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Friday, 18 November 2016

Imperial Russian Mail to Mont Athos

In the decades before World War One, the Orthodox Russian presence on Mont Athos grew considerably and there were probably more Russian than Greek monks there by the end of the period. Things changed once Greece took control of Athos from Ottoman Turkey in 1912 - 1913 and as Russia itself descended into Civil War.

The Orthodox Russian community was centred on the Andreevski Sikt / Sekte - basically a monastery but technically not eligible for that title. There was an Ottoman post office on Athos and from the 1890's a ROPIT post office.

Mail from Russia to Athos seems always to have been routed via Odessa and this fact is explicit on nearly all the mail one sees. After that, mail was  sent by sea to Constantinople and then by land to Athos. Despite the fact that Athos was clearly part of Ottoman Turkey there seems to have been some confusion about mail franking with correspondents using Russian internal tariffs and then getting charged Postage Due - or not.

Most of the mail one sees comprises Money Letters with elaborate addresses and manuscript markings not always easy to interpret. So I was pleased to come across a piece of mail which at first sight could hardly be simpler, though it does soon get more complicated:



Click on Images to Magnify

This is an ordinary letter which started out in Tver guberniya in a small community which today appears to be written in English as MOSHKI. It is located due south of TORZHOK, a larger town.

This letter started out in Moshki and bears a Free Frank privilege seal on the reverse which spells out that the privilege is being claimed by the Volost of Moshki's Starshina [head man] and further locates Moshki in NOVO-TORZHOK Uezd [district]. "Novo-" is a bit puzzling since the Imperial cancellation on the front of the envelope reads simply TORZHOK TVER and modern maps know only a Torzhok. So maybe Staraya Torzhok was something which existed only in memory 

Anyway, in addition to his free frank seal, the Starshina applied a violet cachet on the front which simply says MOSHKI VOLOST STARSHINA to the left of which is the essential Registry number always written bottom left to complete the claim to Free Frank Privilege.

The Starshina may have had a postman or courier to take his letter to Torzhok or maybe he went to the Imperial post office himself. On this the cover is silent. But from Torzhok the cover did indeed make it to Odessa on 26 October 1905, just over a week after despatch from Torzhok. It is addressed to the Andreevski Sikt and I am sure did get there since the cover is in an accumulation of Athos material.

What happens after Odessa is not shown by any marking which is unusual. On the front in the middle of the cover there is a smudge of violet ink. in which I am tempted to see a date - in which case it could be the trace of a ROPIT AFON postmark. or a ROPIT Constantinople. Under high magnification the latter is possible with adate in the middle which includes a 2 and a 1 and letters which could include a C, A and O 

What is perhaps most interesting about this cover is that a Volost Starshina's Free Frank privilege carried a letter all the way to what was at least technically a foreign destination



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