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Thursday 29 December 2011

Russia: Philatelic Exchange Control Stamps 1920s-30s

In Russia in the 1920s and 1930s if you wanted to send stamps abroad (or get stamps from abroad), you had to send your letter via the Soviet Philatelic Association. You had to declare the value of the material you sent (the Yvert et Tellier catalogue was used; perhaps it was reliable then), and you paid a tax on the value. Your letter was sealed up with a Philatelic Exchange Tax stamp for the amount of tax you had paid.

It is my belief that the Philatelic Exchange control stamps are never used philatelically - that is to say, no one ever paid more tax than necessary just to get more Philatelic Exchange tax stamps on the back of the envelope. Maybe it was not even possible to do this. In general, it is low value tax stamps which are seen - few collectors were rich enough to send high-value material. The high value Exchange Control stamps are more common mint than used. The reverse is true for low values.

It is clear that by the 1930s most collectors were afraid to send mail abroad - it put you at risk of attention from the secret police. Indeed, when the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States in 1940, stamp collectors and dealers with foreign contacts were high on the NKVD list of people to be interrogated.

So in the 1930s, most mail with Philatelic Exchange Control stamps is sent from the Soviet Philatelic Association itself. The 1933 cover above, going to Mexico, and still with its contents letter is an unusual example of a sending from a private individual.

In the early 1920s, you can find covers with the autograph of F. Chuchin, the first Soviet "Commissar for Philately" and author of the famous Chuchin Zemstvo catalogue. Two examples of autographed covers are shown at the top of this Blog. In both cases, you can see manuscript indications of the value of the sending expressed in Francs (500 and 100). In the case of the sending to Mexico, the value is indicated in red on the accompanying letter (Fr 34.50)which also has a statement of the rules governing philatelic exchange printed in French.

Saturday 24 December 2011

1857: Prince Alexander Gagarin, Murdered in Kutais

This mourning letter is my favourite acquisition from 2011

Prince Alexander Gagarin, Military Governor of Kutais (Georgia), was murdered in 1857. Here, in March 1858, his widow Princess Anastasie Gagarine, replies to a letter of condolence from Prince Emile Sayn-Wittgenstein.

Her letter is written in French - it may have been written for her, since her signature is in a slightly different ink and handwriting.

The oval KUTAIS postmark is very rare - and, on a letter going abroad, possibly unique

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Kharkiv tridents, Types 4,5,6 and 7

Here are some illustrations of these scarce trident types. I no longer have copies of Type 8 (Lubotin). Most of my material originates from the Vyrovyj collection, though I have also found used copies of the more common types in accumulations of regular Kharkiv I tridents.

Type 4 on the 3rouble 50 is illustrated with a Parcel Card fragment from Dr Seichter's collection. It can be seen that the postmark is the same as that on a pair sold a few years ago at Corinphila. The mint copies show the distinctive feature - a dot at the top of the central spike.

Type 5 on used 50 kopeck copies normally has the appearance of an over-inked rubber handstamp.

In contrast, Type 6 is always fine and crisp in a light ink. It is shown here on mint 35 kopeck stamps and mint and used 50 kopecks. Note that the Voksal cancel on the used 50 kopeck is also to be seen on the catalogue illustration of a pair sold at Corinphila a few years ago..

Type 7 seems to be much scarcer than the previous three. I have only a used pair of 1 rouble imperforates. The ink is like that of regular Kharkiv overprints. On the left hand stamp, the distinctive bulge in the body of the Trident can be seen clearly.

There are numerous signatures on these stamps. I noted on one of the Type 5 stamps the small red Soviet guarantee mark which is the genuine version of teh fake large Soviet guarantee mark about which I blogged recently.

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:

Nightmare Tridents: Kyiv I Arnold and Svenson Types

The Arnold and Svenson sub-types of Kyiv I Tridents are rarely seen and hard to distinguish. Seichter lists Arnold Type, Type I a 1 (Svenson), Type I a 2 (Svenson) and Type Ib (Svenson). Bulat follows this at pages 12 - 14 of his Catalog.

Seichter has bad illustrations but describes Ib (Bulat's B1)as having a "langer Schwanz" (longer spike / longer prong). This is correct. Unfortunately, Bulat's illustrations for A2 and B1 are the WRONG WAY ROUND (transposed)which caused me real problems until I went back to Seichter.

Anyway, here's a quick Guide:

ARNOLD: normally in standard Kyiv I violet but in green on the 50 kopeck perforated and in both violet and black on the 1 rouble imperforate. Look for the MISSING BASE CAP. Row 1 on my Scan should make it clear. The pair of 1 rouble appears postally used at Zhitomir

SVENSON A1: always violet-black and in my experience ALWAYS placed at the top of the stamp. Found on values unlisted by Seichter or Bulat: see the 35 kop imperforate at the end of Row 2 (ex Zelonka)

SVENSON A2: always in black. Look for the spike ending more or less level with the top of the wings. See Row 3 of the scan.

SVENSON B1: normally in the same black, but look for the spike extending above the wings. Only one value is common to both A2 and B1, the 10 kopeck, and I have put the example I have in the wrong row. You should now be able to see why it should be in Row 4 not Row 3.

One value, the 5 kopeck imperforate, is found with B1 in violet-black and it is shown in Row 5 of my scan.

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:

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Kharkiv I Tridents: Dzenis Reprints and Originals

When Reprints are made from Handstamps, it is often difficult or impossible to tell Originals from Reprints unless the basic stamps used are different. This is true, for example, of CMT overprints from the Romanian Occupation of Pokutia. Sometimes, it may be possible if a large multiple is being looked at but impossible for single stamps.

Both Dr Seichter and John Bulat thought they could distinguish Original Kharkiv Trident overprints from 1919 Reprints made to order for the Riga stamp dealer, Dzenis. In some cases, the basic stamps used are different and then it ought to be easy. But when the same basic stamps are used, I am not convinced that it is always possible to distinguish the Reprints.

Bulat lists Kharkiv I on the 7 kopeck Imperial Arms stamps and prices Originals at $35 mint (Bulat 666). He prices Reprints at 50 cents each (Bulat 688) and he comments ""reprints were made with the same handstamps as the originals, however, the ink is different. It varies in quality and is found in shades of gray to gray-black" (page 40)

Now take a look at the stamps above. In the top two rows, copies signed Dr Seichter and (in one case - the last stamp) Bulat. In the bottom three rows, stamps signed Dr Seichter or UPV with the addition of a "ND" [Neudruck = Reprint] handstamp or manuscript note.

I have stared at these stamps for some time and I come to this conclusion: I cannot see ANY consistent differences between the two groups of stamps, when examined either from the front or from the back. The ink quality is similar and penetration of the ink seems to depend on how much the handstamp was inked.

Only the stamps in positions 18 and 21 have that crisp, light inking which I think of as an indicator that a stamp is a Reprint. But the majority of stamps have black, oily-ink overprints, sometimes smudged.

Can anyone show me that I have got this wrong? And how should I sell these stamps?

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:

Tuesday 13 December 2011

An Imperial Austrian Card used in the Soviet Union

Here is a very unusual item. It is quite common to see old postal stationery cards - Kerensky cards, Trident-overprinted cards - used as "BLANKS" (formulars) in Russia in the 1920s, but not Austrian ones.

Usually these BLANKS have some kind of cachet to indicate that the imprinted stamp has no value - this card has a black cachet reading "BLANK KIEV POST TELEGR[APH] DISTRICT". It was used from VINNITSA POD[olia] (old Imperial cancel) 7 2 24 and arrived in KIEV 26 3 24 (again an old Imperial cancel), correctly franked to 6 kopecks. The card was delayed because in the sorting office it was routed to Vladivostok (the first word on the address line is the source of the confusion)where two cancellations were applied (see the reverse of the card).

The absence of a message on the reverse made me think it is philatelic, but in fact there is a message on the front which indicates that it is a separate confirmation of the despatch of a registered letter # 904.

Austrian cards may well have been held in Ukraine post offices as a by-product of the 1918 Austrian Occupation or even as trophies from the 1915 Russian Occupation of Lviv.

Do readers have other examples of this unrecorded usage?

Note added April 2012: This card is now for sale in the April 2012 Corinphila auction, listed under Russia / Soviet Union

Friday 9 December 2011

An Armenian Rarity

There is some difference of opinion as to whether Postal Savings Bank stamps exist with genuine Dashnak period overprints. I think they do, but that they are extremely rare. Here is an example. The stamp has been overprinted with "k.60.k" in black and then later, in a greyish ink, with a large unframed Z over the Imperial Arms. There is an authenticating ERIVAN cancellation of April 1920, which is an appropriate date.
The stamp is signed in pencil by S Serebrakian (and was almost certainly from his stock), in green by Dr R J Ceresa, and it now has a Stefan Berger Short Opinion.

Monday 28 November 2011

Kyiv 1 Broken Tridents: a little theory

I have been looking at Kyiv I Broken Tridents from Lot 84 of the Zelonka sale (Bulat 62 - 108). These are not very interesting, since they are almost entirely philatelic productions. Most are cancelled to order at PROSKUROV in Podillia: see the strip of 5 above with cancellation dated 14 5 19.

(By the way, Bulat prices the 35 kopeck at $40 mint and $35 used [Bulat 76]. This is simply a misprint. The 35 kopeck seems to be one of the most common Broken Tridents and Dr Seichter gives it a value of 3 DM. In contrast, the 50 kopeck which Bulat prices at 20 cents, mint or used [Bulat 77] is an unpriced rarity in Dr Seichter. I don't have a copy but I have 20 copies of the 35 kopeck, so I am pretty convinced that the Bulat listing is wrong and Dr Seichter's right)

Anyway, in addition to the regular Broken Trident overprints in violet there are a few in red (a sort of pink - red). Bulat lists red overprints on the 10/7 kopeck, the 25 kopeck and the 50 kopeck imperforate (Bulat 71a, 75a, 90a). Dr Seichter also lists this overprint on the 7 kopeck, which I have - see the three stamps illustrated above. Both catalogs agree that these red overprints are rare, with Bulat using a price range of $75 - $150.

I now have a total of 9 copies of these stamps (but I don't have a copy of the 50 kopeck imperforate)and all are cancelled KIEV and none are cancelled Proskurov. And the date is later and where readable in 2 7 19.

So my little theory is this: though most of the Broken Trident overprints were exported to Podillia in mint conditon and cancelled to order there (in an area under UNR control), the handstamp remained in Kyiv. To mark the Bolshevik (Red) take-over of Kyiv, someone had the idea of making Broken Trident overprints in red. They clearly did not make very many. Dr Seichter listed and signed these overprints, though sometimes he marks them as "Neudruck" which of course they are in relation to the original printings both of Kyiv I and the Broken Trident variant. My suggestion is that they should be thought of as Bolshevik - flavoured Tridents.

Postscript 15 July 2012:

Here is a cover from a recent auction. Dated even later (29 1 20)and addressed to Moscow (though I do not think it travelled), it has two red Broken tridents in the middle flanked by Kyiv IIgg in red on two other stamps, all clearly from the same ink pad. When I looked inside the envelope, I found Dr Seichter's signatures combined with his Opinions: the Kyiv I Broken Tridents he treats as Reprints (Neudruck) and the Kyiv IIgg overprints as philatelic productions (Philatelisten Druck). Interestingly, the KIEV canceller appears to be the same as the one used on my loose stamps.

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:

Saturday 26 November 2011

Monacophil 2011

Just to tell my readers that in a couple of days, I will set off by car from Brighton to Monte Carlo. I have a Stand at Monacophil 2011 under my trading name ARMENIA ZEMSTVO (Trevor Pateman). If you read this Blog AND plan to visit Monacophil, please come and say Hello :)

If you don't plan to visit Monacophil, you can always email me to ask if I have material you need. Just don't send me Soviet Union Wants Lists - I no longer have a stock of Soviet stamps (just too many ...) And, sadly, don't send me Zemstvo Wants Lists. I am Sold Out of Zemstvos - and I think I might have to change my name to ARMENIA WEST UKRAINE

Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Strand Stamp Fair: A Show I like

I just came home from London's monthly "Strand Stamp Fair" held at the Royal National Hotel, near Russell Square Underground and close to Euston and St Pancras stations.

I like this show, even though I have to get up very early for it, or else stay in a London hotel the night before.

To avoid London's traffic congestion, dealers arrive very early for the show from all over the UK (and sometimes from France, Belgium and the Netherlands). They are setting up shop between 07.00 and 08.00 and most start the journey home around 14.00 - 15.00 to avoid the London evening traffic.

It's a lively little show with 30 or so dealers including top names like Cover Story. Though there are plenty of GB and Commonwealth specialists, there are also dealers specialising in foreign material and also general all world dealers with big stocks.

If you are going to be in London during 2013 make anote of teh Show dates: 11 Jan, 15 Feb, 22 March [ I will not be there], 12 April, 10 May, 7 June, 12 July, 16 August, 13 September, 11 October, 15 November, 13 December.

 Go to for more information

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Correction of Weak Handstamp Impressions

When overprints are made with handstamps, sometimes an impression will be weak and sometimes it will be corrected with a second impression. If the handstamp is a single handstamp, it is obvious what is going on. When the handstamp is a multiple, things can get more complicated.

Below, is a pane of 25 of Katerynoslav type I overprints from a 5-cliche handstamp. In row 4, a weak impression in Position 1 has been corrected by reapplication of the handstamp - but shifted to the left so that it is Position 5 of the handstamp which makes the correction, not Position 1. Positions 4 and 3 appear in the sheet margin (reading right to left):

In contrast, here is a block of Kharkiv I (handstamp 9). This handstamp is also a 5 -cliche handstamp. The weak impression in Row 1 has been corrected by re-applying the whole handsdtamp, thus producing a double print:

Finally, and more interesting, when part of a 5 - handstamp impression fails to print, corrections can be made with single handstamps kept for the purpose. I believe this can be found for both Katerynoslav and Kharkiv. The pane below dramatically illustrates what is involved because the correction in Row 3 Position 5 is in a different colour (red). By looking up and down the column of position 5s, it can be seen that the red handstamp is not reapplication of position 5, nor (looking across the Rows) is it one of the other positions from the handstamp. It is a separate single handstamp. The work has been carelessly done, because the weak impression in Row 4 Position 5 has not been corrected. John Bulat has pencilled on this block that it is a Late Print from Handstamp 9 but he has not commented on the red overprint, nor have I seen it listed or discussed anywhere (and it is not from the rare handstamp used to make the red overprints Bulat 725-727):

All three items ex-Zelonka collection (Lots 87-94)

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:

Monday 14 November 2011

Lost in Translation: Seichter and Bulat again

I found the two stamps above in Lot 84 of the Zelonka sale and went to Bulat to see if he listed this combination of Kyiv I and Kyiv II ( it looks like IIg to me). He doesn't.

So I went to Dr Seichter's 1966 Sonder - Katalog. He does list this variety under Kyiv I as "Kiew I + II zusammen" and gives it a - - price.

One of these stamps is signed UPV and the other is unsigned; both probably came from Dr Seichter's holdings incorporated into Ron Zelonka's collection.

They are almost certainly philatelic rather than a genuine use of one handstamp to correct a weak impression of another [more on these in future posts], but Bulat lists many stamps and varieties which are philatelic. So it seems likely that he just skipped past this one in Dr Seichter's listing.

It provides another example of why serious collectors really need to use the Bulat catalog and Dr Seichter's Katalog side-by-side.

It's a pity the cancellations aren't legible. Both stamps are without gum and from the positioning of the cancels, it looks as if they were originally on paper with the cancellation tying them to the paper, rather than struck centrally as it would be if they were just cancelled to order off paper.

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:

Thursday 10 November 2011

Stamp Shows: Alive, Dying and Dead

Just as Europe's national economies differ, even if they share a single currency, so do their stamp shows.

Major stamp shows in Germany, like those in Essen and Sindelfingen, are very much alive, with dealers always offering new stock, often in remarkable quantity and usually at reasonable prices. Collectors have a reason to visit these shows: there is always something to be found. German dealers are helped by a low VAT rate on collectibles (7%) and they are supported by a very strong network of auction houses. In short, Germany is a lively, competitive market oriented towards collectors.

Germany is the first stop for non - EU visitors who require a Schengen Visa. So you find Russian visitors in German shows. In contrast, England is now rarely visited by Russian collectors and dealers - getting a visa is just too much hard work and sometimes impossible.

France's major show, the Paris Salon d'Automne, is oriented towards postal administrations, notably France's La Poste, and to the sale of official "produits philateliques".

Unless you collect France, you aren't going to find very much at the Salon d'Automne and what you do find is likely to be old stock, in poor condition and over-priced. This is what a protectionist economy produces.

On a visit there this month (I speak French and used to take a Stand but never enjoyed the show or made any money), I managed to spend just 100 euro on material for my stock and 40 euro on one item for my collection. My hands soon felt dirty from the dirty plastics - and some dealers don't even use plastic protection for their stock. As for prices, I found one dealer with prices of 15 euro pencilled on grubby Soviet FDCs and such like of the 1980's ... Is this a record?

It's not as if the dealers are trying to imitate a flea market (marche aux puces). Flea markets actually work by changing stock frequently, and by not being dirty. No, the dealers are just lazy. In addition, they have no network of auction houses to support them - I don't know why, but I guess it is bureaucratic complexity which stops the industry from thriving.

If I was a collector in France, I would head straight across the border to the nearest German show. If I was the CNEP, which runs the Paris show, I would expel half the dealers and try to find some new ones to take their place.

Italy? I used to go to Verona but I can't tell you what it's like now.

Belgium? The Antwerp show used to be very lively (and conducted in a fog of cigar and cigarette smoke)but it seems to have suffered from professionalisation / protectionism - some years ago, small part-time dealers not registered for VAT wre expelled. It did not improve the quality.

What do readers think of other European shows, I wonder?

Sunday 6 November 2011

Trident Forgeries with large Soviet Export Mark

Go to the previous Blog for explanation. All the Tridents shown above are forged. All the stamps have large Soviet export guarantee marks in red as illustrated in the previous Blog post. Many (but not all) of these stamps were in packets of forgeries included in Lot 146 of the Zelonka sale; it's possible that the packets came from Bulat's collection. None of these stamps has any other signature apart from the Soviet mark. (In one case, a really nice stamp has been wasted: the 10 rouble perforated on vertically laid paper has a clear postmark of KARS!)

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:

Beware This Mark on Ukraine Tridents!

Back in 2001, one of our most knowledgeable and careful living philatelists, Alexander Epstein, published an article in Ukrainian Philatelist (v 49, n 1) which alerted collectors to a forgery of a Soviet export mark appearing on the back of loose Trident stamps. This mark is illustrated above; a genuine mark of this character exists and was used in the 1920s but only on items of postal history; a significantly smaller mark was used on stamps. The forgery of the large mark appeared in the 1950s and was applied to the back of stamps with forged Trident overprints. Of course, it's possible that it was also applied to stamps with genuine overprints. Dr Seichter has signed the above stamp as genuine, though it isn't.

Dr Seichter seems to have taken the mark to be genuine and thus was puzzled by stamps with what appeared to be doubtful overprints. He concluded that, in general, the stamps were Reprints. He wrote about the problem in a little pamphlet, "Ukraine: Falschung oder unbekannte Typen? Kritische Betrachtungen uber Lokalausgaben 1918/20" (1960).

The mint stamp above which Seichter signed is a 35 kopeck with Trident, supposedly, of Konstantynohrad. [There is a possibility that the Seichter signature is forged but there is nothing about it which alerts my suspicions]

I also illustrate a picture of the the mint stamp alongside the used copy which appears on the one known MTF with Konstantynohrad Trident. Look at the right wing on both stamps and you can see that on the mint forgery, the wing inclines at a greater angle to the vertical spike of the Trident than does the wing on the genuine stamp. The illustration in Bulat's catalog (page 127) correctly captures the angle of inclination of the right wing.

On my next Blog, I will illustrate a batch of stamps with the large export mark and forged tridents which are much easier to see are forgeries than this Konstantynohrad example.

I leave the last word to Alexander Epstein, " one may assert that finding a large size mark on a loose trident stamp is the best "guarantee" that the overprint is forged" (article cited, page 48)

CORRECTION POSTED 9 nov 2011: the mint 35 kopeck mint stamp is not trying to be a Konstantynohrad Trident; it is either a genuine Hanebne Trident or, much more likely, a forgery of it - Bulat does not list Hanebne on the 35 kopeck value

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:

Monday 31 October 2011

Kharkiv Tridents and Dzenis Reprints

Click on Images to enlarge

Most Trident collectors have heard of "Dzenis" Reprints and they are separately listed in Bulat's catalog. Dzenis was a Riga stamp dealer who, I guess, was able to travel to Bolshevik Kharkiv during the Bolshevik occupation of Riga in 1919. The reprints made for him had postal validity.

Sometimes Dzenis reprints are on different basic stamps from original Trident overprints and so are easily distinguished. But when they are on the same basic stamps, they are not always easy to distinguish - but Bulat catalog values are often very different.

In Dr Seichter's 1960 pamphlet "Bezirk Charkiw" he discusses how to distinguish originals and reprints.

He also illustrates [ Tafel VII, #16] the irregular block illustrated above. It is believed that this Kharkiv III overprint made from a single handstamp was applied to 2 kopeck imperforate stamps intended to uprate 3 kopeck postal stationery cards. The ink on this block is very black, uneven, and oily: it penetrates to the back of the stamps. This is typical of Original printings. This stamp is Bulat 753, catalogued at $100 each

Also in Dr Seichter's collection was the quarter sheet with a typed note attached. Unfortunately, we do not know to what "gleicher Art" refers but I guess it means "Reprint" - and on the back of this block, Ron Zelonka has pencilled "ND" [Neudruck = Reprint]. So this is Bulat 769 catalogued at $10. The ink is matt, greyish and does not penetrate to the back of the stamps. This is typical of most Reprints but not all. As important in this case, the Handstamp used is not the same as the IIIg used on the originals. And the shade of the basic stamp is different.

Friday 21 October 2011

1918 Lviv Issue Cover

Readers will be pleased to know I have a new scanner and editing suite which allows me to crop images. No more thumbnails ...
Here is my first attempt top offer you better quality images

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Kyiv I Broken Tridents: Seichter and Bulat

I have recently added to my stock of Broken Tridents - I bought Lot 84 in the Zelonka sale [ unsold during the auction; I paid the Start price after the auction].

Looking at what I have, I realise that the Seichter and Bulat listings are different. Bulat adds to Seichter's list, as one would expect, but there are errors and omissions.

Seichter lists a red overprint on the 7 kopeck, pricing it as 120 DM either mint or used. I now have three copies with normal and inverted overprints, all CTO.

Bulat omits this overprint, though he lists other red overprints. Had he listed it, it would be # 69a in his catalog.

In my holding, the 35 kopeck perforate is as common as the 3, 4 and 5 kopeck values. But Bulat prices it at $40 mint and $35 used. All my copies are used. I checked with Seichter. Seichter prices it at 3 DM for used only [ mint unknown].I think that there is a mistake in the Bulat listing and, in proportion to his other valuations, the 35 kopeck should merit only a few dollars [But see further comments below]. Whether it exists mint should also be investigated.

I don't have any copies of the 50 or 70 kopeck perforated though Bulat gives these the lowest of all valuations, 20 cents each. I checked back to Seichter. He makes the 50 kopeck an unpriced rarity [ - - ] known only mint. He puts 10 DM on the 70 kopeck mint, but has no used listing.

Clearly, we have a a problem - specifically, yet another problem with the Bulat catalog. The valuations on his #76, 77, 78 must be regarded as typographical errors.

For all the Kyiv I special types [ Bulat 62 - 145] his pricings are generally modest. But so too are Seichter's. This no doubt reflects their sense that these are purely philatelic productions. But it is also the case that most of these Special Types are very scarce.

When I tried, maybe ten years ago, to get some from Ron Zelonka, he was very reluctant to part with any and wanted a very good price for what he sold me. He could see that his own holdings [made public in Lots 77, 81 and 84 of the Zelonka sale] were really quite small.

Inverted Overprints from Handstamps: the problem of catalog listing

When you are collecting overprints made from handstamps, does it make sense to collect inverted overprints? And should catalogs list them?

Some inverted overprints are the result of human error or carelessness. Sometimes, when the work of overprinting is carefully supervised, inverted overprints are rare. If they occur just in position 1 in a sheet, then it is because a worker has picked up a handstamp upside down. When he (probably he) realises his mistake, he turns the handstamp around.

Podillia Trident overprints are very rarely inverted. The work was clearly carefully supervised and errors easy to spot. In contrast, an inverted Armenian framed and unframed Z overprint does not look very different to an uninverted one. So non-philatelic inverts are quite common - but so are philatelic ones

Some inverted overprints are clearly philatelically-inspired, to create collectable varieties. This is true, for example, for Kyiv I Broken Trident overprints [Bulat 62 - 108] and as a result Bulat remarks "Inverted overprints exist on most of the above issue and are priced the same as normal overprints" - though from my holdings, inverts are not equally common. Indeed, to make Inverts as common as Normals defeats the object of creating a scarcer collectable variety.

But there are other things to say about Broken Tridents and I will do this in my next Post

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:

Saturday 15 October 2011

Using the Seichter and Bulat Ukraine catalogs together

John Bulat's Ukraine catalaog, published by the UPNS in the USA, is the catalog of choice for all Ukraine collectors.
Rightly so. But back in May I blogged about some of its faults and, using it again today, I noticed more.
For example, some listings in Bulat are based on Dr Seichter's catalog but appear to mix up his mint and used columns and other descriptions. I discovered this while working through Lot 84 from the Zelonka sale, which includes Seichter material.


Bulat 23b is a variety (shifted center) on the basic stamp. Bulat prices this for mint but not for used. Seichter prices it for used but not for mint. Since I have a used pair but no mint copies out of Lot 84, my guess is that the Seichter listing is correct: this is a variety you may encounter used [ though I have never seen it before today] but are unlikely to see mint.

Bulat 30a is again a listing of a variety of the basic stamp. Bulat lists a 3 rouble 50 kopeck in "maroon and dark green". Seichter lists a "dunkler braun und giftgrun". Again, it is Seichter who is correct since it is the brown/maroon colour which is darker on this stamp than on the normal variety.

I conclude that when doing serious work, it is necessary to have both catalogs on the table. Fortunately, UPNS has also published an edition of Dr Seichter's work

Ukraine Tridents By District: some interesting data from the Zelonka Collection

When I did the lotting for Corinphila's sale of Dr Ron Zelonka's Ukraine collection, I avoided creating "Mixed Lots" (some existed as such in the collection and I left them like that). Instead, I grouped material by Issue and District. As a result, it is possible to see some philatelically-relevant patterns just from the Lots.

For example, I grouped nearly all the non-philatelic Trident covers and cards into a few large Lots. This is what they looked like:

Podillia over 250 items [Lot 115 Start 5000 Swiss francs Hammer 12500]
Kyiv over 175 items [Lot 74 Start 4000 Hammer 6500]
Odesa over 90 items [Lot 104 Start 3000 Hammer 4400] (the Trachtenberg covers went into a separate Lot 107 Start 900 Hammer 1900)
Katerynoslav over 60 items with no ENAKIEVO EKAT stuff [Lot 93 Start 3000 Hammer 4400]
Kharkiv over 40 items [Lot 86 Start 2000 Hammer 2600] I bought this Lot
Poltava over 40 items [Lot 99 Start 1500 Hammer 3400]

My guess is that this ordering tells us something about the relative volume of mail in the different Districts during the period of Ukrainian independence. If anything, I would expect Podillia's lead to be greater than shown here. That is because the Zelonka collection did not appear to include much from the enormous Vyrovyj collection which was auctioned after Dr Seichter's death and therefore not incorporated in any way into Seichter's collection - which formed a large part of Ron Zelonka's postal history holding.

Kyiv includes uses in Chernihiv and Zhitomir postal districts - their own issues are scarce othe than philatelically used.

Just 40 items from Kharkiv seems small in relation to the size of the city but it was an area of intense conflict and early Sovietisation.

Of course, all these Lots showed stamps used outside of their District of issue. Indeed, it is sometimes remarkable to observe just how much movement of stamps between Districts there was and a study could be made of out-of-district uses. For Podillia, for example, you can find the issues of Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv. I think I have even seen Poltava used non-philatelically in Podillia.

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:

Monday 10 October 2011

I am Still in Business...

Though I don't work so hard these days, I do still sell stamps and postal history. I don't make Lists, I don't have an Auction, but if you send me an email, I will tell you if I can help! I am

I am good at Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine 1918 - 23; Imperial Russian stamps (including Fiscals) and postal history; RSFSR and Soviet postal history (but NOT stamps); classic Romania, stamps and covers; Finland before 1918 postal history.

I still have stocks for Baltic States, Old German States, Hungary, Poland.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Eugene Vyrovyj

Click on Image and Use Magnifier to enlarge

When you get into the kinds of things I get into, it is useful to be able to recognise different handwritings - or, in the case of Dr Seichter, his typewriters.

So I was pleased to get this example of Eugene Vyrovyj's handwriting. He was one of the great pre-1939 collectors of independent Ukraine, winning important Medals for his Podillia Tridents.

This 1927 piece of paper is part of an Attest for a Russian 7 kopeck on vertically laid paper with a Vinnitsa Trident overprint. Unfortunately, I don't have the stamp!

You can sometimes find his handstamp on stamps and formular cards - just the one word VYROVYJ in capitals.

As I understand it, Vyrovyj was closely associated with the exiled Ukrainian community in Prague. I have found in dealers' boxes occasional letters adressed to him. He appears to have committed suicide in 1947, perhaps because he was politically vulnerable, but his collection from pre-war times did not appear in auction until the 1980s when Schaetzle sold it in Switzerland. Remarkably, they broke it down into very many individual Lots and illustrated most of them - I acquired the photographic negatives for the catalogue some years ago and passed them on to a client. If you can get hold of the original catalogues, they are quite useful just because of this profusion of illustrations.

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:

Sunday 2 October 2011

ebay or how to lose faith in the free market

A dozen years ago, I decided I would not get involved with ebay. I would send material on approval to collectors who became regular clients and I would take Stands at stamp fairs around Europe. Since that decision, I have looked at ebay listings maybe three or four times and I have never bought anything on ebay.

Today I took a look at ebay's current Ukraine listings. I wanted to see if any material from the Zelonka sale has appeared there. No, is the short answer.

The long answer is that I trawled through 31 pages of New Issues, forgeries, stamps in poor condition and crazily overpriced items. Everything I sell for a pound or a euro seems to cost twenty on ebay, with the difference that mine are (a) genuine and (b) in good condition.

Of course, you will say, the free market allows people to offer crap but buyers are equally free not to buy it. I have the horrible feeling that buyers do buy. Why else would sellers go through the labour-intensive process of putting their fantasies on line?

Maybe ten percent of the listings are from collectors/dealers who know what they are doing and know what their material is worth. Some of it I recognise - they got it from me and have simply doubled the price. I don't have a problem with that.

Anyway, next time someone asks me for a discount on my one euro stamps I'll tell them they can go buy it on ebay for twenty bucks.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Was there a Kopaihorod Local Trident?

Click on Image and use Magnifier to Enlarge

When I first looked at this item, I thought it was some kind of fake. Podilia Tridents do not look like these neat and crisp overprints. These overprints resemble type Ia, but on the 50 kopeck imperforate type Ia is very scarce and on the 10 rouble it is a rarity which Bulat does not think exists in used condition.

Bulat does not list a local Trident for Kopaihorod or illustrate any type which looks like these overprints. They are not Popoff / Popov types, for example.

The fragment is cancelled KOPAIGOROD 15 2 19 and there is a KAMENETS receiver for 19 2 19. Both cancellations look genuine and the tridents appear to be under the despatch cancel. There is nothing on the back apart from hinge remainders and part of a Kamenets cancel which has the beginnings of a date which does not fit well ".4 1." when you would expect a 2 or 3 for February or March. There is a Manuscript 17 / IX which again is odd - maybe the transfer did not go through (the signature space has been clipped so it's unclear)

A thought occurred to me. This fragment is dated in the sixth month of Trident use. Someone has worked out that the 50 kop imperforate and 10 rouble perforate are rare with Type Ia and they have created these stamps with fake overprints.

But then there is a problem with that idea. Once you have put stamps onto a Money Transfer Form, how do you get them back? The MTF goes into the archives until such time as it is thrown out, stolen or sold off. A postal clerk in Kopaihorod would at least need an accomplice in Kamenets to get the stamps back ...

And where are the mint examples you would expect from a philatelic scam?

Then I was flicking through Dr Ceresa's Special Tridents Handbook. Amazingly, he lists a Kopaihorod local trident on the basis of one MTF fragment in the Mallegni collection. The Trident is applied on 1, 2 and 5 kop imperforates. The MTF despatch cancel is dated 21 2 19 - less than a week away from my fragment. There is a poor reproduction of the fragment on Plate CDXXXVIII of the Handbook.

I still felt I was dealing with some kind of scam - Podilia Ia on the 2 kop imperforate is also a scarce stamp - so I went onto the Internet. In 2007, Fusco Auctions sold an MTF fragment cancelled KOPAIGOROD 5 2 19 partly franked with a 1 rouble stamp which looks as if it has this Trident overprint ...

Case proven? I am still not sure. There was philatelic activity in the Kopaihorod post office - one comes across stamps CTO on piece from this office. Maybe some philatelist presented the Post Office with a swanky handstamp to use on unoverprinted stamps in their stock. Who knows. Any better ideas?

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:

Saturday 24 September 2011

Polish Occupation of Kamenetz Podolsk 1920

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Sometimes I wish the Biro had never been invented. Here is yet another cover wrecked by an idiot - or two idiots since there are two different biro colours here

Anyway, we know that the Polish Army occupied Kamenetz Podolsk in 1920. We know that the Polish spelling of the place name is KAMIENIEC POD. But did the Poles get around to producing a Polish-language but Russian-style canceller as shown on this cover?

Dr Seichter thought so, since it is his write up on the typed note.

Does anyone else have this cancellation or information about it?

Added 6 September 2015: Browsing the Fischer catalogue (Tom II) I noticed this illustration. It shows a card sent from Krakow to Kamenetz - and as a receiver cancellation you can see the same cancellation as is there on Dr Seichter's cover. So there WAS a Polish cancellation made in 1920 and reading KAMIENIEC in Polish. Fischer's example has a June 1920 cancel; Dr Seichter's has May 1920:

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:

Friday 23 September 2011

Ukraine Tridents: A later date for last use...

Click on image and use Magnifier to enlarge

In answer to my own question at the end of my last Post, here is a Parcel Card fragment with a Trident used at a later date than the previous Money Order fragment.

In this case, the fragment was used at GRINEV CERN[ihiv] on 18 5 21. The 20 kopeck stamps are unoverprinted but the 2 kopeck imperforate hidden at the bottom of the reverse of the formular has a Kyiv I Trident overprint.

Unfortunately, it is not posible to work out how the different stamps were revalued to meet the charges for the parcel - these would have been written on the missing bottom left of the card

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:

Ukraine Tridents: Last Dates of Use

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When studying "latest use" I think it is important to distinguish between philatelists trying their luck with old stamps and regular postal use.

At the top of the page, you can see a cover sent from KATERINOSLAV 11 5 21 to TALLINN EESTI (weak receiver cancel on reverse which appears to read 26 3 21, together with undated Katerinoslav Three Triangle censor mark).

Underneath are Dr Seichter's original write-ups of this cover: "almost the latest known date on Ukrainian overprinted stamps".

I am not impressed. This is almost certainly a philatelist's cover, whose name we would know if someone had not thought it wise to burn out his name from the cover (see bottom left - someone has also used biro and red ink on the back making this a thoroughly unattractive item).

The franking is probably correct at 90 roubles: the 14 kopeck stationery stamp is disregarded, the 5 rouble imperforate Kyiv II (someone has written "g" beside it) is used at face, but the 5 kop imperf Kyiv II is revalued 100 times, as is the pair of 35 kopeck with Odesa Type II and the 10 kopeck with Odesa Type III.

But this franking leaves me cold: I doubt these stamps came across the post office counter at Katerinoslav, even though this is apparently a Registered letter. The only interest is in the fact that the sender was able to get away with this franking.

Compare the second item. This is a fragment of a Money Transfer order for 10 000 roubles sent from BERDICHEV 7 3 21 to MIUSS [Miusa] SAMAR 23 3 21 where it was signed for. It is franked with five 20/14 Kop with Kyiv II on the front and 5 on the back. These have each been revalued x 100 to give a correct 2% franking of 20 roubles.

This fragment is to me much more interesting than the cover. The stamps were almost certainly at the Berdichev post office counter and were authorised for use.

Of course, I now invite you to check your holdings and find later dates ...

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:

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Armenia: Turning Base Metal into Gold

Click on image and use Magnifier to enlarge.

This is what happens when you buy Armenia without looking carefully!

At a show, I bought a small batch of used First Yessayan stamps. I checked the overprints and the cancellations on the stamps and they all looked OK. So I bought the stamps.

Later, when I looked more closely, I realised that several of the stamps overlapped on pieces, too many for coincidence. In addition, the brown paper on which they were stuck did not look right - it was old but not a type I had seen for 1920s Armenia. Some single stamps on this brown paper also did not look quite right.

So I scanned them all and this immediately showed that in all cases the parts of the cancellations on the brown paper were faked - they were drawn in by hand.

So why would you stick genuine stamps on bits of paper and fake a cancellation? My guess meant that I had to soak the stamps off the paper to find out.

The answer is shown on the right hand illustrations: the overlapping allowed someone to hide damaged stamps. See the top two rows on the right.

Using a paper backing also disguised damage and repair work on the two single stamps at the bottom.

Bottom right, the "3" on 20 000, the stamp was badly thinned and torn but this was hidden by backing it with a piece of sheet margin from some Imperial Russian sheet with lozenges and then putting the stamp onto the brown backing.

The stamp bottom left also revealed some labour-intensive work: at the top you can see that the perforations are not quite aligned. This is because the whole top right corner has been inserted from another stamp to repair damage to the main stamp.

Buyer beware!

Tuesday 20 September 2011

London, a city with 26 days of stamp shows every year

I just came back from London STAMPEX where I had a Stand. It's a four day show in North London (nearest rail stations: Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross) and happens twice a year.

London also hosts London PHILATEX, a three day show held twice a year in South London (nearest station Victoria)

Once a month, the mis-named Strand Stamp Fair takes place in a Central London hotel off Russell Square (nearest stations: Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross)

The first two shows are held in very pleasant exhibition halls but with poor access for dealers to unload their stock. Neither exhibition hall has its own dedicated parking and the available local parking is expensive, as - of course - are London hotels.

The Strand Fair, held in the Royal National Hotel, has easy access for unloading and (by London standards) relatively cheap on site parking. The room in which it is held is acceptable and there is a good and cheap on-site restaurant.

The big problem is this: for all but a very few specialist GB and Commonwealth dealers and a very few dedicated and well-off collectors, 26 days of London shows is just too much. Dealers are stretched to find new stock at the rate demanded by the exhibition schedule and all but a few collectors are stretched to fund buying trips to London for more than one or two of the shows. Smaller dealers atttending these big shows are probably now often going away having made a loss, as I did at Stampex last week. The number of visitors coming through the door is pitifully small.

As someone who is going to get older every year and beginning to reduce my level of activity, especially unprofitable activity, it's a no-brainer: I am saying Good Bye to STAMPEX and PHILATEX, at least until such time as the four shows reduce to two - or, alternatively, until such time as one or two of the four shows relocates to Birmingham or Manchester or Cheltenham or Warwick.

I will stick with the Strand Stamp Fair, which is a cheaper day out. Even then, it involves getting up before 5 in the morning in order to get into Central London before the rush hour. But maybe with the elimination of unprofitable STAMPEX and PHILATEX, I can now afford to travel up to London the night before and stay in a hotel :)

St Petersburg to Tiflis. What is this Mark?

I recently got a group of items all addressed to Prince Emile Sayn-Wittgenstein in Tiflis. All have the same St Petersburg cancellation and all have the same small mark, M.I.D. in circle. Four items are envelopes without contents; the fifth item illustrated above is an entire letter writen in Naples but with no despatch or transit marks. It could have been privately carried to St Petersburg.

Two of the items have Cyrillic annotations, via Vladikavkaz.

What I want to know is this: Was this M I D mark applied in St Petersburg or Tiflis? What is its function? What do the letters M I D stand for? My guess is that it is some ways connected with the handling of diplomatic or military mail - Sayn-Wittgenstein was Aide de Camp to the Tsar and to Prince Voronzoff in Tiflis.

Answers, please!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Dr Ron Zelonka Ukraine: a million dollar collection

The bare facts are these: on 6 September, Corinphila of Zurich, offered Dr Ron Zelonka's Ukraine collection in 400 lots. It took five hours to sell, the pace slowed by competition for most lots. Start prices totalling just under 400 000 CHF turned into hammer prices of 900 000 CHF with only 10% of lots unsold. Many of those were bought immediately after the sale at the start prices. Add Corinphila's commission to the hammer prices and you have a sale comfortably in excess of a million US dollars.

The sale was important for Ukrainian philately in a number of ways.

Ron Zelonka's was probably the largest Ukraine collection ever formed. It was larger than Dr Seichter's since Zelonka bought Seichter's collection (it was unsold in a 1990s Swiss auction)and incorporated it into his own, except for some of the duplicated material which Ron Zelonka sold to me.

For a major international auction house to take on the Zelonka collection and offer it for sale, broken down into 400 lots, was a considerable risk. With no real precedents to rely on, it was simply not known if the buyers existed to absorb such a large offering at prices which were, at a minimum, sensible.

Of course, it was known that Carpatho-Ukraine is popular and likewise Western Ukraine. But it was also known that Tridents were not popular and the Tridents were central to the collection. And the collection was so big ...

The risk paid off for the auction house. From their perspective, to achieve in total over double your start prices with virtually everything sold is a good result when - as in this case - the total achieved is on the scale which you expect for an afternoon's work (see footnote *). And this has been achieved in a difficult economic climate and amidst uncertainty about currency exchange rates,

This auction will help boost Ukraine as a serious collecting area. There is now a respectable auction record for a single stamp (CHF 44 000 hammer for the rarest stamp of Western Ukraine). There are also prices right through the auction results which begin to recognise just how rare are some of the stamps and postal history of Ukraine. Take a look at the Corinphila on-line auction catalogue while there is still a chance to see all the illustrations (many more than in the paper catalogue) along with the hammer prices.

There are still areas where collectors hesitate. For example, the sale contained some of the finest available examples of local Tridents on cover and, more often, transfer cards. Yet a superb Cernihiv transfer form (Lot 121) did not sell until after the auction and the splendid Konstantynohrad form (Lot 126) sold at the start price of 1000 CHF.

The auction catalogue tried to draw attention to the rich historical and political context of the available philatelic material. I wrote about 80% of the catalogue descriptions, and I wrote hoping it would encourage more collectors to think about putting together not only private collections but exhibits for national and international shows. If those exhibits start to appear in future years, some of the finest items will be marked "Ex Zelonka".

It remains to be seen whether the material just sold now reappears, broken down further, in other auction sales or whether it has gone straight into collections. It will also be interesting to see if other Ukraine collections now come on to the market, rather in the way that Zemstvos suddenly appeared after the successful 1999 Corinphila sale of Faberge's collection. But even if they do, I am sure they will not match the quality of the Zelonka collection

*Corinphila normally has one auction a year, lasting one week. That auction has to generate enough to cover the cost of everything, not only catalogues and publicity, but also the year-round operations of the company, including salaries of permanent staff.

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:

Saturday 3 September 2011

Ukrainian National Republic: General Issues and Tridents

I was in Zurich on Thursday viewing Ron Zelonka's collection which is being sold at Corinphila on 6th September. It is probably the biggest accumulation in existence of Ukrainian National Republic material (much of it coming from Dr Seichter's collection) and West Ukrainian material (much of it from John Bulat). There are extensive illustrations on Philasearch and on (though use the online bidding catalogue not the online version of the printed catalogue which has far fewer images)

One thing puzzles me and one thing I have a theory about.

The puzzle is this. The Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) managed to produce a five value set of stamps - the first General Issue - early in 1918. It was produced in large quantities over several printings and never used up - mint remainders even in complete sheets are common. It would have been relatively easy to add a few more values to the set.

So why did the UNR go to all the trouble of Trident overprinting its stocks of Imperial stamps? They could simply have been locked away and, for postal purposes, invalidated. True, it may have seemed good housekeeping (economical) to use them up. True, they provided a wider range of denominations with much - needed higher values. True, many of the stamps were perforated and thus easier to use than the imperforate first General Issue - but Tridents were also applied to imperforate Imperial stamps.

So this is my puzzle: the Trident overprinting, often highly labour intensive, could have been avoided by adding a bottom value (2 Sh) and a few higher values to the General Issue set and simply invalidating Imperial adhesives, thus avoiding the supposed problem of imports of Imperial stamps from Russia being sold as "Postage" at big discounts on face value.

Any answers to my puzzle?


And here is my theory (which is about another topic).

In many ways, you would expect the "old" Imperial high values - the 3r50 and 7r of 1904 on vertically laid paper - when overprinted with Tridents to have been bought up by philatelists and speculators since the remaining stocks of these stamps was small and probably known to be small.

But when you do see these stamps with Trident overprints they have often been used on Money Transfer Forms, with later punch holes and so on, and they often have early dates of use (1918 rather than 1919). Mint versions are often scarcer than used ones - for example, Kyiv I on the 3r50 grey and black is a very rare stamp mint.

So my theory has to be this: for some reason, perhaps becaue it was thought to be "methodical", these old stamps were overprinted early on and sent out to post offices early on where they got used up before philatelists had properly organised themselves. That's my theory.

This is not the whole story: there are philatelically-inspired overprints on the old 3r50 and 7r. For example, in the Corinphila catalogue you will see a very pretty sheet of the 3r50 overprinted with Kyiv III. This is almost certainly a philatelically-inspired production (and the inspirer: Svenson) and the overprint is a later type.

So there must still have been a few sheets of the 3r50 around even after Kyiv I and Kyiv II overprints had used (most?) of them up. Interestingly, however, Svenson could not lay his hands on a sheet of the old 7r black and yellow which does not exist with Kyiv III and this may be taken as a small bit of confirmation for my theory.

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:

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Ukraine on Philasearch - Now is a good time to look

Now is a good time to look at Ukraine material on Philasearch.

On the one hand, you can see the Dr Ron Zelonka collection for sale in Corinphila's September auction - a collection which incorporates the Dr Seichter collection and part of the John Bulat collection. If you want to see some serious - and sometimes spectacular - postal history, you will find it here.

On the other hand, you can see the usual philatelic covers and cards for which auction houses try to get ridiculous prices. You can even see a pretty but completely forged Poltava postcard. These are quite common - there was a little industry making them, maybe seventy or eighty years ago - and when I get one I usually pass it on for a few pounds to one of my clients who likes such things.

The high point of these Poltava fakes is that the forgers went to the expense of making a fake cancellation - but in a style which suggests that they wanted it NOT to look like a genuine one.

But on Philasearch you will have to pay a lot of money for an example. It is signed by someone whose name you will know :)

When you have finished with the Zelonka material, do have a look at the little collection of Chernihiv (Chernigov) Tridents on an album page. This is something I put together. You could buy it for about the same price as a fake Poltava postcard. Unlike the postcard, it's genuine.

BTW, remember that "Ukraine" and "West Ukraine" and "Carpatho-Ukraine" are separate search terms on Philasearch - the Zelonka collection comes up for all of them

Tuesday 16 August 2011

I Was Once A Post-Soviet New Issues Dealer...

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The August clear-up in the office continues ....

Today I found this item from 20 years ago. You may not know, but I began my career as a stamp dealer selling post - 1991 New Issues of the ex-Soviet Republics. I filed my first tax return as a dealer in 1993 - 94 having originally got involved with these issues as a collector.

From early on, I was always looking for something a bit different: commercial mail, local issues, proofs, curiosities - like this item which Antanas Jankauskas supplied. Most of these sheets I cut up into small, individual cards and sold for a few pounds each. This one is in its original form and I obviously wrote it up at the time for a Club display. Antanas Jankauskas also designed at least one of the first post-1991 Lithuanian postal stationeries.

My biggest success was probably the commercial mail I got from a few factories and offices. But I also got things like Azerbaijan imperforates, produced in very small quantities (100 - 300) by DSR Holdings / La Poste.

I also tried very hard to get authentic local issues though even at the time I realised that getting a stamp through the post, even on a Registered letter, did not mean very much. The important thing was to find the stamps used on commercial mail both internal and going abroad. For Ukraine, this could be done quite easily. Genuine local issues for Russia were much more elusive and I don't now know how many there were - there must be specialists who do.

I gave up on the New Issues business some time in the 1990s as more and more absurd Fantasy material poured onto the market. It seemed that half the population of the former USSR was involved in the industry. I still have left-over material like the item illustrated above and quite a lot of commercial mail, but I don't do very much with it.

My mail box nowadays is much less colourful than it was in the 1990s.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Russia's 1990s Inflation - a Catch 22 cover?

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This crazy cover was sent from MOSCOW 03 09 93 using an unmodified Soviet-era franking machine only capable of reaching 999 kopecks (9 roubles 99 kopecks). A clerk (either working through the night or with only one letter a day to frank)has assembled 94 cut outs (front and back) on this cover in addition to the single regular frank at top right.

On the back there is a TALLINN transit and a VORU receiver

I am not very good at arithmetic, but I reckon the franking totals 841 roubles (there are franking labels for 100, 500 and 700 buried among the 900 labels). The Manuscript at bottom left suggests someone had calculated a postal charge of 780 roubles for 100 grams. But there is a catch: the labels when gummed (and boy are they gummed)add significantly to the weight of the envelope. So maybe the weight step changed. Or maybe we are all bad at arithmetic.

In some organisations at this time, an easier solution was found: you file down the KOP at the bottom of the franking stamp and insert "p" or "pyb", thus achieving a x 100 revaluation

Chechnya Postal History 1991 - 2011

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If you want a real challenge, try to make a collection of commercial mail from Chechnya since the break-up of the Soviet Union. I have only ever found a few items and the only one I can find today is shown above: GROZNY 01 08 94 machine cancel on PSE with an OPLACHENO cachet indicating that the 5 kop PSE has been paid for at the current tariff, VORU 23 08 1994 machine cancel on reverse. Addressed to the Voru Gas Analyser Plant's Director.

Modern Turkmenistan postal history .....

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Well, after my last Post I thought I should show something from Turkmenistan. Here are two pages (all I have left) from a small collection I assembled in the 1990s. The ENERDETIC cover was one of my favourites. Just imagine the catalogue listing for this stamp! Like so much exotic material that I handled at the time, this one came from correspondence to the Voru Gas Analyser plant.

Armenia 1993 Currency Change: provisional revaluations

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Today I am tidying up accumulations of post - 1991 commercial mail from ex-Soviet republics. There are many thousands of covers still sitting in boxes, mostly for the period 1991 - 2005. All the Belarus, Estonia, Moldova and Ukraine have been sold but I still have lots from Russia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia. I have very little from Tajikstan and even less from Turkmenistan. (In Turkmenistan, I discovered from browsing on the Internet today, they are still damaging stamps before selling them at post office counters. This practice began in the early 1990s.It is done to protect the revenues of official philatelic agencies: private individuals cannot acquire undamaged stamps for resale. The officially damaged stamps used on cover are highly desirable since there is so little commercial mail).

[There is a typo in my old write-up of these two covers: both covers are from 1994 (January and June), not 1993, with clear Yerevan backstamps]

How to distinguish genuine DVR (Far Eastern Republic) overprints

Ivo Steijn writes to me from California with a useful method of distinguishing genuine DVR (Far Eastern Republic) overprints. He tells me that on the genuine DVR monogram, the top half of the upright stroke of the central letter ALWAYS has a small protrusion on the left side. See the enlargement he has supplied. He says he has never seen a forgery which reproduces this feature.

However, this distinguishing feature is only found on the small DVR overprint (applied to kopeck value stamps such as the 1 kopeck previously overprinted with Kolchak "70" shown here)and by the time it is applied to stamps in combination with a Far Eastern Republic surcharge ( 7 kop on 15 kop and so on)the protrusion has been removed. But on the illustrated block of 25, every stamp has Ivo Steijn's identifying mark.

This is a very useful piece of information - forgeries of the DVR overprint are common.

Thanks, Ivo!

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Georgia 1921: Last Days of the Menshevik government

Click on image and use magnifier to enlarge.

Soviet forces entered Georgia on 11 February 1921 and Tbilisi was taken by the Red Army on 25 February. The Menshevik government had left a few days prior to that and retreated to Suram and then Batum. Hostilities were formally ended by the Treaty of Kutais on 18 March 1921. (I am taking these dates from P.T.Ashford, Georgia: Postal Cancellations 1918-1923)

The last few months of Menshevik rule saw the appearance in Tbilisi of speculative overprints on Georgian stamps, the National Guard and "de jure" issues. In the same period, the very doubtful Constantinople "Consular" overprints were produced.

The months after the Bolshevik seizure of power saw the production of numerous fantasy issues in Constantinople, to which city members of the Georgian stamp trade had evacuated themselves, taking with them extensive stocks of Georgian stamp issues. They may also have taken one or two genuine cancellers.

At the top of the page is a cover with a pre-printed header for Z.Y. Rokhlin (Rockling), franked with two examples of the "de jure" stamps in different shades. These are cancelled with what Ashford lists as a genuine Tbilisi cancellation (Type 22)dated 21 2 21. But the "receiver" cancellation (the cover is obviously philatelic and has never travelled)dated 22 2 21 is one which Ashford has down as a forged cancellation (page 151) on the grounds that he has "never seen a "z" datestamp used other than in the company of material originating in Constantinople" (page 151).

Now the style of the 22 2 21 datestamp is quite a good approximation to the style of other Tbilisi datestamps (there are a lot of them - it was a big city) and the ink with which it is applied is in character with normal post office ink.

The cover is signed "Romeko Paris". Now Romeko's surname was in fact Rockling (first name, I think, Serge - so the cover header is the name of his father or another family member) and he had made his way to Paris from Tbilisi via Constantinople. In the latter city, he was a member of the group which produced numerous fantasy issues. Despite this, Rockling / Romeko was extremely careful in applying his house mark: it is rarely if ever seen on forged material.

Several possibilities now present themselves, including these:

1. This cover was made in Tbilisi and both cancellations are genuine and correctly dated
2. This cover was made in Tbilisi with one genuine and one forged cancellation
3. This cover was made (or completed) in Constantinople using genuine cancellers removed from Tbilisi and the cover is backdated
4. This cover was completed in Constantinople where a forged "receiver" cancellation was added

And so on. More example might help sort out this little mystery

Also on the scan is an example of one of the Constantinople fabrications: the red Star overprints on blocks of 4. Here one of the reasons for regarding the cancellation as forged (as Ashford does - page 152) is that it is applied in an ink never seen in Tbilisi.

I have lots of National Guard, "de jure" and "Constantinople" material in stock: contact me on

Sunday 7 August 2011

Russian Fiscals: examples from Agathon Faberge's Collection

Click on image and use magnifier to enlarge

Fiscal stamps were not usually sold to the public. So unless they were remaindered at some point and sold to the stamp trade, it is unusual to find mint examples.

But some collectors and dealers always had the contacts necessary to obtain mint stamps. In Agathon Fabergé's fiscal collection there were mint copies of many fiscal stamps normally only seen in used condition. Above are three mint examples of the 1895 Tobacco Licence stamps. These are mint with full gum. On each one Agathon Fabergé has written an acquisition note:

The 1 1/2 and 3 rouble stamps were acquired from Eichenthal in February 1906
The 5 rouble was acquired in July 1906 from "G x Köhler". This stamp is particularly interesting because it already has a manuscript 25% reduced tariff inscription, suggesting that these were not applied at point of use but in whole sheets prior to use.

A very nice group of stamps!

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Georgia 1922 Soviet Pictorial Issue (Michel 31 - 35; SG 28 - 32)

Click on image and use Magnifier to enlarge

At the beginning of 1922, Georgia issued a five value set of pictorial postage stamps. These stamps are most commonly found with surcharges applied in 1923. The unsurcharged stamps, except for the 5000 r green, are quite scarce: this explains why forged surcharges are very rare - adding a surcharge will usually turn a scarce stamp into a common one.

The basic set of stamps was forged, though these forgeries are also quite scarce.

The unsurcharged stamps are worth looking for. The 500 rouble lowest value in red is very scarce, though both Michel and Stanley Gibbons commit the New Issue Fallacy of valuing it lower than the 5000 r highest value. Because of inflation, it is the highest value which is most common. In my stockbook, I have only one mint (no gum) and one used example of the 500 r stamp; in contrast, I have 33 copies of the 5000 rouble and, in addition, other copies in my Pick Anywhere at £1 stockbooks.

Stanley Gibbons lists shades on the five stamps of which the most interesting is SG 29a, the 1000 r Sower in sepia (dark brown) instead of (light) yellow -brown. They price this at £11.50 used and give a dash price ( too scarce to call) for mint. And they even add a footnote: "No. 29a was from a later printing, most of the stamps being destined for surcharge in 1923". If you look at the surcharged stamps, you will find that this is correct. With the machine surcharge "10 000" it is the dark brown stamp that you always see: I don't have a machine surcharged yellow-brown stamp.

Above, you can see my stockbook page for the unsurcharged 1000 r value. At the top, one mint and one used copy in sepia. I have had these for years, have never offered them for sale, and have never been able to add to the two illustrated. Have a look to see if you have one!