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Sunday 4 July 2010

Catalogues and Collections: the case of Armenia

Someone beginning a new collection will almost always start with a general catalogue in hand. After all, they are supposed to know, aren't they?

Suppose you are going to collect classic Armenia (1919 - 23). If you start with Yvert et Tellier in hand, your chances of forming a decent collection are immediately reduced.

Last time I looked, they had converted all the illustrations to colour. It made it easier for me to see that the the pictures were taken from forgeries, but a novice collector won't see that. In addition, the novice will start looking for stamps which don't exist but which Yvert catalogues and gives prices for. For example, the 1922 First Yessayan series of 17 values was not (except for one stamp) issued without surcharges. Moreover,such was the hostility in Armenia at this time to philatelic speculators that you do not find CTO copies of the unsurcharged stamps. None of this stops Yvert from giving prices for Used copies. I suppose it helps sell stamps with forged cancellations.

In contrast, if you start with Michel in hand, you have a catalogue which is based on modern research by philatelists - specifically, on the work of Professor Zakiyan in Yerevan. The illustrations are good, the listing rational, and the omissions motivated. Notably, on the basis of what Zakiyan says - basing himself on official documents - Michel lists only stamps with officially authorised overprints. The other combinations of stamp and overprint also produced in large numbers at the counters of Yerevan's Dashnak - period post office for hungry stamp dealers are excluded from the Michel listing.

So far so good. But there is one BIG mistake in the Michel listing. Zakiyan found a document in the archives listing the stock of Dashnak period stamps available when the Bolsheviks took power. Michel misreads the list and thinks that it gives numbers issued. As a result, it give high valuations to stamps of which few were left. But most of these had been issued in large quantities and some are common. For example, the 10 rouble on 35 kopeck perforated (Michel 66) is valued in Michel at 750€uro. You can buy one from me for 10 €uro and it will be genuine.

This little group of mistakes is a pity. Much of the Michel pricing is sensible, though not for the Second Yessayan IIIa - IIIr which exist as Originals, First Reprints and Second Reprints. Michel has 2.50 €uro for any stamp in the set. I would be asking you for a minimum of 100 €uro for an Original and 10 €uro for a ** Reprint.

Finally, if you start with Stanley Gibbons you have a catalogue based on the researches of Tchilingirian, a very careful collector and writer. Here you will find all the philatelic counter-surcharges from the Dashnak period listed and this can be justified. These stamps were valid for postage and were used postally - they occur, for example, on the postcards which Souren Serebrakian (1900 - 1990) sent to his brother in Tiflis. You can see a couple of nice examples, correctly franked to the 50kopeck tariff, in the 21- 22 July 2010 Cherrystone sale.

Gibbons is much weaker than Michel on stamps of the Soviet period, with inadequate illustrations and distinctions, but the general problem with Gibbons just lies in the pricing. Multiply by three or five and you are in the right ball park.

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