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Saturday 22 January 2011

Russian Post Offices in China

This is a Hot Tip :)

Buy Russian Post Offices in China!

The Imperial Russian Post Offices were few in number though some of them handled a significant volume of mail, Shanghai most of all.

Postal history from these offices commands good prices, especially early material (let's say, before 1900). It's not easy to find.

But look at the catalogue values for the stamps! Look at Michel (I have the 2008 / 09 catalogue in front of me). Leave out the philatelic Harbin issue of 1920 (Michel 55 - 59) and there are just over 50 main listing stamps. Over half of the total mint and used valuations are for one euro or less - down to as little as 20 cents. In other words, they are priced at around the same prices as for regular Imperial Russian stamps. But the numbers issued and used must have been a tiny fraction of those used in Russia itself

Buy while you can!

Wednesday 19 January 2011

1917 - 1923 Baltics, Caucasus and Ukraine: an Odd Fact

The famous stamps of "classic" philately - Penny Blacks, Bulls' Heads, Post Office Mauritius - appear over and over again in auction. There is a huge data-base of knowledge: how many exist, what prices they fetched, who owned them, and so on.

For the 1917 - 1923 period there are rare and fascinating items from the Baltics, Caucasus and Ukraine which have never appeared in auction as single lots. Either they have been bundled up in big lots or they have been sold privately - passed from collector to dealer to collector for decades. In such cases, there are often no publicly available pictures; there is no inventory of how many exist; and little is known about the prices which have been paid.

Some of these items are unique, some exist in a handful of copies. They are rarities. Most of them have probably been bought and sold for modest sums - let's say, under 1 000 (euros, dollars, pounds).

Not all of these things are obscure. For example, Latvia's 1918 # 1 Map Stamps are famous. But they were available in Riga for regular postal use for only two weeks at the end of December 1918 before Red Army troops occupied the Latvian capital and the post offices started using Russian stamps once again.

The number of genuinely used commercial covers with Map stamps from those two weeks in December 1918 is extremely small. But how small, we do not know. I have only ever seen (and sold) one and I could not get anything like the price I thought it deserved - which itself was, in my view, still ridiculously low (I asked for $1000 and didn't get it)

It's not hard to find auctions offering a choice of Russia # 1 on cover. The likely sale price is known. But there are many things from 1917 - 23 Baltics, Caucasus and Ukraine for which the likely sale price is unknown because they have never been seen in auction. And one reason that they have not been seen is that they are much rarer than Russia # 1 on cover ...

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Ukraine Stamps and Postal History 1917 - 1923: a neglected field

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:

Ukrainian philately has its own specialised societies, not only in Ukraine but also in the USA (UPNS) and in France (SFUP). I guess the UPV still exists in Germany, where it was once the world's most important vehicle for research in Ukrainian philately.

Despite these organisations, Ukrainian stamps and postal history 1917 - 23 seem neglected. Partly, this is because there is actually a lot of material available. For example, for the year 1919 when Russian material is very hard to find (and most of it without stamps), Ukrainian material - and with stamps - is quite plentiful.

True, for some parts of Ukraine material is scarce (Poltava, for example) and true, mail going abroad to anywhere except Germany is hard to find.

But against this, common stamps are common and Money Transfer Forms are actually not scarce. The basic catalog listing in Michel - based entirely on Dr Seichter's work - is excellent. The illustrations are all accurate and reliable. Compare Yvert, which is dreadful!

But there are whole areas which are under-researched. Tariffs, for example - though we now have the work of Alexander Epstein; the use of Ukrainian stamps by the Bolsheviks after the Sovietisation of Ukraine; and even the dating of Trident introduction in 1918: if I came across a First Day of Use cover in a dealer's box, I would not know that that is what it was. [ But as free advice: if you see a genuine Trident cover with an August 1918 cancellation, buy it ]

In September 2011, Corinphila in Zurich will auction the Ukraine collection of the late Dr Ron Zelonka. It is much more than a Trident collection (it covers the whole period 1800 - 2000). It will be the first time that a specialised Ukraine collection has ben offered, broken down into Lots, since the 1987 sales of Vyrovyj's collection by the Swiss auction house Schaetzle. It will be a very interesting sale!

POSTSCRIPT 17 January. I was just looking at the latest Michel catalog for Eastern Europe (Osteuropa). They have scrapped the very good Ukraine listing which took up only a few pages and replaced it with something that looks useless! Nicht intelligent! All the more reason to use John Bulat's catalog: go to to order a copy

Monday 3 January 2011

Cheap Postal History: Postmarks! (Try it for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia)

It has gone out of fashion, but collecting postmarks on loose stamps was once very popular. In some cases it is the only practical way of studying the postal history of a period or place: in many cases, there are not enough covers and those that do exist cost thousands (pounds, euros, dollars) and no one can really hope to gather enough together.

A good example of postmark study is to be found in S D Tchilingirian and W S E Stephen's "Stamps of the Russian Empire Used Abroad" which dates from the 1950s

Peter Ashford's "Imperial Russian Stamps Used in Transcaucasia" (from the 1970s) is in the same genre.

Last but not least comes I L G Baillie and E G Peel, "St Petersburg: the Imperial Post - its postmarks and other postal markings 1765 - 1914" (2001)

Eric Peel's personal collections have been dispersed on the market over the past few years. I have bought and sold several of them. Peel trawled through hundreds of thousands of stamps and could identify a postmark from one letter or a serial number - in some cases, from a kink in the outer circle of a postmark. In many thousands of cases, he pencilled the postmark identification on the back of the stamp.

Such postmark studies, using common stamps, are invaluable in assessing the authenticity of rare covers. The postmarks on the common stamps are a very good guide to how they should look on a cover.

For Transcaucasia, I have built up (and then sold) postmark collections on 1923 Transcaucasian pictorials which have the advantage of being large format stamps. It's not easy. You have to take every opportunity to acquire used copies despite the fact that you are going to find that 90% of them are cancelled BAKU or TIFLIS. But even then there are an awful lot of serial numbers to be distinguished. Those were both major cities with several post offices and many cancellers.

By way of encouragement: I find it much more satisfying to puzzle out a postmark from a couple of smudged letters than to do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. (In truth, I don't know how to do a Sudoku puzzle)

If you have a limited budget and unlimited patience, try making a postmark collection. Let me make a suggestion. We have postmark studies of St Petersburg and Moscow (the work of G A Combs and N C Warr). But for quite major Russian cities, there are no serious studies at all ...