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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

1 comment:

  1. Story 4 is of particular interest to me because it is almost certainly the story behind some Siberian stamp issues, particularly the "PZK" issue of 1922. All those highly uncommon Arms values that suddenly are available by overprinting, a few sheets for each value? I smell a stamp dealer, specifically Pappadopulo.
    However, at the end of the say the result was a set of stamps that were all valid for postage, and for many we can actually see them used for postage, and not just on Pappadopulo covers. So while I'm not happy with the story behind the stamps, the stamps themselves are...okay I guess.