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Sunday, 12 August 2018

CLOSING SOON: internet auction

The Internet auction at      closes on 17 August

With lots of people on holiday (and maybe without smartphones), there are still many Lots which have no bids. There may be a chance to get them cheap.

I have contributed material to the sections for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Crete, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania,  Russia (most sections), Transcaucasia and Ukraine. I am also responsible for the wide range of Latin America bulk lots. In total, I have over 300 lots in this auction.

Take a look at this well-established, trustworthy auction

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.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

New August 2018 Online Auction at Filatelia Palvelu

Now online, the next Internet auction at

Note the early closing date: 17 August

I have contributed a lot of material to the sections for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Crete, Georgia, Poland, Romania,  Russia (most sections), Transcaucasia and Ukraine. I am also responsible for the wide range of Latin America cheap lots.

Take a look at this well-established, trustworthy auction

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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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Apologies for Absence

I am sorry there have been so few Blogs recently. There are two reasons.

First, I was waiting to go into hospital for an operation - something which has now happened and should mean that I will soon be "back to normal".

Second, I have been buying very little new stock because of the uncertainty which British government policy (or lack of it) has created even for a very small business like mine. A lot of my Blogs are based on new material which has come into stock and I don't really have any new stock right now.

Instead of buying new stock, I have been sending off lots of old material to Finland and Germany for future auction sale, taking advantage of the single market while it lasts for us here in the UK. I really have been emptying the cupboards. So over the next nine months you can expect to see lots of my stock coming up for sale not only at but also at Heinrich Koehler in Wiesbaden.

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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Click on Image to Magnify

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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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.