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Monday 20 October 2014

Armenia First Yessayan 1922 Pictorials

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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 ...

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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

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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: 

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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.

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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

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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.