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Sunday 23 February 2014

Soviet Postage Dues: More Work for the Forensics Laboratory

For a two year period in the 1920s, from the beginning of 1924 to the end of January 1926, the Soviet Union made use of Postage Due stamps. The first stamps issued were overprints on Kerensky Chainbreakers and were used only in Moscow and Leningrad post offices; the second issue consisted of the 100r Arms and Industry handstamped DOPLATA - this was effectively a local issue available only in Moscow and only from August 1924 up to the end of April 1925; finally, specially designed stamps were issued in 1925 but were quickly withdrawn at the end of January 1926, though they continued to be used (without overprint) as ordinary postage stamps.

These stamps are all more common mint than used and on cover they are scarce. Some organisations in Moscow and Leningrad at this period (and maybe elsewhere) were telling people that if they could not afford the price of a postage stamp, they could send their letters unstamped and the receivers would pick up the Postage Due. The covers we do have are often addressed to such organisations (for example, journals).

Recently, I was invited to examine a collection of Postage Due covers and cards from this period, with over 60 items present. I was especially interested to see three items with the 1924 handstamped DOPLATA stamp. But ...

Here is the first cover front and back:

This is a philatelic cover addressed from Tashkent  to the German stamp dealer Julius Stolow. It has 20 kopecks in regular stamps on the front and 36 kopecks in Postage Dues on the back, including the Moscow "Doplata" stamp (used outside its period of Moscow validity). These Postage Dues were applied and cancelled at the same time as the regular adhesives - the cancels front and back are the same, dated 14 6 25. It is a complete confection, done by favour, with a violet cachet thrown in and so on. It's no more than a curiosity. And it didn't even pick up a Berlin receiver.

Now here's the second cut-down and beaten up cover:

This item started out in a small town in the Kharkiv region 30 10 24 where it was noted at the time of posting (using the same ink pad) that 14 kopecks Postage Due should be collected on arrival in Moscow. Arriving in Moscow on 1 November 1924 it picked up a receiver cancel on top of which a 12 Kopeck Kerensky overprinted stamp was applied and then a pair of 1 kopeck DOPLATA stamps (on Pelure paper) with what look like 5th Exsp. cancels. It needs closer examination, but I think it's genuine. It's just a very disappointing fragment, even if it is rare.

Finally, here's an intact cover which looks more promising (there are no marks on the side I have not shown):

This cover was sent from Ekaterinburg on 22 8 24, addressed to a Moscow journal. In Ekaterinburg, it picked up a cachet indicating that 12 kopecks Postage Due should be collected on arrival. On the back are two Moscow arrival marks dated 27 8 24 after which a 10 Kop Kerensky and a pair of 1 kop DOPLATA stamps was added and neatly cancelled MOSKVA 28 8 24 using a canceller of the 19th Office.

The problem is this: in the whole collection of over 60 covers and cards, this Moscow 19 cancel is by far the cleanest, crispest cancel to be found. There is no other Moscow cancel which comes near it for its First Day of use appearance. True, it's a metal canceller (there are indentations) but it obliges me to believe that not only have I got a rare cover in front of me but one which has been cancelled on the first day of use of the Moscow 19 canceller.

I think it probable that the Postage Due stamps were applied in Moscow by a post office official - look how the stamps overlap in the same way as they do on the previous cover. But I think the post office official forgot (or did not feel it necessary)to cancel the stamps. So the cancelling had to be done later - by a forger.

I can't prove that. What I would need to prove it (or to be shown that I am mistaken) is other examples of this Moscow 19 canceller - and I haven't got any. Readers?

Click on the Images to enlarge them and make your own judgements.

Saturday 8 February 2014

The Beach at Baku: Azerbaijan's 1921 Pictorials

Click on Image to Magnify

There are some stamp issues where the rarest thing is a well-centred, well-printed stamp. At the other extreme, there are stamps like Russia's Imperial Arms definitives where printing was strictly controlled and varieties, even quite minor ones, are seldom seen.

The pictorials lithographed in Baku in 1919 - 1921 were carefully printed, even though this must have been quite difficult to achieve - the printing sheet was large newspaper, thin and difficult to handle. 

The "Beach at Baku" variety shown above is created by a downward shift of the blue colour of the sky and sea. It is rarely seen as marked as that in the top block of 12, though a little more often with a less striking shift like that in the second block of 12.  

Remainders of the Azerbaijan pictorials were sold of from Moscow in sheets and some of these came to England and into the 1950s collections of philatelists like Ian Baillie and Peter Ashford, usually cut up to fit album pages. I don't know which other countries picked up quantities of these remainders.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Collecting Imperial Russia on Cover

Click on Image to Magnify

There are collectors who try to find every issued stamp from their chosen country and period used on a cover. Some make it a more difficult task by ruling out philatelic usages or usages at the wrong date. Some set themselves the even harder challenge of accepting only single frankings.

Imperial Russia did not really issue many stamps and it ought to be possible to find them all used on cover or card or Money Transfer Form or Parcel Card ... but some are very, very elusive. 

The card above shows one very elusive stamp neatly used at the correct period on a card franked at the correct tariff (4 kopecks). It may be that the sender - an Englishman staying at the Grand Hotel Petrograd -  chose the stamps to make the card look more interesting but he probably did not realise that the 3 kopeck stamp on the left is the scarce one with perforation 13.5. This stamp is hard to find mint or used and people seem willing to pay 100 to 150 euros for examples (see the last auction results for Russia). This is the first time I have seen the stamp used on a cover or card and I hope to get a very good price for this very nice example of its use!

Saturday 1 February 2014

The Igor Gorski Collection of the RSFSR

Like many of this Blog's readers, I just received the catalogue for the sale of the Igor Gorski collection coming up at Cherrystone Auctions in New York on 20 February 2014. If you don't get the catalogue, just go to to see it all.

It's a spectacular collection with many rare and attractive archival items with price tags to match.

But it struck me that until you get to the last Lot (338) where an unbroken postal history collection of 224 covers and cards is on offer, it's mainly about stamps, including their essays and proofs.

Particularly for the period 1917 to end of 1920 or even 1921, the gap between what was passing through the postal service and what was being projected in Moscow is enormous. Most of the designs submitted to the authorities in Moscow - and present in this collection - came to nothing.

It's not really until the second half of 1921 that mail going through the regular post begins to suggest the ideology or the aspirations of the new Bolshevik order. Until then, the order of the day was Improvisation using Imperial Arms adhesives to serve the postal needs of a much-reduced postal system. Remember, for example, that Bolshevik Russia had no publicly-available facilities for sending mail abroad from the beginning of 1919 until the middle of 1920 - and even then, foreign mail services got off to a slow start.

As for philately in this period, the typical philatelic covers illustrated from the Gorski collection have an amateurish appearance. I think there are three reasons. First, the initial hostility of the Bolshevik regime to philately (stamp collecting = speculation) discouraged any boldness. Second, no one had any money anyway. Third, many of the old collectors from the middle and upper classes had emigrated or, like everyone else, had no money to spend on their old hobby. The result is some pretty disappointing stuff. The non-philatelic parcel cards and money transfer forms which you can see in the Gorski collection for 1921- 22 look much more attractive to me.