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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.

The telegram below transcribes a message sent from Pera, Constantinople,  on 26 June 1896 [New Style]. The message was (I guess) originally written in Russian and was sent by a Viktorian who was probably connected to the Russian Orthodox church there or the Russian embassy. It acknowledges a telegram sent from Mont Athos in regard to the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II on 14 May 1896 [Old Style]. The message was transcribed into Roman script on a telegram form which is printed in Arabic and French. It was then sent on to the Russian Andreevksi Skete [ the monastery of St Andrew] where a monk has transcribed the Roman script (back) into Russian Cyrillic and also noted at the right the arrival date, 15 May 1896 [ Old Style]. But to what language does the delivery address on the back of the telegram belong? “Mont” suggests French, but is the address consistently in French? “Archimandriton” isn’t French, for example - it would need to be “Archimandrite”. [ And note that though writing in English I have also, without thinking, written "Mont" not "Mount" which would not sound right ....]

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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.

In their original 1958 handbook, Tchilingirian and Stephen speculate that the ROPiT post office on Athos probably closed in December 1914. But Athos passed to Greek control in 1912/13 and so was now under the temporal control of a friendly power when World War One began. The receipts for registered letters shown below show that the office was still open as late as October 1916 and using a new cancellation unlisted by Tchilingirian with STAR. AFON at the base rather than the ST. AFON of the immediately preceding Type 4 cancellation. My illustration also shows the earliest date I can record for this Type 5, 1 August 1912. The registered letters were addressed to Moscow, Odessa, Orenburg gub., and Rostov on Don. On the top right receipt, the sender is identified in Cyrillic as the "P.A.C." which abbreviates, "Russian Andreevski Skete [ Monastery]". The Skete sent a lot of mail through the ROPiT office and it can be assumed that clerks did not always bother to fill in the sender name or the Registration number of the letter. And it may be a sign of difficult times that the clerks are using pencil to fill in the forms.

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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.

Friday, 13 March 2020

London 2020 Stamp Exhibition and the coronavirus

For the past year, I have been preparing for the international stamp exhibition LONDON 2020. I’ve been buying new stock and reducing prices on old stock so that I can have an attractive stand display. My stand is in a prominent position, right next to the (very good) cafe in London’s attractive exhibition hall, the Business Design Centre. I have booked and pre-paid for a hotel for eight nights. Quite soon, I need to recruit temporary assistants or volunteers to work on my stand with me and allow me an occasional break (I'm 72). I have been looking forward to meeting and greeting visitors from all over the world…..

Now I don’t know how things will turn out and I am inviting Comment from my readers.

Update 18 March 2020: Thanks to readers who left Comments. Now I do know how things will turn out. Click to read this statement from the organisers:; I think they have made the right decision and early enough for many people to be able to cancel or change flight and hotel bookings:

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: