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Wednesday 25 November 2020

A V Vinner and Soviet Philately


I am looking for information about A V Vinner, a Russian philatelist who occasionally signed stamps using a small boxed handstamp with that name in Cyrillic. He was probably born around 1900; probably lived in Moscow in the 1920s but may have had links to Transcaucasia or Central Asia; may be the same person as published a Russian  technical book on mosaics in 1953; may have been a friend or colleague of Dr Paul D Krynine. His first name and patronymic are unknown to me.

If you have any stamps signed by him, then scans of front and back would be most welcome at

Friday 31 July 2020

Russian Mail to Mont Athos before 1870

From early in the 19th century, the Imperial Russian government was actively involved - financially and diplomatically - in expanding the Russian presence on Mont Athos. By 1912, the majority of monks on Athos were Russian though in 1913 the Imperial government sent gunboats to Athos to arrest and deport about 800 of the 2000 Russian monks. They were accused of heresy, tried in Odessa, and internally exiled. For every two or three monks there was probably one servant and many or most of those were Russian too.

The major developments in Russification took place after 1850 and at some point  a ROPiT postal agency was established on Athos. But any ingoing or outgoing mail before 1870 is very rarely seen and I cannot find on the internet any example of ROPiT postmarks for Mont Athos before the 1890s, though inward mail in the form of Money Letters is common from about 1875 onwards. It always has Odessa transits but only in the 1890s do Athos marks  appear and then only on occasional items which were sent outside bags sealed in Odessa.

In previous Blogs I have illustrated the use of Free Frank privilege to send mail from mainland Russia to Athos, always via Odessa. I can now illustrate an early item on which I would welcome comment. 

Sent in 1869 from Novgorod under a Free Frank seal and Registry number it has no post office markings apart from the Novgorod despatch. On later mail, an Odessa transit is universally applied. In addition, the routing on this official item appears to identify a named individual at Odessa who is then meant to ensure the onward transmission to Athos. If this is the correct reading, then this item may indicate that even as late as 1869, the arrangements for sending mail to Athos were in a rather provisional state. Since this entire letter came from an Athos archive (ex Christou collection), it clearly arrived and the sender seems to have been clear about what they were doing.

Comments and scans please!

Here's the first Comment from Howard Weinert:

This document was issued by the bookkeeping office of the Novgorod administrative board, part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on 29 Oct. 1869. Sent to the New Russian hermitage of St. Andrew the First Called in Mount Athos, in care of an Odessa merchant. The message says that the five rubles sent by the hermitage on 10 Jan. 1869 to pay for the official publication "Provincial News" was received in Novgorod on 25 April and noted in the account book.
I have seen many covers from the 1870s addressed to merchant Grigory Mikhailovich Butovich in Odessa for transmission to Athos. (This is not the person named on the Novgorod letter).

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Thursday 30 July 2020

The ROPiT Post office on Mont Athos 1915 - 1917

A post office can continue to provide foreign mail services provided only a few conditions are met:

1.      It has premises and staff and at least some office equipment.
2.      It has an income to pay the bills.
3.      It has partners willing to deliver incoming mail for distribution and take away mail for onward transmission.
4.      No one forcibly closes it.

In their 1958 book on the Russian Levant post offices, Tchilingirian and Stephen speculated that the ROPiT post office on Mont Athos closed on 31 December 1914, as a consequence of the outbreak of World War One. It didn’t. It operated at least until the end of 1917. Mont Athos passed from Ottoman to Greek control at the end of 1912 when Greek forces occupied the territory. Greece’s legal sovereignty was not finalised until after World War One, mainly because of Imperial Russian objections aimed at increasing Russian control over Athos. Those ceased with the Bolshevik Revolution. The ROPiT office was exclusively concerned with incoming and outgoing mail; like the Ottoman post office (and presumably the successor Greek post office) , it never operated an internal mail service on Mont Athos which was provided by monastic couriers.

Athos was occupied by both French and Russian troops during World War One and there were British forces in nearby Salonica [Thessaloniki]. Even if the traditional route into Athos from Odessa was closed, mail could arrive and be taken away by friendly ships. It does seem likely that mail would most often have been routed via Salonica, a major military hub, but that only meant that some local boat had to ply the Athos-Salonica route. The ROPiT office handled mail overwhelmingly arriving from Russia and going there. Though it could not now route through Odessa, the alternatives via Genoa or Marseille or London or Kronstadt were reasonably practical. There might be an issue about who paid for what but clearly some arrangements were arrived at.

However, I can’t illustrate any mail which successfully made the journey after the start of World War One and I would be pleased to be shown some.

 But I do have receipts for registered letters issued by the ROPiT Mont Athos agency and handed over to the  senders - the Russian Andreevski Skete [monastery], the Russian Kellion [Cell] of Ioanna Zlatousta. These receipts show a new canceller being used, listed by Tchilingirian and Stephen as Type 5 (Figure 791) in the Supplement included in Part Six of Stamps of the Russian Empire Used Abroad. It came into use in 1912 (Earliest date I have 1 VIII 1912) and continued in apparently  exclusive use until the end of 1917 (latest I have  6 XI 1917).

I illustrate here a receipt from end 1915 for a letter destined for Odessa; from end 1916 addressed to Petrograd; from August 1917 addressed to the Russian Consulate in Soluni [Salonica]; and a November 1917 receipt with an address I can’t read. Though I have about 80 receipts for 1915 and 1916 combined, I have only five for 1917. They are numbered by an enumerator on the reverse and the number sequence suggests that possibly only one book of 1000 receipts was used through 1917: early February, receipt 7; late February, 139; July, 691, August, 730 ; November, 822.

Where the sender is identified as "P.A.C." this is Cyrillic for the Russian Andreevksi Skete. It's likely that all the receipts were issued to the P.A.C. but the clerk saved effort by not always writing that.

Before 1915 the volume of mail was much greater and in the 1890s when receipts were numbered continuously from January to December by hand, it is clear that at least 12 000 registered letters left Athos every year.

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A Conversation with the Ottoman Postmaster of Mont Athos, 1883

Athelstan Riley and a friend, both from the University of Oxford, visited Mont Athos for six weeks in 1883. Riley published a travelogue, Athos or the Mountain of the Monks in 1887. At one point, he and his friend Arthur Owen visit the Ottoman post office in what was then and still is the small administrative centre of Karyes. This is Riley’s narrative:

“So we had breakfast and about noon sallied forth towards the town. First we went to the post office, where by good luck the postmaster spoke French and several other languages besides. We sat and talked to him for more than an hour, smoked his cigarettes, and consumed rahatlakoum and coffee. He was a very intelligent young Greek who had been sent here from Constantinople to take charge of the post station, and very dull he found it.

‘I have not a soul to speak to’, he complained, ‘there are no educated people in Caryes [sic] except a few monks, and I soon get tired of them. And no women of any kind. Ah, c’est affreux, messieurs, c’est affreux!’ [Ah, it's awful, gentlemen, it's awful!]

And the poor fellow begged us to sit and talk to him a little longer. This we did, and amused ourselves by sending a telegram to the telegraph clerk at Salonica, wishing him a very good day, a wire having recently been laid from that place to Caryes.

‘For’, said our friend, ‘we may just as well use it, for nobody else does. Perhaps fifty telegrams are sent in the course of the year, chiefly about the steamers which call here, for who would want to telegraph to Athos? So when I feel very dull I just ring up the clerk at Salonica and ask how the world is going on’. 

[This passage is in chapter XV]
I suspect that over time telegraph traffic did increase and became more varied. Here, for example, is a 2 May 1888 telegram from St Petersburg to Athos routed through Salonique [ see top left annotation Salq.]. The word count is 15 [ though I count 16] because the address counts and takes six words, rendered by the clerk on the reverse as Monaster Andreé, Superieur Theoklitos,Mont Athos - the Monaster is in fact the Russian Andreevski Skete, located close to Karyes. As for the message, I can't quite resolve whether the Family Z or L asks for 30 roubles to be sent to pay for the distribution of Easter Eggs, or whether 30 roubles has been sent to pay for such distribution. The latter seems more likely. The Athos receiving officer has signed his name at top left [ besides L’Employé], but whether he is the  postmaster who welcomed Riley and Owen, I don't know. But note that he writes in a confident Roman script.

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Sunday 12 July 2020

The Multi-Lingual Ottoman Levant

I am one of those lucky people whose mother tongue is English, a language in which I can expect to be understood world-wide. I have only one other language into which I can confidently switch (French) and a couple in which I can order restaurant meals and check in at a hotel.

Everyone probably knows that the old Ottoman Levant was a multilingual society. Not only that, it was a multi-script society. Look at this wonderful 1891 Invoice and try to identify the different scripts and languages mobilised by the Constantinople printer whose identity is provided on the right-hand side. But I doubt Angelidos Frères have achieved a world-record: I can’t find English anywhere on the Invoice…..

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Multi-lingualism on this scale does pose problems. A large business can probably find staff to cover all the necessary languages; a small business or office might struggle. And a lot of time will be spent translating and not quite getting it right.

On the invoice the scripts I can see are Roman, Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Greek, Armenian, Russian Cyrillic. Yes?

Friday 10 July 2020

ROPiT agency on Mont Athos in the Imperial Russian period.

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The ROPiT cachet or cancellation illustrated on these two items is not listed by Tchilingirian and his collaborators, either in the original 1958 handbook or the later additions. Nor can I find it illustrated on the internet.

The ROPiT agencies on Mont Athos were probably housed together though they would have been very busy and there would have been separate counters for matters relating to goods shipped by ROPiT and mail which ROPiT ships also carried. Though this large oval cachet is in a standard design found cancelling mail from other offices, it may be that this Mont Athos one was most frequently used on paperwork of one kind or another. But it should be possible to find it on mail or, at least, loose stamps.

The 1892 document shows the cachet in an early state, the letters crisp. Interestingly, the notepaper has an English papermaker’s watermark with Crown over ORIGINAL ROYAL MILL.

The 1911 printed ROPiT form in Russian and French relates to a shipment of oil (“Huile”) arriving from Odessa. It is interesting because the Turkish fiscal shows that goods arriving in or leaving Athos were subject to Ottoman taxation. In contrast, it seems that mail went in and out without Ottoman involvement unless it had been routed via Constantinople rather than arriving directly by ROPiT ship into Athos.

I have only these two examples of the cachet and I guess from the absence of Google images that it is rare.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Auctions in the Time of Coronavirus

As regular readers of this Blog will know, I sometimes do work as a describer for the Wiesbaden auction house of Heinrich Koehler. So I was pleased when I learnt that their next auction will go ahead on 23 - 27 June with viewing and room bidding. But I was curious to know how it would be different after coronavirus and I asked Tobias Huylmans, one of the two Koehler managing directors, to explain it to me. In response, he sent me a nine page document setting out all the new arrangements Koehler will have in place. 

These arrangements had been agreed with the local health authority and the document he sent me has already been distributed to all the staff at Koehler so that they fully understand what is required later this month.

As you might expect, the new arrangements are based on both legal requirements and models of good practice which have developed in the past few months. I will summarise them here using the Koehler in-house document and add a few comments.

First, the total number of people inside the Koehler offices will be controlled at all times, with an Entry, Exit, and Pass system. Basically, anyone who wants to view or bid in person will need to make a prior appointment and be issued a Pass on arrival. Anyone who arrives early for their appointment may have to wait outside in the kind of regulated queue we are all now familiar with from supermarkets. Exit will be through a different door from Entrance.

Second, once inside everything that can be done to ensure distancing will be done. Viewing places and auction seats will be arranged to ensure the minimum 1.5m distance required by German law.

Third, as an additional layer of protection, Koehler will install plexiglass screens to separate staff from clients, and clients from clients, at appropriate points.

Fourth, use of personal protection will be expected of everyone. So expect to wear a mask and expect to use hand sanitiser (Koehler will supply both but won’t object if you have them in your pocket already!). Koehler will also be using enhanced cleaning of their premises and disinfecting viewing tables between clients.

Fifth, as a backstop which it is hoped will not be used, if you appear to be unwell you may be asked to leave.

In short, it’s a thorough plan and it’s been approved. I am sure other auction houses will be developing similar arrangements and in time I suspect we will all get used to them. Part of the challenge for Koehler is that they are going to be one of the first to hold an auction under these conditions. Inevitably, some will grumble a bit. Other will be pleased that a serious company takes the health of its staff and its clients seriously.

Friday 8 May 2020

Assessing Cancellations from Internal Evidence

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How can you tell if a cancellation is a fake when you don’t have examples to compare it with which you know to be genuine? Sometimes a cancellation just looks wrong - wrong style, or the ink isn’t like the ink you would expect to see, and so on. But these are not decisive considerations.

However, sometime you can tell that a cancellation is bad by something internal to it - something which stares you in the face and tells you it must be wrong. Look at these two cards. To my eye they have FAKE written all over them. But right now I don’t have enough reference material to prove that. But then I notice something which settles the matter.

Look at the two receiver marks, one for KAMENETS POD. and one for KHARKOV in different styles - letters close together on KAMENETS, spaced well apart on KHARKOV, and so on.

Then look at the date lines. Look at the 7. It’s identical in both date lines. Then look at the 7 in relation to the 6 and the 10. It’s slightly raised - lay a ruler across and it will pick it up. Then look at the 23. The two versions are identical - the 3 slightly raised in relation to the 2 and rather weak.

In other words, the same device has been used to add the date line to the Kamenets cancel and to the Kharkov cancel. That seems to me fairly decisive….

The next step, if someone wanted to take it, would be to lift the stamps. Sometimes there will be the trace of an old Imperial small-sized stamp which has been removed - in the past, my understanding is that people went around flea markets looking for cards where the stamp hadn't been cancelled or had only a bit of a cancel which could be covered up with a larger replacement stamp. Better still would be a card which had been written but not sent through the post. 

Sometimes a replacement stamp when lifted will show a hinge remainder. 

But in the present case it's not necessary to make such investigations; it would only be  out of curiosity that someone might do so.

My thanks to Bruce Jarvis for allowing me to reproduce the two cards he sent me for my opinion

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Just Published: Trevor Pateman, Philatelic Case Studies from Ukraine's First Independence Period

Now available as a full-colour paperback:

Philatelic Case Studies from Ukraine’s First Independence Period
by Trevor Pateman
ISBN  978 1 734 52222 0 4

Glenn Stefanovics in Connecticut has edited my Blog posts about Ukrainian philately into a beautiful 140 page full-colour book with all my original illustrations and  an Index which makes it much more readily useable than this Blog.  It is now available. The book has been printed in the USA and will be distributed from there though I will service individual orders for some countries in order to reduce postage costs.

The book is priced at $20 plus postage.To obtain a copy for despatch within the USA or to Canada email Glenn at giving your name and address. You will be able to pay by bank to bank transfer, by PayPal, or in the USA by cheque. He will quote you the postage charge, currently $8.40.

To order a copy for despatch within the UK, Europe or Australasia, email me at I will quote you a price based on actual postage costs and offer the choice of paying into a UK sterling or German €uro denominated bank account. 

For all other destinations, contact Glenn for a quote.

The book is published by Glenn’s Morea Research Group and with an ISBN - which ensures that copies can appear on Amazon. It is already available in the USA  on

Glenn plans to recycle revenues from sales of this Ukraine volume into the production of a second volume assembling some of  my Blog posts about Russian philately.

Sunday 8 March 2020


I need hardly tell my readers that Quarantine is in the news….

In the nineteenth century, quarantine was always in the news. All travel involved risks and in areas like the Mediterranean and Black Sea where large movements of people were part of everyday commercial life, authorities monitored people and ships constantly. Letters going from A to B were disinfected on the way if it was believed that A was in the grip of some outbreak of infectious disease. Ships could only enter port when granted certification that they ware disease-free. And so on.

In the forthcoming sale of the Christou collection at Heinrich Koehler Wiesbaden there are a large number of lots which relate to quarantine, notably certificates issued under the denomination of Patente de Santé. Some are issued by Russian authorities and some by Ottoman, some are in Russian and Arabic, some in French. Here are a few examples:

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Of course, you may be quarantined and unable to view these lots in Wiesbaden. But fortunately there is no quarantine on viewing online or bidding online …. All the lots are illustrated at the link below:

Thursday 5 March 2020

Advice to Collectors: Don't Ignore the Yellow Pages!

Many auction houses produce catalogues which have separate sections for “Single Lots” and “Collections”. I think the general idea is to point collectors towards the single lots and dealers to the collections. In Germany, the distinction is also marked by different colour paper: single lots [Einzellosen] are listed on white pages and collections [Sammlungen] on yellow pages - Gelbeseiten.
In the past, material on yellow pages would be sold on the same day, convenient for dealers who wanted to (and in the past, did) bid in person.

My advice now to both collectors and dealers is to ignore the Single Lot/ Collections system. It is never used consistently - you can find “Single Lots” containing ten items and “Collections” containing two. And it often involves putting “collector” material into dealer sections, though perhaps less so vice versa.

I was reminded of this today when I received my latest and very interesting Heinrich Koehler Hauptkatalog [Main Catalogue]. Most of the white pages describe lots in English, though Austria, Switzerland and the very big Germany section are in German. All of the yellow pages describe lots using German, as if they might only be of interest to German dealers who will all turn up on the appointed day as they always have done .... 

Collectors will easily miss out if they ignore the Yellow Pages. I will pick a couple of examples where I am familiar with the material because I am the vendor J

For Russia and the Soviet Union, there are over eighty yellow page lots (Los Nr 4281 - 4308). Most are indeed album collections and quite big cover lots and many will not interest a collector who already has a collection and a clear collecting theme. But then look at Los Nr 4307:

1920  2 Paketkarten und eine Zahlunsanweisung im neuen sowjetischen Druck, selten aus dieser fruehen Periode               Ausruf   100€

Well, this is accurate and translates as follows:
1920 2 Parcel Cards and one Money Transfer Form in new Soviet printings, scarce from this early period.      Start price  100€

BUT this small lot is unlikely to excite a Yellow Page-focussed dealer; it is very specialised and will I think only excite a collector who understands a bit about Russian formulars and maybe guesses that these post-Imperial formulars will (for example) not show the Imperial coat of arms. Three examples of new post-revolutionary  designs is not going to be too many for a serous collector to want to see or own.

Here’s another example. There are two lots for Iran. The first (4408) is a duplicated collection for the whole period 1876-1956. Good yellow page stuff. But the second item ( 4409) is rather different:

1886  18 Ganzsachenauschnitte 5 Ch auf Briefstuecken mit Stempeln von 14 verschiedenen Orten auf Beschrifteter Albumseite     Ausruf 200€

which translates as
1886 18 Postal Stationery cut outs of 5 Ch on pieces with postmarks of 14 different places, on a written-up album page    Start price 200 €

Now this might interest a dealer who thinks they can sell these 18 items one-by-one. After all, they are catalogued as an issue. Equally, what is being described is really just one specialist item: its evidence that the officially-authorised stationery cut outs  - used as provisionals during a stamp shortage -  can be found used from at least these 14 places. If I was a classic Persia collector and did not already have a similar album page I would jump at this lot.

So take my advice, if you are a collector don’t ignore the yellow pages even if you need a dictionary to help you out. There are many more interesting items where I found these two  .... Happy hunting!

Sunday 16 February 2020

From Odessa to Constantinople and Mont Athos: the Christou Collection

The text which follows is my Introduction to the Christou Collection which will be sold at Heinrich Koehler, Wiesbaden,in June 2020 as Lots 507 - 643. To view the Lots go to

There has been a Russian Orthodox religious presence on Mont Athos for a thousand years, of which the great monastery of St Panteleimon was and remains the centre. But in the nineteenth century, especially from the 1840s onwards, successive Tsarist governments supported financially and diplomatically the creation and expansion of newer institutions, technically inferior to monasteries but in practice coming to exceed in the size of their estates and the number of monks they housed the old ruling monasteries. Three institutions stand out: the Skete [ monastic community] of the Prophet Elijah (Ilinski Sikt), a dependency of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Pantokrator but housing first Ukrainian and then Russian monks; the Kellion [cell] of St John Chrysostomom (Ioanna Zlatousta), a dependency of the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Hilandar; and the Skete of St Andrew (Andreeveski Sikt and sometimes called Serail), a dependency of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Vatopedi.

Until 1912, Mont Athos was part of the Ottoman Empire with a Turkish governor in residence and Ottoman customs, immigration and postal agencies located in the port of Daphne and the small administrative town of Karyes. In addition, and as elsewhere in the Levant, the Russian company ROPiT maintained a shipping agency and a post office on Athos with significant autonomy from Turkish control. For example, mail from Russia could travel by ROPiT ship from Odessa direct to Athos and be distributed to the Russian communities by Russian postal officials. But Russian mail could also be transferred to the Ottoman system in Constantinople for onward transmission, and some was.

Spiritual  authority over the monasteries rested (and still rests) with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. When secular authority over Athos passed to Greece in 1912, the spiritual arrangements remained unchanged.

From 1912 on, the Russian Orthodox communities suffered a succession of blows from which they did not recover.

First, in 1913 the Imperial Russian government responded to perceived heretical tendencies among the monastic communities by sending in gunboats and troops and, after violet clashes, forcibly deporting about eight hundred monks who were returned to Russia, tried, defrocked and internally exiled. The number of monks was thereby reduced by somewhere between a third and a half.

Second, the First World War led to a reduction in contacts and financing from Russia. 

Third, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 cut the remaining contacts almost to nil. 

The Russian communities went into long term decline and by the 1960s the few remaining elderly monks were completely unable to maintain the vast properties which they occupied. The significant library of the Andreevski Skete was destroyed by fire in 1958; the last  monk there died in 1971 and the Andreevski estate reverted to the Greek monastery of Vatopedi. Even though it was re-occupied by Greek monks in the 1990s, modern photographs show the skete’s original pharmacy, candle factory and photographic studio untouched except by the mice and the weather.  

As recently as 2017, online photographs of the Kellion of St John show a ruined building with administrative offices from which furniture has been removed but where the paperwork has been left in heaps to rot on the floors.

At some point in the 1970s, in an attempt to raise funds, monks on Mont Athos packed up old and unwanted administrative papers into suitcases and travelled to Thessaloniki and elsewhere attempting to sell them to collectors and dealers. They had only limited success and most of the old paperwork was left to rot (as shown by the St John photographs already mentioned) or was used for fire lighting in communities which still had no access to electricity. 

Just one collector appears to have taken a serious interest in what the monks were offering, the late Stavros Christou, and it is his collection of Athos-related material which is offered in this sale. The collection includes material from many other sources, but at its core is what was offered to Mr Christou in the 1970s. It is dominated by material from the period 1840s - 1913 which was the hey-day of Russian monasticism on Mont Athos when ships arrived almost daily, mail came in sackfuls, and goods needed by the monastic communities arrived not only from Odessa but from suppliers across Russia.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Brave Philatelists: Zbigniew Bokiewicz and Giulio Bolaffi

I can’t think of a novel in which a philatelist appears as a positive character, and certainly not a brave one. If you can think of any, please let me know by sending me an email at

When I started stamp dealing in the 1990s, one of the first dealers I met was Zbigniew Bokiewicz who had a shop in London’s Strand, directly opposite Stanley Gibbons in what was called The Strand Stamp Centre. He was born in Warsaw in 1923, so he was around seventy when I met him, very white haired.  He was happy to talk but was always very modest and quiet in his manner. 

Later, after he stopped trading in the Strand, I visited him at his home in Chiswick, met his wife, and bought material from his stock which he was now selling off. Later still, he used to come to what was called the Strand Stamp Fair, which was held monthly but no longer in the Strand - by then it had moved to a hotel just off Russell Square. He continued to sell me small quantities of material which he brought to the stamp fair in a small, battered briefcase. By this time, he had bought an apartment in Warsaw;  eventually he moved back to the city where he was born. On one of the last occasions when I met him he showed me a photograph, recently taken, in which he was receiving an award from the Polish president. He died in 2016.

In 1939, Mr Bokiewicz (as he was always called) was a sixteen year old schoolboy and boy scout. His academically prestigious school was shut down early in the period of German occupation (Poles were to be limited to primary and technical schooling) and Bokiewicz turned to black market dealing and then, with friends, opened a stamp shop in Warsaw. 

At the same time as he ran the stamp shop, he was a member of the Polish Home Army, received military training, used the stamp shop as a contact point, and by the time of the Warsaw Uprising had officer status which meant that when captured, he was sent to an officer prisoner of war camp, Oflag VIIA - Murnau. By the time the camp was liberated by American forces, Bokiewciz’s weight had dropped to 42 kilos. But he went on to join the army of General Anders and was sent to fight in Italy.  At the end of the war, he  was able to make his home in England. His knowledge of languages (Polish, German, Italian, French) helped him get a job with Thomas Cook, the travel agents, but in due course he established Continental Stamp Supplies Ltd.

If you Google “Zbigniew Bokiewicz” you will find many records of interviews that he gave late in life in both Polish and English. There are video recordings, a sound recording for the Imperial War Museum but very late in his life (2014) and less informative than the interviews transcribed into various books, for  example this one which appears unabridged on Google:


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Every year in Italy since 1989, a marathon takes place in honour of Giulio Bolaffi (1902- 1987). But it is not because he was an internationally famous philatelist. The marathon follows a path in the Valle de Susa, east of Torino and close to the French border. The path was once used by Italian partisans in the Second World War who belonged to division IV GL, the  Stellina, commanded by Bolaffi. Stellina eventually grew to number six hundred partisans (partigiani) and Bolaffi  led them until June 1945, when he returned to civilian life. The website of today’s  Bolaffi company shows Giulio in partisan uniform:

Bolaffi was Jewish. Confronted by Italian racial laws which progressively limited the activities of Jewish businesses, Giulio’s brothers Dante and Roberto emigrated. Giulio stayed and left his family behind to join the resistance. His wife died in 1943 during his absence but his children Stella (hence Stellina) and Alberto (named after Giulio’s father) survived the war.

There is a summary of Giulio Bolaffi’s career on Wikipedia. Notably, Bolaffi kept nine war diaries and these have been published in a 500 page book:

(Acknowledgement: For research assistance with Bolaffi's career, I am grateful to Giada Santana)

Sunday 12 January 2020

Free Frank mail from Imperial Russia to Mont Athos

This is a continuation of the Blog post of  27 December 2019

I illustrate here two Free Frank letters sent from Russia to Mont Athos. They require explanation, not least because they are going outside the territory of Imperial Russia into the territory of the Ottoman Empire, though a part which enjoyed internal administrative autonomy. Nonetheless, there was an international frontier at the port of Daphne, the harbour of Mont Athos , and it was under Ottoman control until 1912-13 when control passed to Greece.

Free Frank privileges are common enough and have always been subject to abuse. In Great Britain, Members of Parliament enjoyed Free Frank privileges and thoroughly abused them before the advent of Penny Postage. With postage rates maybe ten or twenty times greater than one penny, you could do favours by posting other people’s mail - and all that was required of you was your signature on the outside of the letter and use of the House of Commons mail box.

In Imperial Russia, Free Frank privileges were extensive but subject to requirements designed to enable accounting and reduce fraud. So on the front of a letter a cachet and a number was required - the number entered into an accounting book. And on the back a seal was required which asserted the right to the Free Frank privilege. The seal could be wax, paper or the impression of another rubber or metal handstamp.

But Free Frank privilege cannot normally extend beyond the frontier unless as part of some convention or agreement with another state or within an Empire - in the British Empire, Free Frank privilege could carry an O H M S letter from a colony to London.

So how did these Free Frank letters get from Russia to Ottoman Athos without any charge being raised? The simple answer is that they travelled to their destination without passing out of Russian hands. At Odessa, Russian postal officials handed over them to Russian agents of the R O P i T shipping line. 

The R O P i T boat sailed to Athos where the Russian ship was subject to Ottoman quarantine rules. But the bags of mail were handed directly to agents of the R O P i T post office on Mont Athos without Ottoman intervention. The post office then handed them to monks from the appropriate monasteries - the bags were I believe already pre-sorted by monastery. There were really only four possible destinations, two of them represented by my letters: the skete of St Andrew and the skete of the Prophet Elijah. (The other destinations were the monastery of Panteleimon and the Kellion of St John Chrystostom).

These Free Frank letters are not common but more will be on offer in the Heinrich Koehler sale of a large collection of Mont Athos material, scheduled for March 2020.

Click On Images to Enlarge

Click on Images to Enlarge