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Friday, 18 June 2021

Local Modifications of Central Stamp Issues

 


Stamp catalogues are not entirely consistent in what they do and don’t list. This is especially the case in relation to what I shall call local modifications.

Our paradigm for a stamp issuing authority is a central government department which distributes standardised stamps to post offices under its control. A limiting case is the micro-state which has only one post office but we can safely ignore that.

In general, local post offices are supposed to use the stamps they receive in the ways intended by the centre. But quite often they do things to stamps before selling them, most commonly:

1.      Perforating imperforate stamps

2.      Bisecting stamps

3.      Changing the face value of stamps invisibly

4.      Changing the face value and showing the change with an overprint or manuscript note

5.      Authenticating stamps at point of sale with a postmaster signature

6.      Pre-cancelling stamps

7.      Defacing stamps - for example, obscuring the face of a former national leader

This list is not exhaustive. In addition, stamps may be distributed not only to post offices but direct to government organisations or departments and they may mark the stamps in some way to prevent their theft and private use by employees. The marks are intended to ensure that the stamps are only used for official business. Quite often, the stamps will already be overprinted OFFICIAL or SERVICE when they arrive but, if not, local initiative might supply the necessary markings. This happened in India before 1900 though the stamps are quite rare unlike the regular On H M S and Service stamps.

In relation to any and every such modification, a central authority may require it, suggest it, tolerate it, forbid it. The actual situation may be unclear: when in 1920 the People’s Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs instructed Russian post offices to sell Imperial kopek value stamps at x 100 face value, some regional stamp distribution offices and some local postmasters took this to mean that they should mark the stamps in some way to indicate the change. But many didn’t and re-valued the stamps invisibly. In contrast, when in the early 1990s Lithuania’s postal authorities instructed post offices to revalue stamps I don’t think any of them marked the change - the revaluation was always invisible.

When the stamps leave the post office some buyers may modify them before use. Common practices include:

1.      Perforating imperforate stamps

2.      Punching the stamps with company initials as a security device to protect against theft [Perfins]. In Imperial Russia, the practice was rare and, in practice, it is only stamps of the Russian Levant which  are occasionally found with company perfins.

3.      Overprinting or handstamping the stamps with a company name or logo likewise to protect against theft. In India, this was common until the practice was banned around 1900. At least one organisation - the Bombay Education Society Press - then responded by handstamping the gummed side of its stamps with its acronym B.E.S.P. So it was still the case that no employee could safely walk out of the office with mint stamps! Nineteenth century stamps from other British colonies (Ceylon, Hong Kong, Straits Settlements notably) are frequently overprinted with company cachets but in Imperial Russia it is rare and the cachets were normally applied after the stamp had been applied to the cover. Here, the motive seems to be to prove that a stamp was on the cover when posted, since if it is removed then the removal will be visible.

4.      [Possibly - I have no examples] Gumming ungummed stamps in sheets to have them ready for use rather than using a glue pot at point of application to a letter.

Catalogue makers generally exclude these private modifications. As for the official or semi-official modifications, these are not treated uniformly though there may be some logic to the choice. Thus, the Departmental overprints of South Australia are listed in outline by Stanley Gibbons because the overprints were all done by the central authority. But the very similar Departmental overprints of India are not listed because they were local initiatives. When it comes to bisects, catalogue makers may try to distinguish those where official permission was granted to a postmaster (or an instruction given to all postmasters) and those where the postmaster took the initiative. If you had no phone or telegraph and had run out of stamps you needed, it made no sense to wait for a permission which might take a week or two weeks (or more) to arrive.  From a philatelic point of view, that kind of unauthorised bisect is probably as interesting as the authorised one. It is only problematic if one suspects that the postmaster had been signed up by the local stamp dealer to create a scarce variety, as indeed has often been the case. In the Soviet Union by the 1930s and after, central control was very effective and local modifications by post offices very, very rare.

There is one interesting category which is not often noticed. Central authorities may damage stamps deliberately before issuing them, or may instruct postmasters to do the job. I know of two examples: in Hungary in the 1920s, sheets of stamps intended for post offices had some of the stamps in each sheet perforated before distribution with three small punch holes. The idea was to protect the revenues of the (hard currency?) philatelic department by making it unattractive to buy sheets of stamps at regular post office counters. Similarly, in the 1990s to protect a commercial monopoly of mint sales to dealers and collectors, the stamps sold at Turkmenistan’s post offices had perforations trimmed off on one side before sale. This has the curious consequence that you can only collect genuine postally used Turkmen stamps (rare in themselves!) if you are willing to collect damaged ones …

Locally modified stamps all have their specialist collectors and study groups; general catalogues could help by at least noting some of the more prominent local modifications. For example, postmaster and private perforations on the early stamp issues of Estonia and Latvia are common enough for copies to appear fairly frequently in old collections and on covers, often philatelic. The same is true for the 1917 imperforate issues of Russian Imperial Arms stamps. But in the case of the first post-1991 stamps of Lithuania, local perforations exist but are much less common and I guess many collectors would be surprised to learn that they do.

 

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 www.corinphila.nl

 

 

 

Friday, 22 January 2021

Romanian Occupation of Pokutia: A Puzzling set of stamps

 


Ingert Kuzych  has sent me the above scan of five puzzling stamps. Below I reproduce his thoughts about them. But he would like to know more - if anyone now knows. If you do, please email him directly at ingert@verizon.net

A “High-Value C.M.T.” Issue

 

A different type of “C.M.T.” issue exists, this time with a black-ink overprint of "C.M.T. Roman POCUTIA" on five high-value Austrian stamps and surcharged with new, higher values as follows: K. 1.20 on 1-Krone, K. 1.20 on 2-Kronen, K. 1.20 on 3-Kronen, K. 4 on 4-Kronen, and K. 4 on 10-Kronen (Figure 33). Two different handstamps were used in creating these stamps, the overprint design of which is far more refined than the simple one found on the regular “C.M.T.” occupational stamps. A double-lined frame surrounds the four-line overprint text, which is composed of three different fonts.

 

Very few of these “High-Value C.M.T.” stamps exist; they were supposedly also prepared for the 1919 Romanian occupation but never issued. The ‘K. 1.20 h.’ values match the ‘1 K. 20 h.’ values of the regular “C.M.T.” Issue; the ‘K. 4.’ values would have served to pay for telegram services. However, the exact reason for their manufacture – legitimate need versus speculative creation – remains unclear. A set of the five unissued values is apparently quite rare, with one expertizer claiming to only know of two complete sets ever assembled.

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 patemantrevor@gmail.com

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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