1930s by a few hopeful dealers. I have many copies in fresh MNH ** condition. I also have many copies of the fantasy overprints added to these stamps in an attempt to make them saleable. For example, the overprints for KHOLM shown below are usually attributed to a tireless fabricator of fantasies, Captain Schramschenko, and are really only of interest if you are making a collection of Capatain Schramschenko fantasies (I’m not).

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Another story. At one time it was popular to collect picture postcards with a stamp stuck on the picture side and cancelled. The stamps and YOKOHAMA cancels on the front of the two cards below are genuine. What about the backs? I think it’s possible that the Soviet Philatelic Assocaiton imported these cards, but if they did so, the cards would have arrived in one parcel of 100 or 1000 not individually. It’s also possible that the Soviet PA typed its address onto the back of each card, individually – note that in line 4, there is a full stop after per. on one card but not on the other. The SPA did have a Roman alphabet typewriter and the typists did play around with spacing, as someone has done in S O V I E T.

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But clearly these Japanese cards were not that popular. Some enhancement was required and someone (and possibly the SPA but it does seem rather crude) thought of Postage Due. We have one genuine Postage Due stamp on the cards and four different cancels / cachets, all looking as if they have never been used before.. I think they are all fake.

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This is perhaps only interesting because it helps me understand a much more significant item in my possession. Below is a genuine cover sent in August 1924 from Ekaterinburg to Moscow, using a system which allowed a letter to be sent unfranked with Postage Due to be paid at the other end. Already in Ekaterinburg a Postage Due cachet has been applied and I think it genuine. I think it also possible that the three stamps belong to the cover but that they were not cancelled at the time, which sometimes happens to Postage Due stamps. This defect has been made good using a forged MOCKBA 19 cancel dated 28 8 24. If the cancels were genuine, then this would have been a very valuable cover since the first Postage Due stamps are extremely rare used.

Friday, 6 April 2018

1919 North West Army: two interesting covers

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There are stamp issues today where 99% of all use is philatelic. Think of issues for Antarctica, any country, any period. In these cases, the 1% of mail which is not philatelic is all the more interesting because it is what confirms the stamp issue as a genuine stamp issue, available to frank mail.

In the Russian Civil War, there were plenty of stamp issues. Some were completely bogus, some were in common use, and some had just 1% genuine use. This is true of the issues of the North West Army which in 1919 briefly controlled several post offices on Russian territory and was organised enough to pass mail backwards (westwards) into independent Estonia.

Have a look at the two covers above. I don’t think either is philatelic. The top one was registered in manuscript from Gdov on 2 10 19. We know that Gdov had lost its own canceller and was using the canceller of POLNA in what had been St Petersburg guberniya. The cover is addressed bi-lingually and has a TALLINN EESTI receiver dated 5 10 19. On the back the sender gives his street address in Gdov, Petrograd guberniya and there is also a one line note at the bottom which I would like someone to translate for me. 

Igor Ryss provides the text and translation as follows:

Pis'ma tol'ko zakaznym prisylat'! - Send only registered letters!

This is important. It shows the sender thought he could receive letters as well as send them

The cover is franked at 1 rubel, so one might guess at 50 kop postage + 50 kop Registration.

The second cover is very interesting. Again it is registered. This time there is a standard rubber cachet but not much ink on the pad. In indelible pencil someone has written “19” as the registry number but in ordinary pencil underneath someone has identified the post office. This is not so easy to read until you look to the left and see that the sender gives an address in Dobruchin, Petrograd guberniya. [Igor Ryss translates the name of the sender as Carlo Kreos] The full name of Dobruchin is in fact DOBRUCHINSKOE and it was in Petrograd guberniya. It just about Googles ( 5 results) and is now in Pskov oblast, and so in 1919 North West Army territory. Igor Ryss tells me that I can get more results using the spelling DOBRUCHI and this also yields a map which shows the location of Dobruchi in relation to Gdov and Pskov.

The cover is addressed to a Tallinn gazette called Tallinn Theatre and there is a receiver cancel of 21 9 19 which touches the top right stamp. Now look at the franking. It’s one rubel made up of 25 kop in North West Army stamps and 75 kop in unoverprinted stamps, all used as a seal. The stamps are cancelled in pen and it is readable  DOBRUCHIN… PETROGRADSK…GUBERNI.. 17 – 9 – 19 (The clerk seems to have tailed off at the end of each word so I have put dots).

Two covers are better than one and it looks like here we have a one rubel registered letter rate used to send non-philatelic letters. This is the tariff that K.Freyman gives in an article in the British Journal of Russian Philately for 1951, cited by Dr Ceresa in his handbook on the N W Army issues; he also claims 10 kop for Printed matter and 50 kop for ordinary letters).

We also seem able to add Dobruchinskoe to the list of post offices under North Western Army control, not only because of use of the stamps but because of the backward journey to Tallinn which would not have been possible if this was an item of RSFSR mail.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Former Soviet Union: Postmaster Provisionals of the 1990s.

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A lot of work has been done on the Postmaster Provisionals which appeared across the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. I have not tried to keep up with this work. For me, there is just one central question which has to be answered about each supposed issue:

If you [meaning anyone] walked into your local post office to send a letter, would the post office clerk  use (or sell you) a stamp of that issue?

It does not matter if the idea for the issue had come from a local collector or printer. It does not matter if 50% of the issue had been allocated to that person to sell abroad. It does not matter that money may have changed hands. All that matters is that an ordinary person who wanted to send a letter would be sold the stamps in question at the post office counter.

On this test, there are many issues which clearly Pass including ones which look incredibly philatelic like the Fauna issues of Bukovina. Those stamps can be found all over private and commercial mail going abroad. At the same time, a small group of people were busy selling them to dealers and collectors outside Ukraine, an improvised Bukovina philatelic bureau if you like. That's irrelevant. Anyone would be sold these stamps when they went to post a letter. That's all that matters.

A genuine post office cancel on a stamp is not a guarantee that the stamp was on sale at the post office. It’s clear that you could walk into a post office with a hundred or a thousand covers franked with your home-made fantasy and pay a clerk to cancel them all. Similarly, it is quite clear that when and where conditions were chaotic, you could put any stamp you liked onto an ordinary letter which went into a mail box and got machine cancelled. You could put on a stamp of Equatorial Guinea if it took your fancy. In most cases, no one was checking the mail and applying Postage Due. That is what "chaotic conditions" means.

For this and other reasons, forensic examination of covers can only take us so far. What we really need in every case is an (honest) account by a participant of what happened. I don’t mean one of those official-looking documents which solemnly record Numbers Issued and so on. I mean a collector or a printer or a postmaster simply telling the story: This is what we did. Only in this way are we ever going to make sense of items like the one at the top of this Blog which has a machine cancel of Nizhni-Tagil (out in the Urals) for 29 12 92. I have no doubt the machine cancel is genuine and that it is over the OPLACHENO  and the 60, but what is the status of those? Someone has to tell us! (Maybe they have and if you know the story, please tell it here).

It’s long enough ago for no one really to mind that it was sometimes all a scam or done in breach of regulations or despite warnings from higher up not to do it.

Back in the 1990s, when I got sent all kinds of strange stamps, I would sometimes stick copies on a blank Soviet-era envelope, add my address, send it off to wherever (say, Birobidjan) with a polite note asking the local postmaster to send back the cover. Sometimes it did come back, through the post, but then I realised it still didn't solve my problem. Maybe life was boring in Birobidjan and it just made the day a bit more interesting when you got a letter from England and an envelope inside which was plastered with labels you had never seen before. No harm in being friendly and sending it back as the tovarisch requested.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Wanted: An Expert on Green Crayon Used in Constantinople 1920

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In previous Blogs, I have written about the (White) Russian Post in Constantinople which existed before the evacuation of Crimea at the end of 1920 and which facilitated the delivery and onward despatch of mail from White controlled south Russia and Ukraine which came to Constantinople from the Black Sea ports. This Russian Post was clearly facilitated by the Allies who had Occupation forces in Turkey after the end of World War One. This Russian Post was the basis of the idea for a Refugee Post which never, however, translated into a real postal service.

The opened out cover above is addressed to Alexander Sredinsky [his name spelt wrongly on the cover] who was Postmaster both of the Russian Post and later the would-be Refugee Post. The letter started out in BELGRADE  3 XII 20, arrived in Turksih GALATA 14 1 21, and was sent on to Turkish HALKI. All this information is on the reverse.

It was common at this period for postal officials to clarify an address by underlining the important bit in crayon. For example, on mail from Russia to Germany and German-controlled areas in 1918, officials used blue crayon to underline town names. This blue crayon was probably applied in the Koenigsberg transit office.

On this cover, the destination “Ile de Halki” has been underlined in green crayon, just the kind of thing a Galata arrival office clerk would have done faced with a messy address. It’s enough to get the letter into the bag destined for Halki. But in the same green crayon, there is written “POSTE RUSSE”.

Now the interesting question is this: Did a Turkish clerk in Galata use this green crayon, adding the words “POSTE RUSSE” to clarify the destination still more, or did Sredinsky enhance the cover by doing the green crayon work himself? In the same way, it would have been Sredinsky who applied the 16 JAN 1921 KHALKI  receiver cancellation of the RUSSKAYAR POCHTA – normally associated with Refugee Post covers.

The letter is non-philatelic and simply an item of personal mail addressed to Sredinsky who enhanced it with the Russian Post cancel of Khalki. But maybe the green crayon is Turkish and shows that postal officials were aware of who Sredinsky was and what he was doing.

So: does anyone have clearly Turkish green crayon from 1920?

Moscow Police fiscal stamps of 1861

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Above is an old Xerox copy of a page from the Emile Marcovich collection of Russian fiscal stamps. It shows the 1861 Moscow Police issue. I have copies of all the stamps except the last, perforated, one and I have never seen an example of the perforated stamp.

The problem with a stamp like this is the possibility that someone has created a variety by perforating an imperforate stamp. True, the perforation is high quality. On the other hand, did Moscow police in the 1860s or even after have access to good perforating machines? And if Moscow perforated , why did St Petersburg not do so for the equivalent 1860 issue of police stamps?

In the absence of archive documentation, to establish the credentials of a stamp like this we really need to see an example used on a dated fragment of a document – we know what the documents should look like because plenty exist. We also need to see more examples of the stamp itself. Any offers?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Aesthetics of Album Pages

A popular way of collecting is to devote one album page to each stamp issued by some postal authority. At the top of the page, you put an example of the mint stamp and underneath you put a card or cover showing postal use, perhaps as a single franking. Then you provide the necessary written description.

There are two problems with this approach. In many cases, either the mint stamp or the postal item will be very hard to find and very expensive if and when you do find it. So if you are collecting Central Lithuania, it is easy to create a set of pages with an example of each stamp issued at the top. But the postal items? They are scarce and I actually doubt that they exist for some stamps supposedly issued. You will find CTO stamps but even loose postally used ones will be rare or non-existent. So you will end up with a lot of more or less blank album pages.

There is a second problem. If you put a single mint stamp above a nice cover, your page will look unbalanced. Aesthetically, you could improve it by showing a mint multiple rather than a single stamp – maybe a corner block or plate block; or for lithographed stamps, a transfer block. If the transfer block is quite small, as it is for Batum Tree stamps, then you may be able to make rapid progress.

But like Central Lithuania covers, mint multiples are not always easy to find and in some cases probably don’t exist. If you are collecting Imperial Russia, you can buy for four figures a copy of #1 on cover. But, I am afraid I have to tell you, you can forget about a mint block of four.

If I was starting out again as a dealer, I would be tempted to specialise as follows: I would buy old dealer stocks which included mint multiples and part sheets which had never got separated into single stamps. And I would try to create a stock of small blocks, strips and so on for stamps issued say before 1940. They would be MNH** with full gum. As time passes, it will be harder and harder to find those old dealer stocks but even twenty years ago I could have made a lot of progress.

Monday, 26 February 2018

A New 1922 Postmaster Provisional from Kharkiv?

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How do you know when you have made a discovery?

Above are two halves of the back of a cover sent from KHARKIV 15 9 22 which transited MOSKVA on 18 9 22 and arrived in BERLIN 27 9 22.

Without overprint if 18 stamps of 5 kopeks were revalued x 100, then they would pay a 90 rubel Registered tariff, assuming no stamps on the front of the envelope. But in 1920, Kharkiv 5 kop stamps were revalued x 100 by means of black pyb overprints, which are very common. Maybe by September 1922, those overprints had been used up.

With the 0250 overprints shown here the stamps would pay a 4500 =  45 rubel ordinary letter tariff, assuming there were no stamps on the front of the envelope.

But is the 0250 overprint genuine? I have not seen it before.

In favour, there are two things. First, the overprints appear to be under the cancellations and the KHARKIV cancellation appears to be genuine. When an overprint is heavy and a cancel light, it is always hard to be sure, but under natural light and under magnification, every way I look, the cancels do look as if they are over the overprints. That is essential.

Second, I am told that another example of this overprint on 5 kop stamps with KHARKIV cancels is in a St Petersburg collection. In this case, the stamps are imperforate. The cancel is not the same one, which also helps support the idea that the KHARKIV cancel on this cover back is genuine: a forger would not waste time and money making two different cancels.

Against this is the simple thought: How come a Postmaster Provisional from a big city like Kharkiv has not been recorded sometime in the past 100 years? That is a serious question. The best answer is for one of my readers to produce another example of this overprint, ideally on a 5 kop stamp with a Kharkiv cancel – a heavy cancel would be nice!

Discussions are ongoing: I have discussed with Joseph Geyfman and he has discussed with Alexander Epstein ... We are still talking about probabilities rather than certainties so we really need some new evidence. See also now comments below from Ivo Steijn.

UPDATE 30 May 2018 Tobias Huylmans offered to look at the item using his specialist BPP equipment. He could not get a definite result. This is partly because the inks of the overprint and the canellation do not show the kinds of fluorescence which would enable him to get a contrast. So we still need new examples of this overprint before we can make any progress.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

New Light on the 1921-22 Stamps of Armenia: Essayan and Khatchaturian?

I have blogged frequently about the first two pictorial issues of Soviet Armenia, their designer Sarkis Khatchaturian and their printer Vahan Essayan. We already know that Khatchaturian went to Constantinople in 1921  to discuss the new stamps he had designed. He was working for a government which had no money and instead he was provided with sample stamps, the so-called First Star issue, which he was authorised to sell and thereby - I think - fund his trip. From the following letter, it seems this plan did not work out as intended. Khatchaturian is using Essayan's notepaper to provide a Poste Restante address (hence the French endorsement "pour ..." at the top left of the sheet). He is writing about a previous letter asking for financial help from Dr Souren Hovhannisian (who may be living in Egypt) either directly or through an intermediary. The writer's wife is willing to travel to collect funds.

My guess is that Khatchadourian is approaching family or art world contacts for help. He was already a significant figure in the Armenian art world, and today the National Gallery of Armenia holds many of his works.

I am grateful to Haik Nazarian and Stefan Berger for tackling the translation and interpretation of this letter.

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Click on Image to Magnify

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Information for UK stamp dealers about EU VAT rules


According to the Financial Times, the EU Commission has issued guidelines on post-Brexit scenarios which include information which entails that if  the UK does not negotiate a VAT agreement with the EU before leaving the bloc, UK small businesses that are currently exempt from paying VAT because they generate turnover of less than £85 000 a year will have to start paying VAT on sales to EU customers, presumably charged to the customer at the point of entry into the EU country. Unless the customer is in turn a EU VAT registered company, then the overall effect would be to increase prices significantly to the final customer. There would also be attendant delays in handling (as there are currently, for example, for goods sent from non-EU Switzerland to the UK).

The current bespoke situation is that the EU allows the UK a threshold for VAT registration much higher at £85 000 (about 95 000 euros currently) than in any other EU country. This is very favourable to the UK. Under this threshold, small and semi-retired dealers (like me) can sell anywhere in the EU without charging VAT, either at the UK rate or the rate applicable in the country of destination. The situation only changes for the non-VAT registered UK dealer when sales to a single other EU country exceed a certain threshold, most often 35 000 euros, at which threshold the UK-based dealer has to register in that country for VAT purposes.

In contrast, in other EU countries the general VAT registration threshold is set much lower on total sales so that dealers in other EU countries are currently at a competitive disadvantage. In five countries of the EU, the VAT registration threshold is NIL (Greece, Hungary, Malta, Spain, Sweden).

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Guest Blog: Howard Weinert on a British Soldier at Archangel in 1919

Howard Weinert has sent me this fascinating letter from a British soldier in Archangel which contains detailed information about the postal service, and the collectible stamps he has been able to obtain from "Master Tarasoff". There are footnotes Howard has provided to explain some of the more difficult points.

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Dear Dad

This afternoon I have a little time to myself, so will write you a few lines to apologize for my last hurried note posted some few days ago.
I am glad to say that at last a regular sleigh route has been opened between here1 and Murmansk and we now have a weekly service of mails to and from that place. Perhaps it will be more correct to say that we shall have, as the new arrangements start tomorrow. This letter will be the first sent by this route and before it reaches you it will have traveled several hundreds of miles by dog or reindeer sleigh before it even gets loaded on a ship at Murmansk.
Navigation even to Economia Point2 has finished now and the icebreakers push for about 10 yards and get frozen in again, before they can get a start. Imagine ice from 6 feet to 10 feet deep. No need to feel “toey”3 when you have got that beneath you. Regular sleigh routes are open between most of the outlying districts, and proper posting points, where there are wigwams and a change of reindeer, are available on the journey.
The Boss has gone today to an island (which figured in the operations here last August) named Modugski4 in the White Sea. It is a good way away and the winter trail is not particularly well marked so I must say I don’t envy him the journey. He is well armed in case of wolves so I suppose he will come back safely.
Well, it is some time since I have had any letters from home now but am daily expecting a mail in. I think I shall be homeward bound in a month or two. A day or two ago a letter arrived marked “very urgent.” I really thought I had got a blighty5. I have since found out from the Records Office that a return of all 1914/15 men eligible for release had to be telegraphed to England, and they had questioned my eligibility. When you think of the date that I left home in 1915 you can see that it was a pretty near thing.
This office is getting snowed in with demobilization forms and returns etc. and I am really inclined to wish that the blooming war was not finished. Last Sunday I spent the whole of the afternoon and most of the evening interviewing each of the units separately and filling in their forms and learning all their past family history. Each man made a full confession of his past life. I can fully sympathize with Fr. Lynch on a cold morning.
How is poor old Bernard6 getting along? I am writing my next letter to him, but will address it to “Hillside” in case he may have moved his quarters or even been demobilized.
I think I asked you in my last letter to keep an eye on the Daily Picture Papers for snaps of the old Sanitary Section. Well, the paper which will probably print them will be the “Illustrated London News.” The Boss has posted by this mail about six prints which they will probably make use of. I did the actual taking of all but one of the pictures. Therefore I am only on one of them, and that is the one where the Sanitary Section (some of it) is leaning against the fence by the billet7. The temperature was so low (even though the sun was shining brilliantly) that I could barely manage to take the cap off the camera.
I am enclosing one or two more snaps with this letter, which will help to swell the collection. No. 1 is taken from the government house and shows the Archangel town hall (the Arkhangelsk gorodskaya duma) on the left, and one of the several fire stations on the right. A toboggan run8 has been erected close to this town hall, and the top reaches nearly three quarters the way up the tower. The gradient is so steep that you run along a perfectly level road nearly the length of Woodville Rd (to St. Marks) and then you reach another big dip which rushes you right far out over the Dvina9.
No. 2 was taken from the bridge of the City of Marseille10 while on the high seas. You can just notice a few men about with their life belts on. The rest of the crew are probably “busy”  downstairs, just longing for a tin fish to pop up and finish them off. No. 3 shows the “North Pole” Picture Palace. I think I sent you a ticket of admission to the place some long time ago.
No. 4 is quite interesting. It shows the pile driving machinery actually at work. The method of working is this. Piles are floated down the river lashed together to form a raft. They are brought alongside the machine, and a haulage chain is fastened round one end of the log. The machinery is set in motion and the log is hauled bodily out of the water and fixed in a vertical position beside the upright shaft of the machine. These logs very often reach three quarters of the way up the shaft. The log is then lashed to the shaft and allowed to slide into the water until it touches bottom. A steam operated hammer (which in the picture is seen at the bottom of the machine) is hoisted to the top of the shaft and allowed to play on the top of the log which it eventually sends many feet into the river bed. When you think that it is a very large dock and when you see what a quantity of piles have to be driven to make even one small corner, you will understand what the building of the place must have been. This view was taken (I think) from the stern of our ship.
No. 5 shows in detail the construction of the walls of a Russian hut. Notice the jointing and remember the carpenter only used an axe. Isn’t it wonderful? I have got several more to send you but I won’t send too many at a time for fear of them getting lost at sea.
Now about the stamps. The registered letter you mentioned has not turned up yet, and if you have not posted it I think you had better hold on to the good stamps. It is a case of throwing pearls before Russians. So far my efforts at sale and exchange have not met with any great degree of success, but I have not started my campaign in earnest yet. I am enclosing one or two specimens which I hope you may be able to make use of. There are four rather nice specimens of the 7 ruble (imperf.). Also three specimens of the 3.50 but unfortunately I could not get hold of any of the inperf. issue. The 40 pfennig German I take to be a German war stamp. I have not seen a copy before. The three German surcharged Belgians are not new to you but I got them for a few kopecks, as I don’t think that specimens appear in my collection. Do you recognize the Finnish stamp? I don’t know it.
As it is now impossible to send or take more than a few rubles out of the country, I shall spend my spare cash on unused Russian stamps. What the dickens is the stamp surcharged “Dardanelles 1 piastre?” I have got one or two Russian surcharged China in tow and there are several others which Master Tarasoff11 will have to disgorge in the very near future. Our English postage due seems to be unknown. I priced them as follows: 60 k (1/2 d), 40 (1 d), 50 (2 d), 1.20 (5 d) and shall hope to do business in a day or two.

Saturday 22/2/19

Didn’t finish this letter last night on account of our Russian class. Did I tell you I had made a start with it again? We have had four lessons so far. It is a terrible lingo to write. Am just waiting this afternoon for a posting sleigh to arrive to take me over to Solombala12 which is a place some little way north of Archangel, and then I want to get back and drive down to the P. O. with this letter. Must stop hurriedly as the sleigh has just this moment arrived.
Best love to you all,


Excuse hurried ending but I have a good long round to go and shan’t get this letter away unless I finish it now.

1Arkhangelsk was frozen in by January, so once a week mail traveled 300 miles (5-6 days) by sleigh to Soroka, then by train to Murmansk, which was ice-free. 2A new port 16 miles from Arkhangelsk. 3Nervous. 4Mudyug Island was 30 miles north of Arkhangelsk. At the beginning of August 1918, the Allies had to neutralize a Bolshevik battery on the island so that their ships could reach Arkhangelsk. Afterward they established an internment camp on the island for Bolshevik prisoners. 5A wound serious enough to warrant a ticket home. 6The writer’s brother. 7See photograph. 8See photograph. 9Arkhangelsk was on the right bank of the Dvina River, near its mouth. 10British troops were transported to Murmansk on this ship. U-boats (tin fish) were a constant threat. 11A stamp dealer in Arkhangelsk. 12A suburb of Arkhangelsk.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Documents of the Russian Refugee Post: Essayan and Sredinsky

The stamps of the Russian Refugee Post in Constantinople 1920 - 1921 never saw genuine use. That is not to say that the originators of the stamp issues did not want to see them used. They did take elaborate measures to prove the authenticity of the stamp issues and some postal use would have added to the sense of authenticity.

Below I reproduce two documents. The simpler one in French records the printer Essayan's agreement to produce the second series of Refugee Post stamps in exchange for the right to retain 2% of the stamps overprinted, proportional to the number printed of each combination of stamp and overprint. Refugee Post postmaster Sredinsky (later the stamp dealer Thals in Paris) has counter-signed.

This document is reproduced from a photograph of the original, not a photocopy, so it probably dates back many years. It was in a collection written up in French on English Frank Godden leaves. I would guess 1940s or 1950s for the date of the photograph.

The second document over two sides and in Russian records the agreement made by Essayan to print the first series of Refugee Post stamps. This contract is dated 11 December 1920 and is signed first by Essayan and counter-signed by Sredinssky and at the end they both confirm that the contract has been fulfilled with Essayan retaining 10% of the printing.

Like the previous document, this one is scanned from a photograph originally attached to an album page written up in French. Whatever the status of the Refugee Post stamps, these images do give us examples of the handwriting of Essayan and Sredinsky, and evidence of their fluency in both Russian and French.

Click on Image to Magnify

Click on Images to Magnify

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Review: Hans G Grigoleit and Edward Klempka, Batum Under Occupation the years 1917 - 1921

Modern digital printing technology has made it possible to produce small print-run, full colour and high-resolution books and magazines at remarkably low prices. One result is to make possible a huge improvement in  the quality of specialist handbooks and catalogues on which philatelists rely. The stamp issues of Batum and their associated postal history are not a neglected field – there are the handbooks by P T Ashford  and R J Ceresa for example - but Hans Grigoleit and Edward Klempka have seen the possibility of modern technology and this full colour book is the result. It allows the collector or dealer to see very clearly how things typically look and how they should look to be genuine. The written text then amplifies the information available visually. It all makes life a lot easier.

Despite the earlier handbooks, there is much that is new here drawn from the authors’ own substantial collections and those of other collectors (Taylor, Alshibaya). It is also important that the authors have set their study in a Before and After context, looking at the end of the Imperial period and the beginning of the Soviet period.

I just want to add a few remarks about the last British Occupation issue, the one which is most common (Michel 45 – 53). This had a very large print run ( over 1.8 million stamps) and the genuine stamps are very common. However, the Batum postmaster Major Goate claimed in 1941 that on withdrawal from Batum, “the whole of the residue of Batoum postage stamps was taken on a destroyer and sunk in the Black Sea” – his statement is reproduced from the original at page 149. I very much doubt that this statement is true. But it is a curious fact about the last issue that many of the remainders, which can be found in sheets and large multiples, are water damaged with gum washed off or sheets stuck together. It’s possible that this damage occurred on the Black Sea but I have also heard it said that the damage results from a bombing raid on London in the second world war which flooded the stamp wholesalers who held the stock. It is, of course, possible that Captain Goate’s destroyer carried both unsold remainders AND large quantities of stamps which had been bought up (maybe at a discount on face value) and were destined for delivery  or re-sale in London.

This 150 page A4 format book is printed on gloss paper and published by David Feldman in Geneva on behalf of the British Society of Russian Philately. The book is available for £35 plus postage from  Postage and packing charges are           UK - £3         EU - £7          Zone 1 and 2 £11

Friday, 5 January 2018

Neglected collecting fields

There is not much fun in collecting if there is nothing to collect. So most collectors choose a collecting field where material is available and at prices they can afford. If you like browsing dealer boxes at collector fairs but don’t want to spend any money, all you need to do is pick a field of interest where you will never find anything. Letters from Russian Alaska to Russia would be a good idea.

Collectors don’t try to converge on the same interests, but many do, and a side effect is that some things which could be collected never are or only by two people, one in Iceland and one in New Zealand. These are then the neglected collecting fields.

When I try to think of things which are neglected, some are quite general, others specific to my own broad areas of interest. At a general level, the neglect of large format items is really quite extraordinary. It is explained by not much more than the reluctance of most collectors to spend money on the necessary albums or holders, things which would hold complete sheets, fiscal documents or very large envelopes. But, for example, large envelopes are the most likely location of high frankings, multiple frankings, and so on. They should be sought after for that!

In relation to my own areas of interest, it always surprises me that more attention is not paid to local and postmaster perforations. These are not always rare – for Estonia in the period 1918 – 1920 they are quite common. And they are perhaps more common than is realised because quite often they are to be found, unnoticed, in stockbooks of loose stamps. This is true for late Russian Imperial stamps issued imperforate but perforated in 1917 -1918 by postmasters and private commercial firms. I have even found postmaster perforations unnoticed in accumulations of other Civil War period stamps like the Denikin issues of South Russia. The same is true for other countries: I found local perforations recently unnoticed in an old stock of Colombia.

Collectors generally pay premiums for multiple frankings and four-colour frankings, but in some times and places it is the single frankings at the correct tariff which are scarce. This is especially true in periods of inflation when the face value of stamp issues does not keep pace with the increase in postal tariffs. But no one wants to pay a premium for a single franking.

In France and Germany, it is common to collect your home town or some other place with which you are associated. But it seems less common in Russia and the old eastern Europe to make Heimat collections. It is even less common for a collector in another country to pick a small city or a large town in another country as the field for a collection. But an interest in history ought to lead more collectors than it does to places which have always been in the news: fought over, occupied, devastated by famine or earthquake. Some of the larger cities do get attention but the smaller ones much less so. But the stamps and postal history of places like Archangel, Berdichev, Dnepropetrovsk, Ekaterinburg, Fergana, Grozny…. right through the alphabet… well, there are fascinating histories everywhere. And material exists: in the case of Grozny, for example, the activities of the Nobel Brothers leave a trace in dealer boxes. [And see now the cover below].

No doubt my readers can add other neglected fields:

Howard Weinert contributes this splendid cover from Grozny to Minsk. Click on the images to magnify.