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Tuesday 5 December 2017

History is What Survives: A Fact about Postal History

History is what survives, and what survives is not always the common or the typical. Collectors of postal history depend mostly on archives which, for one reason or another, have escaped the bonfire, the flood, the bombing raid, the mission to search and destroy, human carelessness, and much more. 

For many years, I have collected – accumulated, really – material from Podolia / Podilia in west Ukraine. It is an agriculturally rich region and has been much fought over. In the 1930s and 1940s, Stalin’s collectivisation campaign there turned into mass starvation and German occupation turned into mass liquidation. One result is that though the region historically had a large Jewish population, part of it scattered across scores or hundreds of shtetls which dotted old maps and another part established in the larger towns, very little evidence of this Jewish presence now turns up in the postal history available. It is rare to see postcards with text in Hebrew or Yiddish and also rare to see envelopes addressed in a Cyrillic script with the distinctive style of someone who learnt first to write in Hebrew script.

The letter below is interesting for several reasons. First, it is going from Kamenetz / Kamyanets Podolsk across the border into Romania, to Iasi / Yassy; there is a routing instruction for it go via Novoselitz[ia]. Second, it has a quite scarce pre-philatelic double-ring cancel of Cyrillic KAMENETZ PODOLSK dated 1858. Third, inside there is a long business letter from a business which uses an embossed handstamp in German, near the postmark, and reading SALOMON RABINOWITZ / KAMENETZ PODOLSK / RUSSLAND. The letter is written in German, double-dated for Julian and Gregorian calendars, and in a script which suggests the writer had his education in a German-directed school. This is a script which defeats me ...But it is signed at the bottom by M.Feldstein on behalf of (pp) Salomon Rabinowicz [now with a Polish spelling at the end – cz instead of the –TZ of the seal]. The script is that of someone who is not at ease in Roman letters, and I guess was more at home writing in Russian or in Hebrew/Yiddish. But either way this is a letter from a Jewish business in Kamenetz. I cannot read the first part of the addressee’s name which has J. as a middle letter and Wechsler as a Jewish surname which seems to have been common in Iasi.

Click on Image to Magnify

Click on Image to Magnify

Friday 1 December 2017

Thinking About Auction Houses Again

Auctions were traditionally places where dead collectors met living ones. Here is the best story I ever heard about this traditional role:

A widow walks into a stamp shop and says that she wishes to sell her late husband’s collection. She has bought the albums with her and they are examined. Yes, says the dealer, it is good material and I would be happy to buy it. But the widow says. Ah, no, I know it is good material and I want to sell it by auction! And the dealer replies, We also sell collections by auction. If you consign the collection to us, we will send you a catalogue and later your payment. It will take a few months. The widow agrees and in due course she gets a catalogue and later a cheque. But how many catalogues were printed? Well, one for the widow and one for the dealer.

Small provincial auction houses still exist exclusively to take in collections from widows and large auction houses also welcome them, though they also rely now on living collectors and on living dealers who want to sell. The living are more impatient than the dead. It’s obvious that some rare items pass more time going from auction to auction than they do in anybody’s collection. I’ve only been in business twenty-five years but in that period the top Russian rarities seem to have re-appeared twenty five times.

In the world, the internet has vastly changed the auction world. In Europe, the single market and the single currency have also effected large changes. Nowadays, ordinary collectors in Europe are no longer obliged to buy locally and, for example, French and Italian collectors can often buy better and cheaper in Germany than they can at home and many now do. The ease and cheapness of online bank transfers in the Single European Payments Area means that for most collectors, bank add on-costs are now very low.

Local laws do still make some difference. You can’t really run an international auction house in Poland or Russia because of state laws, held over from Soviet times,  limiting the export of objects classed as cultural heritage. In France and Italy, excessive bureaucratic regulation seems to limit the auction market. The UK now suffers from a currency barrier and, as part of its ongoing madness, plans to add back Customs controls on trade with the real Europe. 

Curiously, auctions thrive in Switzerland where regulation is tight and the currency different. I think it must have something to do with the presence in Switzerland itself of major collections and also of money looking for investment outlets. There is also a tradition of philatelic expertise, like that you find in Germany. In both countries, auction houses have highly competent members of staff who are AIEP or BPP accredited.

In the past, most auction houses owned nothing they sold and made their money from their commissions. Some big auction houses still follow this tradition. It usually means that starting prices are kept as low as the vendor will permit since the auctioneer makes money only on sales and the more sales the better. Auction days are very expensive things to run – staff costs, viewing facilities, and so on. Auctioneers want to see 75% + selling. When the late Kaj Hellman was alive, he built up a very successful auction in Helsinki simply on the basis of using ridiculously low start prices which attracted everyone’s attention. Sometimes, he would get close to 100% of lots sold.

It is a bit of a problem that some auction houses now own a large part of what they offer for sale. At worst, the catalogue is simply a dealer’s retail price list. From the dealer’s point of view, the prices can only go up. If the dealer takes the same material to a stamp exhibition, prices can only go down because basic collector vocabulary in any language is headed by the word Discount. It’s a no brainer to print a price list and call it an auction catalogue. From my point of view, when I know that an auction house owns much of the material it sells, then it is less interesting. Lots of catalogues I am sent go straight into the waste bin.

Some of the old fashioned auction houses had little philatelic expertise. They took in a collection and broke it up into lots which could be easily carried away directly after the sale. They estimated every box in the same range (maybe 100 - 300) and left it to bidders in the auction room to settle the final price. It still happens and not only here in the UK. 

Another story from around the year 2000:

A well-known collector had died and instructed that his big collection go to a major auction house. The house planned to make a major catalogue out of the major collection; they took the sale very seriously. But there was also a side-line collection of Russian Civil War period material which came along with the main consignment. The auction house did not have the expertise or the time to study it seriously and in terms of value it was surely unimportant. So they put it all in one big box and stuck 1000 on it. I viewed it. The quantity of material was enormous and there were nice things in it which I had not seen before. I decided I would bid 8000 which I think is all the money I had at the time. I left the bid with an auction agent who telephoned me after the sale, very pleased: You got it for 2000. I got most of that 2000 back on just one element of the collection. The box contained the unissued 1919 Belarus National Republic stamps of Bulak-Bulakovich in large complete sheets, perforated and imperforate, in very nice condition because they had been rolled into a tube which stuck out of the box.  I had never seen sheets before and I knew collectors who wanted them. 

And the rest of that box? Well, today I was preparing for sale some of the very nice Ukraine which it contained in quantity and which reminded me of my purchase nearly twenty years ago. I am afraid I am one of those dealers who sells slower than they buy. I measure my turn around time in years rather than days or ( in the case of at least one dealer I know) minutes.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Why Stamps In Multiples Are A Good Idea

I have been preparing small groups of Ukraine tridents to send to auction at, mostly from districts (Odesa, Podilia, Poltava) which used single handstamps. It reminded me that multiples are often preferable to singles for purposes of stamp identification. This is true not only for single handstamp overprints. For a regular stamp printed by typography or lithography even, a small multiple will quite often enable identification of a particular printing. This may be because clichés have been moved or repaired, or because the setting has changed – distance between stamps may have been altered and a multiple will make that clear. For overprints from a plate rather than a single handstamp, a small multiple allows plating and that may be a very good test of whether or not the overprint is genuine. Very few forgers have had the resources to reproduce plating varieties in the right positions in a sheet. They may have had no access to a whole sheet and certainly neither the time or money to carefully reproduce plate faults. Digital forgeries can do that, but then they are detectable as digital. And, of course, even a pair of stamps can be definitive evidence that a stamp is genuinely imperforate and not just a cut-down perforated stamp.

One-of-each collectors working with album spaces lose out heavily on such helpful collecting possibilities. In the past they lost out even more: when miniature sheets were first issued, spaces for them in albums were often smaller than the sheet so collectors cut down the sheets to fit the spaces. This happened to early Poland mini-sheets, for example. It’s a good job that art collectors have never used one-size fits all frames.

Expense is one factor which encourages one-of-each collecting but the expense of upgrading from a single common Trident stamp to a block of four or a strip of five may be of the order of one or two euros, one or two dollars. It’s silly not to take the opportunity, especially in an area like Podilia tridents where sub-types which are hard to distinguish from single stamps become easily visible in a strip or block.

But it’s also sometimes the case that a group of single stamps if brought together can be used to identify each other, as in the example below. The 7 rouble imperforate with Podilia Trident is always a scarce stamp, regardless of sub-type of overprint. The group below all have type 12b (which Bulat values at $75 each) but it is only when they are grouped together that one can be sure of the identification. It helps that this group were all used at Kamenets and that they may be from the same transfer form or, at least, the same sheet. Note things like the way the handstamp is tilted and the greyish colour of the ink which is paler than most Podilia inks and may represent a late batch of work. So these stamps will go to auction as one lot because it's then very clear what you have in front of you. Of course, it's only because over a twenty five year period I have bought Ukrainian stamps in thousands that I have been able to assemble groups like this. These four stamps have been in different collections since they were first used in 1919 as can be inferred from the pencil notes etc on the back of them:

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Thursday 23 November 2017

Do Bad Stamps Drive Out Good?

Gresham’s Law states that bad money drives out good. The basic idea is simple. Suppose I have two gold coins in my pocket, made of the same quality of gold. But one has been clipped at the edges where someone has taken a little bit of gold off (someone who has done that to lots of coins and so has accumulated a pile of gold). Which coin do I spend first? Gresham’s Law says that I will try to pass on the clipped coin and try to keep hold of the unclipped one for as long as I can. Likewise, if old silver coins circulate alongside cheap alloy ones, then people will start saving the silver ones hoping that the silver will soon be worth more than the face value (it may already be worth more than the face value). Why give away silver when you could give away alloy?

I thought of Gresham’s Law thinking about Russia #1. There are people who collect Russia in mint condition and Russia #1 is a problem. It is rare in mint condition and people used to say to me that it does not exist mint. So there is demand and no supply. As a result, for a very long time, people have taken pen-cancelled copies of #1 and chemically removed the pen cross. They have washed the stamp and, in some cases, they have gummed it. These stamps are then offered as mint copies, and still are, and they sell – basically, as “spacefillers” to mint stamp collectors. In the December David Feldman auctions, you can find two examples:

Lot 41768 described as (*) … very good margins, very good gum, at front some surface rubbing at the positions of slight ink traces, a very presentable example, various sign. incl Th. Lemaire  Estimate 3000 euros

Well, that’s more or less telling you that this was a used copy which has been cleaned and gummed. Before that alchemy was accomplished, the stamp was probably worth 300 euros, since it does have nice margins. But it did not have surface rubbing before it was cleaned. Three thousand euro is a lot to pay for someone’s work cleaning, rubbing, and gumming this stamp. So why not look for something cheaper, for example and next up:

Lot 41769 described as (*) … large margins all around, unused no gum, usual penstroke removing, otherwise excellent fresh example. Estimate 500 euros

The margins aren’t quite so good on this stamp as on the previous one and the alchemist hasn’t bothered to add gum and hasn’t been so successful in removing the ink cross. But forced to choose, someone looking for a space filler might prefer to pay 500 than 3000, the bad stamp trumping the slightly better. Before it was treated, this stamp was probably worth 200 – 250 euros.

But suppose you want the real thing? The real gold coin. Well, then you have to go to Lot 70107 which gets a whole page to itself. There you are offered a stamp which has a * not in brackets and with exceptionally large and even margins - and three certificates stating that the gum on the reverse is original. The estimate is 20 000 – 30 000 euros.

So are you going to buy the good stamp or the bad stamp - which isn't mint in any sense of the word even though it gets a (*) - to fill that annoying space for Russia #1 mint?
On ebay, there are hundreds of stamp issues where bad stamps have really driven out the good and where people looking for spacefillers are quite happy to buy the fakes and forgeries on offer from sellers who seem to make a good living out of it.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Where Can I Buy Genuine Dashnak Armenian Stamps of 1919 - 21?

Well, try

where bidding closes on 1 December. There is a page for Armenia, most of the items from my stock, and separate pages for Azerbaijan and Georgia and, finally, a separate page for Transcaucasia as a whole.

Friday 3 November 2017

The Basic Rule of Stamp and Postal History Conservation

Today I was breaking up a collection of Latvian stamps and a collection of pre-philatelic Gibraltar covers. This rather depressing task reminded me of the one basic rule of Conservation:

Aim to pass on your stock or your collection to the next owner in as good a condition as you received it

This rule says nothing about cleaning or repairing; that’s a separate topic. But the rule can be converted to some simple tips, some handy hints, about how to treat stamps and covers.


  Do not put hinges on mint stamps or used stamps
  Always use tweezers to handle stamps
  Store albums and stockbooks upright; don’t lay them flat
  A slip-case helps keep out dust and sunlight. If it doesn’t have a slipcase, then don’t use the top row of a stockbook.
  If you are going to divide a block of imperforate stamps, use a cutting knife and a metal ruler – don’t use scissors
  No damp storage, please!


  Do not write on them, in pencil or ink. Ever. Your scribbles do not add value with the one exception of Agathon Faberge's and then not even all of his. Expect a discount from any dealer who prices by writing on their stock. Do not ask any Expert to sign your cover. Ever. Look what has happened to classic Italian covers.
  Do not use photographic mounting corners. About one in ten will find a way to stick to your cover and when someone removes it from your mounts, the cover will tear.
  Do not use sellotape for any purpose or metal staples (yes, today I was handling a collection full of metal staples)
 Do not trim roughly opened covers, open them up “for display”, or re-fold them. Keep the cover in the state you received it.
Store albums upright and out of sunlight. Don’t lay them flat. Use slipcases.
  Think twice about using black backing to enhance the appearance of your cover; cheap black paper is often acidic
   No damp storage, please!

Well, that’s not a long list. Maybe ten percent of dealers and collectors follow something like those simple rules, which is why so much philatelic material is now damaged beyond repair.

Thursday 2 November 2017

The Importance of Dealer Boxes

I think very few people – and certainly not tax and customs authorities – understand what is involved in stamp dealing and how it is different from other retail activities. It has always been the case, and still is, that most dealers are one-person businesses but holding stocks of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands - of potentially separate items. The standard business model is to buy in bulk and sell individually. The standard business failure is to buy more than you can possibly sell. So stocks accumulate over a dealer’s lifetime.

In the past, dealers made Approval books (carnets a choix; Auswahlheften) which is what I did when I started. Nowadays they sell on ebay or delcampe (which I have never done). Either way, the time it takes to prepare one item for sale is just too much to allow more than a few thousand items to be offered at any one time. For many dealers, they never get past a few hundred.

The time-saving solution which many dealers use (and I use) is to heap cheaper stuff into boxes, load them into a car or even a van and put them out at stamp shows, where like fresh vegetables you try to sell as much as you can in one day. Collectors or other dealers do the time-consuming work of going through the boxes.

So at the annual Sindelfingen Briefmarken Messe, from which I have just returned, there were hundreds – maybe thousands – of such boxes around the hall. The well-known dealer Peter Harlos had a whole corner stand, well-organised with every item at 2 euro and the well-known dealer Christian Arbeiter had his usual big and rather chaotic stand overflowing with cheap and very cheap boxed material. But these are just two from a few dozen dong similar things.

The boxes are often full of things which are valuable to other dealers or to specialist collectors. If you spend a day going through them, you will handle many thousands of items and surely find something and maybe enough to justify the cost of the trip. It is probably less labour intensive than trawling the internet, bidding and so on.

The nature of stamp dealing and of these boxes means that they are only viable if items don’t have to be bar coded. Harlos does barcode for all his stock down to 4 euro but even he does not do it for his separate 2 euro stand. To insist on bar coding there would be like insisting that each apple have its own label because it is potentially a separate item. 

Harlos and Arbeiter are two of the big attractions at Sindelfingen; whether they actually make money, I don’t know. If you pay say 3000 euro for a whole stand, and on top of that, have travel and hotel costs and not forgetting the stock costs, you have to sell an awful lot at 2 euro to get your money back. It is a problem which arises from the original business model: you buy too much relative to what it is easy to sell.

Many collectors who don’t go to stamp shows are missing something. Unless your Wants are very specialised or very expensive, a stamp show is still a good place to find material

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Sredinsky's Russian Refugee Post in Constantinople

In World War One, the Ottoman Empire was one of the defeated powers and its capital, Constantinople, was occupied by the victorious allies – France, Great Britain, Italy. But for the Russian Revolution, Russia would have been there too. Even if Russia was not, Russians were: “White” Russians who had the sympathies of the victorious Allies could make their way across the Black Sea and seek refuge in Constantinople. Many did.

Until end 1920, the Civil War in Russia continued with White forces still controlling areas in the south and mainly around the Black Sea. It was even possible to send mail abroad from White areas and that mail went via Constantinople, where an improvised Russian Post (not ROPIT) based in the Pera district received it and transferred it to the Turkish postal system. A transit mark was genuinely used on such mail and I have illustrated it on this Blog  on 8 October 2016 - thereis a lot of background information there.

When the last White forces evacuated from Crimea at end 1920, there was no more mail for transit. But there were now many more refugees in Turkey. Someone had the idea that a Russian Refugee Post could replace the Russian Post and, though it did not happen, an elaborate scam did happen, headed up by Alexander Sredinsky, the existing Postmaster who later became the stamp dealer Thals in Paris.

You could write to Sredinsky in Constantinople using normal mail services and you could use the address of “La Poste Russe” and it would get to him. He would apply a receiver cancel to his own mail, for which purpose he used violet ink and a cachet which was once a Russian Army Sanitary department seal. See the illustration. Note that the letter from BELGRADE 23 XII 20 has been handled first in Galata and then in Pera. The sender seems to have given up trying to use a typewriter which clearly did not work:

Click on Image to Magnify

But you could not  take a letter to Sredinsky and have it sent through the Russian Post, nor could you do that in any of the refugee camps around Constantinople. But an elaborate scam tried to prove that you could. Here for example, is a book of Registration receipts supposedly used at Gallipoli. It contains 199 receipts. Of these, 196 have been filled out and the KVITANTSIA part at the right removed and supposedly given to the sender. Three complete unused forms remain at the end.

Click on Image to Magnify

Remarkably, there exist letters which correspond to the receipt book. Here is one with its No. 108 Kvitansia attached and which matches the half coupon remaining in the Receipt book. Amazing. But the fact that the Kvitansia is attached to the April 1921 cover is the give away: this is what you did in those days with a philatelic cover which you had fabricated, normally slipping the receipt inside the letter as proof of its original posting. Serebrakian did it with the letters he sent from Yerevan to his brother in Tiflis. It implies, at the very least, that the letter was not sealed until it  had been Registered. In this case, I don't believe the letter was ever in Gallipoli or carried from there to Constantinople. But a big effort has been made to convince me - and many people were convinced. The stamps of the Refugee Post got into all the catalogues and commanded high prices before 1940.

Click on Image to Magnify

In my view, this letter started out on Sredinsky’s desk in Constantinople where both the GALLIPOLI despatch cancel and the  CONSTANTINOPLE arrival cancel were applied. But what a remarkable effort to convince us otherwise: a 199 coupon Registration receipt book!

More to follow ...

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Postal use of Dashnak Armenia stamps

The new Armenia listing in the Michel catalogue (see previous Blog post) gives separate prices for used stamps in the Dashnak period, but they are prices for CTO copies. A note simply indicates the scarcity of postally used material, and its rarity for anything used outside Erivan and Alexandropol.

There are two problems about postally used Armenian material: finding it and identifying it correctly. As for Danzig and other territories, if gum is washed off CTO stamps they often look very much like postally used stamps – especially where centrally placed cancels are applied. Worse, in some places dealers and collectors applied mint stamps singly to sheets of paper or blank envelopes and got them cancelled in bulk. But a single stamp when removed from its backing paper looks like a used stamp. This is true for all the Baltic countries after World War One and also for Armenia.

Philatelists do archive research and often find helpful information, as Christopher Zakiyan did for Armenia. But unanswered questions remain. In the Armenian case here are some of my thoughts and  speculations:

Between 1917 and 1921 postal activity was often disrupted and some Armenian post offices disappeared forever: those in the areas of eastern Anatolia taken by Turkey (all of the Kars district, notably). Alexandropol was occupied by Turkey for a period. Conflict with Georgia disrupted the postal service. It wasn’t always possible to get the trains to run. Civil conflict, famine and disease were more or less permanent features of Armenian life.

Postal activity was modest. The practice which was standard at least until 1939 of soaking stamps off covers makes it seem even more modest than it was. In addition, a significant part of internal Armenian mail would have been stampless official correspondence of which little survives which has not been faked by the addition of genuine stamps cancelled with fake handstamps. But even those fakes provide useful information.

Erivan could not always maintain contact with other post offices. It did not always supply them with stamps so cash payments were accepted – this became official policy in the transitional year 1921 (Zakiyan’s research). Conversely, those post offices could not always get things into the postal network even if they were open and a clerk on duty.

But the post offices were always there and the best evidence for that is the rapid revival of the internal post in 1922 – 1923 where old Imperial cancellations suddenly re-appear on the new Soviet Armenian issues, sometimes very dirty and worn (BASARGECHAR a good example).

A significant part of franked mail in the Dashnak period was foreign mail destined for the Allied countries – the USA, France and Great Britain – who were providing some minimal support to the new Armenian republic and sometimes helped the mail along its way, as the British did in Batum. Those covers often had stamps soaked off and that is one reason that when I try to assemble examples of postally used stamps, it is the higher values which are more common. See the scans below. Tariffs during 1920 rose through rouble steps: 2 and 4 and 8 roubles. But mail abroad seems to have reduced and even stopped before the end of 1920 – postally used examples of rouble overprinted stamps are rare. There are only two examples on my scans (both of 1 rouble overprints).

Inland mail from Erivan or Alexandropol probably had a poor delivery and survival rate. In addition, though stamps may have gone into Armenian collections, they did not leave the country once Soviet control was established. This is probably why I can show so few kopeck value stamps which would have made up tariffs of 30 and 60 kopecks and 1 ruble 20.

The stamps on the scans are ones I think probably or certainly postally used, though I cannot tell whether they were originally on philatelic covers which (for example) Souren Serebrakian sent in quantity to his brother in Tiflis. In sorting the stamps which are shown, I have looked at such things as paper adhering to the back of the stamp, careless cutting of imperforate stamps and even hand tearing, smudged postmarks which don’t look like the usual CTO. In among all the Erivan and some Alexandropol cancels, you will see a couple of manuscript cancels and just one identifiable as from another town, Karaklis, flagged up on a 3 rouble 50 kop imperforate.

Click on Image to Magnify

Click on Image to Magnify

Click on Image to Magnify

Tuesday 10 October 2017

The New Michel for Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

Stamp catalogues never know where to put the countries of Transcaucasia – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In the 2006 Michel they were included in Mittel-und Ostasien, a fat catalouge which runs from Afghanistan to Usbekistan. The new replacement 2017/2018 catalogue cuts down the number of countries included, taking out China, but still leaves the Caucasus housed beside Japan, Korea and Mongolia. It doesn’t make much sense and it’s a pity because the new Michel includes a completely re-worked and expanded listing for pre-Soviet Armenia. 

For the first time, black and violet Dashnak overprints are separately listed  and so too are Combined overprinted stamps (Z + rubel value) which come with and without Monogram. The scarce to rare second type of the ten rubel overprint, which is just a “10” without the letter “r”, is listed for the first time. The last series of overprints on Erivan pictorials are now separated into those made from metal and those made from rubber handstamps.

All this moves Michel closer to the Stanley Gibbons listing but Michel stays with the approach of Christopher Zakiyan who listed only the overprints which were officially authorised and not the counter-surcharges, the inclusion of which makes the SG listing much longer than that in Michel.

There were serious mistakes in the 2006 listings and these have been removed. The revised valuations go a long way towards getting it right with regard to what is common and what is rare. It is to be hoped (but is not very likely) that auction houses in France and Italy will take notice of the new Michel listings. In Germany, of course, it will be automatic.

There are a few things which could have been included without making the listing longer. No example of the first Soviet Star set, which Zakiyan thinks an officially authorised trial, is illustrated. But the bogus second Star set gets its regular illustration and there is space beside it for an example of First Star. The SPECIMEN overprints on  low value Chassepot stamps could have been mentioned, but then it needs to be said that all Specimen overprints on the higher values are fakes (mostly from the 1990s and mostly Californian - David Feldman was selling the remainder stocks recently). The two unofficial Reprints of Second Yessayan, made by the printer,  could have been identified in a sentence and that would have been helpful because most unoverprinted stamps in collections are Reprints – very few are Originals and very few are the obvious Forgeries.

But these are relatively minor points. The important thing is that we now have a short listing which is fully based on the best available research (Tchilingirian & Ashford, Zakiyan) and a reasonable assessment of market conditions. In that it is unique. The revised Michel pages are the contribution of Stefan Berger, the new BPP accredited expertiser for Armenia. He is to be congratulated on his work.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Russia Revenues: Imperial Moscow Police residence permit stamps, first issue

St Petersburg and Moscow police departments began using adhesive stamps to record payment of residence permit fees in the 1860s. Most St Petersburg stamps are common, though one is a great rarity, but Moscow’s are not common even though they remained in use until at least 1881 when new stamps prepared by the State Printing Works were issued.

Nothing about the first Moscow issue suggests it was printed by those State works. The gum, the variable paper, the wide variation in colour, the deterioration of the printing plate, the lack of alignment of individual stamp clichés – all this is well below the standard achieved by the State works. The stamps look like a job which might have been done in-house by the Police department itself. To me, the stamps look as if printed by lithography, the plates retained over a long period and the quality of the print greatly deteriorating.

It is quite difficult to study the issue for four reasons. First, the scarcity of large mint multiples for plating purposes. Second, the impossibility of dating the use of stamps which have been taken off document, where they were always cancelled by a simple pen cross. Third, and connectedly, the difficulty in distinguishing printings when there appears to be wide variation within printings and not just between them. Fourth, the scarcity of stamps used even on a fragment of a document. In addition, lacking access to the relevant sources I do not know what the fee structure was or how it changed.

On the pages illustrated below I have assembled over 100 Moscow stamps now in my possession. About half of them have pencil notes on the reverse which indicate that they are from Agathon Faberge’s collection. These notes are dated between 1900 and 1907, though some notes do not give a date. It is my belief that Faberge annotated stamps that he bought individually but that, in addition, he bought bundleware or kiloware of these stamps for research purposes and only annotated those where he noticed something unusual. My guess is that in the 1900 – 1914 period Faberge owned and studied many hundreds of these stamps, now dispersed across many collections.

My assembly does not include two varieties listed in the John Barefoot catalogue: an error of colour on the 5 kopeck printed in blue instead of the correct green; and a perforated version of the 5 kopeck green. I have never seen either and would be pleased to illustrate them here if anyone has either of them. Added: John McMahon has kindly provided the following scan of his error of colour stamp. This appears to be the only recorded copy,from the Marcovitch collection. However, to my eye, the blue would be more convincing if it could be matched to the same blue appearing on a 3 kop stamp (the 3 kop stamps were printed in blue). 

I can show two varieties identified by A Faberge: bisects on the 2 kopek and manuscript revaluation of a 2 kopek stamp to 3 kopeks.

On my very provisional pages, I have copied back-of-stamp A Faberge’s notes and written them underneath the stamps on which they are found. Any notes above the stamps are mine. Click on Images to Magnify.

Saturday 23 September 2017

More from the Faberge Fiscal Collection

This Blog post assumes you have read the previous Blog post.

In the period before World War One, obtaining older fiscal stamps and documents from smaller cities and towns was probably as difficult as finding stamps and covers from the more distant Zemstvos and perhaps more difficult. The collector societies in St Petersburg and Moscow eventually set up arrangements with many Zemstvos to supply new issues, and the Zemstvos were often co-operative when they realised that their stamps could yield a significant income. In consequence, they began to issue stamps rather in the way that Liechtenstein or Monaco do today. But I doubt that writing to distant courts asking for their stamps would do anything other than create suspicion. To this day, the pre-1914 fiscals of small administrations are very scarce, especially on document. So it was a nice surprise to find in my London purchases the following item:

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I have seen the stamps of Yaroslavl before but not on complete document. This one, dated 1878, and folded for the illustration was obtained by Agathon Faberge in September 1913. He got it from Göschiel [ not a supplier I have encountered before ] and paid 15 rubles [ pd – k – 20 IX 13 Göschiel: I decode the “k” as “ kauft” meaning purchased rather than “k” as in kopeck. See Hellman and Stone, Agathon Fabergé, page 242 ].

It seems that B E Saarinen picked out some of these provincial fiscals for re-mounting and I assume that the simple exhibit page below is his work (further information welcome). I haven’t seen the two listed stamps of Kolpino before. Agathon F got the top piece with the red stamps from Karing in 1914 but no price is indicated. Agathon has also worked out the date written across the stamps as 15 September 1898. There are no notes on the back of the strip of blue stamps but I suspect they are also ex-Faberge.

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Faberge was able to acquire some court fee stamps in bulk, notably from Baku, where someone cut off many hundreds of the locally-produced stamps from their original documents. They ended up in Faberge’s hands and were eventually dispersed. The Faberges did begin to study them, though the published plating study is due to Jack Moyes. The stamps were printed like raffle tickets in strips of six. The counterpart to the left of the MAPKA part was a receipt KVITANTSIA. These are rare. There is one example in my new acquistions, and on the back Oleg F has written FOTO, suggesting that an article or book was contemplated on the lines of the Zemstvo book for which Oleg also wrote FOTO on the back of items. 

Despite having had a stock of these Baku stamps since the 1990s I had never seen a strip of six until the London sale and now I have just one such strip, with no acquisition note on the back

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More difficult than any provincial revenue stamps are the tax banderoles and labels applied by the Maria Feodorovna charities to packs of playing cards, over the production of which they held a monopoly. People who played cards were wasters rather than hoarders and simply did not think to keep the bands and labels for future collectors. So it was an agreeable surprise to find in my London purchase a complete but empty playing card packet.

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The blue front packet design is less elaborate than the beautiful red and black design illustrated in John Barefoot’s Russia Revenues catalogue [Plate I ] and on this Blog on 13 January 2016, and does not look like the work of the state printing works. But whereas the tax work is done by the later red and black design, the actual tax work is done here by the black strips which seal the packet horizontally and vertically and which are intact on the reverse of the pack. Like the blue design they incorporate the image of a pelican feeding her young which is the logo of the Maria Feodorovna charities. I illustrate these sealing strips on my Blog of 13 January 2016

Friday 22 September 2017

Faberge Imperial Russia Fiscals Collection

Faberge is the collection which keeps on giving. Agathon and Oleg never organised it all or disposed of it all in a systematic fashion and undocumented material still keeps appearing, as it did on 21 September in a London auction which offered 27 lots of mainly Faberge Imperial Russian fiscal material.

In the same period of fifteen years before World War One when Agathon was assembling his Zemstvo collection, he was also assembling a Russian Imperial fiscal collection in very much the same way. He bought common stamps in big quantities and then tried to plate them or looked for errors and varieties (and found them). He made notes on the backs of stamps recording his discoveries, though in the case of common stamps I do not think he always wrote the name of his supplier and the price paid. He bought scarce stamps and also fiscal documents and stamped paper, though some categories of document were hard to obtain. Only when things like court archives were later disposed of or simply looted did complete documents become available. When Agathon got to Finland in 1927 there were probably some emigres happy to sell him old documents from their family archives.

I think Agathon mounted some of his collection on album pages and I think that Oleg re-mounted them, as he did the Zemstvos. Oleg also put on to album pages stamps which had never been there before. This much I infer from the hinges on the backs of a great deal of ex-Faberge material. But at some point all the material was taken off pages. In contrast, when after Oleg’s death, Corinphila sold the Faberge Zemstvo collection in 1999, about ninety percent of it was on modern, massively annotated album pages which represented many meters of shelf space.

The recent London Faberge sale included a modern stockbook which includes both stamps which look like remainders of something else, but also carefully selected choice pieces which would display well or which have research interest. As an example of a visually attractive piece, see the scan of this Moscow Court stamp. Oh, and I nearly forgot - it's not only pretty, it's also imperforate between vertically:

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As an example of a research item, consider the scan of this Moscow Police stamp. On the 21 January 1907, Agathon bought two blocks of four from Lentz [abbreviated as often the case to Ltz] who in turn had got them from the stock of the Belgian dealer Moens [ Moens Lager, in pencilled German]. Separately, a pair has been acquired and either Agathon or Oleg has then re-joined what are parts of a separated block, using slips of stamp hinge. This gives an unusually large mint multiple for this early stamp. But though the block has two modern hinges (presumably Oleg’s), we now have no indication of how it was written up.

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Agathon’s and Oleg’s close attention to the detail of common stamps did pay off. The stockbook contains, for example, a bisected 2 kop stamp used to make up a 3 kop rate. That is not unusual. But it also contains a 2 kop stamp uprated in black ink to make a 3 kop rate, a fact I only discovered when I turned over the stamp and read on the back 3 auf 2k! I would be interested to know if this variety has been recorded elsewhere. I show it above along with an example of the bisect.

More to follow.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Who Is Trevor Pateman?

Who is Trevor Pateman?

There are now several Trevor Patemans on the Internet…. I am the one born in England in 1947 with a previous academic career which is easily tracked. I am not on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram. Those are other Trevor Patemans J  

This Trevor Pateman spent last week 12 – 16 September working at STAMPEX London. My stand was busy and now it is all over, I am very tired. On the front of my stand, my assistant was selling All World liquidation items at £3.50 each item – there were a few thousand items to pick from. I sat at the back of the stand selling mostly Russia, Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, including collections as well as single items. 

It was a bonus in the last afternoon of the show when an ebay dealer sat down and ended up buying some bulky Latin American accumulations based on the ancient stock of Errington & Martin [Errimar]  and Oswald Marsh. The dealer's smartphone App. allowed him to make an immediate transfer to my bank account.

I hope to have some new Russia stock soon which I can Blog about but I have not been a very active buyer recently. The adverse exchange rates make it difficult for me to buy outside the United Kingdom right now.