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Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Multi-Lingual Ottoman Levant



I am one of those lucky people whose mother tongue is English, a language in which I can expect to be understood world-wide. I have only one other language into which I can confidently switch (French) and a couple in which I can order restaurant meals and check in at a hotel.


Everyone probably knows that the old Ottoman Levant was a multilingual society. Not only that, it was a multi-script society. Look at this wonderful 1891 Invoice and try to identify the different scripts and languages mobilised by the Constantinople printer whose identity is provided on the right-hand side. But I doubt Angelidos Frères have achieved a world-record: I can’t find English anywhere on the Invoice…..


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Multi-lingualism on this scale does pose problems. A large business can probably find staff to cover all the necessary languages; a small business or office might struggle. And a lot of time will be spent translating and not quite getting it right.

The telegram below transcribes a message sent from Pera, Constantinople,  on 26 June 1896 [New Style]. The message was (I guess) originally written in Russian and was sent by a Viktorian who was probably connected to the Russian Orthodox church there or the Russian embassy. It acknowledges a telegram sent from Mont Athos in regard to the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II on 14 May 1896 [Old Style]. The message was transcribed into Roman script on a telegram form which is printed in Arabic and French. It was then sent on to the Russian Andreevksi Skete [ the monastery of St Andrew] where a monk has transcribed the Roman script (back) into Russian Cyrillic and also noted at the right the arrival date, 15 May 1896 [ Old Style]. But to what language does the delivery address on the back of the telegram belong? “Mont” suggests French, but is the address consistently in French? “Archimandriton” isn’t French, for example - it would need to be “Archimandrite”. [ And note that though writing in English I have also, without thinking, written "Mont" not "Mount" which would not sound right ....]



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SPOILER ALERT
On the invoice the scripts I can see are Roman, Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Greek, Armenian, Russian Cyrillic. Yes?

Friday, 10 July 2020

ROPiT agency on Mont Athos in the Imperial Russian period.








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The ROPiT cachet or cancellation illustrated on these two items is not listed by Tchilingirian and his collaborators, either in the original 1958 handbook or the later additions. Nor can I find it illustrated on the internet.

The ROPiT agencies on Mont Athos were probably housed together though they would have been very busy and there would have been separate counters for matters relating to goods shipped by ROPiT and mail which ROPiT ships also carried. Though this large oval cachet is in a standard design found cancelling mail from other offices, it may be that this Mont Athos one was most frequently used on paperwork of one kind or another. But it should be possible to find it on mail or, at least, loose stamps.

The 1892 document shows the cachet in an early state, the letters crisp. Interestingly, the notepaper has an English papermaker’s watermark with Crown over ORIGINAL ROYAL MILL.

The 1911 printed ROPiT form in Russian and French relates to a shipment of oil (“Huile”) arriving from Odessa. It is interesting because the Turkish fiscal shows that goods arriving in or leaving Athos were subject to Ottoman taxation. In contrast, it seems that mail went in and out without Ottoman involvement unless it had been routed via Constantinople rather than arriving directly by ROPiT ship into Athos.

I have only these two examples of the cachet and I guess from the absence of Google images that it is rare.

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In their original 1958 handbook, Tchilingirian and Stephen speculate that the ROPiT post office on Athos probably closed in December 1914. But Athos passed to Greek control in 1912/13 and so was now under the temporal control of a friendly power when World War One began. The receipts for registered letters shown below show that the office was still open as late as October 1916 and using a new cancellation unlisted by Tchilingirian with STAR. AFON at the base rather than the ST. AFON of the immediately preceding Type 4 cancellation. My illustration also shows the earliest date I can record for this Type 5, 1 August 1912. The registered letters were addressed to Moscow, Odessa, Orenburg gub., and Rostov on Don. On the top right receipt, the sender is identified in Cyrillic as the "P.A.C." which abbreviates, "Russian Andreevski Skete [ Monastery]". The Skete sent a lot of mail through the ROPiT office and it can be assumed that clerks did not always bother to fill in the sender name or the Registration number of the letter. And it may be a sign of difficult times that the clerks are using pencil to fill in the forms.





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Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Auctions in the Time of Coronavirus


As regular readers of this Blog will know, I sometimes do work as a describer for the Wiesbaden auction house of Heinrich Koehler. So I was pleased when I learnt that their next auction will go ahead on 23 - 27 June with viewing and room bidding. But I was curious to know how it would be different after coronavirus and I asked Tobias Huylmans, one of the two Koehler managing directors, to explain it to me. In response, he sent me a nine page document setting out all the new arrangements Koehler will have in place. 

These arrangements had been agreed with the local health authority and the document he sent me has already been distributed to all the staff at Koehler so that they fully understand what is required later this month.

As you might expect, the new arrangements are based on both legal requirements and models of good practice which have developed in the past few months. I will summarise them here using the Koehler in-house document and add a few comments.

First, the total number of people inside the Koehler offices will be controlled at all times, with an Entry, Exit, and Pass system. Basically, anyone who wants to view or bid in person will need to make a prior appointment and be issued a Pass on arrival. Anyone who arrives early for their appointment may have to wait outside in the kind of regulated queue we are all now familiar with from supermarkets. Exit will be through a different door from Entrance.

Second, once inside everything that can be done to ensure distancing will be done. Viewing places and auction seats will be arranged to ensure the minimum 1.5m distance required by German law.

Third, as an additional layer of protection, Koehler will install plexiglass screens to separate staff from clients, and clients from clients, at appropriate points.

Fourth, use of personal protection will be expected of everyone. So expect to wear a mask and expect to use hand sanitiser (Koehler will supply both but won’t object if you have them in your pocket already!). Koehler will also be using enhanced cleaning of their premises and disinfecting viewing tables between clients.

Fifth, as a backstop which it is hoped will not be used, if you appear to be unwell you may be asked to leave.

In short, it’s a thorough plan and it’s been approved. I am sure other auction houses will be developing similar arrangements and in time I suspect we will all get used to them. Part of the challenge for Koehler is that they are going to be one of the first to hold an auction under these conditions. Inevitably, some will grumble a bit. Other will be pleased that a serious company takes the health of its staff and its clients seriously.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Assessing Cancellations from Internal Evidence


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How can you tell if a cancellation is a fake when you don’t have examples to compare it with which you know to be genuine? Sometimes a cancellation just looks wrong - wrong style, or the ink isn’t like the ink you would expect to see, and so on. But these are not decisive considerations.

However, sometime you can tell that a cancellation is bad by something internal to it - something which stares you in the face and tells you it must be wrong. Look at these two cards. To my eye they have FAKE written all over them. But right now I don’t have enough reference material to prove that. But then I notice something which settles the matter.

Look at the two receiver marks, one for KAMENETS POD. and one for KHARKOV in different styles - letters close together on KAMENETS, spaced well apart on KHARKOV, and so on.

Then look at the date lines. Look at the 7. It’s identical in both date lines. Then look at the 7 in relation to the 6 and the 10. It’s slightly raised - lay a ruler across and it will pick it up. Then look at the 23. The two versions are identical - the 3 slightly raised in relation to the 2 and rather weak.

In other words, the same device has been used to add the date line to the Kamenets cancel and to the Kharkov cancel. That seems to me fairly decisive….

The next step, if someone wanted to take it, would be to lift the stamps. Sometimes there will be the trace of an old Imperial small-sized stamp which has been removed - in the past, my understanding is that people went around flea markets looking for cards where the stamp hadn't been cancelled or had only a bit of a cancel which could be covered up with a larger replacement stamp. Better still would be a card which had been written but not sent through the post. 

Sometimes a replacement stamp when lifted will show a hinge remainder. 

But in the present case it's not necessary to make such investigations; it would only be  out of curiosity that someone might do so.

My thanks to Bruce Jarvis for allowing me to reproduce the two cards he sent me for my opinion

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Just Published: Trevor Pateman, Philatelic Case Studies from Ukraine's First Independence Period


Now available as a full-colour paperback:

Philatelic Case Studies from Ukraine’s First Independence Period
by Trevor Pateman
ISBN  978 1 734 52222 0 4




Glenn Stefanovics in Connecticut has edited my Blog posts about Ukrainian philately into a beautiful 140 page full-colour book with all my original illustrations and  an Index which makes it much more readily useable than this Blog.  It is now available. The book has been printed in the USA and will be distributed from there though I will service individual orders for some countries in order to reduce postage costs.

The book is priced at $20 plus postage.To obtain a copy for despatch within the USA or to Canada email Glenn at veldes1@hotmail.com giving your name and address. You will be able to pay by bank to bank transfer, by PayPal, or in the USA by cheque. He will quote you the postage charge, currently $8.40.

To order a copy for despatch within the UK, Europe or Australasia, email me at patemantrevor@gmail.com. I will quote you a price based on actual postage costs and offer the choice of paying into a UK sterling or German €uro denominated bank account. 

For all other destinations, contact Glenn for a quote.

The book is published by Glenn’s Morea Research Group and with an ISBN - which ensures that copies can appear on Amazon. It is already available in the USA  on amazon.com

Glenn plans to recycle revenues from sales of this Ukraine volume into the production of a second volume assembling some of  my Blog posts about Russian philately.

Friday, 13 March 2020

London 2020 Stamp Exhibition and the coronavirus


For the past year, I have been preparing for the international stamp exhibition LONDON 2020. I’ve been buying new stock and reducing prices on old stock so that I can have an attractive stand display. My stand is in a prominent position, right next to the (very good) cafe in London’s attractive exhibition hall, the Business Design Centre. I have booked and pre-paid for a hotel for eight nights. Quite soon, I need to recruit temporary assistants or volunteers to work on my stand with me and allow me an occasional break (I'm 72). I have been looking forward to meeting and greeting visitors from all over the world…..

Now I don’t know how things will turn out and I am inviting Comment from my readers.

Update 18 March 2020: Thanks to readers who left Comments. Now I do know how things will turn out. Click to read this statement from the organisers:; I think they have made the right decision and early enough for many people to be able to cancel or change flight and hotel bookings:




Sunday, 8 March 2020

Quarantine




I need hardly tell my readers that Quarantine is in the news….

In the nineteenth century, quarantine was always in the news. All travel involved risks and in areas like the Mediterranean and Black Sea where large movements of people were part of everyday commercial life, authorities monitored people and ships constantly. Letters going from A to B were disinfected on the way if it was believed that A was in the grip of some outbreak of infectious disease. Ships could only enter port when granted certification that they ware disease-free. And so on.

In the forthcoming sale of the Christou collection at Heinrich Koehler Wiesbaden there are a large number of lots which relate to quarantine, notably certificates issued under the denomination of Patente de Santé. Some are issued by Russian authorities and some by Ottoman, some are in Russian and Arabic, some in French. Here are a few examples:

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Of course, you may be quarantined and unable to view these lots in Wiesbaden. But fortunately there is no quarantine on viewing online or bidding online …. All the lots are illustrated at the link below:


Thursday, 5 March 2020

Advice to Collectors: Don't Ignore the Yellow Pages!

Many auction houses produce catalogues which have separate sections for “Single Lots” and “Collections”. I think the general idea is to point collectors towards the single lots and dealers to the collections. In Germany, the distinction is also marked by different colour paper: single lots [Einzellosen] are listed on white pages and collections [Sammlungen] on yellow pages - Gelbeseiten.
In the past, material on yellow pages would be sold on the same day, convenient for dealers who wanted to (and in the past, did) bid in person.

My advice now to both collectors and dealers is to ignore the Single Lot/ Collections system. It is never used consistently - you can find “Single Lots” containing ten items and “Collections” containing two. And it often involves putting “collector” material into dealer sections, though perhaps less so vice versa.

I was reminded of this today when I received my latest and very interesting Heinrich Koehler Hauptkatalog [Main Catalogue]. Most of the white pages describe lots in English, though Austria, Switzerland and the very big Germany section are in German. All of the yellow pages describe lots using German, as if they might only be of interest to German dealers who will all turn up on the appointed day as they always have done .... 

Collectors will easily miss out if they ignore the Yellow Pages. I will pick a couple of examples where I am familiar with the material because I am the vendor J

For Russia and the Soviet Union, there are over eighty yellow page lots (Los Nr 4281 - 4308). Most are indeed album collections and quite big cover lots and many will not interest a collector who already has a collection and a clear collecting theme. But then look at Los Nr 4307:

1920  2 Paketkarten und eine Zahlunsanweisung im neuen sowjetischen Druck, selten aus dieser fruehen Periode               Ausruf   100€

Well, this is accurate and translates as follows:
1920 2 Parcel Cards and one Money Transfer Form in new Soviet printings, scarce from this early period.      Start price  100€

BUT this small lot is unlikely to excite a Yellow Page-focussed dealer; it is very specialised and will I think only excite a collector who understands a bit about Russian formulars and maybe guesses that these post-Imperial formulars will (for example) not show the Imperial coat of arms. Three examples of new post-revolutionary  designs is not going to be too many for a serous collector to want to see or own.

Here’s another example. There are two lots for Iran. The first (4408) is a duplicated collection for the whole period 1876-1956. Good yellow page stuff. But the second item ( 4409) is rather different:

1886  18 Ganzsachenauschnitte 5 Ch auf Briefstuecken mit Stempeln von 14 verschiedenen Orten auf Beschrifteter Albumseite     Ausruf 200€

which translates as
1886 18 Postal Stationery cut outs of 5 Ch on pieces with postmarks of 14 different places, on a written-up album page    Start price 200 €

Now this might interest a dealer who thinks they can sell these 18 items one-by-one. After all, they are catalogued as an issue. Equally, what is being described is really just one specialist item: its evidence that the officially-authorised stationery cut outs  - used as provisionals during a stamp shortage -  can be found used from at least these 14 places. If I was a classic Persia collector and did not already have a similar album page I would jump at this lot.

So take my advice, if you are a collector don’t ignore the yellow pages even if you need a dictionary to help you out. There are many more interesting items where I found these two  .... Happy hunting!

Sunday, 16 February 2020

From Odessa to Constantinople and Mont Athos: the Christou Collection



The text which follows is my Introduction to the Christou Collection which will be sold at Heinrich Koehler, Wiesbaden,in June 2020 as Lots 507 - 643. To view the Lots go to




https://www.heinrich-koehler.de/en/373rd-heinrich-k%C3%B6hler-auction?f%5B0%5D=field_catalogue_part%3A3802&f%5B1%5D=field_catalogue_part%3A3473&f%5B2%5D=field_item_type%3Asingle


There has been a Russian Orthodox religious presence on Mont Athos for a thousand years, of which the great monastery of St Panteleimon was and remains the centre. But in the nineteenth century, especially from the 1840s onwards, successive Tsarist governments supported financially and diplomatically the creation and expansion of newer institutions, technically inferior to monasteries but in practice coming to exceed in the size of their estates and the number of monks they housed the old ruling monasteries. Three institutions stand out: the Skete [ monastic community] of the Prophet Elijah (Ilinski Sikt), a dependency of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Pantokrator but housing first Ukrainian and then Russian monks; the Kellion [cell] of St John Chrysostomom (Ioanna Zlatousta), a dependency of the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Hilandar; and the Skete of St Andrew (Andreeveski Sikt and sometimes called Serail), a dependency of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Vatopedi.

Until 1912, Mont Athos was part of the Ottoman Empire with a Turkish governor in residence and Ottoman customs, immigration and postal agencies located in the port of Daphne and the small administrative town of Karyes. In addition, and as elsewhere in the Levant, the Russian company ROPiT maintained a shipping agency and a post office on Athos with significant autonomy from Turkish control. For example, mail from Russia could travel by ROPiT ship from Odessa direct to Athos and be distributed to the Russian communities by Russian postal officials. But Russian mail could also be transferred to the Ottoman system in Constantinople for onward transmission, and some was.

Spiritual  authority over the monasteries rested (and still rests) with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. When secular authority over Athos passed to Greece in 1912, the spiritual arrangements remained unchanged.

From 1912 on, the Russian Orthodox communities suffered a succession of blows from which they did not recover.

First, in 1913 the Imperial Russian government responded to perceived heretical tendencies among the monastic communities by sending in gunboats and troops and, after violet clashes, forcibly deporting about eight hundred monks who were returned to Russia, tried, defrocked and internally exiled. The number of monks was thereby reduced by somewhere between a third and a half.

Second, the First World War led to a reduction in contacts and financing from Russia. 

Third, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 cut the remaining contacts almost to nil. 

The Russian communities went into long term decline and by the 1960s the few remaining elderly monks were completely unable to maintain the vast properties which they occupied. The significant library of the Andreevski Skete was destroyed by fire in 1958; the last  monk there died in 1971 and the Andreevski estate reverted to the Greek monastery of Vatopedi. Even though it was re-occupied by Greek monks in the 1990s, modern photographs show the skete’s original pharmacy, candle factory and photographic studio untouched except by the mice and the weather.  

As recently as 2017, online photographs of the Kellion of St John show a ruined building with administrative offices from which furniture has been removed but where the paperwork has been left in heaps to rot on the floors.

At some point in the 1970s, in an attempt to raise funds, monks on Mont Athos packed up old and unwanted administrative papers into suitcases and travelled to Thessaloniki and elsewhere attempting to sell them to collectors and dealers. They had only limited success and most of the old paperwork was left to rot (as shown by the St John photographs already mentioned) or was used for fire lighting in communities which still had no access to electricity. 

Just one collector appears to have taken a serious interest in what the monks were offering, the late Stavros Christou, and it is his collection of Athos-related material which is offered in this sale. The collection includes material from many other sources, but at its core is what was offered to Mr Christou in the 1970s. It is dominated by material from the period 1840s - 1913 which was the hey-day of Russian monasticism on Mont Athos when ships arrived almost daily, mail came in sackfuls, and goods needed by the monastic communities arrived not only from Odessa but from suppliers across Russia.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Brave Philatelists: Zbigniew Bokiewicz and Giulio Bolaffi



I can’t think of a novel in which a philatelist appears as a positive character, and certainly not a brave one. If you can think of any, please let me know by sending me an email at patemantrevor@gmail.com
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When I started stamp dealing in the 1990s, one of the first dealers I met was Zbigniew Bokiewicz who had a shop in London’s Strand, directly opposite Stanley Gibbons in what was called The Strand Stamp Centre. He was born in Warsaw in 1923, so he was around seventy when I met him, very white haired.  He was happy to talk but was always very modest and quiet in his manner. 

Later, after he stopped trading in the Strand, I visited him at his home in Chiswick, met his wife, and bought material from his stock which he was now selling off. Later still, he used to come to what was called the Strand Stamp Fair, which was held monthly but no longer in the Strand - by then it had moved to a hotel just off Russell Square. He continued to sell me small quantities of material which he brought to the stamp fair in a small, battered briefcase. By this time, he had bought an apartment in Warsaw;  eventually he moved back to the city where he was born. On one of the last occasions when I met him he showed me a photograph, recently taken, in which he was receiving an award from the Polish president. He died in 2016.

In 1939, Mr Bokiewicz (as he was always called) was a sixteen year old schoolboy and boy scout. His academically prestigious school was shut down early in the period of German occupation (Poles were to be limited to primary and technical schooling) and Bokiewicz turned to black market dealing and then, with friends, opened a stamp shop in Warsaw. 

At the same time as he ran the stamp shop, he was a member of the Polish Home Army, received military training, used the stamp shop as a contact point, and by the time of the Warsaw Uprising had officer status which meant that when captured, he was sent to an officer prisoner of war camp, Oflag VIIA - Murnau. By the time the camp was liberated by American forces, Bokiewciz’s weight had dropped to 42 kilos. But he went on to join the army of General Anders and was sent to fight in Italy.  At the end of the war, he  was able to make his home in England. His knowledge of languages (Polish, German, Italian, French) helped him get a job with Thomas Cook, the travel agents, but in due course he established Continental Stamp Supplies Ltd.

If you Google “Zbigniew Bokiewicz” you will find many records of interviews that he gave late in life in both Polish and English. There are video recordings, a sound recording for the Imperial War Museum but very late in his life (2014) and less informative than the interviews transcribed into various books, for  example this one which appears unabridged on Google:


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Every year in Italy since 1989, a marathon takes place in honour of Giulio Bolaffi (1902- 1987). But it is not because he was an internationally famous philatelist. The marathon follows a path in the Valle de Susa, east of Torino and close to the French border. The path was once used by Italian partisans in the Second World War who belonged to division IV GL, the  Stellina, commanded by Bolaffi. Stellina eventually grew to number six hundred partisans (partigiani) and Bolaffi  led them until June 1945, when he returned to civilian life. The website of today’s  Bolaffi company shows Giulio in partisan uniform:


Bolaffi was Jewish. Confronted by Italian racial laws which progressively limited the activities of Jewish businesses, Giulio’s brothers Dante and Roberto emigrated. Giulio stayed and left his family behind to join the resistance. His wife died in 1943 during his absence but his children Stella (hence Stellina) and Alberto (named after Giulio’s father) survived the war.

There is a summary of Giulio Bolaffi’s career on Wikipedia. Notably, Bolaffi kept nine war diaries and these have been published in a 500 page book:



(Acknowledgement: For research assistance with Bolaffi's career, I am grateful to Giada Santana)



Sunday, 12 January 2020

Free Frank mail from Imperial Russia to Mont Athos


This is a continuation of the Blog post of  27 December 2019

I illustrate here two Free Frank letters sent from Russia to Mont Athos. They require explanation, not least because they are going outside the territory of Imperial Russia into the territory of the Ottoman Empire, though a part which enjoyed internal administrative autonomy. Nonetheless, there was an international frontier at the port of Daphne, the harbour of Mont Athos , and it was under Ottoman control until 1912-13 when control passed to Greece.

Free Frank privileges are common enough and have always been subject to abuse. In Great Britain, Members of Parliament enjoyed Free Frank privileges and thoroughly abused them before the advent of Penny Postage. With postage rates maybe ten or twenty times greater than one penny, you could do favours by posting other people’s mail - and all that was required of you was your signature on the outside of the letter and use of the House of Commons mail box.

In Imperial Russia, Free Frank privileges were extensive but subject to requirements designed to enable accounting and reduce fraud. So on the front of a letter a cachet and a number was required - the number entered into an accounting book. And on the back a seal was required which asserted the right to the Free Frank privilege. The seal could be wax, paper or the impression of another rubber or metal handstamp.

But Free Frank privilege cannot normally extend beyond the frontier unless as part of some convention or agreement with another state or within an Empire - in the British Empire, Free Frank privilege could carry an O H M S letter from a colony to London.

So how did these Free Frank letters get from Russia to Ottoman Athos without any charge being raised? The simple answer is that they travelled to their destination without passing out of Russian hands. At Odessa, Russian postal officials handed over them to Russian agents of the R O P i T shipping line. 

The R O P i T boat sailed to Athos where the Russian ship was subject to Ottoman quarantine rules. But the bags of mail were handed directly to agents of the R O P i T post office on Mont Athos without Ottoman intervention. The post office then handed them to monks from the appropriate monasteries - the bags were I believe already pre-sorted by monastery. There were really only four possible destinations, two of them represented by my letters: the skete of St Andrew and the skete of the Prophet Elijah. (The other destinations were the monastery of Panteleimon and the Kellion of St John Chrystostom).

These Free Frank letters are not common but more will be on offer in the Heinrich Koehler sale of a large collection of Mont Athos material, scheduled for March 2020.

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