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Tuesday 30 May 2017

Postally Used or CTO?

For many stamp issues, there is an important question which can be asked: Was this issue available at post office counters for regular postal use? This is not a new question. You can ask it, for example, about the first issue of Honduras. But it is not a simple question.

For example, we probably have an image of a post office counter. Anyone can walk in off the street, present a letter and ask for a stamp to put on it. If Christmas is coming, they can ask for a Christmas stamp if such things are issued. They don’t have to be a stamp collector to ask for that.

But some post office counters are inside exhibitions and congresses where you have to pay to get in or be a delegate to get in. There are sometimes stamp issues which are only available behind a ticket wall. You won’t find them at regular post office counters. But it’s quite possible that someone with real business to transact needs to post a letter at a Congress counter and gets handed the special stamps on sale. So you do get “genuine postal use” even in these circumstances.

In the field of Russian area philately, there are plenty of “issues” where it is not entirely clear if and when and where the issue was available. The matter is complicated by the existence of cancelled to order material. Some CTO material is easy to spot but not all of it. In some times and places, stamp dealers have broken up sheets of stamps and put them one by one on plain sheets of paper and got each stamp neatly cancelled at a post office counter. Maybe they borrowed a canceller for the purpose or maybe one clerk had the job of dealing with the dealers. In this case, it is often the case that just one canceller gets used for CTO material and other cancellers for regular letters taken across the counter or brought in from post boxes. So the CTO material can be distinguished. Of course, if sheets are cancelled then if the gum is not washed off it is easy to see that you are dealing with CTO material. But there are more complicated cases. 

In the case of issues like those of the Northern, North West and Western Armies in 1919 it is really hard to get a sense of how much ordinary business was being transacted at the post office counter and whether these stamps were freely available there. The same is true of some Ukrainian Trident issues and many Armenian Dashnak issues. In contrast, the issues of Azerbaijan and Georgia all seem to have been freely available.

The problem of assessing the availability of a stamp is made worse by the fact that at the time – say the 1920s -  it was relatively unusual to keep ordinary private or commercial covers – everyone just tore the stamps off. So you may have plenty of what look like used copies but few or no covers, which creates the suspicion that all the “used” copies may actually be CTO.

In this situation, it is worth while spending a bit of time on forensic approaches which may help determine whether a loose stamp is CTO or postally used. Consider a simple example.

Below is a pair of fairly common Armenian stamps with ERIVAN “b” 11 3 20 cancellation. This cancel is very common on CTO material and March 1920 is within the period for which we know there is CTO material. However, the CTO cancel was normally applied either to each stamp individually (“socked on the nose”) or applied in the centre of a block of four stamps, a very common CTO practice. But here the cancel is over two stamps. It is also not as clear as those normally seen on CTO material. Could this pair be postally used? If it is, we gain quite useful information – it suggests that Erivan post office was open on this date and that this stamp was available at the counter. Will anything settle the matter?

Well, if we turn over the pair there is a very small amount of paper adhesion and, more importantly, the outline of what could be an envelope flap. So it seems possible that this pair sealed an envelope flap  a common practice. My scan does not really help establish this, but I can make the point more clearly from a different item, the strip of three which follows. In the case of the strip of three, I originally thought this might be fiscally used. But the evidence on the back is that it is from a letter. The small framed Z placed at top left of the stamp is an early style of overprint and so this strip could date from late 1919 or very early 1920 and from outside the two main cities, Erivan and Alexandropol. Beyond that I don’t want to speculate! But it gives every appearance of having been genuinely used to frank a letter.

Part of the interest of these items is in the fact that they are from an old English collection with some internal evidence that the collector got material from either Tchilingirian or Ashford. 

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Monday 29 May 2017

Travelling Post Offices in Early Soviet Russia

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The postal history of Imperial Russia's Railway Travelling Post Offices is well understood and there are very informative reference books and articles, notably those authored by Anatoly Kiryushkin and Philip Robinson and now also by Valentin Levandovsky. Other collectors are undertaking very detailed researches to expand on the knowledge base we already have.

The first world war and then the civil war in Russia was a catastrophe for the country's railways. Rail lines were physically destroyed, rolling stock was also destroyed or became unusable, there were repeated fuel shortages. The army, civil war armies and even bandits took over trains. As a result, the range of TPO services available greatly declined from 1914 onwards. I don't think it ever recovered.

So it is quite unusual to find in  a dealer's box an item like that shown above. Here we have a new  post-Imperial cancel for POSHT 68 VAG 30 4 24 - Postal Wagon 68 - operating a short time after the creation of the Soviet Union. The letter, franked at 20 kop is addressed to Mr J [ or possibly I] Brodsky, 48 Reynolds Ave, Provedence [sic] R.I [Rhode Island], America. But there are no transits or arrival markings. At some point, the well-worn envelope has been folded in half centrally perhaps to be sent within another envelope.

I have no idea of the route on which Postal Wagon 68 operated or for how long. So it is over to my readers ... who have very rapidly obliged - see the Comments posted below by Howard Weinert and Ivo Steijn. Thanks to both of them!

Thursday 25 May 2017

This Is Why We Need a Bundespruefer for Armenia ...

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My previous Blog was about the welcome appointment of Stefan Berger as BPP Bundespruefer for Armenia. The above cover is an example of why we need him. It's on offer right now from a major auction house who point to the amazing Inverted Overprint at top right of the cover. This overprint has also excited someone else, who - thinking that the envelope is just a piece of scrap paper -  has scribbled "Inverted" in English at top left. Catalogue numbers have also been scribbled and it might be possible to work out which catalogue was being used when and where.

The cover is an old-fashioned fake. The three 100r overprints are fake and the ERIVAN cancel is a well-known fake showing a date 24 1 21 which would be very, very rare for an Armenian letter. This fake cancel was already known to Tchilingirian and Ashford in the 1950s. 

The envelope is old but I hesitate to date the Cyrillic address - the letter is supposed to be going to Tiflis. There is something about the handwriting I don't like but I can't put my finger on it - apart from the fact that the address seems to have been written in two separate attempts in two different inks.

Two things are interesting. The stamp at bottom left does have what looks like a genuine unframed "Z" overprint in violet - not rare - to which the fake 100r has been added. And at the top right there is a pencilled signature at the bottom left corner of the stamp, done Italian style. What I would like to know is whether this is a genuine expert signature applied by someone who did not know what they were doing or whether it is a faked piece of expertising. 

Added: Stefan Berger points out to e that this cover comes with a 1986 Peter Holcombe certificate which , unfortunately, is simply wrong. The pencilled signature is his when compared with that illustrated at 

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Stefan Berger, New BPP Bundespruefer for Armenia

Stefan Berger from Jena - well-known for his Blog and for his "Short Opinions" on classic Armenia stamps - has been elected as Bundespruefer for classic Armenia by the Bund Philatelistischer Pruefer E.V. (BPP)

The BPP is probably the world's most respected expertising organisation, with rigorous tests. Candidates are examined on such things as their ability to recognise repairs, re-gumming, printing method, etc as well as their ability to recognise forgeries. BPP experts are expected to hold extensive collections of genuine and forged material and to keep systematic records of their work as an expertiser. For an example of what a BPP expert's office looks like, see my Blog here of 30 April 2012.

One of Stefan's first tasks will be to revise the Michel catalogue listings for Armenia. About twenty years ago, Michel made the good decision to bases their listing on Christoper Zakiyan's archive - based researches.Unfortunately, someone made a mistake in translating Zakiyan's Russian text. Zakiyan found in the Archives an inventory of stamps remaining in the Yerevan post office when the Bolsheviks took power at the end of 1920 - beginning of 1921. But Michel thought it showed issue numbers and so gave very high pries to common stamps like the Dashnak 10 rouble surcharge on 35 kopek perforated stamp. See my Blog of 4 July 2010.

With Stefan Berger at BPP and a revised Michel a sound basis will be created for serious collecting of classic Armenia. At the moment, the collecting area suffers a great deal from ebay forgeries and bad catalogues - from Artar to Yvert with many in between.

Best wishes, Stefan!