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Sunday 29 January 2017

Esperanto in early Bolshevik Russia

As would-be world revolutionaries, the early Bolsheviks were sympathetic to Esperanto. It provided a means of international communication before the hegemony of English was established. Since Esperanto is basically a Romance language with a Roman alphabet, Russians who used it were making a bigger effort than those they were writing to. In any case, as Leninism turned to Stalinism, Esperanto fell out of favour as did any kind of private international communication even through authorised channels. This can be seen for example, in the decline of Philatelic Exchange letters in the 1930s. Private individuals were simply too afraid to send them.

The card below caught my attention first because of its date. It was sent from Petrograd to Switzerland in May 1921 and arrived the same month - the receiver mark is on the picture side. So it was sent within the scarce 1920 - 21 period when foreign mail services had just re-started. They were all suspended in January 1919 and resumed in June 1920. It's a registered  postcard and as seems to be normally the case, it is franked at the registered letter rate of 10 roubles using a 10 kop stamp revlaued according to the March 1920 x 100 revaluations.

But then I looked at the Esperanto Star and Flag printed in pale ink on the card and realised that this is in fact an old Imperial formular card which has been recycled with these symbols on the address side and Zamenhof's picture on the correspondence side. All Imperial postal stationeries with a face value were invalidated on 1 January 1919 but continued in use as blanks, as did formulars without a face value.There were huge quantities available and the practice of overprinting them was common in the early Soviet period. The dealer Tarasoff did it in Archangel and the Soviet Philatelic Association did it in Moscow. You could probably make an interesting collection of all the different overprints, say from 1917 through to 1925 or so.

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I have taken the following from the Comments section below:

The sender of this card is of interest to me. S.N.Podkaminer (1901-1982) was an aircraft engineer by profession, He also worked as a college lecturer. As a Red Army volunteer he took part in the civil and Great Patriotic wars. Having learned Esperanto in 1920, the young Semyon Podkaminer immediately became active in the movement. He took part in the 3rd Russian Congress of Esperanto, at which the Soviet Esperanto Union (SEU) was founded, then he led their youth section, and was repeatedly elected as a member of the Central Committee of the SEU. In 1926 he was secretary of the 6th Congress of a left-wing body called SAT in Leningrad, when special stamps were published. When in the late 30's Stalin undertook purges against speakers of Esperanto, he was fortunate enough to avoid arrest, but was expelled from the Communist Party.

This card was sent when he was 20 years old and relatively new to the language. In it he appeals for people who want to correspond with him about political and other matters.

The original card was oprobably produced in 1912 on the 25th anniversary of Esperanto.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Women on Stamps: Armenia

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I am sure one of my readers can answer this question to which I don't know the answer:

When and where was the first stamp issued which showed a woman who was not a queen, princess, president or mythical figure? Maybe someone famous, maybe an ordinary person ...

And then maybe a second question:

When and where for a stamp showing a woman doing an ordinary job as on the stamp above?

In the United Kingdom, a woman who wasn't the Queen did not appear until 1968 when the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst appeared on a stamp. In contrast, Turkey had put suffragettes on stamps as far back as 1934, the year in which all Turkish women got the vote. The Soviet Union depicted a female worker and peasant in two of the designs for the 1929 definitive series - earlier definitives showed only male workers, soldiers and sailors (Correct?).

I like the Armenian stamp and think it's a pity it was never issued. It exists in both slate and red as do all the stamps in the series. But another value in the set was issued, with a surcharge and this shows a woman carrying water:

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The stamps are all from the 1921 Second Yessayan series printed by the Armenian firm of Yessayan (or Essayan) in what was still Constantinople. The stamps were ordered by the new Armenian Soviet government and the designer was Sarkis Khachaturian. Yessayan had fairly recently printed the Wrangel Refugee overprints and the Levant ship fantasies which did not stop him getting the Soviet order.

Part of the original printing of the Second Yessayan stamps was on a porous, yellowish paper rather than the usual white and non-porous paper. The 100r above is on the yellowish paper but both of the 1000r are on the normal white paper. The stamps on the yellowish paper are normally in an ink which is nearly black rather than grey and they are sometimes mistaken for proofs. All the reprints of the slate colour of this stamp are a paler grey and the red stamps a paler red, and only the forgery uses a yellowish paper - but then the paper is not porous and the yellow gum is laid on thick. The unissued 100r stamp above is really quite scarce but the issued stamps with surcharges are not so hard to find.

It would be interesting to know the source of Khachaturian's designs - he also has a shepherd boy, for example, and a train leaving Yerevan station (popular with Thematic collectors). Did he have photographs of the woman spinning and the woman carrying water? Or did he make a sketch? Note that the woman fetching water appears to be barefoot.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Guest Blog: Howard Weinert on Money Letters

Postal Rate Chronology for Russian Money Letters 1872-1917

Compiled by Howard L. Weinert

1 January 1872: A unit weight fee of 10 kopecks*, an insurance fee, and 5 kopecks for a receipt. The insurance fee was determined as follows: a) for a declared value of 1 ruble up to 100 rubles – 1 %, b) for a value above 100 rubles up to 400 rubles - ½ % plus 50 kopecks, c) for a value above 400 rubles up to 1600 rubles – ¼ % plus 1.5 rubles, d) for a value above 1600 rubles – 1/8 % plus 3.5 rubles. Values expressed in rubles and kopecks are rounded up to the next ruble before the insurance fee is calculated. A full kopeck is collected for any part of a kopeck. No postage stamps are used on money letters. *The weight fee for money letters sent abroad varied by destination.

20 March 1879: A new unit weight fee of 7 kopecks for all money letters. New insurance rates as follows: a) for a declared value of 1 ruble up to 600 rubles – ½ %, b) for a value above 600 rubles up to 1600 rubles – ¼ % plus 1.5 rubles, c) for a value above 1600 rubles – 1/8 % plus 3.5 rubles. Money letters now had to be registered for a fee of 7 kopecks, but the fee for the receipt was discontinued.

1 April 1889: For international money letters, the unit weight fee and the registration fee were both increased to 10 kopecks.

            1 June 1893: New international insurance rates: 3 kopecks for each 75 rubles of declared value for countries bordering Russia (Germany, Austria, Rumania, Turkey, Sweden, Norway), and 7 kopecks for all other countries.

            20 December 1898: New international insurance rates: for each 112.5 rubles of declared value - 4 kopecks for countries bordering Russia and 10 kopecks for all others, with a 4 kopeck supplement for sea transit.

            1 January 1903: New domestic insurance rates: a) for declared values up to 600 rubles - ¼ %, b) for a value above 600 rubles up to 1600 rubles, 1/8 % plus 75 kopecks, c) for a value above 1600 rubles - 1/16 % plus 1.75 rubles.

            1 July 1904: Henceforth, all money letter fees will be paid for with postage stamps.

            1 August 1904: Instead of clerks writing serial numbers by hand on money letters, a blue-bordered printed label will be affixed, showing the serial number and the post office name.

            1 January 1905: New domestic insurance rates: 10 kopecks for declared values up to 10 rubles, 25 kopecks for values above 10 rubles and up to 100 rubles. For values above 100 rubles, the rate was 25 kopecks plus 15 kopecks for each additional 100 rubles or part thereof. The fees for registration and sealing wax** were eliminated for domestic money letters.

            1 May 1909: New international insurance rates which varied on the destination – from 4 kopecks (Germany) to 22 kopecks (Somaliland) for each 112.5 rubles of declared value.

            21 September 1914: For domestic money letters, the unit weight fee and the registration fee were both increased to 10 kopecks.

            15 August 1917: New domestic insurance rates: 15 kopecks for declared values up to 10 rubles, 30 kopecks for values above 10 rubles and up to 100 rubles. For values above 100 rubles, the rate was 30 kopecks plus 30 kopecks for each additional 100 rubles or part thereof. These insurance rates remained unchanged until 28 February 1918 (new style).

**Each money letter has either official wax seals or those of the sender or some combination of both. The number can vary from two to six or more, but is usually five. The sender could use his own wax or purchase it from the post office. Based on empirical evidence, the cost of wax was one kopeck for five seals before May 1898, and 1 kopeck per seal after March 1901. The price change happened sometime between 1898 and 1901.

Below are some fine examples of Money Letters for the period 1876 - 1913, from Howard Weinert's Collection and with his descriptions. Thank you, Howard, for providing this very informative Blog - TP

1876 money letter enclosing 83 silver rubles sent from Bolkhovskoye to Constantinople for transmission to a Russian monastery on Mt. Athos in Turkey. The total postage was 1 ruble, 8 kopecks (20 kopecks for double-weight, 83 kopecks for the 1% insurance fee, and 5 kopecks for the receipt).

1885 money letter (stationery of the Imperial Russian Technical Society) enclosing 50 rubles (equivalent to 200 francs) sent from St. Petersburg to the director of the Berlin Trade School. The total postage was 46 kopecks (14 kopecks for double-weight, 25 kopecks for the ½% insurance fee, and 7 kopecks for registration).

1891 money letter enclosing 1060 rubles (equivalent to 4240 francs) sent from St. Petersburg to Vevey, Switzerland. The total postage was 4.65 rubles (40 kopecks for quadruple-weight, 4.15 rubles for the insurance fee [1.5 rubles plus ¼% of the insured value], and 10 kopecks for registration).

1896 money letter enclosing 5 rubles (equivalent to 20 francs) sent from Sochi to Berlin. Total postage was 24 kopecks (10 kopecks for weight, 3 kopecks for insurance, 10 kopecks for registration, and one kopeck for sealing wax).

1904 money letter enclosing 5 rubles sent from Vorontsovskoe-Aleksandrovskoe to Worms, Germany, then forwarded to Speyer. The total postage was 29 kopecks (10 kopecks for weight, 4 kopecks for insurance, 10 kopecks for registration, and 5 kopecks for sealing wax).

1905 money letter enclosing 100 rubles sent from the fieldpost office of the First Siberian Army Corps in Manchuria to Borga, Finland. Total postage was 39 kopecks (14 kopecks for double-weight and 25 kopecks for insurance).

1913 money letter enclosing 5 rubles (equivalent to 131/3 francs) sent by the Kiev provincial prison inspector to the Hachette publishing house in Paris. The total postage was 26 kopecks (10 kopecks for weight, 6 kopecks for insurance, and 10 kopecks for registration).

Sunday 15 January 2017

Imperial Russia: Official Mail and Free Frank Privileges

I guess that most countries had and still have special arrangements for charging official mail handled by public postal services rather than by official couriers. In Imperial Russia and then in Soviet Russia, there were three basic features of the arrangements:

1.Official correspondence sent as ordinary mail did not need to be franked; it had "Free Frank" privilege. Bur if the mail was Registered, then the registration fee had to be paid at the post office counter and postage stamps applied. The post office could be financially compensated by central government for carrying Free Frank mail, based on volume of mail and so on.

2. Free Frank privilege extended only to Inland mail. Foreign mail, ordinary or registered, had to be paid for and franked with stamps to cover the cost of the foreign part of the journey.

3. Free frank privilege was claimed by means of a Seal applied on the reverse of the item of mail and by means of a Registry number written at bottom left on the front of an item. Seals could be paper seals, wax seals or could be applied with a handstamp. The Registry book ensured accountability and was an anti-fraud measure.I don't think I have ever seen a Free Frank item charged Postage Due for improper use of the system.
The paper seals have from time to time been popular with  collectors and occasionally they have been passed off as official stamps. Early Zemstvo catalogues listed the pretty seals of Ananiev Zemstvo as Official Stamps and Agathon Faberge had a fine mint collection of them.

The Free Frank cover shown below has a Registry number on the front, "No. 403" - for some reason these numbers are always prefaced by Roman "No" rather than a Cyrillic equivalent. On the back there is a paper seal, fairly typical in being unreadable except for the key word "PAKETOV" which is always present on seals.

The interesting thing about this 1902 cover is where it is going. It starts off in MISHKIN YAROSL[AVL] with a 27 May strike on the front and a 28 May strike on the back.It transits in Odessa on 2 June and arrives at ROPIT AFON on 9 June.

Now Mount Athos was Ottoman Turkish territory but Free Frank privilege has worked all the way there, presumably because the cover has been handled throughout by Russian mail services. This was not always the case: ships from Odessa would drop off mail to Mont Athos in Constantinople and the ROPIT CONSTANTINOPLE office would pass them to the Ottoman post office for overland delivery. In this case, I guess that a ship dropped off mail at Mont Athos itself but I would need to do more research to insist that was the case.

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Tuesday 3 January 2017

Collecting, Dealing, Investing in 2017

Happy New Year! Enjoy it now while it lasts.

As a dealer, I don't expect 2017 to be the year in which I finally make a lot of money. All the economic and political indicators are against that happening. So I will just try to enjoy doing things I enjoy doing and just try to keep my bank accounts positive. I say this even though I will be selling part of an Early Bolshevik Russia collection I have formed over a number of years in the Spring sale at Heinrich Koehler in Wiesbaden. If I don't sell it in the anniversary year 2017, when will I sell it?

I think that those who invest in stamps rarely - if ever - make money. Very few people seem able to beat the market, and if they do, it is more by luck than judgement. In this, they are no different to investment funds most of which fail to outperform the market - whatever their promises. When their fees are taken into account, they offer poor returns to private investors who thought that investment funds were Experts in something or other.

I once met someone who had collected over many years New Issues of the People's Republic of China from the beginning through the 1980s - in complete, mint sheets. He showed me them, housed in specially-made large format albums. I rather doubt that he had done this as an investment decision and as a collecting interest it seemed to me a bit limited. It was hardly more than an eccentric choice. But if in recent years he needed money - well, he would have been very nicely surprised I am sure. There would have been no nice surprise at all if instead he had collected complete mint sheets of Liechtenstein.

Very few collectors are able to say that their collection will sell for more than what they paid for it. The exceptions are those collectors who got interested in something fairly obscure and neglected, collected it seriously, and then have the luck that one day other people with a lot of money to spend suddenly become interested in those obscure and neglected things. In recent years, Dr Raymond Casey's collection of Russian Post Offices in China, sold by David Feldman in Geneva, is the stand-out example of a collection which made the collector a lot of money. But Dr Casey did not collect expecting that to happen; he collected what interested him and did it seriously and very knowledgeably.

Anyone who collects with the idea that one day they will sell - maybe sell just to start a new collection - should bear one thing in mind. It is really only likely that you will sell for more than you paid if you have collected items which can be offered as single lots in auctions where other collectors will buy them. Since the gap between what the buyer pays and the seller receives is around 30% - 35% you don't have much chance of making money except in a rising market - and  right now we don't have a rising market. The only way anyone is likely to bridge that gap is to have found underpriced items in dealers' boxes at stamp exhibitions - and to have done so regularly over many years.

That way of collecting has a low-budget variant. I am impressed by collectors who go through the Cheap Boxes which most dealers have and manage to build interesting collections around themes which not many people have thought about. You may then end up with a collection which is more valuable than the sum of its parts just because someone else can see the theme you have worked with and say Ah ha! That's interesting! You are then getting credit for your intelligence and knowledge which in this case has outperformed your budget.