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Saturday 19 December 2015

Stamp Exhibitions: Could these be the new FIP Rules for Judging Exhibits ...

Recently, I bought some material from the estate of a collector who had won Gold Medals in international stamp exhibitions. It surprised me that much of the postal history I had acquired was of below average quality. It was obvious that some of this was the fault of the collector: he had opened out envelopes, re-folded entire letters, trimmed roughly opened envelopes, scribbled on his material as if it was scrap paper. How do you get to win Gold Medals if you do that, I wondered?

I took a look at the FIP (Federation Internationale de Philatelie) rules for exhibits in the Traditional Philately and Postal History classes. They say that exhibits should aim to show material of the “highest available quality”. But when it comes to the allocation of Points by juries, only 10 points out of 100 are awarded for “Condition”.

I therefore propose a very simple rule change:

FIP wishes to encourage recognition of the  fact that stamps and covers are autonomous, historically interesting artefacts which deserve careful treatment, handling and conservation in a state as close as possible to that in which they originally existed. In order to discourage dealer, expert and collector damage to items, FIP will increase the points allocated to the category “Condition” from 10 to 30, reducing other categories as indicated in the revised schedule.

Specifically, FIP Juries will regard all of the following as things which reduce the Condition of a particular item and make it ineligible for the award of Maximum points:

Stamps: hinges on mint stamps; absence of gum on stamps which were originally gummed; ownership, dealer or expert handstamps; ink and pencilled notes of any kind. Exhibits should be mounted in such a way as to enable Jurors to examine the backs of stamps.

Postal History: opening out of covers, trimming, re-folding; owner, dealer or expert handstamps; all ink and pencil markings including dealer prices and expert signatures (especially when in close proximity to stamps); evidence of the use of an eraser to remove pencilled markings. Exhibits should be mounted in such a way as to enable Jurors to examine the backs of covers and cards.

Where a photographic Expert certificate is held, it should be mounted on the back of the relevant page of the exhibit. No other form of Expertising (handstamps, signatures) will be accepted.

Exhibitors are advised that in some cases it may cause further damage to an item to erase a pencilled note and they should use their judgment in deciding whether or not to erase. In some instances, they may wish to indicate on their Exhibit why they have decided not to erase such graffiti.

Er, that’s it. 

Sunday 6 December 2015

Russia 1919: Northern Army OKCA covers

This Blog follows on from the previous post.

Here is one of those rare things, a Northern Army OKCA cover which appears to have travelled through the post:

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A photo of this cover was published in 1991 by Dr R J Ceresa in vol 3, Parts 19 / 21 of his The Postage Stamps of Russia 1917 - 1923 handbooks. He gives its provenance as the collection of a Herr Muller (not Müller - see Ivo Steijn's Comment below). Now it looks at least semi-philatelic but the important question (at this point) is whether it did go through the post.

At the top is a Manuscript registration cachet "N 112 Gdov" in a different pencil and handwriting from that which produced the address. The address is an army hospital in Ivangorod - Narva and the addressee is named Klever and is identified as a hospital or medical orderly. The stamps are cancelled POLNA SPB 28 9 19 and we know (thanks to Alexander Epstein) that this canceller was in use at Gdov at this time.

On the back is the name and address of the sender, another Klever, but in a different pencil and handwriting. It links the sender to the Northern Army.The letter has been roughly opened - but in such a way as to create in my mind the suspicion that there was nothing in the envelope.

Most importantly, the cover has a new style Estonian cancellation for NARWA "a" 1 10 1919, perfectly genuine ... BUT not quite enough to rule out this possibility, that Klever carried this letter himself to Narva and got it backstamped there. There are no Registry markings which one could link to Narva.

However, on the same day Klever sent another letter with Registry number "N 117 Gdov", this time addressed to the well-known stamp dealers and catalogue makers Senf in Leipzig. This cover is illustrated in poor quality by Dr Ceresa and not in my possession, so I cannot improve on it:

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This cover has an Estonian censor triangle on the front and a LEIPZIG receiver on the reverse. This cover surely did go through the post, suggesting that the previous one did too - unless Klever carried them both to Narva. But if he had done that, even the most co-operative post office would probably have backstamped the Leipzig letter with a NARWA cancellation in order to indicate the transit. This cover also has Klever's pencilled address on the back but again in a different handwriting and pencil.

The fact that Klever was writing to Senf indicates a clear philatelic motivation, most likely informing them of the existence of this stamp issue. It is in fact good news for the authenticity of this issue that someone was doing this from the right place and at more or less the right time.

It would be good to know who Klever was. The point of this analysis, however, is to argue that the likelihood that the first cover travelled through the post to Narva is increased by the near-certainty that this second cover travelled through the post to Leipzig. What would really help the analysis along would be to have the covers in between Gdov 112 and 117 and on either side of those numbers. How many letters did Klever send on that day? Who else used the post office that day?

Added 8 December 2015: Carsten Alsleben provides this reference to a very interesting article in Russian by Igor Myaskovsky:

What's Wrong With Stamp Catalogues

I was thinking about the general catalogues we use without thinking – Michel, Gibbons, Scott, Yvert, in Russia Standard and maybe a few others. Some are good, some are not. It often depends on the country you are interested in.

But all these catalogues date back to the days when collectors were most often one of each collectors and dealers one of each dealers. The collectors wanted to stick stamps in pre-printed albums or “write them up” and the dealers kept stockbooks by numbers.

You get lots of information which makes writing up easy: Date of Issue, Method of Printing, Paper type, Perforation gauge, sometimes (Gibbons) stamp designer and printer's name. You get a numbered list of stamps and Mint and Used prices, sometimes with some note distinguishing Used and CTO.

Many of these catalogue entries have been essentially unchanged for decades – well, a hundred years in some cases - as if there is no such thing as on-going philatelic research. Yvert is an example.

What you don’t get is a sort of overview which creates a context for understanding what you might find and what you will not find. In the days of one of each collecting that may not have mattered very much. Today, when people collect covers and do social philately, the old-style catalogue is not very helpful.

Let’s take an example. Look at your preferred catalogue for the Northern Army (OKCA) issue of 1919. It will be under “Russia” and will show five values, none of which is worth anything either mint or used. You will get additional information, varying from catalogue to catalogue. 

What you don’t get is a Thumbnail Sketch which sets out what we know about this issue, 100 years on. Here’s my own attempt at a Thumbnail, which could be made more precise from the literature available (mostly due, in this case,  to Alexander Epstein and Dr R J Ceresa):

This issue was printed in very large quantity in sheets of 200 made up of two panes of 100, separated by a wide gutter and printed tête-bêche to each other. Most sheets were separated into two halves, so that the gutter variety is quite scarce. Most of these stamps were sold to the stamp trade, at the time or later, and are very common as singles (often now in poor condition) and small blocks. Sheets of 100 are quite common. Despite being common, the stamps were forged and the forgeries are much scarcer than the genuine stamps. Very little Proof material or Printer’s Waste is known and when found is worth significantly more than the basic stamps. The absence of such material suggests that this issue was originally planned as a perfectly legitimate stamp issue.

The stamps were extensively Cancelled to Order in sheets and also CTO on philatelic covers, which are quite common and obviously philatelic. Specialists are not entirely clear which cancels were officially authorised. Some may have been manufactured by stamp dealers. It seems likely that some of the CTO material, and maybe most of it,  was produced in Estonia and not at the post offices in Northern Army controlled areas of Russia.

Postally used examples of the stamps are virtually unknown, and only about a dozen covers are recorded which appear to have gone through the post from the few post offices controlled by the Northern Army. Most of those covers originate from Gdov where however the Imperial Russian canceler of POLNA SPB was in use.  Any stamp or cover with a POLNA SPB cancel should be examined carefully and submitted for an Expert opinion.

A specialist could improve on that thumbnail and a good catalogue editor could make it shorter. If I am right about this, a Thumbnail like this orients you to a specific stamp issue and gives you some idea of what to expect and what to look out for.

For more dicussion of OKCA stamps,see my next Blog

Friday 4 December 2015

Russian Consular Post in Tabriz; Imperial Russian Stationeries; Kerensky Chainbreakers ...

When I buy at auction, I never know what I have bought until I get home …

Yesterday, I viewed hundreds of Russian covers – mostly Imperial – grouped into about 30 Lots in an English auction. I didn’t have a lot of time and so I had to make quick assessments and valuations. The material was in very “Mixed Condition”  and I knew I would not see every missing stamp or cut down envelope as I worked through the material. Equally, I thought I would notice the important items.

So in one Lot I decided to bid on it when I came across the following cover, not mentioned in the catalogue description of a group of about  80 covers:

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Yes, it’s a  cover from the Russian Consulate in Tabriz sent to Tiflis, with Censor mark and receiver cancellation on the reverse. The French Consulate have patronised their Ally's consulate to send this letter ( putting a War Charity stamp into the franking). The letter would have travelled up to Dzhulfa on the border and then have been forwarded by TPO to Tiflis. It’s clean, attractive and scarce – maybe even rare. I felt it justified a Bid at the Estimate for the whole Lot even without looking at the other material. So maybe I skimmed through that too fast, because when I got home and looked again today, I pulled out this:

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This is such a “busy” cover that it is easy to miss the most important thing: top right corner. This is a stationery envelope for 3 kopecks. Wait a moment: When did I ever see a stationery envelope for 3 kopecks? I could not remember any … so I looked in Ilyushin and Forofontov’s 2004 Moscow – published book on Imperial Russian Stationery 1845 – 1917. Yes, this envelope exists , it dates from 1909 in two formats (this one the larger), and it’s # 51 in their catalogue with a valuation of “50” in used condition, which is really nothing in their scale of valuations. So I wonder now why I have never seen this envelope before .. perhaps I just did not notice it! At 3 kopecks, it would have been used for mailings benefitting from concessionary tariffs - printed matter or samples without value, for example.

Then I had another surprise. Nearly every item in the Lot was Imperial, though the catalogue description read “1910 – 1919”. Here's the 1919 cover. It was  among a bunch of covers collected for their Registration labels. I looked at the label on the front as I browsed through the bunch:

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 Today I looked at the back:

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This is a registered cover from January 1919 franked at the newly-introduced rate of 50 kopecks in the tariff of 1 January 1919 which made the sending of ordinary letters and cards Free. The 35 kopeck Kerensky stamp was widely distributed in Bolshevik Russia at the end of 1918 – it is usually said that it was issued to mark the 1st Anniversary of the October ( subsequently November) Revolution. But it's very scarce on non-philatelic cover like this, addressed from Kasimov in Ryazan guberniya to a People’s Court at Divovo in the same guberniya.

I won't spoil things by dwelling on the disappointments:

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Added 8 December 2015: Alexander Epstein sends me these examples of the 3 kopeck stationery envelope. Note that they are all with added stamps and none of them dated anywhere near Ilyushin and Forofontov's 1909 date. Maybe the issue of these envelopes was delayed?

Click on Images to Magnify

Friday 23 October 2015

Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic 1918 - 1920

Most regimes, however short-lived, make it into the stamp catalogues. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic (LSSR) of 1918 - 1920, despite lasting for 13 months, does not. It issued no stamps. But it operated most of the postal services one would expect for the time: ordinary and registered letters and postcards; money transfers; parcel delivery. It does not seem to have offered telegraphic money transfer services and could only distribute mail within the areas of Latvia it controlled - extensive for a brief period from January to May 1919 - and to the RSFSR and areas controlled by the Soviets, like eastern Ukraine. Like the RSFSR in the same period, it offered no foreign mail service. Like the RSFSR (from 1 January 1919), it offered Free Post delivery of ordinary letters and cards. In Riga, it also operated a Philatelic Counter using just one of the many cancellation devices available in the post office. Philatelists fabricated covers with Kerensky Chainbreakers and Romanov Currency stamps and the post office obligingly cancelled them.

Recently, I spent a lot of money on a large accumulation of LSSR material. In it, I found I had 12 Money Transfer forms similar to this one, all addressed to Riga during the period of Soviet control in that city (January - May 1919):

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The transfer here is for a small amount ( 3 roubles) and so it is on the other 11 cards, never transferring more than 12 roubles. All are franked at 25 kopecks, so I concluded that this is the minimum fee for any Money Transfer. In every case, the stamps are severely clipped or punched with a diamond shaped device, so I concluded that the Riga post office official responsible for preventing Postal Fraud took his job very seriously - so seriously that he could not see that the chances of these stamps being fraudulently re-used was almost zero anyway. But he had a job to do and, boy, did he do it.

This particular card originated in Salisburg (Latvian, Mazsalaca) on 31 March 1919 and shows three strikes of a provisional cancellation - not really visible on the stamps but it is there. Harry von Hofmann illustrates this cancellation and the manuscript style of the clerk in his book Lettland: Die Stempel und Postanstalten 1918 - 1940 at page 43.

Then I noticed that 11 of the 12 cards were to the same address in Elisavetes iela in Riga; the one exception was addressed to [Karl] Liebknecht iela - the same place but re-named by the Soviet after the murdered German Spartacist leader. All the cards were addressed to periodicals: Zhina (10 cards), Nasha Pravda (1) and Die Rote Fahne (1). These were much easier to Google than I expected: Zhinafounded in 1904, had become the newspaper of the Latvian Communists and was published in Latvian; Nasha Pravda was its sister paper published in Russian; and Die Rote Fahne having been the journal of the Spartacist League in Germany was now the newspaper of the German Communist Party. Latvia at this time was a tri-lingual country; even the Money Transfer Form above uses two languages - for example, "Riga" is in Cyrillic but "Elisabetes iela" in Latvian - and though it is in Cyrillic "Salisburg" is the German place name.

So all these 12 Money Transfers were sending in small sums, possibly as donations but much more likely, as newspaper subscriptions - the senders would have written their home addresses on the coupons cut off and given to the person collecting the money from the post office in Riga. In that case, we can conclude that the postal service was also distributing newspapers

Great, interesting. And very lucky. Because these 12 cards are all that remained of many more. The rest had fallen in to the hands of postmark collectors:

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In my accumulation, I found over 30 fragments like these, all with stamps clipped Riga-style and all with 25 kopeck frankings. The majority - maybe all - would have been from Money Transfers sending money to the Communist newspapers. I have temporarily mounted them up like this giving the von Hofmann numbers to the cancellations which have been harvested from the Money Transfer Forms. Some have pencilled prices on the back.

If all had gone to plan, the intact card at the top would have been cut into at least three pieces to produce three saleable examples of the provisional cancellation. In addition, a transit cancel of VOLMAR  and arrival cancel of RIGA on the back could have been separately harvested since they don't overlap the markings on the front - thus, five saleable items instead of one!

Philatelists should read more detective novels. You soon learn that when you arrive at a crime scene you don't touch it until Forensics arrives. The little history I have re-constructed from the intact form could not be re-constructed from these silly little fragments.

Added 24 October: Ivo Steijn tells me that the material I have shown above is from the Jan Poulie collection, first illustrated in Yamschik / The Post Rider 1990. The complete collection can be seen at

Sunday 18 October 2015

Russia 1917 Imperforate Arms Stamps - Do OBRAZETS overprints exist?

I have a collection of 1917 Russia Imperial Arms Imperforate stamps, mainly designed to show the earliest dates and place of use - these were stamps without a First Day of Issue. I have Blogged about this before on this site.

In yesterday's Kaj Hellman auction and in a previous Cherrystone auction, mint blocks of ten with OBRAZETS overprints have been offered and sold (at good prices). In every case, I looked at the blocks and a ??? came into my mind because all the overprints were slightly mis-aligned (not perfectly level). Normally, great care was taken with OBRAZETS overprints - they are always perfectly level, parallel to the base line of the stamp.

A ??? also came into my mind because the imperforates were not really a stamp issue, but simply the result of a decision taken in 1917 to release unfinished stamps to post offices because of practical difficulties in completing the perforation process.

So I wonder if OBRAZETS overprints were really made on these stamps. Do readers have any opinions or evidence? Overprints should be typographed, though the careful application of the overprint may mean that the normal indentation on the reverse is not easy to see. But it will be there.

Friday 9 October 2015

"Roughly Opened" - That's Good News!

Auction catalogues frequently describe covers as "roughly opened". This is a sort of apology and is meant to indicate that they have somewhat reduced the Estimate because of the rough opening.

To me, "roughly opened" is often a bonus: it indicates with some high probability that (a) the envelope was received by someone and (b) that they did not think of the envelope as a philatelic cover. That is valuable information!

Auction catalogues also describe covers, with great frequency, as "slightly reduced" or " cut down". What this usually means is that some collector did not like "roughly opened" covers and so trimmed them whenever one came into his or her collection. Even today, collectors vandalise covers like this - sometimes very expensive covers. As a result, we lose some valuable information which helps us decide whether a cover has travelled and whether it is non-philatelic.

Curiously, just because a cover travels from one stamp dealer to another stamp dealer does not mean that it is philatelically conceived or treated as a philatelic cover by the receiver. Some dealer to dealer letters are just business correspondence. (Any collector who has received a letter from me will tell you that they are 100% non-philatelic. I just go to the post office and stick on whatever stamps I am given.)

Here is an interesting cover which, over decades, has been attacked by philatelists.

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It started out in August 1919 as business correspondence from the stamp dealer W A Solman in Riga addressed to the stamp dealer Bela Szekula in Switzerland. It's main interest is that it was registered at the Riga Railway Station post office, where both an old Imperial Russian internal Registration label (overwritten with Latin "Riga") and an old Imperial cancellation were used. As it happens, the letter was sent on 6 August 1919 which Harry von Hofmann gives as the date at which this post office (re-) opened under Latvian control - maybe this cover was the source of his information.

Solman did put on a set of "Liberation of Riga" stamps as franking but also used them as seals. The stamps were widely available. The cover arrived in Luzern very quickly, on 13 VIII 19. I don't think Szekula thought much of the cover - I think he opened it roughly. I think this because the cover has been cut down at the top by maybe 5 mm. Someone has "tidied it up".

Probably, Szekula put out this envelope for sale in his shop but tore out the W A Solman handstamp on the back of the cover so that his clients could not make direct contact with his source. I will prove in a moment that there was a Solman cachet on this envelope.

Later, someone thought this cover was too big and folded it over at the left and sealed down the fold with hinges. This damage could be partly reversed. So too could the small amount of damage caused by the four or five hinges applied to the front of the cover when it was "mounted" to display the back.

Here's another Solman cover which started out as a quite philatelic item and then acquired some fascinating non-philatelic aspects.

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This cover started out from Riga on 2 12 19. There is an Imperial Russian registration label but a new style RIGA LATWIJA -2 12 19 cancel on the front. It's addressed to South West Africa! Since that territory was now under British control, the letter headed for London where it picked up a transit cancel on 18 December and then was sent down to Africa. There it picked up a violet Passed by Censor cachet and a WINDHUK R.L.O.  5 2 20 cancellation. I don't know if "R.L.O." stands for Registered Letter Office or Returned Letter Office - the latter is possible because this letter was returned. Across the front i red is written "Repatriated" and again in blue crayon "Repatriated". And the cover made it back to Riga - there is a Cyrillic "RIGA 15 4 20" on the reverse. 

The cover is franked with stamps which have been unofficially perforated; the 5 kopeck stamps are imperforate between and the 25 kopeck a bit misperforated. I suspect this was Solman's work - his cachet is on the reverse of the cover at the top. It's the same cachet as that which was once on the Szekula cover.

Someone has pasted arrows on to the cover so that we don't miss the imperforate between and someone (else?) had pencilled "Nichtoffiziellzähnung : 11 3/4" - information which should be on an album page. The damage here is partly reversible though the arrows will require steaming. The "Mi 30 oo" can also be got rid of.

In this case, my feeling is that the journey made by this cover and the reason for its return add greatly to the postal historical interest of what could have been a cover mainly of interest for its evidence of stamp dealer activity.  

Both these covers are for sale.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

1918 Latvia Map Stamps and their Postal Use

This Blog was made possible by the recent sale of the Dr Hubert Schrödinger "Baltica" collection at Heinrich Köhler, Wiesbaden.

Latvia's Map stamps of 1918 are well-known, well-studied and widely collected - quite often, in complete sheets. There is a very good website devoted to them at  I have used Bill Apsit's site for some of the information below.

They were available at post offices but for a very short time period - and most of the people at the post office counters appear to have been stamp dealers or collectors.

Here is a brief Chronology. After Germany signed the Armistice with the Allied Powers on 11 11 18, Latvia quickly proceeded to declare its Independence on 18 11 18 - though German troops and administrators remained in Latvia until late in December. The Latvian government in Riga took delivery from the Riga printer of the first instalment of Map stamps on 17 December. The first illustration below shows a blank philatelic cover cancelled 18 12 18 but this is unusual - most Riga cancellations on Map stamps are dated for the last five or six days of December. Then the trouble begins.

The Latvian Government evacuated from Riga on 2 January and on the 3 January, Soviet Latvian troops entered the city. End of Map stamps in Riga. The government evacuated first to Jelgawa (Mitau / Mitava) and then to Liepaja (Libau, Libava).It returned to Riga on 22 May 1919 and took delivery of more Map stamps (which may simply have been kept in store during the Soviet occupation). But it seems doubtful that these new supplies were issued.

So if you are looking for postally used Map stamps, then for Riga they will only be found in a 14 day period from 18 December to 1 or 2 January. After that, they can be found from other cities and towns - but rarely - and they were soon replaced by further issues with a wider range of values - the Map stamp only exists in one 5 kopeck denomination.

Philatelic productions can be as basic as these two, one prepared in Riga 18 12 18 and the other with an undated provisional cancel of Jelgawa:

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These unaddressed items are not so common - either they had addresses written in soon after or they were "harvested" for used copies of the Map stamps and so no longer exist.

A bit more ambitious are Registered covers like this one. But it has no cancellation on the back and is one of a batch which were probably handed straight back to the "sender". Note that this item has a 30 12 18 Riga  cancel:

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What does real postal use look like? I cannot show anything from Riga, though it exists. Here are two items from Leepaja cancelled witha provisional Latvian cancellation which does not include a date. But they are correctly franked for transmission to Germany and the typical boxed Königsberg transit and censor cachet ties the Latvian stamps to the envelopes in both cases - and on the second cover you can also see what are probably the Censor's initials in blue crayon at the bottom of the envelope:

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So it seems clear that these ordinary letters travelled. At this period, people often used Registered letters to maximise the chances of a letter arriving - but as we shall soon see, this was not possible at the end of 1918 - beginning of 1919. The two letters above can be reckoned both genuine postal uses and very scarce.

Finally, here are two cards both of which appear to be correctly franked and non-philatelic though one has an interesting stamp-related content. Once again both have Königsberg transit / censor cachets

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The typed message on the 27 January 1919 card from Leepaja says two interesting things: first, that for the moment Registered letters are not accepted; second, that in the next few days, two new Latvian stamps will be issued. That could refer to the first 10 and 15 kopeck Sun stamps, printed in Liepaja. The dating of the card also helps date the period of use of the provisional Liepaja cancel.

The second card is sent from Jelgawa. The card is dated 6 January - just after the arrival of the Latvian government in Jelgawa -  and the postmark the same. Unlike the version on the unaddressed card at the top of this Blog, the provisional Jelgawa cancel now has a date line. The Imperial stationery card has been used as a Blank, with German "Postkarte" (not Latvian "Pastkarte") written across the top. The arrow is just a bit of collector vandalism as may also be the case for the "III" written in ink to the left of it. Unfortunate, because this is undoubtedly a rare item.

I can't read the message on the back - it's been written in a hurry and in one of those German scripts which are now baffling. Any attempts at translation by readers are most welcome!  

In summary: For postal use of Map stamps look for 5 and 15 kopeck frankings and look for December 1918 and January 1919. Mail to Germany usually has proof of transit through Königsberg even if there is no arrival mark on mail (which is likely to be unregistered).

The items illustrated above are for sale

Tuesday 6 October 2015

1919 Northern Army (OKCA Issue) - Postal Use

The world's worst designed stamps were printed in large quantities and miserable looking specimens can be found in every old collection of Russian stamps. There are just five values, though you need a magnifying glass to find out what the values are.

Philatelic covers are reasonably common but examples of genuine postal use are very rare. Alexander Epstein has tried to make an Inventory of known examples. A few years ago, I was able to add one to his list.

Now I think I can add a second:

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This Kerensky stationery card has a 10 kop Imperial Arms stamp added to it and then a 5 kopeck OKCA stamp. They are cancelled POLNA S P B [St Petersburg] 2 10 19. But we know from the researches of A Epstein that this Imperial Russian Polna cancel was actually being used in Gdov at this time - and the text of the card confirms this - the sender is very much in Gdov for he ends his message "I have already been here 5 months and have still not received a letter from anyone. I feel like I am in prison in the town of Gdov. 1919 Taras O. Kremen"

So far so good. The card is addressed to Orsha in Mogilev guberniya (modern-day Belarus). The small triangular cachet on the front is a known Estonian censor mark and confirms what is already believed, that mail from towns held by the anti-Soviet Northern and North Western armies was generally routed "back" through Estonia.

What about the franking? In the RSFSR, postal stationery cards were invalidated on 1 January 1919 when the "Free Post" was introduced. Thereafter, they functioned as Blanks. But it is possible that this invalidation did not apply in Gdov and that the Kerensky card contributes 5 kopecks to the franking. If the two stamps both count towards the franking, then this card is franked either at 15 or 20 kopecks. [Added: Alexander Epstein writes to me that the Kerensky cards remained valid in the areas controlled by the Northern armies so that this card is franked at 20 kopecks, the correct foreign rate which had been established by OKCA. In addition, he notes the use of an obsolete 10 kopeck stamp and says that, from other evidence, the Gdov post office appears to have had few stamps available - even the OKCA stamps - and used whatever it could find]

Now to the back of the card. The message is as non-philatelic as you could wish:

Good day, Patsits Diu ... Fedorovich. I want to let you know that I am alive and well and that I hope that all is well with you. Dear Brother, I am now alone. My family remained in Petrograd. I don't know if you are now in Petrograd or already somewhere else. Can you  please find out some news about my family. Then please write to me at my address: Town of Gdov, Petrograd Prospect, Customs [?] D... Bojarov, T.O.Kremen"
- after which he concludes with the passage I have already quoted.

What happened next? On the reverse of the card is another postmark: WARSAWA VIIIb, 15 V 21.

Well, that suggests that this card got caught up in civil war fighting and that it eventually fell into Polish hands, perhaps during the Polish-Soviet war [Added: Alexander Epstein thinks that Estonia passed on to Poland mail that it could not deliver to Russia and that Poland then released this mail after the conclusion of its own conflict with the Soviets]. Whether it was ever delivered would seem to depend partly on the meaning of the red ink annotation, top right of the card and which I cannot read. Can anyone help? [Added 25 April 2018: Pawel Urbanek provides the translation:

"Z braku komu-nikacji na przechowanie" (to storage due the lack of communication).]

Monday 5 October 2015

When Is a Stamp Issue a Stamp Issue?

Today I was reading articles in a well – known philatelic journal, two of which struck me as largely wish-fulfilment. Of course, wish fulfilment is like Sin – you can denounce it but it never goes away.

We all like to discover something new or own something unique. The desire can be so strong that we abandon our critical faculties.

What is a stamp issue? Here are three stories:

1.      Some local postmaster discovers he is just about to run out of 1 cent stamps. He has put in an order for more but has been told they won’t be delivered for ten days. He’s got a problem. Then he has an idea: he tells his counter clerks to cut two cent stamps in half and use them as one cent stamps until the new supplies arrive. Problem solved! From an accounting point of view, it’s perfect, since the total value of stamps used up continues to match the total amount of postage paid in. But we also have a Postmaster Provisional. We have an even better Postmaster Provisional if a regional post office authority informs all its dependent postmasters that since its supplies of 1 cent stamps have run out and it cannot fulfil orders for them, for the time being postmasters may bisect two cent stamps.

2.      The manager of a local firm comes to the post office wanting to mail out advertising cards locally. As it happens, the tariff for this has just been reduced from 2 cents to 1 cent. The manager explains that they had a lot of 2 cent stamps in stock which are no longer needed, so they have cut them in half. That’s all right, isn’t it? The counter clerk consults the postmaster who says it’s a bit irregular and why didn’t they ask first, but since they’ve done it, well all right. So the advertising cards get accepted and postmarked. This isn’t a Postmaster Provisional. It’s just someone taking a chance and getting away with it.

3.      A local philatelist comes in – they all know him at the post office – and he’s franked a letter in his usual cheerful way and wants to send it, Registered, to a friend. Only this time, he’s cut some of the stamps in half. They still add up to the correct amount, he points out, and the counter clerk smiles indulgently and registers and cancels the letter. After all, the philatelist always brings in a big box of chocolates at Christmas.

Some central governments are stronger than others, some postal authorities fiercer than others. At some times and places, the manager in story 2 and the philatelist in story 3 would not get away with it. And  the postmaster in story 1 trying to do his best might find himself in trouble.

But there are plenty of times and places when you can get away with an awful lot and especially in times of war and revolution.

So if you take somewhere like Ukraine in 1918 – 19 or again in the 1990s, then stamp “issues” can originate on both sides of the post office counter

Long before postal authorities introduced “personalised” stamps, people – philatelists – found ways to personalise stamps. No fraud need be intended or need result. 

I want to celebrate the Revolution so what do I do? Make a little handstamp with my Symbol of the Revolution and apply it to my personal stock of stamps I bought from the post office last week. Then I stick them on letters addressed to all my philatelic friends (hoping they will return the favour), go off to the post office and cause a bit of amusement. And if I don’t cause amusement, well a box of chocolates will soon change the mood.

Of course, I may get more serious about this – then the next step is to stick my stamps on envelopes addressed to Yvert et Tellier or Gebrüder Senf. 

Or I may try to do a deal with my local postmaster to provide him with  stamps he needs but which aren't arriving from the government department which is supposed to keep him stocked (Here we have the beginnings of a story 4)

Stories like 2 and 3 are an interesting part of social history or the history of philately. But unlike story 1 and some fleshed-out versions of story 4, they don't have anything to do with what we normally think of as stamp issues.

Added in response to Dr Ivo's Comment below:

Here's a Story 4:

The local postmaster and the local philatelist know each other well. The postmaster is complaining that he is being sent imperforate stamps which are a damn nuisance at the post office counter - maybe they are 1917 Imperial Arms, Ukraine General Issue or Denikins. The philatelist offers to help: give me a batch and I know where I can get them perforated for you. All I ask is that I get to buy some to stick on letters to my philatelic friends. The deal is done. The postmaster (and the counter clerks) are pleased, the philatelist is pleased, and we have a Postmaster Provisional Perforation. That's a bit different to a perforation made in the mail room of a big company (say Gerhard and Hey in Petrograd) and applied only to their own stocks of stamps

Thursday 1 October 2015

Collecting single handstamps

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Collectors of single handstamp overprints often ask me for a "nice, clear strike". Frequently, that is a difficult request. Handstamps applied to thousands of stamps, in a hurry, are generally not very clear. Or, at least, they are very variable. Only forgers come up with a perfect strike every time.

It actually makes a lot more sense to collect single handstamps in small multiples, especially if they   are inexpensive stamps to begin with. Tidying up my stock, I grouped together the examples of Podillia Xa shown above. The mint 7 kopeck stamps are catalogued just 30 cents each in the Bulat catalogue (#1722 with $150 for used) and the 10/ 7 stamps are catalogued just $2.50 each for used (Bulat #1723; $8 for mint). 

The whole lot are worth 30 to 50 euros retail, depending a bit on what premium you put on multiples. For that modest price, you have a complete album page and a group of stamps which will help you decide whether or not other single stamps which come your way are examples of Xa or not.

From the mint stamps, it's easy to see how the clerk doing the work overprinted from left to right and re-inked after five strikes. You can also get a sense of which parts of the handstamp always print and which parts sometimes don't - this was a wooden handstamp so it would not have been perfectly level and the clerk would have naturally held it at a bit of an angle. The mint stamps also help to confirm the used copies as examples of Xa even though they don't have one of the features of the Bulat illustration - a small spike protruding inside the bottom of the right hand wing. This is, in fact, only clear on a few of the strikes, notably the left hand stamps on the mint blocks. It is a feature which may have been affected by wear and tear to the handstamp.

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 26 September 2015

Late Use of Ukraine Tridents (continued)

Latest known use of any stamp is problematic. Even if a stamp is officially invalidated, an individual who has a copy in a pocket book may use it – and get away with it. No one notices; no one imposes Postage Due. This is really of no great interest.

More interestingly, there are cases where a stamp is invalidated – and then, out of necessity, officially brought back into temporary, provisional use. For example, Imperial Russia’s 1913 Romanov stamps were invalidated in the RSFSR at the same time as kopeck value Imperial stamps were revalued x 100, in March 1920. However, some later uses of 20 / 14 kopeck Romanovs on official formular cards (Money Transfers, Parcel Cards) are known and these look like uses which some postal district or at least some local postmaster has authorised because of local stamp shortages (which were common in revolutionary Russia). See my Blog about this dated 10 February 2011

Similarly, with Ukraine Tridents it seems that they were invalidated sometime in 1921 (I still need an exact date). However, 1922 uses can be found in south Ukraine. This is an area which Alexander Epstein and Thomas Berger have identified as an area of stamp shortages at that time, leading to the use of technically invalidated stamps and to the local revaluation of stamps to useful denominations (rather than revaluation to officially designated values). Alexander Epstein has two article on these topics in Ukrainian Philatelist # 102 (2009); Thomas Berger and Alexander Epstein have an article in the Deutsche Zeitschrift für Russland Philatelie # 101 ( 2014)

So we find items like these:

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The above item was in the Robert Taylor collection and the images have been provided by Thomas Berger.

This is a Registered letter which does not look philatelic sent from ODESSA 12 5 22 to Berlin, with a Berlin receiver on the reverse. The forty Odessa type 2 Trident overprinted 1 kopeck stamps have been revalued, following the RSFSR scheme to 1 rouble each to yield a 40 rouble franking. It's possible that the sender supplied the stamps, but for a Registered letter they at least had to be accepted by a post office clerk - the clerk who cancelled them at the counter. And because these are one kopeck yellow stamps, there is no missing the Trident overprint.

Thomas Berger provides an earlier example:

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This is also a Registered letter from Odessa to Berlin and again looks non-philatelic. The stamps are cancelled ODESSA 8 8 21. But this time the Tridents are examples of Poltava type 1 - but they are rare stamps, Bulat # 987 catalogued $140 each. 

It's true that Poltava tridents were at some time in post offices in Podilia and can be found on official formular cards, so it's possible they were also in  Odessa post office. However, the use of rare stamps out of their district of origin does (to my mind) make it less likely that these stamps were being used up by Odessa post office. But the 1921 date on this letter makes it possible (likely, even) that they were used before any official invalidation of tridents.

Here is another example of 1922 use, sent to me by Alexander Epstein:

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This is an ordinary letter sent from Molochansk, a Mennonite community in Taurida, to Czecholsovakia routed through Moscow. The stamps are cancelled 6 or 7 9 22. Revalued x 100, they yield a correct 45 rouble franking. But note ... the three 10 kopeck stamps are overprinted with Kyiv type 2 Tridents, clearly not so visible as on one kopeck stamps and which could have been missed by a clerk. Nonetheless, the letter looks non-philatelic and is the latest recorded date for any use of Trident stamps on a travelled letter. It is a bit problematic that these are Kyiv tridents: those Tridents did find their way into Podilia stamp stocks and maybe into Kherson and Katerynoslav stocks.But you would expect Molochansk to have stocked Odessa or Katerynoslav tridents.

What we really need is examples of Tridents used in late 1921 and into 1922 on official formular cards. In my previous Blog on this topic, I could not find any such official use later than May 1921. (See  my Blog for 23 September 2011)

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 13 September 2015

Earliest Known Use of Ukraine Tridents ... Can You Improve on This One?

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Roman Procyk in the USA has kindly allowed me to publish here the Telegraphic Money Transfer Form above. It shows the earliest known use of  Ukraine trident overprinted stamps at MOGILEV-POD 27 8 18 arriving in KIEV 30 8 18. The stamps are  overprinted with Podillia Type VIIIa 

This genuine use is two days earlier than on the form I illustrated here back on 3 March 2012

Can anyone come up with an earlier date?  It does seem likely that the Podillia Tridents were the first to be introduced anywhere in Ukraine - and with little or no philatelic manipulation in the early phase of their production, distribution and use. 

Claims to beat the 27 August date can be posted here if you send me a good quality scan (email me at I have to reserve the right to decline (with an explanation) obvious fakes or dubious philatelic items. I am hoping for something as good as this Telegraphic Money Transfer Form! ( I will not be able to respond until 20 September - I will be away from my computer for a week).

Added 20 September: Roman Procyk has now added from his own collection this loose stamp used at NEMIROV on 24 8 18. I would prefer to see a cover or MTF with receiver cancels to help rule out slipped dates, but the example is plausible: it is a perforated high value and these are normally seen with early dates. The stamp is signed Bulat and the Trident type is VIIIb:

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Added 22 September 2015: Oleg Matveev in Ukraine sends me scans of two parcel cards with Trident stamps cancelled 13 August 1918. Both look to me completely genuine. One has Poltava Tridents and is sent  from POLTAVA 13 8 18 with receiver cancellation of ROSTOV DON 2 9 18. The other is from DZHURIN POD 13 8 18 [the blue ink typical for this post office] with receiver cancellation of TAGANROG 1 (?) 9 18  

I think it will be difficult to improve on these items. Even if there is a date slip from 23 8 18 to 13 8 18 that would still be a day earlier than the previous example posted here ... 

It is now important to find some items sent between the 13 August (the Oleg Mateev items) and the 24 and 27 August of the Roman Procyk items. This will add to the plausibility of the items we already have and may also show more Trident types used at an early date. So far we have Podillia VIIIa, VIIIb, XIIb, and Poltava I (and on the 3r50 it could be Poltava II but I cannot see enough detail). 

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Added 23 September 2015: Roman Procyk provides confirmation of August use of Poltava Tridents with these examples of 3r 50 perforated stamps with Poltava type I cancelled at NOVYI ORLYK POLT.  22 8 18 (ignore the 20 kopeck stamp for now):

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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: