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Sunday 22 May 2011

Armenia: Postal History after 1923

Click on images to enlarge and then use Magnifier if necessary

After 1923 and the disappearance of distinctive stamps, Armenian postal history does not immediately become more common. In fact, it is hard to find - and what little exists is buried deep in dealers' Soviet Union boxes. But when you do find it, it is often cheap.

Here are two covers. The first from February 1925 shows a new Yerevan bi-lingual cancel and Registration cachet in use, front and back in blue-green - and alongside it on the front what seems to be the old Imperial ERIVAN "a". This canceller is now so old that the date has slipped to give the year as "14" instead of "25".

But wait a minute! Look at the bottom South West corner of the old ERIVAN "a" cancellation. Here there should be one of the two stars. Instead there is a large "V". What is going on? Is this canceller now being used in a Sorting Office (identified by the "V") or is it being used as a Censor's mark (with the "V" equivalent to a triangle?). Information, please!

The cover was routed through Moscow, where the Censor's lying violet cachet was added, declaring in French that the letter had been received in Moscow with the flaps not properly sealed.

That the cover was opened and re-sealed can be seen from the way the Yerevan cancel over the stamp is slightly out of line on the right hand side. Traces of extra gum can also be seen on the inside of the envelope. But the letter arrived in New York in March 1925 in just under a month.

The second has a new DAVALOU ERIV. 28 9 26 bi-lingual cancel which can be found at page 58 of Christopher Zakiyan's book, illustrated there with a 1935 date. There is no receiver cancel, but the evidence that the cover arrived is provided by the fact that an idiot has written "cat. 75" [Scott, I bet] in blue pencil under the stamp - and on the back there is a very old pencilled price in the US style "1 oo" with a line under the zeros.

My guess is that most external Armenian mail in the period 1924 - 30 went to just three destinations: Russia, France and the USA. So if you are able to look through dealers' boxes in those countries, you might still find something.

But I have a confession: I didn't get these items from a dealer's box. I got them from a dealer but he knew that they were scarce items and offered them to me at sensble (expensive) prices.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Never Let Anyone Sign Your Covers!

I am looking at a photograph in the Private Treaty section of an upcoming Bolaffi sale. It shows an 1858 cover with a bisected Romagna stamp catalogued at a cool quarter of a million euros. The bisected stamp is surrounded by SIX pencilled autographs and one handstamped signature. Bottom right of the cover there is a further pencilled autograph. The catalogue lists them all: Giulio Bolaffi, A.G.Bolaffi, Emilio, Alberto and Enzo Diena, Mauritio Raybaudi and Renato Mondolfo.

I am asking myself, By how much do these signatures and the handstamp reduce the value of this item?


(1) If you try to rub out these signatures, you not only cause surface scuffing but risk creasing the item - something all dealers have done (and often do) when they rub out one pencilled price to replace it with their own

(2) You can't rub out a handstamp. If someone makes a mistake with a handstamp, it has to be crossed through in ink and a correcting note added - I have seen this often enough on the backs of stamps. Who wants a stamp or a cover which is a visible record of someone's mistakes?

(3) It can never be clear what a signature is signing. It is always ambiguous. That is why a Certficate is necessary to clarify what has been signed. But if you have the Certificate with a photograph attached, you do not need the pencilled signature or the handstamp: it's redundant

(4) A cover can be altered after it has been signed - something added or taken away to "improve" it. In that sense, the signature is strictly worthless and potentially misleading. In contrast, it's a lot more difficult to amend a Certificate. Of course, you can fake it outright - but that is generally a lot more difficult than forging a signature or even faking a less valuable (but signed) into a more valuable (but still signed) cover

(5) The cover is supposed to be a collectible object and to be preserved in the best state possible. Signatures deface the object. No one would hand the Mona Lisa over to a bunch of experts and invite them to decorate it (in felt tip?) with their signatures to "prove" its authenticity.

Conclusion? I reckon a cover decorated with signatures is worth about a quarter to a half less than a cover without them - and as part of an Exhibit, it ought to lose points in a similar proportion.

Am I wrong?

Tuesday 10 May 2011

John Bulat's Comprehensive Catalog of Ukrainian Philately

Bulat's catalog published in 2003 has become the catalog of choice for Ukraine collectors. The reasons are fairly simple: every stamp has a number, a mint price, and a used price. It's as comprehensive as Dr Seichter's work, which it follows closely, and it's in English and Ukrainian rather than German. Seichter's work has no numbering and is poorly presented.

Bulat is not without faults. I notice, for example, that the coverage of colour variations for Kyiv II overprints is not consistent: sometimes known variants are listed, sometimes not. Listing of inverted overprints is also not consistent.

This is minor. More important is the large number of typographical errors. Where these involve pricing, they can often be corrected by referring back to Seichter's catalog: in general, Bulat's $ price is arrived at by halving the Deutschmark figure in Seichter. So if Seichter has 100 and Bulat has $5 that's going to be a typographical error for $50

One of Bulat's special interests was in the Tridents of Poltava. He did fresh work on the 25 - cliche handstamps and this is presented at pages 50 - 73. Some of the panes on which Bulat's work is based will appear for sale in the upcoming Corinphila auction of Dr Ron Zelonka's collection.

But the pricing of these panes is a mess. For example, a single copy of a 2 kopeck imperforate with a Type I handstamp in violet is priced at $10 (Bulat 963). But a complete pane of 25 is priced at $50 (Bulat 909,913, 927). The $50 must be a mis-print for $500 on the basis that if a single is worth $10 then a pane of 25 is worth a minimum of $250, doubled to recognise the scarcity of the 25-cliche handstamps in complete units.

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: