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Thursday 29 March 2012

Moscow to Armenia to the Archives to the Forgers...

I began writing about faked material from Armenia back in the 1990s, after someone sold me a batch of 1922-23 stampless official letters to which genuine stamps had recently been added - and forged cancellations then applied. Nice stampless covers were thus converted into pretty worthless fakes.

Today I was looking through a collection of over 100 RSFSR 1923 "Star" overprint covers and I was reminded of old times.

Here is a single sheet of official correspondence sent from Moscow to Yerevan. On the inside the mimeographed text is dated 2 III 23. On the outside the item is numbered ( you can't see this - I have folded the item)and a PECHAT PAKETOV seal has been applied in violet ink (this you can see).

In the early Soviet period, No..... + Seal no longer seems to guarantee that something is a Free Frank item. In this case, it is being sent outside the borders of the RSFSR to an address in the Transcaucasian Federation, so even if postage was free for this official sitem within the RSFSR it may not have been free to Yerevan. So let's continue:

The weak ERIVAN receiver cancellation is genuine.

The franking is possible but not plausible: combinations of 1922 5th Anniversary stamps and Star overprints can be found but they are unusual (there were just two more in the accumulation I was looking through). The 5 p Star overprint is quite scarce used but very common mint. The 5p Fifth Anniversary is also very common mint. It was the unusual franking which made me look closer.

Look at the MOSCOW despatch cancellation. I don't recall seeing it in this kind of blue-grey before but all things are possible I suppose. However, I went through my accumulation looking for another example of this cancellation. I found two examples and show one applied to a December 1922 philatelic local cover, correctly franked with a 20p / 70 kop stamp. The other one I have is identical in ink and lettering.

The two cancellations are quite different. Much as I would like to have a Moscow to Yerevan item like this, I conclude that the stamps have been added to this document maybe ten or twenty years ago and a fake Moscow cancellation applied. The cancellation is in the wrong ink and the design is only a careless copy.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Deutsche Besetzung Ukraine 1918

In the Michel catalogue, you will not find a category for "Deutsche Besetzungsausgaben Ukraine 1914/18". The German Army was all over Ukraine in 1918 but it did not issue occupation stamps. That is because it was there as what we might now call a Stabilisation and Assistance Force, supporting the new Ukrainian National Republic.

German troops wrote home through the Feldpost. Some civilians also had access to German military postal services. I had never seen examples of that until I viewed the Zelonka collection last year but I have now acquired an example (above) from the Robert Taylor collection.

This shows a Kyiv - based company sending a letter to Germany through the Deutsche Kommandatur / Kiew and using a 20 Pf Germania to do so. The violet cancellation is undated but the manuscript remarks on front and back of letter indicate it was sent on from Berlin to Warnemünde on 17 September 1918.

The Kerensky card from Brailov is now discussed in my Blog for 23 August 2014

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 27 March 2012

Ukraine Trident Covers: An Amusing Forgery

Most Trident collectors will be familiar with the cancellation of ENAKIEVO EKAT on covers or, more often, small pieces with Trident overprinted stamps - normally those of Katerynoslav but sometimes from other Districts. At the end of 1918, the Enakievo post office was quite a Philatelic Bureau. At the top, I show three fragments with two different Enakievo cancellations.

I was amused when I came across the cover also shown above. Here the stamps (Podillia Ia) appear to be genuine, but the cancellation is a forgery. So is the improvised Registration label and the "ZAKAZNOE" cachet. On the reverse is a ZHITOMIR receiver cancellation which is in the same shaky style and in the same watery ink.

No need to Beware! surely? Nonetheless, at some point an optimistic dealer pencilled $70 on the back.


Postscript 07 April: After posting this Blog, I found this genuine Enakievo cover with the same date 20 11 18 and same cancellation serial as on the forgery and a ZAKAZNOE cachet which looks as if it has been copied for the fake though it is here applied in violet not black. The 10 kopeck stamp on this cover is a rarity: it has a Katerynoslav II overprint (Bulat 824c, - - )

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 March 2012

RSFSR 1919: Why Is This an Unusual Cover?

Soviet Russian mail from 1919 is scarcer than mail from 1918 and 1920 - in this year, the RSFSR faced its biggest challenges and controlled a geographical base much smaller than it started with in October / November 1917.

This cover is scarce not just because of the year, but because it is franked. At this time, ordinary private letters (first weight step) and postcards could be sent Post Free. This letter was franked to pay the registration fee and the second weight step.

Sent from STARAYA RUSSA VOKSAL 5 9 19 to Petrograd (PETROGRAD 6 9 19 on reverse of cover), it is the kind of thing you might find in a dealer's box for $20 or 20 € or £20, but because of the date it is surely worth more even with its archival punch holes at the left.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Philately on $1 a day: Collecting in Hard Times

Collectors with little money to spend can build very interesting collections. You can buy some things ridiculously cheap and you can add value to them by doing some work.

For example, 19th century definitives are often very cheap - buy them in bulk (by the 100 or 1000) and you pay maybe a couple of cents each. But for many countries there are watermark, perforation and shade varieties, some highly catalogued. There are also plate varieties and postmark interest. Finland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia are examples of countries where, with patience, you can turn 1 cent stamps into an interesting collection.

Two suggestions:

If there is a specialist Handbook or catalogue, buy it!
And if the stamps are from old collections, wash them and get rid of the old hinges and the dust and dirt!

If I see big lots of old stamps in an auction - sometimes they are bundleware - then I will bid the lowest possible price and quite often I get them. It's really surprising how few people take an interest. I think the least I paid for a big lot of old stamps was US$ 0.005 per stamp when I bought 500 000 Turkish stamps from an old packet maker's stock. But I don't really recommend buying quite so many stamps - they weighed 45 kilos and took over my flat completely for a week.

Another interesting way to build a collection with little money is to buy damaged copies of scarce and rare stamps for maybe a couple of % of catalogue. Then make yourself an expert on paper, shades, perforations, cancellations and - especially - overprints. This is what the experts often do - after all, what you need is simply a stamp or a block of stamps which shows you all the essential characteristics of the genuine item. You are not looking for something which will get you a Gold Medal.

Finally, just find something no one seems to be interested in, like Zemstvos before 1999 ....

Tuesday 13 March 2012

A Unique West Ukraine Item

In his Illustrated Postage Stamp History of Western Ukrainian Republic 1918 - 1919 (1973), John Bulat shows this Proof sheet of the overprint setting for the Fourth Stanyslaviv Issue, second set on high value Austrian Postage Dues (pp 83 - 84). In his later Catalogue, these overprints become the Eighth Stanyslaviv set (Bulat 104-105; pages 168-69).

The Proof sheet passed from Bulat to Ron Zelonka and was offered in the Corinphila sale of his collection, but was only sold after the Auction. It is now in my stock.

As far as I know, it is the only Proof sheet of any of the West Ukraine overprints. If I am wrong I would be pleased for someone to tell me!

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 7 March 2012

Armenia 1922 Second Yessayan stamps

For the serious Armenia collector this torn scrap is a rich source of information.

Here is one of the scarcer Second Yessayan stamps showing the broad "4" overprint. The letter was posted at KARAKLIS ERIVAN "a" 23 6 22. The cancellation shows typical ink and clear strikes of features which forgers often get wrong.

But Karaklis was using old Imperial Registration labels of ERIVAN at this time, modified in violet ink to "Karaklis" (in Cyrillic).

The cover went first to Alexandropol and received an ALEXANDROPOL "zhe" 24 6 22 cancellation. This cancel is genuine and because the "zhe" is struck on the white margin of the stamp you can see that it is the genuine cancellatioon and not one of the fakes you will find at various points in the ARTAR catalog (see my previous Blogs on this subject)

The envelope was then forwarded to a People's Court in Yerevan - see the bright violet endorsement - and was received at ERIVAN "b" 29 6 22: the strike shows clearly the Cyrillic "b" serial which most forgeries get wrong (go again to the ARTAR catalog)

If I was better at reading Cyrillic there is more information to be extracted from this item - and if more collectors bought items like this, they would be less likely to end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars and euros for the fake items which appear regularly, even in serious auctions

Tuesday 6 March 2012

More Thoughts on 1919 C.M.T. overprints of Pokutia

In the literature (Cherniavsky, Kronenberg, Bulat and others) it is usual to distinguish between "Originals" and "Reprints" for the C.M.T. overprints from the Romanian Occupation of Pokutia. However, it is not in practice possible to distinguish Originals and Reprints from the handstamps (the same ones were used) or from the ink (the same ink pads were used).

This suggests to me an alternative way of thinking (helped by discussion with two of my correspondents). We could think in terms of

(1) Genuine C.M.T. overprints on Austrian stamps, prepared in Chernivtsi at the time
(2) Genuine C.M.T. stamps actually distributed in Pokutia. Here we know from Cherniavsky that only a limited range of combinations of basic stamp and overprint value were distributed in Pokutia and in limited quantities. John Bulat in his Catalog gives the same listing as Cherniavsky and I think we can assume this is correct. However, we will only be able to know that a stamp is from the batch distributed in Pokutia if it is USED and has a postmark from one of the offices to which the stamps were distributed and dated at the correct period. Maybe between twenty and forty covers exist which satisfy these requirements and an unknown number of loose stamps. In addition, a number of mint stamps exist (I have only seen four or five) signed with the monogram of Dr Cherniavsky and it is reasonable to assume (but impossible to prove) that these stamps were ones which were among those distributed in Pokutia.

Above, I show 41 stamps all with genuine overprints on values (or in value combinations) NOT distributed in Pokutia. Some of these have good signatures like that of Mikulski. (Tucked in the corner are three forgeries, one with a Bulat condemnation handstamp)

I also show one genuine cover, correctly franked (60h postage + 1k registration + 20h Charity Tax) which is unusual because it is NOT addressed to the District Court - most known genuine covers are addressed to the District Court in Kolomyja where Cherniavsky worked. The cover is ex-Zelonka collection (and Zelonka deciphered the date on the cancellation as 2 VIII 19) and signed BULAT BPP with a recent Ceremuga certificate.

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 5 March 2012

Soviet Georgia 1922: A Scarce Stamp

If you accumulate stamps of Soviet Georgia, you will soon discover that the 1922 pictorial set of 5 is quite common with later surcharges and quite scarce without surcharges: the 500 rouble red is really quite hard to find; only the 5000r green is quite common. Such are the consequences of inflation.

Stanley Gibbons lists some shades on this issue and also notes that there are paper varieties (I blogged about this before and this is a Repeat ...)

For the 1000r they list it in yellow brown (SG 29) but also in sepia (dark brown: SG 29a). They give no price for 29a mint and price it as £11.50 used - the highest used price in the set. They explain " No 29a was from a later printing, most of the stamps being destined for surcharge in 1923"

I show two unsurcharged copies of SG 29a above, mint and used, together with a used copy of SG 29 in the regular yellow-brown shade. All three stamps are on horizontally laid paper.The dark brown is something to look out for.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Grodno, Belarus 1992: Strange but True

Back in 1992, I had a correspondent in Lithuania who often visited Grodno. So I sent him some of my Belarus New Issues (I had too many ...) and asked him to use them on covers to me.

One day - 3 OCT 1992 according to the Lewes cancellation on the reverse - I received the cover shown above. I was very excited. I had not seen anything like this before. It was overfranked (I think 15 roubles was the rate) but this time I did not care.

For a time, I collected Grodno "brown paper" provisionals and, in fact, anything from post-Soviet Grodno. One of the things I noticed was that Grodno post offices seemed to have no black ink available - either you saw purple ink (as on the Registration cachets and canellations on this cover) or red ink.

I forget who bought my Grodno material from me, but I kept this one cover as a souvenir. ( I have covered up my old Lewes address to which you can no longer send letters. My present address is: Unit 10, 91 Western Road, Brighton BN1 2NW, England)

Don't Do It, Dr Seichter!

You wouldn't do it to the Mona Lisa, so don't do it to your postal history collection!

After showing you this Parcel Card, I will be trying to restore it to its original condition. There are three more stamps on the back bringing the franking up to 17 r 25 kopeck, which corresponds to the faded tally bottom left.

It is very interesting and probably excited Dr Seichter - he stuck on more labels than usual.

First, it shows use of Trident overprints at a very early date (ZINKOV POD 29 8 18). Second, the destination in Minsk Guberniya is unusual (it arrived there KHOLMETCH MINSK 7 9 18). Third, it shows mixed usage of overprinted and unoverprinted stamps (permitted at this date). Fourth, the 5r and 10r stamps with Podillia 10bb are rare (Bulat 1770 and 1771, $200 and $225).

One can also speculate: high value stamps were in short supply, especially perforated and these got used up first. You are more likely to see a 5r or 10 r perforated used in August-September 1918 than six months later.

And now the Mona Lisa after conservative restoration work:

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: