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Sunday 11 April 2021

Archangel, Odessa, Vladivostok: Stamp Dealers and Maritime Mail


The recent April 2021 sale (by Corinphila Veilingen) of Dick Scheper’s fine collection of Siberian postal history during the 1917-24 period made me realise how important Russia’s major ports were to stamp collectors and dealers in the Civil War and early Soviet period. Proximity to ships which could carry mail had two major advantages. First, it avoided sending mail overland in territory which might be subject to banditry or Red versus White fighting - or both. The Trans-Siberian railway, for example, ceased to be a reliable routing for mail from Siberia to western Europe and ship mail replaced it. Second, though it did not entirely avoid censorship and customs control, it may have been the case that local censors and customs officers in the ports - even when under Red control - were more sympathetic to private enterprise than their counterparts in Petrograd and later Moscow. And if not more sympathetic, at least more easily bribed.

Thus, for example, when in March 1922 - well into the Soviet period - the well-known Vladivostok stamp dealer Pappadopulo wants to write to his opposite number in Archangel, the equally well-known Tarasoff, he writes his postcard in Roman script and endorses it “via America”. The journey takes seven weeks but the postcard gets there, as the receiver mark of Archangel attests. [Lot 139 in the Scheper sale]. Pappadopolu uses the same endorsement for a card to Bulgaria [Lot 133] in July 1921 and to Iceland [!] in January 1921 [Lot 131]. Times were clearly harder at this earlier date - Pappadopolu is reduced to using indelible pencil, and only later has ink for his pen. In all three cases, he is writing from the Soviet-allied though not fully-Bolshevik Far Eastern Republic.

As late as August 1923 I can see a Registered cover going to New York from Vladivostok via Japan [Lot 218] and in February 1924 via Seattle [Lot 226]. I assume that at some point all foreign mail had to be routed through the centralised censorship of Moscow, but I don’t have a date.

Tarasoff’s overseas mail often went by ship via the Norwegian port of Vardø [see my long Blog about Tarasoff 11 March 2015]. Ship mail from Odessa went to Constantinople, Genoa, and Marseilles - and no doubt other ports. Dealers - like Trachtenberg -  and collectors would have been able to take advantage of this in the period of Ukrainian independence but also into the early Soviet period.

Illustrations to follow but right now the Scheper material can still be seen on line as