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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

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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

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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!