Search This Blog

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.