One of the frustrations of my job is that I have to work with unsatisfactory catalogues. So for Ukraine I use the Bulat catalogue because it has numbers (unlike Dr Seichter's handbooks) and is in English and in one volume (unlike, say, Dr Ceresa's Handbooks). It is easy to obtain. But it is littered with typographical errors which make it impossible to sell some stamps because they have been omitted altogether, don't have numbers, or have misprinted prices. The illustrations are pretty useless.
For Armenia, Michel is good because it bases itself closely on Zakiyan's work but it omits philatelic counter productions. Gibbons is quite good because it bases itself on Tchilingirian's work which does list counter productions but Tchilingirian's research was done over fifty years ago. Zakiyan has good illustrations, it's usefully in Armenian, Russian and English but it does not give valuations. The presentation is not helpful. Equally, it's true that Michel's numbering system drives everyone crazy.
I was browsing Philasearch today and noticed that Raritan Stamps, a serious specialised auction house, is using the Artar catalog for Armenia. I think this is a bad idea. The problems with the Artar catalog are many but important ones are internal
to the catalog itself. I reproduce below my two long reviews of Artar, first published here in 2010. More up to date relevant discussions can be found on Stefan Berger's website www.stampsofarmenia.com
I just acquired my first copy of the ARTAR Stamps of Armenia catalog; $100 from Loral Stamps. It's the work of a lifelong, dedicated collector
One of the things I learnt early on in my career as a dealer is that most collectors do not look at their stamps. That is why most collections - in the areas in which I specialise in - are full of fakes. As someone once said, when you buy one of these collections in auction, you know that somewhere in it there will be a genuine stamp.
You know that there is going to be a problem with the ARTAR catalog when you look at the cover. Ten stamps from the 1919- 23 period of classic Armenian philately are illustrated, in colour. If I was looking at these in an auction catalog, I would count at least one as a fake.
Inside the catalog, there are beautiful illustrations of fascinating material, well presented. But the high quality of the production also allows you to see much that is doubtful or bad. Two examples:
The most common Armenian cancellation of the 1919 - 23 period is ERIVAN "d". It came into use some years before and it remained in use until 1924 - 25. Not surprisingly it has been forged: Tchilingirian and Ashford illustrate four different forgeries, Ceresa lists six. Since they wrote their books, new forgeries have been made.
The ARTAR catalog contains at least 25 colour illustrations which include strikes of ERIVAN "d", the first ones on page 9 and the last on page 183. I count 11 illustrations which show genuine examples of this cancellation; 7 which show forged cancellations; and 7 which I would not want to determine on the basis of a visual inspection of the catalog page - some are cancellations on dark stamps and so on. Some of the faked cancels I have seen before, outside the pages of this catalog.
If you want to see how I am doing it, compare the cancellation shown on page 12 with that shown as a receiver cancellation on page 49. Pay espcial attention to how the serial "d" is formed (I am sorry; I do not have Cyrillic on Blogger). The item on page 12 is the one with a forged cancellation. The item on page 49 shows an example of the genuine cancellation.
In my view, the author of a specialist catalog - someone with over 40 years' collecting experience - ought to have weeded out most of these fake cancels - they are not so hard to detect.
It is even easier to detect the faked ALEXANDROPOL "zhe" cancellation which seems to be of just one recent type and which I have seen before outside the pages of this catalog. I count at least 7 illustrations showing ALEXANDROPOL "zhe", of which 2 are genuine, 4 are fakes, and 1 not possible to determine.
Go to page 17 to see a very clear example of the fake, and page 166 to see a clear example of the genuine item on a lovely piece. Look at the serial "zhe" ; on the fake, this is a very poor copy indeed and its thin and elongated form has nothing to do with ageing or inking. The shape is completely wrong.
I use the word "fake" partly because I have been able in the past to carefully examine examples of actual faked cancellations rather than just illustrations and have been able to discuss with other collectors and dealers the provenance of such material. I have written about this in such articles as "Is this cover genuine in all respects?" (British Journal of Russian Philately
, number 87, December 2001, pages 38 - 42; "The Sad Fate of Armenia's Archives", Rossica
, No 137, Fall 2001, pages 8 - 13 where due to an editorial mix-up Figure 5 is labelled "genuine" when it should be labelled "Fake" ...). If I was working from the ARTAR illustrations alone, I should probably use the word "doubtful" pending the actual examination of the material, though in most cases the illustrations are clear enough for a verdict to be given.
I have always believed that when the Paris printers Chassepot prepared the first pictorial stamps of Armenia in 1920, they despatched only the low values in the Eagle design to Yerevan. By the time they got to print the high values in two colours, the Dashnak regime had collapsed. The high value stamps were remaindered from Paris, which is why they are more common in Europe than the low values, many of which had been despatched to Yerevan. (For the later crude Reprints, all values are equally common).
This story would explain why Christopher Zakiyan, in his book Armenia: Postage Stamps, Fiscal Stamps, Postage Cancels
(Yerevan 2003, pages 63ff) lists Soviet fiscal overprints on only the 1,5,10 and 15 rouble Chassepot stamps, which are also the only values which appear on the documents he illustrates (There is an unexplained mystery about what happened to the 3 rouble Chassepot stamp).
In the ARTAR catalog, it seems that the same account is going to be accepted from the text on page 126, but then on page 132, we are shown fiscal overprints on all the high value stamps with accompanying high valuations (minimum $450). But if the conventional wisdom is correct, these high value stamps were not available for overprinting because they had not been sent to Yerevan. So any fiscal overprint on these stamps, whether Originals or Reprints, must be a fake. (On page 131, ARTAR also lists the 3 rouble with fiscal overprint and also gives it a $450 valuation).
These overprints on high values were first announced to the philatelic world in an article by Joseph Ross ("Armenian Revenue Stamps and their Uses", The Post-Rider, No 41, 1997, pages 40 - 48). I replied in issue 49 of the same journal (November 2001, page 111). By this time I had seen actual examples of the overprints on the high values, all of which were identical in terms of frame line breaks and so on. From this I concluded that they had been digitally produced on the basis of a scan from just one stamp. Examples I saw included ones on reprints, so necessarily fakes. These stamps had all come from one source in the USA. All were mint, as are all those illustrated by both Joseph Ross and ARTAR.
The conservative and, I believe correct, position is this: there is no good evidence for the existence of fiscal overprints on the Chassepot high values. The best information we have is against the possibility. The stamps listed at page 132 of ARTAR must be fakes. The listing given by Zakiyan in his 2003 book should be retained.
As a general point: Armenian revenue stamps of this 1918 - 23 period are actually more common on documents than as loose stamps. Mint stamps are rare. This is because most examples remained locked in Armenian archives until around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, quite large quantities of documents became available in Europe and America.
[Added 31 August 2018: Not so long ago, the stockbooks of the American dealer who distributed some of the modern Armenian fakes appeared in auction at David Feldman, Geneva. It was possible to see supposedly rare stamps in fine quality and great quantity: June 2017 Lot 20419 and others]