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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Review: Edward Klempka, Foreign Military Activity in the Russian Civil War 1917-1923

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This impressive 380 page, full colour book is jointly published by the auction house David Feldman (Geneva) and the British Society of Russian Philately. The well-known collector, Edward Klempka, illustrates material from more foreign forces  than most of us supposed existed. So we not only have the Americans and the British, the French and the Germans but also Italians and  Poles,  Turks and Yugoslavs. And ten more in addition.The profuse illustrations include many of rare and unexpected items. Any collector who is puzzled over an item which looks as if it might have to do with some foreign intervention in Russia could turn to this book and expect enlightenment.

The book has an ISBN and on the website of is priced at £50 plus postage. For more information follow the link:

Monday, 12 August 2019

Ukraine Trident Overprints: Inverted Varieties

Most 1918 Ukraine Trident overprints were applied by hand. Machine printed Tridents were applied to make Kiev/Kyiv type 3 and Odessa/Odesa types 1, 2 and 3. Since Ukraine was a big country even in 1918 (population between 25 and 30 million) dozens of clerks were kept busy overprinting sheets of Imperial stamps. It must have been very boring, the boredom perhaps relieved by alcohol when it could be obtained or at least tea and tobacco.

But inverted overprints from handstamps are really very uncommon. This is surprising. I think there may be three explanations:

1.      If a clerk started overprinting with the handstamp held upside down, he (always he, I suspect) would probably notice and correct the error. It would require real carelessness to work through a whole sheet using the handstamp upside down. It’s true that in poor light, some stamps don’t obviously self-identify as the right way up, so if the sheet , not the handstamp, was upside down this might be missed. The pale yellow of 1 kopek is the most obvious example of a stamp which does not shout out when it is the wrong way up and it’s true that inverted overprints on the 1 kopek are generally more common than on other values.

2.      The work of individual clerks was supervised and checked. This may explain the use of “correcting handstamps” applied over poor examples of a trident overprint or onto stamps which had somehow missed an overprint. Correcting handstamps are found, for example, on stamps of Poltava.

3.      Dealers and speculators of the time no doubt wanted to have inverted overprints to sell at a premium. Asked for such varieties, postal officials may not have been as co-operative as they sometimes are. The Trident was a symbol of new independence and national pride. To apply it upside down at this early stage of a political revolution may have been thought disloyal or, at least, lacking in seriousness. In contrast, varying the colour of the ink may have been more acceptable. So-called Svenson varieties on things like Kiev 2gg are ink varieties; inverted overprints are still not common on these varieties. Only for Odessa/Odesa ( a very Russian city) do you get lots of inverted overprints, clearly made to order. In addition, it may be that handstamps were taken away from post office premises and used by dealers like Trachtenberg who did their own work and created their own varieties.

Catalogue listings of the inverted overprints are not systematic. Dr Seichter tends to give a general guide, suggesting premiums on the normal valuation. Bulat lists some inverts but not others, as I was reminded when I looked up this little group of Kharkov/Kharkiv I. Bulat lists several values with inverted overprints but not this one, even though these postally-used stamps (ex the Schmidt collection) have very old UPV guarantee marks. It seems likely that they are all from the same sheet and with cancellations of what I read as BOGODUKHOV KHARK - now the small Ukrainian town of Bohodukhiv. 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

A Rarity from 1923 Georgia

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Most collectors have the experience of never seeing a stamp which is listed in the catalogue they are using - not a RRRR stamp but a stamp which might be catalogued at 1 or 10  or 20 or 100. Sometimes, the problem is simply a typographical error in the catalogue - it says 3 cents red but should say 5 cents red. Sometimes, it is because of some unreliable information the catalogue editor was given either by a collector or a speculator. This is why editors of the better catalogues insist on seeing any stamp before they list it.

Over the years, I have handled thousands of stamps of Georgia for the period 1919 - 1923. They are well-studied and not very complex, except for some of the handstamp surcharges. But I had never seen one particular stamp, listed in the main catalogues: the 1923 machine overprint with Soviet arms and numeral of value, 300 000 on 20 kopek Imperial Arms perforated, but the overprint in blue instead of black. I did look carefully - blue and black are sometimes hard to distinguish on a blue stamp and maybe my eyes aren’t so good now.  I never found a blue overprint.

Then last week I was viewing the Dr Hans Grigoleit collection of Transcaucasia and there it was. Not only the stamp but on cover. The stamp exists and is not some philatelic variety - here are two copies on a clearly commercial cover from Suram / Surami to Tiflis / Tbilisi with a manuscript Registration cachet and a Tiflis / Tbilisi receiver (Ashford type 15). The letter is addressed in Georgian script and both despatch and arrival cancels are in Georgian, but the registration cachet has been written in Cyrillic as SURAM - the Georgian name is Surami.

So if you don’t have the blue overprint variety in your collection, keep on looking. It exists. As for this cover, it will be included in the Heinrich Koehler auction of Dr Grigoleit’s collection in September 2019. (I am grateful to Heinrich Koehler for letting me preview it here)

To view Lots in the September 2019 Koehler auction, it is easiest to view by country at

Friday, 28 June 2019

Salvage Philately 3: Problems with Roulettes

There is a good rule to follow when collecting rouletted stamps: Don’t

I apologise to collectors of classic Finland, but I am sure they will understand why I say that. Rouletting, whether of the fancy Finnish kind or the regular straight cut kind, may be all right for raffle tickets, cloakroom tickets, printed on thin paper without gum and where only rough separation is needed. But for small size stamps on paper thickened by gum, rouletting does not work.

Here are some of the problems we have inherited:

1.      Post office clerks who tried and failed to separate rouletted stamps cleanly often gave up and started to use scissors. Many classic rouletted issues were supposed to be an improvement on previous imperforate stamps, but the clerks decided otherwise. This creates confusion now because some rouletted stamps will look like imperforate ones thanks to what the clerks did at the time.

2.      Collectors in the past thought that the rouletted stamps they were soaking off covers looked untidy, so they tidied them up by trimming off the roulettes. Where scarce imperforate versions of the rouletted stamps existed, they sometimes cut down a rouletted stamp to produce a spacefiller and a fake imperforate. Dealers also did this and the result now is that the world is full of faked imperforate stamps which were originally rouletted stamps.

3.      Though catalogues confidently give spacing sizes for roulettes ( roul 8,roul 11, and so on), it is very hard to measure roulettes unless you have a multiple which makes things easier. Indeed, if you insist on collecting roulettes, my suggestion is that you collect multiples.

South Australia is notorious for both poorly perforated and poorly rouletted stamps. It would seem that the workers who did the job had access to unlimited quantities of rum. The work was so unsatisfactory that some rouletted stamps were subsequently perforated in order to try to get a better result. Badly perforated sheets were also removed from post office stocks for overprinting to make what are known as "Departmentals", an interesting group of stamps used on Official mail.

Between 1855 and 1868, the first design for South Australian stamps appeared imperforate, rouletted, perforated, perforated over roulette, and perforated x rouletted. So a serious collector has to try to illustrate all these possibilities, as well as shades. Fortunately the watermark remains constant.

Take a look at this group of 2d stamps in a variety of shades. All  have traces of roulettes even the one which looks as if it has been seriously cut down. But then ask, Which copies here are good examples of South Australian rouletting? Some are clearly better than others but compared to the kind of clarity which perforation usually permits, none of these stand out as just what a collector needs …

Most of the stamps here are almost certainly SG 25 and 26 and so have a catalogue value of only two or three pounds each. For purposes of writing this Blog post, I have washed them but would not otherwise have bothered.

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Salvage Philately 2: Stamp or Cover? That Is The Question ...

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Unless the UK descends into complete chaos or the grim reaper decides that my time is up,  I will be at the LONDON 2020 international stamp exhibition in May 2020. I have booked two stands: on one, I will sit with my specialist stocks; on the other, I will try to sell off all the bin ends, bits and pieces, mistakes, and so on from my time as a dealer. There will be just two prices on this second stand: £5 and £2, and the aim is to offer good value for those prices.

As a dealer, I try to use my time well but like many dealers I fail. The simple pricing system - either it goes in a £5 box or into a £2 box - does save time, but only if I don’t think too much about what I am doing. In relation to stamps, it most definitely does not make sense to check perforations or watermarks or even postmarks unless they are very obviously significant. Nor does it make sense to clean up used stamps by soaking off old hinges and so on.

Collectors have a different set of problems. Take a look at the fragment of a cover illustrated above. It actually shows a lot of information of interest to a postal historian: (1) dated Sydney despatch cancel for 27 March 1868; (2) dated London arrival marks for 21 May 1868, as a result of which we know the total journey time taken by what was this letter; (3) a one shilling stamp which could have been the entire franking - I don’t know what the tariff was but a specialist will and will thus know if the franking is still complete.


The fragment - though it is without pencil notes or hinges - has been badly affected by water and quite possibly by water which was not very clean when it encountered the cover. The stamp has been affected.

A stamp collector might look at this fragment and decide to wash the stamp off . There will be no hinges on the back of the stamp, no thins, and when thoroughly washed the overall appearance might be really quite good and it will be easier to verify which stamp is actually on this piece. I measure the perforations at 13 and so the stamp is either SG 168 (rose-carmine, cat £8) or 169 (carmine, cat £8.50).

Well, at those values it is hardly worth the effort - you could buy a better looking loose stamp from a dealer for half cat. or less.


My decision as a dealer is to leave the stamp on the piece and put the piece in my £5 box without comment. If it doesn’t sell there, then in due course it can go down to the £2 box. Of course, I  made the decision in two seconds - and before I started to study the fragment to write this Blog post.

Oh, and I forgot something: for the social philatelist there is a lot more information on this fragment: “…Woodward Esq    8 Parliament St     London” is enough to Google with even if you have to play around a bit to get results (there are results).

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Over 500 000 page views ...

I see today that the page views of this site have now gone past 500 000, which averages out at just under 1 000 views for each  of the 542 blog posts.

I don't know how successful Google is at filtering out from the count the page views of bots, crawlers, etc., which periodically go through the site and sometimes cut and paste it elsewhere, so I guess not all the viewing has been done by humans.

This week, for example, there have been over 4 000 page views which Google traces to Israel, entirely out of proportion to other sources - the USA generated 212 in the same period, and the second highest figure which, I think, suggests a strong likelihood that the Israel figure is not a collector-generated one.

Google searches are the entry route for the overwhelming majority of visits. The all-time highest number of page views is attributed to the USA (127 242 as of today), followed by Ukraine (55 995), the UK (44 908), Israel (40 892 - but keep in mind the previous paragraph), Russia (33 809), China (25 129), France (25 083).

I am posting much less new material, as regular readers will have realised, and I have thought of stopping. But it is very easy to lave a Blog open and simply come back to it whenever ...

Friday, 7 June 2019

Social Philately

All museums and all collecting hobbies started out by removing things from their context. I can’t think of an exception. This was very evident in early “cabinets of curiosities” which were no more than magpie hoards of this, that and the other. Likewise, the Vatican drawers, created for the purpose, were full of the detached relics of saints but contained no actual saints.

When stamps were introduced in 1840, it was the job of post office clerks to remove them from the sheets - which provided their initial context - so that they could be stuck onto envelopes. Early collectors promptly removed them from this context of use, the envelopes onto which they were stuck. Only later did collectors begin to show an interest in sheets (to which were later added booklets and coils) and an interest in covers, out of which has developed the hobby of postal history collecting.

What is now called “Social philately” is simply an expansion of the context into which collectors place their stamps or covers and it has been greatly enabled by the ability we all now have to google something, to find out who wrote a card, who was the addressee, what a town was like one hundred years ago, and so on. Likewise, serious stamp collectors have long been interested in stamp printers, the machinery they used, the inks they sourced, the ways in which they marketed their services, the scams in which they were involved.

 In these ways, stamps and covers are placed in an ever enlarged context of social and economic relations. But “Social philately” is really a matter of degree rather than of type. Anyone who ever googles to find out who wrote or received a letter is engaged in social philately, even if it is not the main focus of their interest. On this Blog, see this post as an example of what might be involved:

The potential of  social philately is well-illustrated by the collection held by Boston University where Professor Thomas Glick amassed several thousand stationery cards from the archives of a pre - 1914 Romanian grain dealer. The cards allowed the way in which business was done to be reconstructed from the written texts on the cards and the places from which they were despatched. They also show a business being conducted in two languages, Romanian and Yiddish. 

Many other correspondences exist which were originally in commercial, family or state archives and which allow similar reconstruction projects to be undertaken, though often the archives are quickly dispersed before anyone has the chance to buy them up intact. Similarly, printers’ archives have been broken up and individual items often command prices which make any thought of reconstructing the whole archive unrealistic. But it is entirely possible to reconstruct from a limited set of examples how, for example,  a nineteenth century stamp printer worked.