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Sunday 27 January 2013

Mail from Ukraine to Poland 1918

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For most or all of  1918 mail abroad from Ukraine could only be sent to a limited range of destinations. Probably 90% goes to Germany, Austria and to areas occupied by German or Austrian troops. At the beginning of the year, after the declaration of Ukrainian Independence, mail still went into Russia and onward transmission to other destinations may have been possible. I cannot show any examples, however.

The card above is quite interesting. It was sent from YAMPOL POD[odolia] 18 11 18, the same day as it was written. Someone had the idea to charge 20 kopecks Postage Due on this uprated Kerensky card, but the idea seems to have been abandoned - both of the red Postage Due cachets are crossed through in violet ink. 

Germany signed the Armistice with the Allied powers on 11 11 18, so a week before this card was sent. By the time it reached Warsaw - to which it is addressed in Russian and German in the two top lines of the address - the postal system there was under independent Polish control. The boxed violet Censor cachet on the left is in Polish. A very short time before, German Censor marks would have been applied to cards arriving from Ukraine. On the reverse of the card, top left, is a note which indicates that this card was either received or replied to on 24 January 1919.

The long message  might be worth translation.

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 22 January 2013

Ukraine: Tridents of Homel (Gomel, Mogilev)

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The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed between Germany and Bolshevik Russia in March 1918, permitted German and Austrian troops to enter independent Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian government. Without their presence, Ukraine would have quickly fallen to the Bolsheviks - and after the Germans and Austrians left at the end of 1918, it did.

The town of Homel - Gomel in Russian - in Mogilev guberniya was a major military centre for the German Occupation.  Not having any fighting to do, the soldiers turned their attention to philately - as soldiers did in those days. It was a way of passing the time and making money. Nowadays, they would probably do other drugs.

To this day you can easily find obviously philatelic cards and covers fabricated in Homel and exported back to Germany in large quantities. The crowning achievement was to instigate the production of a local Trident, Homel Type 1, which has always been in the catalogues (see Bulat 2356 - 2363 for the definitive listing). I show some examples in the top row of the two most common values, the 15 kop and 20 kop, though even these are not so easy to find and Bulat's valuations are low. Note the light touch overprints which I believe are characteristic as is the GOMEL cancel, though this comes in several types. Dr Seichter has signed the 15 kop on piece and mint block of 4  

More puzzling are the bogus types numbered 3, 4 and 5 by Dr Ceresa and known as the "Homel - Townsend" types. Type 3 is illustrated in Row 2, type 4 in Row 4 and Type 5 in the bottom row. These stamps first turned up in England and were catalogued as early as 1920 which makes them more interesting than if they had turned up in 1990.  Today, they are not easy to find though perhaps most of those that exist are still in England. They were supposedly brought to England by a Captain Townsend who claimed to have bought them at post offices in the Homel area. 

No one seems to have pointed out that this is a strange story. Until the end of 1918 the Homel district was occupied by German troops and an English officer could not have been wandering around the post offices. After the Armistice of 11 11 1918, the Germans withdrew and fighting between Ukrainian National Republic forces and Bolshevik forces shortly began. Again, no place there for a British officer ( I don't think the British ever had a Military Mission to the Ukrainian National Republic - that would be the only way for a Captain Townsend to be free to go around collecting stamps at the end of 1918). 

Anyway ... everyone now agrees that the Homel types 3, 4 and 5 were private productions made no later than 1920 and quite possibly made in Ukraine - but where and by whom we do not really know. Captain Townsend is no longer alive to tell us.

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:

Sunday 20 January 2013

Moscow Fiscals of the 1860s - a rival to Zemstvos?

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You could probably find 9 copies of Russia #1 faster than you could find 9 examples of the Moscow Town Police revenue stamps shown above. These revenue stamps date from the 1860s. Their design and printing is much inferior to that of Russia #1 - so if you like "primitive" Zemstvo stamps you might like these too.

It is obvious that there is great variation in colour - in Row 2, for example,  the first stamp is almost black but the second stamp is chestnut brown (this second stamp was acquired by Agathon Fabergé in 1906 - pencil note on reverse). The printing plate -which I guess is lithographic - also deteriorated. The stamps in the right hand column are from worn plates. Look at the ornaments in the four corners to get an idea of what happens as the plate is used: the detail and shading disappear.

Because these stamps were used and used up before philately got really established - or began to take an interest in revenue stamps - it is very unusual to find multiples or mint stamps. Agathon Fabergé occasionally had mint stamps with full gum in his collection but for these 1860s issues they are rare. Sometimes these stamps were not cancelled so it looks as if they are mint - like the chestnut brown stamp above - but in fact they have no gum and simply lack a pen cross cancel.

It's cold and snowing here in Brighton today so I am spending the morning preparing more auction lots for 
These Moscow fiscals should appear in that auction later in 2013.

Friday 18 January 2013

Armenia 1919 - 21 Dashnak overprinted stamps

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Armenia's 1919 - 21 Dashnak overprints are all made with single handstamps, the Z handstamps made of rubber and the rouble handstamps made of metal. Tens of thousands of stamps were overprinted, probably most of them sold to people emigrating. There was no point taking out Armenian currency - Armenia was in ruins, was not exporting anything and had no tourist trade - but stamps were a saleable commodity abroad. Domestic postal services were very restricted and outside Armenia some mail went to Georgia but beyond that almost nothing.

There are several types of ink used and these affect the look of the overprints. This is particularly the case for the metal rouble handstamps. 

Look at the top two block of six. Both have genuine overprints from the same handstamp, but one is made using a "dry" ink and the other with a "watery" (diluted) ink. The effect of the diluted ink is to eliminate the fine detail of the Monogram above the "10r" and to make the "0" in the "10r" appear more round. But if you put these overprints on top of each other, they match very well - the overall dimensions remain the same.

At the end of the Dashnak period, rouble surcharges were added to stocks of stamps with existing Z overprints. The bottom left block of 4 shows "10" added in black over a small Z in grey ink so the overall effect is not too bad. But on the right, I show a block of 4 where the Monogram above the "10r" has been obscured (Dr Ceresa suggests with a paper strip) so that the Z can still be seen. 

Importantly, the Monogram has not been removed from the 10r handstamp to create a new type: if you look at the stamp in position 1 in this block of 4, you can see traces of the Monogram below the Z. This effect is common on these stamps - though the stamps themselves are scarce or rare.

Armenia 1921 First Yesssayan Pictorial Stamps

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This page from the collection of the late Stephen Hornby nicely illustrates the two Plates made for the 15 000 rouble value of the First Yessayan / Essayan pictorials, lithographed in Constantinople  at the V.M. Yessayan Printing Works for the new government of Soviet Armenia. 

Though this value was never issued - perhaps because it showed a church - Yessayan did not know this when he was printing the stamps. The fact that he made a new Plate to replace an unsatisfactory first Plate shows simply that he took this contract seriously and wanted to produce good work.

We know that the designer of these stamps, Sarkis Khachaturian, visited Constantinople in 1921 as a representative of the Armenian government (see my Blog about 1921  First Star overprints). We do not know how long he stayed and we do not know if he involved himself in the production of the stamps. But if he stayed long enough, he could certainly have got involved in the production and taken responsibility for redesigning this stamp.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Ukraine: More tridents of Podillia / Podolia

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In response to a Reader's Comment on my recent Podillia Blog, I now show a few more of the sub-types:

Row 1:  3a on 15 kop perf     &     1b on 3 kop imperf

Row 2: 8d on 1 kop imperf     &    5a on 3 kop imperf

Row 3: 14 on 20kop perf       &    10a on 7 kop perf    &    9aa on 3 kop imperf

Row 4: 16d on 15 kop perf    &    16aa on 3 kop imperf

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:

A Letter from Finland to San Stefano 1878

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Here is a letter going from Helsinki to San Stefano near Constantinople. It's an unusual destination but entirely explained by the date: the letter was sent from Helsinki on 4th April 1878 (N.S), transiting through St Petersburg on 23rd / 24th and through Odessa on the 28th (both O.S). There is no arrival cancellation but the letter has been roughly opened suggesting that it was indeed received by its military addressee.

On 3rd March 1878, at San Stefano, Russia and the Ottoman Empire signed what was technically a preliminary peace Treaty following on from the Russo - Turkish War of 1877 - 78. The Treaty is remembered principally for its creation of an independent Bulgaria - the price paid for Ottoman defeat. Though a definitive Treaty never replaced the preliminary Treaty, discussions would have no doubt continued at San Stefano - the sender of this letter clearly expected the addressee to be there at least a month later and seems to have been correct in this assumption.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Ukraine: Collecting Tridents of Podillia / Podolia

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There do exist collectors who are working their way through John Bulat's Podillia Trident listing, trying to get one of every separately listed variety. The listing starts at # 1370 and ends at #2195 (plus an Appendix which runs from #2196 to 2283, plus a, b and c varieties here and there ...). So it's a very big project - and I don't know anyone who has completed it. The late Ron Zelonka once sent me his Podillia Wants List. It was actually quite long. Maybe I found three or four stamps for him.

There is an alternative which is more realistic - and cheaper. For each of the 57 Trident types (literally 57 in Bulat's listing), I would try to find one very good example - if possible in a multiple - and maybe extend from there. But the paradigm example would serve as  the reference point from which to assess other stamps: to answer the question, Is this really an example of Type .... 

Both mint and used stamps can be used. Have a look above. The block of 25 mint stamps shows Trident Type 14b (Bulat # 2075). The clerk (probably left-handed)  worked from right to left across four rows and from left to right in the middle row. In every case he re-inked the handstamp every fifth strike. This means that the block shows us quite clearly the sorts of difference you get between well-inked and lightly inked examples of this Trident. In this particular case, unusually for a wooden handstamp, there is not a lot of variation which is why 14b is an Easy trident to collect.

The block of 12 used stamps shows Trident Type 8a (Bulat # 1603). This is also a wooden handstamp and, again, it is quite distinctive. In the block above there is a particularly clear strike in position 5 of the block - you could trace this one quite clearly. It helps that this block is very lightly cancelled.

In both these cases, you could put the blocks in the centre of an album page and show other denominations with the same Trident around them - and always using the block at the centre of the page to check the identification of what will often be single 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 8 January 2013

Ukraine 1918 - 20 : stamps on the move

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Here is a Money Transfer Form sent from NEMIROV POD[olia] 15 1 19,  received at DUNAEVTSI POD 20 1 19 and signed for - but not until 3rd April 1919 (Interestingly, it is signed for using the Ukrainian word for "April" which is "Kviten" (Russian is "Aprel")).

The Transfer Form is correctly franked to 1% of the sum transferred (1 rouble for each 100 roubles or part thereof - so the 1375 is rounded up to 1400, yielding a 14 rouble franking)

But it's still a fairly ordinary Money Transfer EXCEPT that it is franked with stamps from three Trident issuing Districts: at the top the 5 rouble imperforate stamps are overprinted with Kharkiv type II and would have originated in Kharkiv. The 3 rouble 50 imperforate shows Odesa VIb and so was made in Odesa. Only the 50 kopeck perforate has a Podilia overprint (Type Ia) and this would have originated in Zhmerynka (as is true for nearly all the Podilia types: this was shown by Stefan Hawryluk)

So how did these stamps all end up in Nemirov?

There are two main possibilities:

(1) Within Ukrainian National Republic - controlled areas, Districts helped other Districts by supplying them with stamps they needed but did not have locally. A simple Telegraphic request could have triggered a shipment.

(2) As UNR areas fell to Red or White control, some pro-UNR (postal) officials left and took with them whatever supplies of stamps they could carry and these were put back into circulation in UNR areas (of which Podillia was the longest lived). As a minor variant, when UNR-supporting postmasters saw that their local area was about to be taken over by Red or White forces, they bundled up stamps and sent them on any train departing for a UNR area and, once again, the stamps got put back into circulation.

It would be interesting to know what actually happened.

 It is relatively easy to find  Money Transfer Forms with stamps in other District combinations - stamps of Odesa are quite commonly seen. And maybe someone has a MTF with FOUR Districts represented ...

Added 22 January 2013:

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Here's another Podillia Money Transfer Form with a mixed franking of Podillia 8a and Poltava Type 1 Tridents - the latter on the three 7r perforated stamps. The card was sent from MOGILEV POD 13 11 18 to KYIV (Ukrainian language canceller on reverse).With the stamps on the back (which include unoverprinted Postal Savings Bank stamps) this card is correctly franked at 22 roubles 50 kop equal to a rate of 75 kopecks for each 100 roubles or part thereof transferred. 

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 7 January 2013

Imperial Russian Fiscal Stamps - Colour Trials and Gum Trials (?)

Here are Colour Trials of Imperial Russia's 1887 General Fiscal Issue - lovely ** blocks 4 from Agathon Fabergé's collection. But look at the backs. It is clearly deliberate - only part of each stamp is gummed. Why?

Often, Trials are not gummed at all - there is no need; they are not going to be used. If they are gummed, then they are gummed normally as if they are the finished product. Why this half gumming?

My GUESS is that someone wanted to test the effect of the gum on the appearance of the front of the stamp.

Does anyone have a better guess - or even real information?

Saturday 5 January 2013

Sevastopol Passport Stamps - A Puzzle

These Passport Fee stamps used at Sevastopol are quite common. The Barefoot catalogue says they were issued in 1907 (replacing an 1898 issue which is scarce or rare) and I guess they were used up until 1917 - the stamp on the right on a fragment shows a date of use 1914.

It is this right hand stamp which puzzles me. Click on the image to enlarge it. When I click, it looks to me as if the rose / pink coloured underprint has been printed on top of the blue design. But if so the print is not even - the shield at top with the words PASSPORT STAMP looks more or less normal. So it may be that this stamp has been affected by sun light or water ( but I cannot see any water damage on the back of the fragment). Or it could be that the underprint was designed to leave the top shield area more or less clear.

Does anyone have another example? Does anyone have an explanation?  Please use Comments below if you have any ideas!

Improvisation and Recycling after the Russian Revolution

Between 1914 and 1923 industrial  and agricultural production in Russia was devastated by the effects of war and civil war. Only after the introduction of Lenin's New Economic Policy in 1921 did some modest revival begin - but from a very low base. 

So though Soviet authorities might have liked to create a completely new image for their postal services, for the most part they had to make do with what they inherited. They had to improvise and they had to recycle - and, in fact, were quite good at it. 

These letters of 1922 and 1923 were sent from Bershad and Snitkov in Podolia / Podillia, Ukraine to Dr Brender's Aid Committee in Berlin. On both, the old Imperial cancellers continue to be used. And because supplies of international R labels had run out, the post offices found something else to take their place.

In this case, both offices are using labels which would have been used on Imperial period Bulletins d'Expedition accompanying parcels going abroad.  So they give the town names in Roman. And conveniently they have a space for numbering. You can be pretty sure that very few parcels were going abroad at this time - the parcels were coming the other way in response to letters (like these) requesting assistance.

Problem solved. A nice collection can be made of the various ways in which between 1917 and the mid 1920s (or even later), improvised solutions were found to problems at the post office counter. Of course, the  principal improvisation was the continued use of Imperial stamps, which lasted until 1923. Imperial cancellations also continued in use and for longer - until 1925 or even later. This makes the pace of Sovietisation slower than the pace of Nationalisation in newly independent countries like Finland or Latvia which had emerged from the break-up of Imperial Russia and which replaced stamps, cancellers and labels much faster than did Russia.

Added 6th January 2013

From Greece, Vasilis Opsimos sends me these scans of two more interesting examples of improvised R-labels, the first from Livny, Orlov shows later use (1925) than I showed  and the second is from the same 1923 Podolia family as I illustrate at the top of this Blog:

Added 7th January 2013

In response to Dr Ivo's Comments, I now illustrate examples of two more types of Provisional label. On the January 1922 letter from Ekaterinodar to Berlin, the Registration label is improvised from a type of label used on Imperial period Inland Money Transfer Forms and Parcel Cards - so it is in Cyrillic rather than Roman type. Note also the EKATERINODAR EXSPED 22 1 22 three triangle censor mark - newly manufactured. The Imperial period Ekaterinodar cancel is directly below it and in poor condition.

I also show a March 1922 cover from Kiev to Berlin. Here the Registration label is improvised from a type of label used on Imperial Inland Cash on Delivery letters, so again it is in Cyrillic even though the letter is going abroad. Once again, there is a Three Triangle censor (this one KIEV ...).

Both labels have the advantage that they are pre-numbered so adapted to use as Registration labels

Wednesday 2 January 2013

RSFSR Mail in the Free Post period 1919 - 21

Anyone who collects Russian postal history will have come across postcards and maybe covers from the Free Post period in the RSFSR. For unregistered ordinary inland postcards and letters (first weight step) the period lasted from 1st January 1919 until 15 August 1921. For mail abroad, Free Post was also available from 1st January 1919 but only until 30 September 1920.

However, the RSFSR had no regular mail connections to foreign countries from the beginning of 1919 until late June 1920. None. Extraordinary but true. When mail services were resumed, mail was first of all routed via the Arctic Circle Norwegian port of Värdo, which involved mail being sent up from Moscow to Archangel or Murmansk. Fortunately, agreement was soon reached on a route through Estonia.

These dates imply that there was a three month period (end June - end September 1920) in which people living in the RSFSR could - in reality and not just in theory - send mail abroad for free. I show an example above.

This letter started out in UNDOL VLAD[imir] G[uberniya]  25 .. 20. The month date is not clear on the beaten-up canceller but is almost certainly June because the Moscow three triangle censor mark reads MOSKVA EXSPEDITSIA 22 7 20. Addressed to a doctor, Herman Schumacher, in independent Lithuania ("Litva" in the first line of the address - but helpfully followed by "Kovno guberniya")  it did indeed arrive there, as shown by the new style Lithuanian canceller on the reverse ANYKSCIAI 13 IX 1920. 

There are some remarks written in Lithuanian on the reverse. Can one of my readers translate them I wonder?


I used Alexander Epstein's article on RSFSR Foreign Mail Tariffs (Journal of Classical Russian Philately, #2, 1998) to write this Blog post.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Censorship at the Finland Station, Petrograd, August 1917

Here is letter which  puzzled me - until I looked at it more closely. Now I think I may have an explanation.

On the front, the letter is addressed to London.There is a 20 kopeck stamp with a violet seal cancellation. 
On the back, there is a large "Examined" label applied at the Finland Station in Petrograd and dated 12 VIII 17, so during the period of the Provisional Government. In the bottom left corner is the same violet seal.

The label and the seal are designed for use in the Examination of Passenger Baggage - in the centre of the violet seal it says simply "Passenger Baggage".

So someone leaving Russia from the Finland Station had their luggage examined and this letter was found and opened (there is a large wax seal under the label). A comment was added on the left of the label which I read as "Commercial correspondence"

But what about the stamp? One possibility is that the traveller had prepared this letter for sending, put on a 20 kopeck stamp [ Correct for a Registered letter to London], but did not have time to get to the Post Office - so decided to carry the letter instead. The Censor simply decided to cancel the stamp.

Alternatively, this letter was unstamped and the traveller was its Courier. The Censor may have decided that this was an attempt to evade either censorship or the postal service and insisted that a 20 kopeck stamp be affixed and paid for and cancelled....

Any other suggestions? Whatever the truth, this is certainly a most unusual item!