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Saturday 22 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 21 September 2018

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

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

Some preliminary conclusions:

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

- The 50 kopek is the second most common stamp

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday 15 September 2018

Dashnak Armenia: A Small Reward for Looking Closely

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

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

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

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