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Friday 31 December 2010

Happy New Year! Keep collecting in 2011!

Happy New Year to all my Readers!

The future of philately is in your hands!

I hope you will make a Philatelic New Year's Resolution.

Here are mine:

1. To start a new collection focussed on the postal history of one Russian town or city. I will count as "Russian" anywhere that was Russian before 1917 but I will continue after 1917 regardless of whether it remained in the Soviet Union. I have a couple of cities in mind but I would prefer somewhere a bit smaller ....

2. To study in depth one issue about which I currently know very little. Not necessarily a big issue - it could be something as small as Armenia's # 1 about which I blogged the other day.

3. To go to some stamp shows just as a visitor, not as a dealer with a stand

4. To get a decent magnifying glass.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Armenia 1919: "k 60 k" overprints

Armenia declared its national independence in May 1918 with Yerevan as its capital. Distinctive postage stamps did not appear until over a year later - July 1919 is the date usually given for the appearance of the first "k 60 k" overprints on 1 kopeck Russian stamps.

So this is Armenia's Number 1, celebrated 75 years later on a stamp of the modern Republic of Armenia.

We still know very little about it.

1. We do not know how many physically (numerically) separate handstamps were in use and whether they were (all or some) made individually or (all or some) made from moulds.

The core problem here is that some of the time it is not clear if one is looking at variations due to wear, ink or handstamping style of a clerk or looking at impressions from a different handstamp. I have a couple of hundred overprinted stamps in my stockbook and the variation among those I believe genuine is considerable ...

2. We do not know for sure how many post offices were open to despatch mail in the second half of 1919 and how many of them received or made a supply of "k 60 k" stamps

3. We do not know precisely what was the relation between centrally and locally produced overprints.

It is clear that at Katarsky Zavod - the Zangezur copper mines - there were locally produced handstamps in two denominations (60 and 120) and probably only two handstamps to make these famous local issues.

From the 2010 Artar catalog (page 16) it looks as if a Manuscript "60" surcharge was locally produced at Nizhnie Akhty - and if there, then possibly elsewhere, since there was a central directive regarding the uprating of 1 kopeck stamps to 60 kopecks. [ Correction: As Stefan Berger points out to me, the Nizhnie Akhty cancellation has a date of 30 3 1 ..This is not compatible with the "60" having been applied in response to a directive in July 1919. This suggests that the "60" in manuscript is a fake. The only other possibilities are that the Mss was an independent initiative prior to the official decision or that the "3" in the date stamp (March) is a slipped date ]

According to Ceresa (1978), there was a handstamp used locally at Elenovka (Yelenovka) which because of its similarities to the standard Erivan type (k 60 k without stops) could have been produced from a mould and sent from Erivan to Elenovka ... Ceresa illustrates a cover from his collection (Plate 1) part of which is better illustrated in the Artar catalog (page 16) - I believe the cover to be in a Moscow collection - but Artar does not regard the stamps on this cover as other than examples of the standard Erivan "k 60 k" without stops

The "k 60 k" without stops and with the "6" and "0" close together and apparently from a metal handstamp is associated with Alexandropol and generally attributed to that city in catalogues but which is also found with Erivan cancellations. It seems likely that this handstamp was indeed located in the Alexandropol post office and may have been made in the city rather than sent from Yerevan. At a later date, remainders of the issue may have been sent off to Yerevan for overprinting with framed and unframed "Z". But since stamps with Yerevan-style overprints are found with Alexandropol cancels, it seems there was also a central distribution of stamps from Yerevan.

Finally, at least one "k.60.k" handstamp was in use in Yerevan. I say at least one because Zakiyan provides two different illustrations of this surcharge, though calling both of them "Type II". (Zakiyan also shows two illustrations of "Type I" without dots, but these are the Erivan type ( space between "6" and "0") and the Alexandropol type (no space).

It would be nice to clear up what should be a relatively simple story. The most important fact to bear in mind is that the central directive was implemented with a mix of central and local initiatives - at a time when the desperate state of the country made everyday life very difficult to sustain


Postscript: ELENOVKA. I have only seen CTO Dashnak material from one place apart from ERIVAN and ALEXANDRPOL and that place is ELENOVKA ERIV. I believe that this is because the Belgian mining engineer and philatelist, Boel ( of Katarsky Zavodi fame) visited Elenovka - the Ceresa cover mentioned above is a Boel cover. I don't know why he visited Elenovka (now called Sevan and located on Lake Sevan).
Elenovka was a Russian settlement founded in the middle of the 19th century and home to religious dissidents - principally Dukhobors - though many left for Canada around 1900.
Elenovka post office was open in the Dashnak period - as is evident from the CTO material and the Boel cover - and it remained open in the early Soviet period, though the cancellation is rare on 1922 - 23 issues.
Boel probably stopped at Elenovka because it was on the old post road from Yerevan to Tiflis - trains may not have been running when he needed one. In 1901. Esther Lancraft Hovey published an article in The National Geographic on "The Old Post Road from Tiflis to Erivan". This contains photographs of Elenovka, some of which are reproduced in Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus (Cornell University Press 1905)

Note added 30 March 2014: Boel also visited the copper mines at Allaverdi in Tiflis guberniya and there is Boel-related correspondence from Allaverdi. He may have used the Erivan - Tiflis post road to get to Allaverdi

Sunday 19 December 2010

Georgia, Soviet Issues 1922 - 23: A Discovery!

Today I was tidying up my stockbook of Soviet Georgia 1922 - 23. I was turning over stamps in order to separate ** from * stamps. I turned over a block of 4 of a 1923 stamp: the 10 000 pyb machine surcharge on the 1000 pyb brown (the Sower): Michel 53A and Gibbons 42. Somethng wasn't quite right: the paper seemed thin and a bit brittle. Then I realised:

The basic stamp of 1922 (Michel 32A and Gibbons 29) is supposed to be on horizontally laid paper (gestreiftem Papier). This paper is quite distinctive - it reminds me of expensive notepaper - and the horizontal laid lines are almost always easy to see - the stamps have quite wide margins and you can look in the margins to see the lines.

My stamps were on ordinary wove paper with the stamp design and overprint showing through.

What was I looking at? My stamps are not Forgeries - the scarce Forgery type is on wove paper for all values but it has design differences and for the 1000r stamp the colour is quite different: a very pale brown. Think of cheap and nasty chocolate!

Then I looked at the Gibbons Part 10, 2008 note for the original, unsurcharged 1922 issue; " The 500, 1000 and 5000r are on horizontally laid paper and the 2000 and 3000r on opaque wove paper. It is believed that occasionally sheets were printed on the incorrect paper"

So, if Gibbons is right, I am looking at examples of "incorrect paper" - perhaps these stamps were originally held back for that reason and only later used up when the machine overprints were being made.

Of course, if these stamps were from Great Britain or Russia we would have a Major Catalog Variety - but, unfortunately, it's Georgia so I am not suddenly a rich man

I found a few more of this Variety in my stock - probably from the same source.

Now I suppose I should go through all the other stamps in the stockbook looking for more examples of "incorrect paper" on other values and with other surcharges ....

If I do, I will report back in due course.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Armenia 1921 : Second Yessayan

This is a curious and rather beautiful set (Michel IIIa - IIIr) prepared by the (Y)essayan Printing Works in Constantinople at the same time as the First Yessayan set. The series was intended for use as Obligatory Tax stamps for Famine Relief, along the same lines as those issued in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

There were 16 stamps - eight different designs, each one printed both in grey and in red. As with the First Yessayan set, only some were issued and then only with surcharges.

For these stamps I have only one stockbook, since in all forms they are relatively scarce:

1. Unoverprinted stamps from the Original printing in which there was one sheet for each value. You will normally only find Originals for the stamps which were NOT issued and even then they are scarce. Unoverprinted examples of the issued stamps are rarities and I currently have none in stock. The Michel pricings only make sense as prices for reprints and even then they are low. I sell Reprints at 10 euro each if they are in nice ** condition. But I ask 100 euro for a ** Original, when I can find one. Michel has 2 euro 50 cents ....

2. Stamps with genuine overprints. Of necessity, genuine overprints are only found on stamps of the original printing. Some mint values are reasonably common, notably the "20" surcharge on 5000 r grey. Correspondingly, this stamp in used condition is rare - at least as rare as the "15" on 5000 r red to which Michel gives the highest used valuation

3. First Reprints. Made by Yessayan by re-setting the 8 values onto just two sheets

4. Second Reprints. Made by Yessayan by re-setting all values a second time onto just one sheet

The fact that there are two distinct sets of Reprints explains why there is not just a gradual deterioration in print quality. In addition, First Reprints are on a white paper which is either without gum (about 50%) or with a good white gum. Second Reprints are always gummed and the gum is yellowish, giving the paper a yellowish appearance.

You rarely find se-tenant examples of different reprint values. This is because the sheets were cut up by packet makers in the 1920s and 1930s. I guess it annoyed them that Yessayan did not put equal numbers of each value onto his reprint sheets!

For pictures of the two distinct Reprints in sheets, see Stefan Berger's article in Deutsche Zeitschrift fuer Russland-Philatelie, # 93, November 2010. Each Reprint was made for BOTH grey and red values. I think the print run of the first Reprint was probably bigger than that for the second.

Any surcharge on a Reprint is going to be a Forgery. It's that simple. In a rational world there would be NO forged surcharges on Original stamps, since the Originals without surcharge are much much scarcer than with surcharge. However, people are sometimes badly informed (look at the Michel prices) and there may be Forged surcharges on genuine Original stamps.

5. The Forgery. There is only one recorded Forgery type which is so bad that it seems likely it was made from catalogue illustrations in the 1920s. The gum is really thick and brown and the paper grey brown. These Forgeries should not trouble any serious collector. Curiously, the red forgeries are RARE! Maybe the printer did not have enough red ink to print a decent quantity ...

Sunday 12 December 2010

Armenia 1921 First Yessayan: Quantity and Quality

Collectors who exhibit in order to win medals have to search for Quality and that usually means rare stamps and rare covers.

This may be one reason why basic philatelic research is sometimes neglected. Old fashioned research almost inevitably involves accumulating in quantity - just to see what's out there and to classify and evaluate it.

Soviet Armenia's first set of pictorials consists of 17 values, prepared imperforate and perforated (Michel II a - s). That's 34 stamps to kick off, to which has to be added Proofs and Colour Trials.

Only some stamps were issued and always with handstamped or handwritten surcharges in a variety of styles and in two colours (black and red). Collect one of each and you are heading towards a hundred stamps.

To deal in this issue, one of my "Specialities", I look at my shelves and realise that over the years I have accumulated five large stockbooks:

1. Genuine stamps from the Original printing carried out at the [Y]essayan Printing Works in Constantinople. A very unbalanced stockbook now. Perforated stamps are generally scarcer and the 25 000 in brown perforated is rare. I don't have one but I have hundreds of others in this book.

2. Genuine overprints, which have to be on stamps of the Original printing, in red and black. Red are generally scarcer (except for the 1 on 1) but some black surcharges are very scarce - the 35 on 20 000 and the 3 on 20 000, for example. There are varieties not listed in Michel (you will find them in Zakiyan). None of them are philatelic - the Armenian Bolsheviks has no time for stamp dealers, and even imprisoned one of them (Melik - Pacher / Pachaev).

3. The common Forgery on bright, brittle paper with shiny gum. So common that they are sometimes classed as Reprints, but actually they just don't seem like Yessayan's work especially if you compare with the Reprints he undoubtedly did make of the Second Yessayan series. A very fat stockbook of little value, but with annoying gaps. You would expect the numbers to be more equally distributed than they are in this bulging stockbook, worth no more than a couple of hundred (pounds, euros, dollars).

4. The scarcer forgeries, of which there are at least two types, on paper and sometimes with gum much closer to the Originals but with much poorer quality printing. Much less common, though I picked up an old Italian dealer's stock of them years ago, including part sheets which you rarely see because most were cut up to fill packets.

5. Forged overprints, generally on forged stamps but sometimes on genuine stamps - and these are usually good ones. Blue-black ink instead of black ink is a common feature of these well-executed forgeries which are often seen in auctions. An interesting stockbook which has involved me in many hours work: assessing "1" and "3" overprints on genuine basic stamps is not easy! An interesting book, yes, but - of course - of virtually no retail value.

In all the many years I have accumulated and traded from this stock, NO collector has ever approached me saying, "I want to research this issue. Have you got a big accumulation that I could study? I'll take thousands if you have got them".

Stefan Berger in Germany ( ) has got his own accumulation, but whether there is anyone else out there with enough stamps to really assess this issue in all its aspects, I don't know. Anyone?

Thursday 9 December 2010

RSFSR Postmaster Provisionals (rouble revaluations) are easy

Yes, it's true

For years I have put these stamps aside thinking Too Difficult, Too Easily Forged.
Now when I study them I realise:

1. For a few issues, there were remainders which were recycled by the Soviet Philatelic Agency. These are the issues for which Michel gives prices for mint * copies. For all the other issues Michel gives mint * prices of - - . These issues are rare, very rare, or simply non-existent mint. If you think you have mint copies, there is a 99% probability that they are fakes. Stop looking at them. Move on ...

2. Postal services in 1920 Russia were still much reduced. Recovery is only really obvious in 1922. Now consider that the MAJORITY of 1920 Postmaster Provisionals are from out-of-the-way places you have probably never heard of. Suppose you are a forger planning to put "p" on used stamps to turn them into Postmaster Provisionals. Your chances of finding stamps with the right cancels at the right date are no greater than finding stamps which ALREADY have "p" on them! That is why forgers end up putting their "p"s on stamps with cancels of the wrong places (Petrograd, Moscow ...) at the wrong time (1915 ...). And it is easy work to eliminate such stamps as forgeries. Move on ...

3. Furthermore, most of the Postmaster Provisionals appear to have been used on Money Transfer Forms and Parcel Cards, where they generally received clear cancellations.

4. CONCLUSION: if the place name is right on the cancellation and the date is 1920, then the "p" or "pyb" that goes with it is almost certainly GENUINE.

5. It could have been even easier BUT: the people who first got their hands on Parcel and Transfer cards franked with Postmaster Provisionals decided that the way to make money was to (a) peel or soak off stamps on the back of the card to sell separately (b) cut up the card to produce single stamps on piece taken from the front (often with clipped perfs from splitting multiples) .... The result is that you frequently find two things of help in assessing a Postmaster Provsional: (1) stamps with pink or brown paper adhering on the back may well have been peeled off the back of a card (2) stamps on small fragments cut very close at top and bottom are the result of cutting up multiples. It's a great pity because it means you only get part of a postmark to study. But often it's enough and the clipped perfs are a clue that you are on to something.

6. SIGNATURES? There are some useful signatures. Mikulski signed these things, so did Pohl and Dr Jem. A useful one to look out for is KRYNINE which I think is reliable. But not a lot of the material appears to be signed, so you have to use my method ...

... and using it you can form a Postmaster Provisional collection even if you cannot afford the four-figure prices which complete Transfer and Parcel Cards obtain in auction.

Problem solved. No charge for my services because there wasn't much of a problem in the first place :)

Saturday 4 December 2010

CMT overprints

Added February 2020: Most of my Ukraine-related Blog posts are now available in full colour book form. To find out more follow the link:

Today, I am looking at CMT overprints

During and especially after World War One, army officers became addicted to occupying bits of other people's territory in order to issue Occupation stamps. They were nice little earners. They cannot be written off, however, because most of them had not only official legitimation but also some legitimate actual use.

This is true of the CMT overprints from the 1919 Romanian Occupation of Pokutia (the district of Kolomya in what was Austria-Hungary, then in what was briefly Western Ukraine, subsequently in Poland and now in Ukraine via the Soviet Union). Pokutia really was the back of beyond and the local occupation issue was the work of just two people, the Romanian Major Turbatu of the occupying forces and Ivan Cherniavsky, a prominent lawyer in Kolomya - and philatelist (though very much a collector rather than a dealer).

When you read the documentation they left behind, you get the feeling that they were both unusually honest and conscientious in their approach. The issue they prepared was simple, comprising just thirteen stamps, and it was distributed to 6 of the 8 post offices under temporary Romanian control, and largely used up. They clearly did themselves a few favours - just eight copies of the #1 stamp which they would have been crazy not to have bought up on the spot. But as things went at the time, this seems modest.

Cherniavsky's real perk, in due course, was to get the secretaries in the Kolomya district court [he was in charge] to let him have envelopes arriving at the court. He was a cover collector and the CMT stamps distributed across the District came back to the Court on envelopes sent in by small town lawyers.

Except from Lanczyn, where it seems [from my research] that a local philatelist bought up the CMT stamps and stuck them for cancellation on blank covers. So they did not travel back to Kolomya - Cherniavsky observed in 1928 that he did not have covers from Lanczyn in his collection and this is probably the reason why!

Indeed, the modest and undemonstrative way Turbatu and Cherniavsky went about things clearly annoyed stamp dealers and even collectors across the borders in Romania and Austria when they got to hear about what was going on. Here were these people issuing stamps and they hadn't been offered any!

The Major and the lawyer seemed oblivious of the kind of demand for these things which existed at the time. Dealers in Vienna could shift tens of thousands of provisional stamps. They weren't interested in covers which had been genuinely used to the District Court.

Eventually, the dealers and at least one collector got their way - presumably by paying to get it - and the Romanians furnished them with new editions of the CMT overprints, using the original handstamps and even the same ink pads, but applied to a much larger range of basic adhesives - around 50 different basic stamps. They also got "Proofs" in red [which I have seen] and blue [which I haven't] in suitably small quantities.[ Turbatu and Cherniavsky seem not to have even thought of making Proofs ].

As far as I can tell, it is generally impossible to distinguish between mint copies of Turbatu - Cherniavsky originals and mint Second Editions which were produced outside Pokutia at Cernauti, like the Originals, but never taken inside Pokutia.

Used stamps from the Original printing will have a very limited range of cancels - probably from just the six offices which received the stamps - from a limited period (14 June 1919 - 20 August 1919). Reprints which have been cancelled will fail this cancellation test.

There is one small complication to this story. A small part of the fresh overprints were done for a Cernauti Professor, Gronich, and applied to stamps he had taken into Pokutia and had CTOd in Kolomya during the period of the Romanian occupation. These overprints were applied [ acccording to my research which still needs further corroboration] in a very watery violet ink, perhaps to disguise the fact that they were being applied to stamps which had already been CTOd. But the CTO dates, at the beginning of August, are within the right time period for legitimate use and with the cancellation then in use at Kolomya.

Does any reader have further information?

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Stop the Scribblers!

I was just sent an Italian auction catalogue. Very lavish. But I couldn't buy any of the stuff on offer. It's all been scribbled on. Experts who not only put their signatures on the cover but right next to the interesting bits. Dreadful. Who do they think they are? It's not even as if they don't make mistakes. They do. Sometimes big ones.

Worse, is often unclear what is being signed. The stamp? The overprint? The cancellation?

I have seen relatively common stamps which have ben signed by an expert as genuine. At a later date, some forger has added a rare overprint. It's easy to suppose that it's the overprint which has been signed for.

Colour photocopies are cheap and accurate. The thing to do is to attach one to a Certificate or Short Opinion (Kurzbefund) and then record what it is you are signing off as Genuine. Ambiguity is removed when you tick the various boxes: Stamp: OK Overprint: OK Cancellation: OK. You can leave a space for comments too, like "Repaired" or "Cleaned".

It's time to kill off signatures, whether on stamps or covers. They are unnecessary. They devalue an artefact, except in very unusual circumstances: Agathon Faberge's pencilled acquisition notes often provide valuable information as well as an indication of provenance.

At the same time, it's time for collectors to tell dealers they don't want to buy something with twenty five pencilled prices rubbed out and a twenty sixth one written in. All covers should be sold in a plastic protector and the place for the price is on the protector. That is, unless you are selling all your covers at one price, in which case you just need one placard to announce the fact. Full stop end of story.

Unmounted mint stamps command a premium over mounted mint, often a large one. Covers which have not been scribbled on ought also to command a premium.