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Wednesday 24 December 2014

August Augustovich Revest

Click on Images to Magnify

Collectors of Transcaucasia 1917 - 1923 will occasionally find the handstamp A.REVEST on the backs of stamps. From Googling, I found only that A. Revest was a member of Rossica in the 1950s and living in France. He had stamps of Transcaucasia for sale.

I bought the above cover as a nice example of a 10 rouble Registered franking from 1920. Sent from Kharkiv to Baku in June 1920, it has a pair of perforated 3r50 stamps used at face value and an imperforate 3 kopeck (with Kharkiv type 1 Trident) revalued x 100.

I looked at the front and noticed the name "Revest" at the bottom and I translate the first name and patronymic as "August Augustovich". If I am right, then this is most likely to be the A.REVEST of the handstamps, living in Baku in 1920.

Does anyone have more information?

Added 5 Feb 2015: Here is A. REVEST's signature on the back of a (genuine) Armenian stamp:

Saturday 6 December 2014

Soviet Union Postal History Rarities

Click on Image to Magnify

Not very attractive, but this is an example from the first Soviet Union meter franking machine, introduced early in 1928. Several face values are known with the 2 kopeck providing most examples, probably because it could be used on bulk Printed Matter - the example above is on a long envelope addressed to Dresden. More details of Soviet meter franks can be found in the International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog, on line at

The Mark is unusual because no city of origin is indicated, though the bars above and below the date look as if they might be "dummies" intended for replacement at a later date with some kind of information. The stamp design has POCHTA at the top and CCCP in the middle

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Armenia in the Michel catalogue

Here are some thoughts on the Michel listing for Armenia. Your Comments are invited.

It is important to understand that Michel lists only stamps which, on the basis of archival research by C Zakiyan, are known to have been officially authorised. Counter surcharges made for dealers like Serebrakian and Melik Pachaev are excluded. In contrast, the Stanley Gibbons listing – based on the work of Tchilinigirian and Ashford – includes these counter surcharges.

Michel 3 – 28 Framed Z overprints

-          The earlier small type overprints are much scarcer and worth x 5 to x 10 more than the larger sized overprints

-          The earlier small overprints are roughly as common in black and in violet. But the larger overprints are scarcer in violet and are worth about x 2 to x 5 the price of black overprints

-         Michel 3,4,5 and 20 are scarcer than the valuations suggest

-          Large framed Z on 7 rouble imperforate exists and may be an official overprint, since the original handstamps would not have been available for late overprinting.

Michel 29 – 56 Unframed Z overprints

-          For the small Z overprints, violet and black are about as common; but for the large Z overprints, violet is much less common and worth x 2 to x 5 the price of black overprints

Michel 57 – 85 Rouble overprints

-          Violet overprints exist for the 1,3 and 5 rouble; they are scarce and worth maybe x 5 – x 10 the  price of black overprints

-          Violet overprints exist for the 10r on 25 kop but they are rarities

-          The valuations for Michel 65,66,72,73,84 are completely wrong based on a mis-reading of C Zakiyan’s first book. Zakiyan gave REMAINDER numbers for various stamps; Michel thought they were ISSUED numbers. Michel 66 for example is a common stamp worth maybe 15 €, not the 750€ given in Michel.

Michel 86 – 118 Combined Surcharges

-          The combined surcharges with framed Z (Michel 86 – 101) are all much scarcer than the unframed ones; Michel makes no distinction in valuations, though it lists the two types separately (Michel 86 - 101 for framed Z; 102 - 118 for unframed Z). Michel does not separately list stamps where the rouble Monogram has been obscured leaving the underlying Z clearly visible.

In general, framed surcharges are worth x 5 – x 10 their unframed equivalents. Only Michel 100 is quite common.

-          Again, some stamps are hugely overpriced due to the misreading of Zakiyan. This is true of Michel 95,96, 110, 111, 116 and 117. Fort example, Michel 111 is worth about 50 - 75 €uro not the 2200€ given by Michel

Chassepot Issue Ia – Ik

-          Stamps from the Original printing are relatively common, but the low values to 15r are scarcer as is the 70r. The set in ** condition is probably worth  20 – 25€

First Yessayan Michel IIa – II s

-          Stamps from the Original printing are probably worth 1€ each imperforate and 2 – 10 € each perforate. The 25 000 brown perforated is a rarity and worth 500 €. Confusion is created by the common Reprints/Forgeries of all values in both perf and imperf.

Second Yessayan Michel IIIa – IIIr

-          Unoverprinted stamps from the Original printing are scarce for those values which were not issued and worth 50 – 100 € each. They are rarities for the stamps which were issued and worth maybe 200 – 500 € each. Confusion is created by the two series of unofficial Reprints made by Yessayan, none of which were sent to Armenia.

-          It is a specialist task to distinguish the three printings.

Gold Kopeck surcharges Michel 142 – 166

-          In general this is a very good listing though 155a is too low (this is the 25 000 brown perforated)

Yerevan Pictorials Michel IVa – IV k

-          A set of the Original printing is not too difficult to find and 10 or 20 € seems about right; some values exist as remainders and are much more common – for example, the 400r

Manuscript surcharges Michel 167 – 170

-          In general this is a good listing, but the 2 kop surcharge (Michel 169) is a rarity.

Yerevan Pictorials with Overprints Michel 171 – 180

-          It’s very strange that Michel does not provide separate listings for the Metal and Rubber handstamps, nor for the three main colours (red, violet and black). This could be done quite easily. It is correct that the red Rubber overprints are generally scarcer. Red Metal overprints are probably Soviet reprints.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Collectors and Collectibles

Recently, I was asked to value a large collection. The owner came to my house and went out for a walk, leaving me the collection. He knew it would take me some time. In fact, I gave up very quickly. It was impossible to examine the stamps.

They were mint and a lot depended on whether they were* or **, hinged or never hinged. But they had been mounted on what we call "Home Made Pages" using a complicated system with the black mounts hinged rather than stuck to the A4 pages. Every time I tried to remove a stamp from a mount to look at the back, the mount promptly fell off the page. Worse, the pages were organised back to back in the cheapest office stationery protectors. Every time I tried to remove one page, the backing page came too and stamps fell out from the back.

It was a valuable collection but I gave up.  Everything was falling apart and I did not want to be responsible.

Some of the stamps - they were Russian - had chalk lines ( varnish lines) on the front and they had aged - become very visible. I think this is sometimes the effect of contact with cheap plastics.

Many thousands of pounds had been spent on the collection. A few pounds on the home made albums. It is a false economy and not the first time I have seen it.

I have also seen albums stored flat, not standing up, so that stamps stick to the pages. I have seen albums stored in damp conditions. And of course, I have seen cheap hinges which won't peel off, photo corners which damage minisheets, covers and cards, pencil notes scribbled on covers, covers cut down to make them "look better" and so on and so on. Collectors are the enemies of collectibles.

Recently, I was going through some pre-philatelic letters. Not for the first time, I was surprised at their very good condition. How come a letter of 1814 is so much better preserved than a letter of 1914?

It must have something to do with the very high quality paper often used before letter-writing became a mass activity. But there is a more important reason: there are few collectors for pre-philatelic mail, the letters have passed through fewer hands, they have been in fewer dealer boxes, and they have not been ironed or cut-down to look good on an album page.

A collectible is something worth conserving. It's something worth storing and displaying in ways which do not damage it. It's something which easily loses value. Just think, for every one thousand Penny Blacks which entered collections say 100 or 150 years ago, how many now are in as good condition as a Penny Black which happened to get lost inside an envelope left inside a book, 100 or 150 years ago, and only now re-discovered?

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Forgeries of Denikin stamps

The "One Russia" (or "United Russia") stamps issued by General Denikin's administration in 1919 were printed in large quantities and widely used in all the areas Denikin's White Armies controlled - not just the Don and Kuban but the North Caucasus, Ukraine and Crimea - and even north into Russia proper. As the Bolsheviks defeated Denikin's forces, they nonetheless continued to use the Denikin stamps especially on the parcel cards accompanying the Loot which Red Army soldiers sent home (they qualified for reduced postal tariffs).

Forgeries of the Denikin stamps exist, as Dr Ceresa confirmed in his Handbooks, but they are very rare. For a long time, I identified them from the gum. As with most genuine Denikins (though not all), the gum on the forgeries is thick and brown. But it is smooth and varnish like - the gum on the genuine stamps is full of lumps, particles and what looks like dirt. It's very uneven and you would not want to lick it.

For a long time I could not find anything on the front which told me that a stamp was a Forgery. There is something wrong with the ornaments - the shading is too light - but that hardly distnguishes them from lightly printed genuine stamps. And St George, his horse and the dragon in the middle don't look quite right, but that could just be inking or wear. IN other words, these Forgeries are really very good copies and the colours are almost exact copies.

But today, for the rouble values, I think I have found a feature which can be used to sort the genuine from the (very rare) forgeries. It's St George's lance. On the genuine stamps,it touches the edge of the coloured oval and on the Forgery it doesn't. I have chosen the dark coloured centres of the 3 rouble to illustrate my point - the Forgery is on the right:

And here's a set of rouble value forgeries. Don't worry. You are very unlikely to see them again! Click on images to Magnify 

And to illustrate my point about Red Army use of Denikins, here is a Parcel Card  from ROSTOV NA DON 20 4 20  endorsed at the top "Certified Red Army N 1026" and charged at 1 rouble for each of the 17 Funt (there is a 2 rouble Denikin on the reverse), sent to a private address in Serdovsk, Saratov guberniya. As it happens, the 3 rouble stamps are from the part printing on white paper:

Postscript 23 December 2014: I have received the following interesting commentary from Adam Szczesny which I have cut and pasted from his email to me:

Herr Pateman,
aller wichtigsten Merkmale für Erkennung von Denikin-Fälschungen
(Rubel-Werte) sind:
1. Das Papier: Das Papier ist mit bunter Faser (mit verschiedenen Intensität).
2. Abmessungen: In Regel größere als die echte Briefmarken.
3. Gummi: Dick und Braun, mit Streifen oder ohne .
4. Abbildungen: Kleine/Größe  Unterschiede.
Doctor Ceresa hat nur Fälschungen von Kopeken-Werte erwähnt, leider
ohne genaue Abmessungen. Herr Ihor Miaskowskij hat die Fälschungen
in zwei Bücher beschrieben:
1.“Poschtowaja Istorija Grazdanskoj Wojny:Wypusk Generala Denikina“ und
2.“Stranicy Poschtowoj Istorii Grazdanskoj Wojny – Sprawotschnik“.
Herr Miaskowskij hat dort die Kopeken- und Rubel-Werte beschrieben,
die Fälschungen sowie die echte Briefmarken.
Leider ist dort nicht alles erwähnt über diese Fälschungen. Wahrscheinlich
für Autor fehlt noch Briefmarken-Vergeichsmaterial. Seit ein paar Monaten
suche ich Kontakt mit Herr Miaskowskij, zurzeit vergeblich.
Nirgendwo ist E-Mail zu finden.
Zurück zu Rubel-Fälschungen.
Die Rubel-Werte wurden in kleinen Bögen (4 Reichen je 7 Briefmarken) gedruckt,
gesamt 28 Briefmarken. Je Werte haben zwei unterschiedliche Typen:
Typ 1: die erste und die dritte Reihe,
Typ 2: die zweite und die vierte Reihe.
Die oben genannten Typen stammen von mir, Herr Miaskowskij klassifiziert
die Typen etwas anders.
Die Ränder sind ohne Spuren von Farben und ohne andere Merkmale wie z.B. Plattennummer.
Die vom Ihnen hier abgebildete Denikin-Fälschungen, Herrr Pateman, sind folgende Typen
(in Klammern schreibe ich die Klassifizierung von Herr Miaskowskij):
1rub. – Typ1 (Miask. Typ2)
2rub. – Typ2 (Miask. unterscheidet keine Typen für 2 Rub.)
3rub. – Typ2 (Miask. unterscheidet keine Typen für 3 Rub.) 
5rub. –  Typ1 (Miask. Typ2)
7rub.  – Typ2 (Miask. Typ1) 
10rub. – Typ1 (Miask. Typ2)
Alles wichtigste Merkmal für 3 Rub.-Fälschungen:
ALLE Fälschungen, egal Typ1 oder typ2, haben in Wort „Rub“ (rechts),Buchstabe „y“
die andere „Bein“, längere und nach oben gekrümmt. Ist in Ihrer Abbildung sofort zu erkennen!
Natürlich gibt es auch Unterschiede bei Papier (mehr oder weniger bunten Faser), bei Gummi
Sind die Pinsel-Spuren und ohne) und so weiter.
In meiner Sammlung habe ich auch Fälschungen mit den verschiebenden Zentren oder  mit 3 Zentren.
Es gibt auch Unterschiede zwischen Fälschungen die stammen (sind von mir gekauft) in ehemalige
Soviet-Union und West Europa Länder.
Die Kopeken-Werte wurden in kleinen Bögen (5 x 5) gedruckt. Alle wichtigste Erkennungs-Merkmale
sind das Papier und die Abmessungen. Aber das ist noch eine andere Geschichte…..
Am Ende noch ein Rätsel. Alle Philatelisten die beschäftigen sich mit Süd-Russland-Briefmarken
wissen, wer war Herr Rosselewitsch. Vor ein paar Monaten habe ich in eBay eine 1 Rubel-Fälschung
gesehen mit Signatur „ROSS“, also Rosselewitsch-Signatur. Diese Fälschung war gut zu erkennen
(die Scans von Awers und Rewers waren sehr gut).Jetzt kommen die Fragen:
1. Hat Herr Rosselewitsch die Fälschung nicht erkannt?
2.War die Rosselewitsch-Signatur eine Fälschung (ich habe noch keine gesehen) ?
3.Herr Rosselewitsch hat die Briefmarke absichtlich signiert, weil „die Fälschungen“ sind keine
Fälschungen (?!) aber zum Beispiel eine Art von Technologische Proben ?
Ich hoffe das jemand liest die Wörter und lade Ich die Person zur eine konstruktive Diskussion ein.

Dieser Philatelistischer Bereich (Denikin-Fälschungen) ist zur Zeit sehr veranlässing
Und wollte ich die anderen Philatelisten zu Diskussion einladen.
Das war mein Ziel bei o.g. Kommentar.
Vielleicht können Sie selbst mein Kommentar ins Ihr Blog einfügen?

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Adam Szczesny

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Russia 1920 Revaluations: More About Kustanai

Back on 5 July 2012, I blogged about Kustanai, explaining why its 1920 Postmaster Provisionals are quite common - probably the second most common after the "pyb" revaluations of Kharkiv. Today, I tried to organise my holding of the commonest Kustanai types, 4 and 5. I only have a few of Type 3 and none of Types 1 and 2 (unless I have misclassified them).

It was an interesting exercise. The great majority of my stamps with identifiable cancellations are cancelled with just one large, dirty KUSTANAI type. This is a great help in authenticating the surcharges.

Pink and yellow formular cards were in use at Kustanai in 1920 and on quite a few stamps traces of pink or yellow paper are to be found on the backs of stamps. In some cases, stamps are clearly from the same formular. Look at the first image below. The large fragment in the middle did have stamps on the back but they were "harvested" for individual sale. Two of them are to be found top left of the same page - same date on the cancellation and traces of pink card on one of the stamps (the other has been washed)

Forgeries are pathetic - the mint copies (which are never found for genuine stamps) have a New Issue Collector neatness. The used copies have postmarks which include MINSK in 1912 and KIEV in 1917 ... You don't need to pay an Expert to tell you these are fakes!

There are some "difficult" cases. It does seem that some kopeck value stamps not listed in Michel were overprinted with Type 5 - the 1 kopeck perforated and imperforate and the 15 kopeck imperforate. But the copies I have show 1921 postmarks - not impossible but later than the vast majority of Kustanai cancellations. They also show Type 5 in a worn state - consistent with there being a second round of overprinting in 1921. But to make further progress I need a fragment of a Formular card with a clear 1921 cancellation and preferably several overprinted stamps. Any offers?

As usual, Click on the Images to Magnify.

Monday 17 November 2014

Russia 1920 Stamp Revaluations - the example of Spassk

In Spring 1920, the Soviet People's Commissariat for Posts and Telegraphs (Sovnarkompochtel) told the post offices under its control to revalue all their kopeck stamps denominated between 1 and 20 kopecks into equivalent rouble stamps: in other words, a one hundred times revaluation. This was a cheap and efficient way of conserving stamps at a time of inflation by making better use of low value stamps - in fact, 100 times better use!

Most post offices revalued their stamps "silently" - there is nothing to show the stamps are now rouble stamps. A few post offices produced cachets to apply to Money Transfer forms and Parcel Cards indicating that the stamps had been revalued. Some post offices overprinted their kopeck stamps with something - either a "p" or a "pyb" - to indicate that these were now rouble value stamps.

All of this was done without any philatelic inspiration or manipulation, which is a main reason why for most surcharged revaluations mint copies are unknown or virtually unknown - a fact which forgers have generally ignored. Only in a few cases were mint remainder stocks returned at a later date to Moscow and passed to the Soviet Philatelic Association. What was passed to the SPhA in massive quantities were bundles of used Money Transfer Forms and Parcel Cards on which most of the revalued stamps had been used. Of course, maybe ninety nine percent of formulars in the bundles had no Postmaster Provisional overprints, so that a very large job of sorting out had to be done.But despite the labour-intensive work, it was from these bundles from the archives that the SPhA made early catalogue listings of which post offices had produced what surcharges.Very few Postmaster Provisionals were used on letters or postcards since in 1920 these could be sent free, unless Registered or overweight.

Many Postmaster Provisional overprints appear to have been used by a single post office but some were distributed from a main office to local or dependent offices. This was true in the case of Spassk in Kazan guberniya, where maybe a dozen offices made use of the stamps produced in the Spassk office. The images below show my holding for these Provisionals - and the images probably indicate that collecting such things is not for the faint-hearted or for those with a desire for the beautiful. As usual, Click on the Images to magnify them.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

A Good Time to Buy - and Where

It's just like Back to School : La Rentrée Philatélique is now. There are Auctions all over Europe and America. Just go to for a sample! It's frustrating that they all do it at the same time - so many catalogues to study - but it also means it's a good time to buy. There is just too much Stuff in all these auctions and probably not enough buyers ...

But where to buy?

There is a big difference between auction houses who mainly sell material they own and auction houses which receive consignments. The former are not going to give away their stock. The latter have a strong interest in making sure they sell everything they put in the catalogue.

Consider. An auction house charges 10% or 12% commission to a seller - but the seller only pays on material which is actually sold. So if the auction house does not sell an item it has lost money because it has paid out for the material to be prepared for auction and entered in the catalogue. Most important, the unsold Lot has taken up time in the auction room - and auction room time is very precious.

This has become very clear to auction houses since they introduced Live Internet Bidding. This slows down the number of Lots you can sell in one hour - maybe from 250 to 150 or even 100. As much as that. So an unsold Lot is twice as big a waste of time as it was before.

The result is that the auction houses who are really selling other's people's stuff want Start prices on auction Lots which more or less guarantee they will sell. Sometimes I look at those Start prices and think, Yeah, at that price I don't even have to look at the Lot. I'll buy it! (And sometimes I do).

In the past, auction houses might be content if they sold 65% of Lots in an auction. Now I know of auction houses who really hope to sell 90%. Some of them make increasing use of After Auction Sales (Nachverkaufe) perhaps reducing the price or even reducing their Commission - the aim being to clear their offices of all this stuff so that it does not have to be returned to sender or recycled in the next auction. The aim is to cut in-house costs not to get rid of rubbish - very often, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the unsold material. There just wasn't enough money around on the day of the auction, that's all.

In contrast, auction houses selling their own stuff seem content to offer it again and again, sometimes reducing the price, sometimes not.

I won't tell you where I am going to Buy next, but since we went Back to School I have bought at Köhler Wiesbaden and Kaj Hellman Finland. I have my eyes now on three more auctions ...

Monday 20 October 2014

Armenia First Yessayan 1922 Pictorials

Click on Image to Magnify

On his website,, Stefan Berger recently posted a piece about the First Yessayan pictorial stamps of Armenia:

This made me look at my own holdings. Recently, I added a dozen examples of stamps printed on both sides of the paper - these were in the Peter Ashford collection. I was not very interested in them. But when I scanned them, I noticed a surprising feature: all the stamps printed on both sides are from very early states of the lithographic printing plate. You can see this if you enlarge the image above - the Both Sides stamps are on the left. The designs are sharp and clean.

The stamps are on thin ungummed paper. There are two possibilities: these stamps are Makulatur produced by Yessayan for the stamp trade; or they are Trial prints which economise on paper by using both sides.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Darling, I think someone is opening our mail ...

Click on Images to Magnify

It doesn't get more clumsy than this. In World War One, Imperial Russian mail censorship was extensive and acknowledged - when letters were opened they were re-sealed with official wax seals or paper strips. In Bolshevik Russia, the censorship of mail was never acknowledged but is usually indicated in some way, notably in the 1918 - 23 period by what are called "Three Triangle" cancellations. There are a large number of these in use in the early Soviet period.

The letter above was posted (as a registered letter) from OMSK VOKSAL 18 4 21 using a hand-made envelope. It is addressed to Sevastopol and there is a receiver cancel SEVASTOPOL ... "2" , 12 5 21 which is repeated with the date 14 5 21. But there is also a Sevastopol Three Triangle censor cancellation, smaller in size than the regular postmarks, which seems to be dated 11 5 21 - quite often the date will fall after the date shown on the regular arrival cancellation but in this case not.

There are various registry marks in manuscript. 

In May - June 1921, Omsk was still a city quite recently captured by Red forces. Sevastopol was even more recently taken by the Reds - it was from the Crimea that the remaining White forces of General Wrangel evacuated at the end of 1920. The letter is an obvious candidate for a censor's interest. 

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:

Saturday 11 October 2014

Russia Imperial Arms stamps: 1917 imperforate 20 kopeck

Click on Image to Magnify

Most catalogues give the impression that Russia's imperforate Arms stamps were issued together during the life of the 1917 Provisional Government. It's possible, but their distribution and use was clearly piecemeal, bit by bit. Some places got them (probably less favoured places like Ukraine) and some didn't. I have written about this before on this Blog.

The document above is interesting because it is the earliest use I can record of  20 kopeck imperforates - at Tula, 1st March 1918 - a year after the Provisional Government came to power and four months after the Bolsheviks overthrew it.The stamps are used on an Enquiry form [ Nachforschungsanträge]  regarding a missing Registered letter to Helsingfors.

It's noteworthy that they were used on a form rather than for postal purposes - maybe they were used at a desk or counter whose clerk had access to a pair of scissors.


From 28 February 1918 to 14 September 1918, the Tariff for sending an inland postcard was 20 kopecks. Cards franked at this Tariff are quite common, though often enough 5 kopeck Kerensky cards are used, uprated to the new Tariff.

I have 31 cards in my collection franked at 20 kopecks. Not one has a 20 kopeck imperforate franking it. One has a 20 kopeck perforate; four have 20 /14 kopeck surcharged stamps; and leaving aside the uprated cards, there are 9 franked with combinations of lower value kopeck stamps: 5 use 2 x 10 kopecks; 2 use 4 x 5 kopecks; 2 use 15 + 5 kopecks. All these stamps are perforated.

No sign of the 20 kopeck imperforate. Over to my readers: your job today is to show a 20 kopeck Tariff card franked with a single imperforate and / or to show a 20 kopeck imperforate used before 1st March 1918.

12 October: We have a Winner! Alexander Epstein has sent me this image of a 20 kopeck imperforate correctly used in Yaroslavl guberniya in July 1918. Terrific item! I am confident that this is not something which you can find any time you like: 

Click on Image to Magnify

Wednesday 8 October 2014

World War One: It Seems That Your Letter Was Delayed ....

This cover is from the Harry von Hofmann collection. It was Registered in Warsaw, the location disguised by the Mute cancel and halved Registration label but given away by the address top left. There is no dated cancel and the contents have been removed but a pencil note bottom right reads "26 7 14". The franking of 20 kopecks is correct for that date.

The cover was routed to Petrograd where it was censored - but also a Return to Sender cachet applied which gives the outbreak of hostilities with Germany as the reason why the letter cannot be forwarded.

Fast forward to March 1918 when the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk re-opened the mail connections between Russia and Germany, The mail bag containing letters held in Petrograd since 1914 was opened and the mail finally sent on its way - this one arriving in CÖLN 18 7 18 - though the pencil note gives the date of final delivery as 31 7 18.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Rare Stamps Re-United

For twenty years, I have been buying and selling stamps of the Russian Civil War period. Some of them are rare - in fact, quite a lot since there are lots of philatelically-inspired varieties of Armenian and Ukrainian overprints each one of which was only produced in small quantities.

How rare is rare? What quantities? Well, sometimes only a single sheet of 50 or 100 was overprinted in such a way as to create an identifiable variety. Sometimes a few sheets.

In some cases, we have Official Numbers - in John Bulat's catalogue, you will find them, for example, for Ministerial tridents, Kherson tridents, Courier Field Post overprints, and CMT overprints. In general, these figures are very suspect, since they were published by the entrepreneurs who would benefit financially from sales of the stamps. More bluntly, it's highly unlikely that the figures are truthful.

There are ways of  estimating numbers independently of official figures. It's obvious if you think about it.

Suppose I have a stamp which I think is rare - one sheet of 50 or 100. Then if I get a second copy of the same stamp, then it should be identifiable as from the same sheet - same shade of stamp, same paper, same gum, same perforation, same centering, same position of a lithographic or typographic overprint. If it's not from the same sheet, then immediately you know that there were at least two sheets of this stamp.

And so it goes on. In some cases, you will find that every stamp you come across is from a different sheet and so the print number keeps on going up.

Then there are the cases where this does not happen. If your second copy of a stamp is clearly from the same sheet as the first copy - but has come to you from a different source - then this increases the probability that there was indeed only one sheet at the beginning. (Maybe there is a statistician out there who can figure this out).

Of course, everything depends on how independent the second stamp is from the first.

Recently, I bought Peter Ashford's collection of Armenian combined surcharges. Included was a pair of stamps with a 10 rouble surcharge over an existing framed Z overprint on a 70 kopeck imperforate stamp. This is a counter- surcharge (a philatelically-inspired surcharge) since the official scheme specified 25 rouble overprints on 70 kopeck stamps - this is what you will find listed in the Michel catalouge based on Christopher Zakiyan's archival researches. You won't find a 10 rouble surcharge listed there, only in the Stanley Gibbons calogue which is based on Tchilingirian and Ashford's researches.

As it happens I already had another pair of the 10 rouble surcharge. I don't know for sure where I got this, but most likely from Dr Ceresa's collection which in turn was based on Tchilingirian's collection (which Ceresa bought at auction). I pulled out my existing pair - and, hey Presto! - the two pairs fit together. The Ashford pair is at the top.

Click on Image to Magnify

Now, in this case, my guess is this: back in the 1950s - over 60 years ago - when Tchilingirian and Ashford were writing Stamps of Armenia they had just one block of 4 of this (rare) variety. They both wanted it in their collection. So they split the block of 4, something they would not normally have done with a postmarked block.

Do you have this stamp in your collection? And is it from the same sheet?

Saturday 4 October 2014

1918 Ukraine / Bessarabia / Moldova / Romania

Click on Images to Magnify

This is an unusual and interesting item but to understand it I need more information.

Here we have a Kerensky card uprated to 10 kopecks with a Russian adhesive cancelled with an Imperial Russian MARKULESHTI BECC 5 6 18 postmark - a town which is now Marculesti in northern Moldova. The franking corresponds to the postcard rate of the Ukrainian National Republic.

It's possible that Marculesti was under UNR control at this point. But it is also possible that it was within the territory of the Moldovan Democratic Republic declared early in 1918 and which soon voted for Union with Romania. When the Central Powers effectively subordinated Romania to their control by the Treaty of Bucharest, they recognised this Union.

However, this card addressed to Braila has been treated like foreign mail. My guess is that the oval CENZURAT with letter I was applied at Iasi (Russian Yassy) though whether this is true of the bridge cancellation dated 27 JUN 918 and the other violet cachet I don't know. Iasi would have been the obvious point of reception for mail coming south across the border from Bessarabia / Moldova.

There is a postage due T cachet and "20" crayoned in blue.  Was the UNR 10 kopeck Tariff no longer valid in Marculesti or was someone expecting to see Romanian stamps on this card? [ Added 12 October: Alexander Epstein thinks it likely that the Romanian authorities did not recognise the Russian stamps ]

Added: See the very useful Comments from Vaislis Opsimos for answers to my questions

I have only one other item from the Moldavian Democratic Republic, an internal Registered letter sent from BOLGRAD BEC. 17 4 18 and addressed to Kishinev with receiver cancel KISHINEV 20 4 18 on the reverse. Again, this is franked at the Ukrainian National Republic tariff of 50 kopecks for an inland registered letter:

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Added 12 October: Alexander Epstein has sent me the following three images of cards used in the Moldovan Democratic Republic - take a close look: you are not likely to see more like this in the near future:

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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:

Thursday 2 October 2014

Armenia 1920 Dashnak overprints: an important statistic

It would be wonderful to discover a genuine narrative of day-to-day activity in Erivan post office during 1920.

My guess is that it was essentially a philatelic bureau and that over 90% of all stamps overprinted in the post office were sold to people about to leave Armenia who cashed in their (worthless) Armenian banknotes against postage stamps which in Constantinople, Paris or Berlin could be exchanged for hard currency. I guess there were also a few dealers and speculators who came from Tiflis or Batum or Baku, shopped and left. There should have been no problem paying the salaries of the post office clerks.

In the second half of 1920, the post office began surcharging stamps previously overprinted with framed or unframed Z, at a rate which increased the face value of the stamps by a minimum of 100 times for kopeck values ( 1 kopeck stamps surcharged 1 rouble and so on) and a minimum of 10 times for rouble stamps (10 rouble becoming 100 roubles). This made financial sense but the sensible move came rather late.

Customers at the philatelic counter had already bought most of the stamps originally overprinted with framed Z handstamps, especially the bargain price low values which even when they were overprinted had no postal usefulness - tariffs were already at a minimum of 60 kopecks.

More sheets of the stamps with unframed Zs, overprinted later than the framed Zs, remained.

In the Michel catalogue, combined surcharges on framed Z stamps are listed as Michel 86 - 101; combined surcharges on unframed Z stamps then follow as 102 - 118. My 2006 Michel makes no distinction in the pricing - the stamps are given the same values simply according to the face values of the stamps.

This is a mistake; the framed Z stamps are much, much scarcer. How much scarcer?

Last year I bought Peter Ashford's collection of Combined Surcharges - that's the Ashford of Tchilingirian and Ashford. Today I was looking at the collection and counted 310 stamps. Of those just 32 had framed Z overprints - say 10%. Since Ashford would have been looking to represent as many types as possible, 10 % almost certainly over estimates the proportion of framed Zs among Combined Surcharges. In addition, Combined Surcharges on Imperial kopeck value stamps with a face value below 15 kopecks are extremely rare - there were no longer the basic stamps in stock to use for the second surcharge. It is only when you get to 25, 35 and 50 kopecks that you begin to see framed Zs. Here, for example, is Ashford's page of 35 kopeck stamps surcharged 10 roubles. The five stamps in the top row have framed Zs (Ashford classifies them as E1b, E1b, E4, E6, E6), the rest of the page shows examples of unframed Zs.

Monday 29 September 2014

Expertising Handstamped Overprints

Because they are handstamped, handstamped overprints are infinitely variable: the way the clerk inks the handstamp can vary infinitely (pressure, angle etc) and the way he or she applies it to the stamp can also vary infinitely.

That causes problems for the would-be Expertiser.

My own strategy is to start with the things which are not infinitely variable.

(1) The Handstamp. What is the genuine handstamp made of? Wood, metal or rubber? If you can work this out, you can also work out what a genuine strike of the handstamp is likely to look like. Quite often, forgers will use the wrong material to make their own handstamps - say, rubber instead of wood. And it is then possible to say that something is a Forgery because you can see that it is made from a rubber handstamp not a wooden one. You don't have to look more closely.

(2) The Ink Pad. In general, for any one handstamp only one or a few ink pads will be used by the post office clerk. If they are re-inked, they will be re-inked from a limited supply of bottles. Forgers producing small batches are likely to use just one ink pad and one bottle - and, in many cases, it is immediately recognisable that the ink they have bought from the local shop is just plain WRONG. You don't have to look more closely.

(3) The Basic Stamp. Remarkably often, forgers use the wrong basic stamp - maybe a forgery or a reprint or a later printing of a stamp which was used to make the original overprints. If the overprint can be dated to 1918 and the stamp was not printed in such-and-such a shade until 1920, then you know you a re looking at a forgery if the stamp is the 1920 version.

Starting this way reduces the number of stamps you have to look at closely - most Forgeries can be dismissed at a glance.

The real art needed to assess the few that can't is to find features of the genuine handstamp which tend to show however the clerk inks the handstamp and however he or she applies it. For this purpose, it is really helpful to have a large multiple showing the same overprint. For example only, suppose that the handstamp is the number and value  "100 r". You may find that however much the strikes differ, the gap between the "1" and the "0" and the gap between the "0" and the second "0" remains the same - when you allow for the slight differences between heavily inked and lightly inked strikes. You may also find curious things like this: maybe a tiny part of the second "0" almost never seems to print whatever the way the handstamp is struck. There is clearly some small defect in the handstamp - an area which is a millimetre below the level of the rest of the handstamp and which only fills up and shows when the handstamp is very heavily inked or struck.

And so it goes ... For the "100 r" Armenain Dashnak overprint on Russian stamps, Stefan Berger tells me he uses a 16 Features Test for the most difficult cases....

Tuesday 23 September 2014

First World War: Franked Mail from Prisoners of War in Russia

After the end of hostilities between Germany and Russia and the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, it is quite common to see Prisoners of War or ex-Prisoners of War still trapped in Russia writing home using stamped postcards rather than Free Frank privilege Prisoner of War correspondence cards. My guess is that some or many prisoners used both methods, reckoning that at least one might work.

The postcard below was posted at CHUSOVSKAYA VOKSAL 13 3 19 [ probably Old Style ]. The station still exists, east of Perm and north west of Yekaterinburg. It was then under the White control of Admiral Kolchak's armies. Like many cards it communicates mainly about failures of communication: I haven't received any mail from you - often followed by "Why haven't you written?" - and giving details of the communications the writer has previously sent and intends to send. This one is a bit more interesting because the writer (Vichtor Sitte) realises that the problem lies with "der Post und die Kämpfe der Parteien"   [ the Post and the conflict of the parties ]. He also says that things are now better and the Post is working again. He asks his correspondent to send him old Newspapers or reading matter.

And he points out to his correspondent that he does not use the term "Prisoner of war" [ abbreviated here to "Kriegsgef".] in the address he is supplying, which is the address of the Chusovskaya Station. He says that this is much better and more reliable. Unfortunately, you have to pay the Postage.

The card was routed to Vladivostok where it was censored - see the violet cachet No. 21 - and it looks like it arrived at its New York destination in about a month and was answered - see the two cachets top left in green-blue. It is possible that the sender had philatelic interests, since the card shows both a 5 kop Savings bank stamp and a 20 kop imperforate stamp (the latter rarely seen), but he makes no mention of the stamps in his message. I guess that that the sender was German-speaking Czech or possibly German. He knows some Russian.

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Sunday 21 September 2014

What Can We Learn from Philatelic Covers?

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They are horrible aren't they? Petrograd March 1918. People are cold, hungry and in some cases frightened. But philately goes on. This collector has sent himself - his name and address is also on the back - these ugly, messy but quite expensive covers. What did he think he was doing?

He has picked four kinds of stamp to decorate the envelopes - and probably he sent himself more.

First, a regular Romanov 1 kopeck
Second, currency stamps - 3, 10, 15 and 20 kopeck denominations
Third, imperforate Arms stamps in the denominations of 1,2,3,5,15 kopecks and 1 rouble. All except two of these are marginal copies, so the collector probably realised that this helps guarantee a stamp as a genuine imperforate. The two exceptions are 3 kopeck stamps in a darker shade of red
Fourth, varieties on the 10 kopeck perforated Arms stamp: there are two examples of misperforations and two examples of offsets [ Abklatsch], the stamps being stuck to the cover face down so that you can see the offset.

Foolishly, the collector has put the stamps very close together and even overlapping so it's not possible to remove stamps one by one by cutting them out - something you could do when you realised the covers are a disaster. A couple of stamps have in fact been peeled off one cover.

What do we learn?

First, that Petrograd 4 post office did not tell the sender to Go Away and make a more useful contribution to the Revolution. Nope, the post office took the covers and cancelled them

Second, that these covers show what this [ordinary ?] collector could obtain and what he thought more important to have used on cover than as mint stamps. The choice of Currency Stamps is easy to understand; the regular imperforates less so since the values shown here were freely available.

Third, this collector did NOT have the following imperforates: 4, 10,20,25,35, 50,70 kopeck [ ignore the higher values as too expensive for him ]. Now this is really interesting because these are values which either cannot be found AT ALL in Petrograd at this period [ say March 1917 - March 1918 ] or which are rarities used in Petrograd. I checked my own collection: I have one loose 4 kopeck cancelled PETROGRAD  30 3 18 and a block of 70 kopeck cancelled PETROGRAD 11 6 19. That's it for the values missing from these philatelic covers.

So my guess is that these imperforate values (except perhaps for the 4 kopeck) had not been distributed to Petrograd post offices at this time ( March 1917 - March 1918), or not distributed in significant quantities.  And they were perhaps available to some philatelists with privileged access since at least some of the values I have listed had been printed in Petrograd in the period in question.