Russian stamps 10 kopecks imperforate, strip of five, largest multiple known. Ex Fabergé

Russian stamps 10 kopecks imperforate, strip of five, largest multiple known. Ex Fabergé

December 23, 2012

Kingdom of Poland: 1859 First Stationary Envelopes

In 1858 the postal department of the Kingdom of Poland, under the control of the Russian administration, decided to issue a set of two Postal Stationaries to be used within the area of Warsaw. This issue was first notified by the postal regulation N°26098 of December 18th, 1858. Two values were prepared in red color (1.50 kop. & 3 kop.) and delivered; they were valid for postage from January 1859 until the 16th of September, 1861.

Second Type: No Inscription Under The Postal Horns

Two types have been recorded (with or without inscriptions under the postal horns). Furthermore, those envelopes are known in several sizes: the small envelope (1.50 kop) measures 98x57mm, while the big envelope (3 kop) measures 141x38mm. A very interesting feature is that two postal officials of Warsaw, Kurmanowicz and A. Bobinski, apparantly have been required to sign then countersigned the backflap of each envelope to officialize their validity. That speaks for their limited printed run (the envelopes, not the officials), as I doubt these postmasters would have signed, one by one, say 10.000 copies.

The Famous Postmasters Signatures On The Back Flap

Those 1859 local postal stationaries are rare unused. Due to the very short time of their validity, combined with their very limited usage to the sole Warsaw area (and don't forget the massive destruction of Warsaw during WWII, which led to the probable destruction of the few remaining copies in the local archives), genuine used copies are rarities (around 10 copies recorded to date). In my previous post I have illustrated one of those used envelopes (ex Kossoy).

Actually, many collectors are unaware that the 1859 stationary envelopes are the FIRST (and rare!) printed pre-paid postal material issued in and for Poland: the famous first Polish stamp will be issued only a year later, in 1860. Hence, they are essential items not only for the Russia, but the Poland collector as well.

The item above just arrived in my stock today. It is a fine unused example of the 1.50 kopecks red, of the second type (no inscription under the postal horns), size 98x57mm. As mentioned above, the postmasters Kurmanowicz and A. Bobinski have signed it on the interior. There are a couple of light vertical folds (well clear of the indicium), and other small imperfections, totally insignificant regarding the scarcity of that piece.

Those items are indeed rarely offered. The last unused copy was sold at Cherrystone during the Kossoy sale this year, and fetched the cosy price of 1380$. My copy is for sale and, good news, at a much lesser price. After all, I am writing this post just two days before Christmas    :-)    Just contact me if you are interested.

Maxime Citerne

December 19, 2012

2012: Some Philatelic Thoughts

The year 2012 is coming to an end and you are probably up to take some good resolutions for 2013.

Personally, I took a few resolutions regarding philately. First, to get a nice microscope for my expertizing 'department', since I am recently getting more and more sensitive material. Second, expanding my general knowledge by selecting a field that has nothing to do with Russian philately, and start reading and researching on it (Indian states, Bolivia classics or Vietnam postal history are on the list - the selection will be hard!). Third, to build a small holding of Zemstvo postmarks and cancellations, on and off covers, as a reference file.

Taking resolutions is certainly an effective way of 'keeping the ball rolling', avoiding a kind of lethargy that can come with a lack of life movement. Defining (realistic) objectives is an excellent way of improving everything in and around, as long as a fine balance between focus and relaxation is maintained.

Russian Post in Mongolia - Kobdo cover (Ex. Dr Casey, David Feldman auctions): Realized 384000€

Speaking of fine balance, I have been surprised by the unbelievable records fetched by the Dr Casey auction recently. Let's take for example the Kobdo cover illustrated above (lot 10157 - one of four covers known): my personal sensitivity (yes, nothing objective here) sees no point in paying 384.000 € (500.000$ !) for a single Mongolian cover ... and not even the earliest Mongolian known ... and not even unique. As an investment, it will probably take a looooong time before such a price could be doubled, if ever reached again. So where is the point? Anyhow those 'asian areas' records certainly highlight the current power of the Chinese market, and we can contrast them with the many unsold Russian mainland rarities from the Fabergé Spink auction last year.

This year has definitely been a breathtaking year for Russian philately: besides the fabulous items from the Raymond Casey collection, many other magnificent Russian holdings have been offered. Three exceptional Zemstvo sales (two by Cherrystone, one by David Feldman) have been held, offering a large array of superb and scarce material. It is very seldom that so much significant Zemstvo material is thrown on the open in one single year (last time it happened was in 1999). The prices reached for the covers - especially the rarest ones - confirm the strength of the postal history market; for instance the famous Akthyrka cover (one of two known from this Zemstvo district, ex Fabergé), fetched 62.500$, a record price for any kind of Zemstvo material. I notice a weaker appeal for stamps as singles, multiples or sheets: they were selling at higher prices a couple of years ago (this might change when the effect of the international crisis will fade away, letting the medium income class with more confidence in buying). In other words, it is a good time to complete your list of rare Zemstvo 'wanted'.

                      Zemstvo - Akhtyrka cover  (Ex. Fabergé, Dr Nikitin sale, Cherrystone auctions): Realized 62500$

Regarding the regular Imperial and Soviet issues, a splendid Russia 1858 30 kopecks (Michel 4) on cover realized 46.000 euros at Feldman, a reasonnable price in comparison to a second similar cover, ex. Fabergé, offered at Cherrystone (but unsold at a starting price of 230.000$ - certainly too high for the current market). An unused copy of Russia #1, without gum but apparantly genuine (not one of those pen cancel removed) realized 650 euros, proof that some bargains are still possible (I was following the sale and I still don't understand why I didn't even try bid on that one...). Finally, and this is the bottom line of this post, 2012 confirms a high demand for quality items, or for anything that is 'special' on the postal history level. And my guess is that this strong tendancy will last long.

A picture being worth a thousand words, I let you enjoy below a personal selection of what the market offered us during this 2012 year. And I wish, albeit in advance, all of my readers a very Happy Christmas! May you all enjoy good health and happiness in 2013.

Soviet Union Postage Due 1925 - Scott J16A Major rarity of USSR: realized 18500$ (Cherrystone)

Poland Kingdom 1859 Postal Stationary issued for use in Warsaw between 1859-1861, 
one of only ten used copies recorded, Ex Dr Kossoy: realized 5500$ (Cherrystone)

Imperial Russia 1848 - 30 kopecks Postal Stationary, very rare used copy from Moscow to Odessa, ex. Fabergé. 
The 30 kopecks envelopes are great rarity when postally used: realized 10000€ (David Feldman)

Imperial Russia 1884 - 7 rubles Without Thunders used on the front part of an envelope from Warsaw to Berlin. 
Very rare on cover, as most copies have been soaked off: realized 12000€ (David Feldman)

Soviet Union 1924 - Lenin Mourning issue, complete sheet of the 6 kopecks, third printing.
A small rarity, as only a few sheets have survived: realized 260€ (David Feldman)

December 10, 2012

The British Society of Russian Philately Strikes Again

Recently I blogged about the last journal of the BJRP, which showed a great effort from the society's part. 

Yesterday, as a member of the Society, I received an email with my credential to the private (member) area of the society's website. So in a matter of seconds, prompted by the childish desire to 'look above the window', there I was.

I had an amazing surprise, to say the least: the complete run of the prestigious British Journal of Russian Philately, starting from 1946, available in scanned PDF format and ... for free!

More than 60 years of some of the greatest articles on Russian philately, just under the mouse. Just imagine, a researcher's dream!

It is heartwarming to see that the BJRP board has understood that one of the greatest strength of any philatelic society lies in its publications. Making it available to such extent to its members is certainly a great step forward. And the cherry on top is that other functions will be implemented in the near future for members on the website.

So, if you are not already member, make sure that you don't miss this opportunity and ask for membership in the prestigious and excellent British Society of Russian Philately. 

December 1, 2012

The Social & Educational Aspects of Philately

One of the great thing about philately is its social friendship component. Collecting stamps & postal history is a great way to meet new people sharing the same interest although, as we are all different, in various ways. Today with internet, fast communication has increased the network potential between philatelists. It is certainly a good thing in my opinion. I am always happy, when checking my emails, to have messages from around the world, and to learn a things or two (or more) about the American humour, the weather in London or the food in Russia.

Philately is also one of the very rare activities where social status doesn't mean so much in the first place. Firstly, when two collectors meet, their first thought is about stamp collecting, not about their jobs or their political inclinations (although, when becoming friends, they can eventually share those interests as well). I remember the story of a collector, of medium income class, astonished at the fact that during an international exhibition he became friend with a 'top class' collector who had 10 frames of the Penny Black. "Just imagine how much money you need to build such holding" was he thinking... and yet the two shared some nice discussions on the level of mutual respect and understanding.

Secondly, philately is a knowledge-based and fun hobby. It is a wrong conception, actually a serious mistake, to believe that you need 100.000$ to build a nice and powerful collection. With a minimum amount, provided that the subject is chosen wisely, any philatelist can build a splendid specialized collection for a few hundred bucks monthly. On the other hand, examples of very expensive holdings, poorly arranged and described, showing a lack of knowledge, research and dedication, are not unheard of. In other words, more than money (although it certainly helps), brain, patience and sensitivity are the pillars of our hobby.

Philatelists are usually well-educated people. Some of them very well educated. Others possess a great life experience. Because of the very matrix of our hobby, that is history and communication between various people and countries, a fascinating field of learning about history, geography, culture, techniques and psychology is opened.  

As a naive projection in the generally conflicting behaviour that characterizes human beings, I guess philately should be the hobby of many of our world leaders... Just imagine a political debate starting with 'how is your classical Ceylon going on?' and 'oh nice, and how is your Russian ship mail, dear opponent?'.

That would possibly make a positive change in the relationship, thus decision-makings, between rulers!

Maxime Citerne

November 25, 2012

British Journal of Russian Philately N°102

I have in front of my eyes the brand new issue N°102 of the British Journal of Russian Philately. 

What a delight for the eyes... The editors have made a GREAT effort to higher the present level (which was already good in the past) of presentation of the legendary journal. There are at present 110 pages of full colour quality articles and news.

The previous issue (101) was fully packed with great articles from Dr Raymond Casey (the Captain's log), Terry Page (excellent introduction to Zemstvo postal history), Philip Robinson (Baikal lake postal history) to name only a few.

The present issue will not disapppoint the reader, with interesting inputs from Edward Klempka, David Skipton, Travor Pateman, Jack Moyes, Alexander Epstein and others very good contibutors.

If you are interested in Russian philately, it would be a shame to miss such a nice moment of reading, and to learn a great deal of things in between!

You can join the British Society of Russian Philately, and thus get the BJRP for free, for a very reasonable fee. Please check the society's website at

Maxime Citerne

November 21, 2012

Zemstvo Chronicle 3: Gadiach Sewing Machine Perforation

One of the great marvel of Zemstvo collecting (and there are many of them) is that, despite the numerous specialized catalogues created up to now, LOTS of information is missing and many discoveries are still to be made. Of course, we need to be dedicated and, actually, passionated by this field in order to really 'suck up its juice'.

Gadiach Schmidt 33 - 3 kopecks olive yellow & brownish red, 1894 printing
SEWING MACHINE PERFORATION (Rouletted) - RRRR, probably unique
(Author's collection)

Recently I blogged about a scarce line perforated issue from Gadiach. The stamp above is a new discovery that I made not so long ago, while buying some gadiach stamps on the net. It is the 3 kopecks olive yellow & brownish red printing, 1894 edition, labelled as number 33 by both Schmidt and GPS.

As you would have already noticed, the stamp clearly shows some Sewing Machine Perforation, also called Rouletted Perforation. They were applied very casually (and rarely!) over some sheets of the following edition (1895 issue, Schmidt 35/37), and Schmidt records only the carmine rose & violet (S34) and blue green & carmine rose (S37) stamps. Both stamps are rated 'RR' (9 to 15 copies known). But the same Sewing Machine Perforation applied to the previous issue had never been recorded so far.

To give a clue about their scarcity, the Sewing Machine Perforation (on both the 1894 or 1895 stamps) was unheard of Oleg Fabergé himself; he had none in his collection.

It is quite unclear to me when and where these rouletted perf. have been applied; but, as  an hypothesis, the very resemblance with the issues of Zenkov (also in the Poltava Gubernya) makes me feel that they could have been applied accidentally on some Gadiach sheets (and as such, very rarely!) by the printer in Poltava, while he was busy producing some stamps for the Zenkov district.

Readers are welcome to check their own stamps, and I wish them to find one of these rarities. You can post the results of your search as a comment here.

Maxime Citerne

November 7, 2012

Zemstvo Chronicle 2: Gadiach Shifted Center Varieties

The standard issues of Gadiach from 1892 till 1904 are some of the most fascinating issues from this district. About 20 different editions have been printed, with a wide range of color shades, plate and sheet compositions. It can take a lifetime to really explore deeply the various possibilities of study that enables those issues.

The regular stamps were printed in two colors (a few editions were unicolor), with two plates (one for the frame, one for the center), and the operation needed two manipulations: first   the frame was printed, then the sheet was placed under the second plate and the coat of arms was then applied. Some of the rarest stamps of these issues are the famous Shifted Centers varieties. For the Shifted Centers, simply put, the printer carelessly shifted the sheet too much on one side during the second operation.

Since the printer was rather careless (these stamps did not benefited from the professionalism and expertise of the postal department in St Petersburg), a number of regular stamps display a slight shifted of the coat of arms. Those are not to be considered as varieties (please see scan below); only the substancial shifts should qualify as Shifted Center varieties.

Gadiach 3 kopecks indigo blue & carmine rose (S35)
Top part of the 1895 sheet showing a slight upward misplacement of the Coat of Arms.
This stamp is often seen with a slight shift upward of the center. I would NOT qualify this as a Shifted Center variety. (Author's collection)

All those Shifted Center from 1892-1904 (Schmidt 28/44) are rarities. They remain unrecorded in both the Schmidt, Chuchin and GPS (2004) catalogues. Until now I have seen only three stamps: the indigo blue & carmine rose and dark lilac & carmine rose printing (1895 plates, S35-36) and the orange yellow & rose printing (1897 plates, S39). I have been able to gather three copies (don't ask me how I did it, I am still surprised at this feat), although there are probably a handful of other copies in other holdings. I would roughly estimate that there are about 3 to 10 copies maximum of each Shifted Center.

Gadiach 1897 Plates - 3 kopecks orange yellow & rose printing (S39)
Variety Center Shifted. Probably RRR (4 to 8 copies known) 
Ex. Baughman (Author's collection) 

Below is a copy of the dark lilac & carmine rose printing with Shifted Center. I have seen only two copies until now, both in my collection. The first copy (not illustrated here) was part of the Fabergé collection; the second copy, illustrated below, comes from the Baughman collection. 

Gadiach 1895 Plates - 3 kopecks dark lilac & carmine rose (S36)
Variety Center Shifted. Probably RRR (4 to 8 copies known)
Ex Baughman

Now the good news is that as I see no point of keeping two copies of that stamp, I am offering the Baughman stamp on Ebay. It is an exceptional opportunity to get a very rare stamp, with a low starting price (only 299$). You can follow the sale here.

Maxime Citerne

November 3, 2012

Famous Philatelists, part 1: Michel Liphschutz

Michel Liphschutz was born in St Petersburg the 25 February 1910. In 1922, his parents moved to France, Paris, with their son and daughter, leaving in Russia part of their family. He was then 12 years old. 

Brillant chimist and engineer, he started his industrial career in France in 1934, quickly grewing his professional position thanks to his intelligence and dynamism.

Michel Liphschutz started collecting Russian stamps in 1944, and built over 50 years of dedicated research the second greatest collection of Russian stamps in the world, second only to that of Oleg Fabergé.

Particularly impressive was his collection of the first issues, loaded with a fantastic array of rarities. His collection of Russia n°1, for instance, consisted of more than 300 copies, preceded by over 40 (!) different unadopted essays of the famous Mercury or Eagle types (1854-57).

He was also one of the first to assemble an 'ultimate' specialized collection of RSFSR and Soviet Union, during a time where those areas were quite unpopular. The world first reference catalogue to be published on the subject (by the Cercle Philatélique France URSS in 1969)  was greatly based on the Liphschutz collection.

Ex. Liphschutz (left to right): January 1858  30kop. mint block of four (one of two recorded); 1854 fabulous essay on envelope with trial cancellations (unique); 1857 10kop. complete sheet of paper with watermark "1" (unique in private hands)

Below: RSFSR 1918 extremely rare Essay of unadopted designs, the so-called 'Nathan Altman' sheetlet (one of three knwon)

His Zemstvo and Russian Post Offices Abroad were some of the best ever realised. One of the greatest gem, in his own words, being the famous Mongolian ulankom cover, that he discovered in the 1940's.

A page from the Liphschutz Zemstvo collection: selection of rarities (between 1 to 9 copies recorded)

Unafraid of paying the price for a rare piece, he once lost during an auction the unique 1858 set in mint blocks of four (Mi 2-4) (see the 30 kopecks block above); quickly understanding that he had lost for basing his bids on the market's estimation, and not on his own wishes, when the same set was finally offered 20 years later, he sent a French dealer in New York with the sole instruction 'BUY': he didn't want to make the same mistake twice!

Michel Liphschutz was an educated scholar and gentleman. I remember vividly some stories of my grandfather, who was one of his friend, visiting the Liphschutz residence in Neuilly sur Seine, where they would exchange their views and knowledge surrounded by books. His life was of course much more than stamps; he spent some time in Soviet Union to find some family members missing after the disastrous WWII, and could eventually succeed. He was also known for having done a lot to help his family. His sister Ida was a medical doctor running a clinic in the south of France.

The famous Ulankom cover: reproduced from the Craveri sale catalogue (Part IV), February 1994

High level philatelist, Michel Liphschutz was member of the French Académie de Philatélie since 1958, signed the prestigious Roll of Distinguished Philatelists (RDP) in 1968, became President of the Académie de Philatélie in 1980 and second president of the Cercle Philatélique France URSS (after Gabriel Citerne, my grandfather).

A rare photo: Michel Liphschutz (center) showing his collections to philatelic friends in the 1970s. First on the left is Gabriel Citerne, founder and first president of the Cercle Philatélique France URSS (author's archives).

His prestigious collections were sold in Switzerland by Guido Craveri/Harmers over a breath-taking serie of auctions. The catalogues of those sales are, still today, an important reference for any serious collector of this field.


Michel Liphschutz passed away the 5 September 1994, at the age of 84.

October 26, 2012

Moscow - One of the Rarest Cancellation

Lots of research have been made, and published, on the postal history of Saint Petersburg. It has always been a desired topic for collectors. 

But for some reasons Russian philately collectors have usually placed less emphasis on the other major city, Moscow. A famous researcher on the subject was Gary Combs, who specialized exclusively on Moscow and unfortunately passed away this year. Gary, who was a pure postal historian, published a lot of fascinating information based upon his collection and his research. Those who, like me, were fortunate to correspond with him will miss his pertinent emails and direct style.

Back to Moscow. This city has a fascinating history, reflected as a matter of fact in its postal system. Collecting Moscow postmarks and cancels can be a true and rewarding challenge. And just try to find a Napoleonic army letter sent when the French troops were occupying Moscow in 1812!

Moscow Mute Ring Cancel - 18 July 1900
Rare, very few covers recorded

The cover above is one of those hidden gems from Moscow. The enveloppe is a 7 kop. Postal Stationary sent from Moscow to Leipzig, uprated with 2+1kop. Arms stamps. It was dispatched on the 18th of July 1900. Nothing special until now, but just have a closer look at the cancellations:

The stamps are struck with the rare Moscow Mute Rings cancel, that was used only between 1900-1902 in a few postal sections of the city. Three types are recorded (G. Combs Types PS4-6) with slight differences between each others. This enveloppe bears the Four Rings Type (PS6).

Few information has been available regarding those Moscow Mute cancels. They have been used in 1900-1902, with the latest year of use being 1905. The surviving mail is very scarce, with (possibly?) less than 20 covers recorded all three types combined. Readers who possess such covers can contact me for the recording.

This rare item is in my stock and is available for sale or for exchange. Please contact me if you are interested. 

Maxime Citerne

September 15, 2012

Zemstvo Chronicle 1: The Rarest Stamp of Gadiach

Gadiach is a small locality in (today's) Ukraine. From 1884 till 1912, this Zemstvo district issued about 50 stamps, that were to be used in the city proper and some 18 villages ('volost') of the area. I wrote 1912 and not 1913, as it is incorrectly stated in Artuchov' s 'The Zemstvo Postage Stamps of Imperial Russia' (Vol. 2: 67).

Those issues from Gadiach are particularly fascinating. They are colorful, often bicolors, extremely diversifed in their design and they had legitimate postal use. All stamps, except the last one, display the district's historical coat of arms: St Michel Subduing A Devil. 

Selection of Gadiach stamps - A delightful variety of designs and colors

As for most of the Zemstvo stamps of Russia, there are two main categories of rarities; the first category is that of rare stamps recorded in the Carl Schmidt catalogue. The second category is that of unrecorded stamps that have never been mentionned anywhere, and usually unheard of most collectors. I will probably blog about this last category in the near feature, but for now let's go back to the first category, and have a look at the stamps illustrated below. 

In May 1894, Gadiach issued a set of four imperforate stamps, in four different color combinations. Those stamps are numbered 30 to 33 by Schmidt. Please pay attention to the last stamp on the right (scan below): it is the 3 kopecks olive yellow & brownish red (Schmidt #33)

This is quite a common stamp, easily found in single mint copies in collections, but much harder to find cancelled or in multiples. Below are three scarce items from my collection: on the left a very scarce block of six (Ex. Baughman), on the right a single copy with the rare plate flaw 'Crack Through Left Value & Large Dot in Shield' (which occurs only once per sheet, at the position 25), and finally a rare pair cancelled by the district's handstamp (this pair made up a 6 kopecks rate for the registered letters):

A second birth: the perforated issue - In January 1904, 10 years after the initial imperforate printing, the few remaining sheets still in possession of the Zemstvo Pravlenie (administration) have been perforated 11.5. This perforated edition is known as the 1904 issue, although it should be noted that Carl Schmidt decided to attribute the same catalogue number as for the imperforate edition (probably for convenience). 

Because of the great scarcity of the perforated copies that have survived until today, it is most likely that only a handful of imperforate sheets (all four values put together, i.e #30-33) have been submitted for perforation in 1904. They are missing from most collections, including major ones. As for myself, being an avid collector of Gadiach, I own only one copy of each perforated value (in comparison to a hundred of imperforate ones). 

Below is the pièce de résistance: the ONLY copy known until today from the 1904 perforated 3 kopecks olive yellow & brownish red. This is the rarest regular stamp of Gadiach, and a Zemstvo rarity. It has a 2010 Terry Page certificate.

Schmidt rates it only 'R', which is obviously wrong, as NO copy was in neither the Ferrari, Fabergé (both Agathon & Oleg) or Baughman collections. I am currently investigating for information regarding the G.H Kaestlin collection that was shed to light in 2010, curious to know whether that last great holding contains -or not- those perforated issues. 

Actually the perforated stamp was unknown to Oleg Fabergé himself!

Gadiach - 1904 Issue (perforated 11.5) 
Olive yellow & brownish red printing (Schmidt 33)
RRRR - Only one copy recorded (author's collection)

Maxime Citerne

September 7, 2012

Filarossia's September Auction

I am selling for the next 10 days a selection of choice items on Ebay, including some scarce ones.

You can just have a look at Filarossia's Ebay store, to see if something might be of interest for you. Below is a short selection of the items I offer. Enjoy!

- Russia #1, 1857, Very Fine copy with OFFSET OF CENTER. Very scarce variety.

- Romanov, EARLIEST USE RECORDED of the Ruble value, 4th January 1913. An impressive exhibition item!   SOLD!

- Russia #6, October 1858 issue, 20 kopecks on enveloppe from Tiflis to Leipzig. Scarce.

August 31, 2012

Postal Fraud in the Kingdom of Poland

Postal Fraud in Poland - September 1872
10 kopecks Arms (1866 issue) washed and re-used by the postal clerk to defraud the post
Very rare usage (unique?) from Wloclawek (Vlotslavsk) 
[ SOLD ]

Postal fraud in Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Poland has always been present, right from the launching of the first adhesive stamp in january 1858.

Two mains categories of frauders can be distinguished: some merchants dealing with huge amount of correspondance, trying to reduce their costs by re-using some cancelled stamps, and postal clerks, sometimes acting in concordance with each others, trying to raise up their very low income.

In the XIXth century, postal fraud consisted of re-using cancelled stamps. They were soaked off the covers, cleaned more or less carefully, then re-used on other correspondances. Sometimes stamps were half-folded on the edge of the cover, in an attempt to hide the half part of the stamp still bearing the initial cancellation. When the fraud was made by postal clerks, they usually struck the stamp(s) in order to cover the initial cancellation (see scan below). Several exemples with three (!) usages of the same stamp are known; among the most impressive items is a letter (ex. Mikulski) franked with a Russia #1 used thrice (!), first from Byalistok ("104") then Dudushi ("214") and finally Ostroleka ("47").

In the begining of the XXth century, some forged stamps were produced to defraud the post, especially (but not only) in Poland. We know several values: the 7 kopecks (mainly used in Russia: Vilno and St Petersburg), the 70 kopecks (used in Lodz in 1905 and Byalistok in 1908, Poland) and the 3.50 rubles (produced and used in Lodz 1904-1905, Byalistok and Warsaw 1907-1908, Poland). Those postal forgeries are all very scarce to rare, especially used on letters or parcel cards. They are an integrant part of Russian and Polish postal history, and in my opinion highly desirable as well.

The Kingdom of Poland has been a major playground for frauders, and the majority of the material available today with re-use of cancelled stamps is coming from Polish companies or postal clerks. I wouldn't be surprised if besides the economic reason this strong activity also involved sometimes a patriotic feeling of opposition to the Imperial domination.

close-up of the stamp
note the trace of a ring cancel on the left and the washed background on the upper part: 
no postal clerk could miss the fraud, unless being involved in it!

The small enveloppe illustrated above is a nice example of a XIXth century fraud attempted by a postal clerk. It was sent from Wlaclowek (this city felt under Russian control in 1831) to Thorn and is franked with a 10 kopecks adhesive. Amazing is the fact that the stamp clearly shows traces of cleaning as well as part of a ring cancel on the side! The postmark has been evidently applied in order to cover the washed area, unsuccessfully though, but just note how the clerk twisted the handstamp 45° to the right (in comparison to the first strike on the left of the enveloppe), hoping that the letters would cover the washed zone. He probably decided to apply the 'Franco' handstamp as well to give more credibility to the franking, just in case...

Recording the various locations where postal fraud was active is an interesting 'sport'. Many cities in the Kingdom of Poland have been noted for their postal thief activities. But I suspect that some of them are much scarcer than others. Warsaw, Byalistok and Kibarty were important business centers and many used-twice stamps are coming from there. On the other side of the spectrum, I have never seen another fraud cover from Wloclawek besides the one illustrated here (readers: new input is welcome!).

I have spent some time collecting information about Polish cities and villages involved in postal fraud (re-using Russian stamps or Poland #1). Below is a list of 59 localities, probably incomplete, that I hope would be useful for any reader interested. Whenever possible I have added the numbers allocated to the post office, and found on the numerical handstamps (usually the famous "four rings" cancels used in Poland) :

Kingdom of Poland - List of Localities Involved in Postal Fraud

Warsaw (1)  |  Jablonna (2)  |  Wola Gozowska (16)  |  Stawiski (38)  |  Pultusk (45)  |  Ostroleka  (47)  |  Ostrow (50)  |  Biala (55)  |  Terespol (57)  |  Siedlce (60)  |  Lublin (73)  |  Kurow (75)  |  Dryszczow (82)  |  Zamosc (97)  |  Chomeciska (98)  |  Tomaszow Lubelski (100)  |  Bialystok (104)  |  Iwaniska (110)  |  Proszowice (117)  |  Kielce (120)  |  Nowe Miasto Korczyn (127)  |  Gniewoszow (144)  |  Brody (148)  |  Przysucha (153)  |  Czestochwa (158)  |  Koniecpol (166)  |  Myszkow (168)  |  Pradla (169)  |  Granica (175)  |  Piotrkow (179)  |  Lodz (182)  |  Baby (185)  |  Gorzkowice (189)  |  Kalisz (191)  |  Wielun (205)  |      Sochaczew (210)  |  Brzeziny (214)  |  Konin (221)  |  Kutno (232)  |  Gombina (234)  |  Ciechocinek (240)  |  Izbica (244)  |  Plock (253)  |  Lelice (255)  |  Raciaz (258)  |  Sosnowiec (278)  |  Warki (283)  |  Krzeszow (284)  |  Przytyk (299)  |  Nowa Praga (329)  |  Konstantynow (342)  |  Koszyce (1106)  |  Kibarty  |  Wierzhbolow  |  Zagorze  |  Dworzec Praga  |  Myszkow   |  Wloclawek (Vlotslavsk)  |  Droga Terespolska

The readers are most welcome to update this list with their own material, please reply or contact me. 

Maxime Citerne 

July 19, 2012

Tchilinghirian & Stephen Revisited

All serious collectors of Russia know about the celebrated 'Stamps of the Russian Empire Used Abroad' series authored in the late 50s by Simon Tchilinghirian and William Stephen and published by the British Society of Russian Philately.

Released over six volumes it is, still today, the reference opus for Russian stamps and cancellations in China, Levant, Mongolia, Sinkiang, Bukhara, etc.

When the first installment was published in 1957, almost nothing was avalaible on the subject. No man's land. It was a stunning ground breaking work, for which we can be very grateful for. Thanks to it, some collectors started to dig more deeply into their own collection, while others extended their area of interest.

Certainly, one of the main benefits of this publication has been to raise dramatically the awareness among collectors. There was, at least, a basis upon which everyone could now exchange and discuss, a common alphabet to the same language. As a result of this effervescence, some addendas were regularly published, essentially in the British Journal of Russian Philately. Noted contributors were Michel Liphschutz or Igor Maslowski, to name only a few.

This reminder of the past is important to understand today's value of this work. As well as its current's weaknesses.

Those weaknesses are two fold. First, since the last 40 years, a huge amount of discoveries has been made. Previously unrecorded material, that was unavalaible to the authors, has surfaced on the market, been expertised, been published (or not). This is the main factor that determines the -important- limitations of that work today. Simply put, you cannot trust anymore T&S's listings, and especially the scarcity ratings, as so many new discoveries have definitely changed the face of the game. The second fold is more tricky. The authors, in some places of their work, have presented some personal interpretations or guesses as definitive statements. But you cannot change facts and history. In the late BJRP, Dr Casey has skillfully demystified some of them, I leave the reader to this excellent research work to get an idea of what I mean.

I will give two examples of my own regarding the scarcity ratings. Below is a cover in my stock from the Russian Post in Bukhara, franked with a 7 kopecks Arms (1889 issue). The scarce cancellation from Bukhara's PO (struck once on the front, and cancelling the stamp on the back) is recorded in T&S Volume 3, figure 354. It is described as 'RR' (yes, it stands for 'very rare') on all stamps of this issue. But the fact is that today there are, at least, a few dozens of those covers. I would therefore not rate this -nevertheless scarce- cover as 'RR', not even 'R'.

The second random example concerns the Russian Post in China. If you look closely at T&S' CER offices listings & ratings, and compare them to what has been discovered since, then you would better start from scratch again. I blogged last year about a rare Fulya Erdi postmark, recorded in T&S Volume 5, page 419. In 1958, only one loose stamp was known, and this small station was rightly rated 'RRR'. 54 years later, there are at least 8 to 10 covers and cards recorded, as well as numerous pieces, making the rating drop from RRR to R (or RR at best).

With those considerations in mind, I strongly recommend Tchilinghirian & Stephen 'Stamps of the Russian Empire Used Abroad', if you didn't get it yet. The Rossica Society and BSRP have re-edited that opus last year on digital format, and you can now get the six volumes sent directly at your place for the (ridiculous!) price of 45$, while helping at the same time a well-deserving philatelic society: you can order your copy here

The classic works of pioneers are like trampolines; they give a powerful base upon which its own flexibility (imperfection?) allows the next generations to reach higher levels. So, thank you, MM. Tchilinghirian & Stephen!

Maxime Citerne

June 4, 2012

Imperial Russia: pre-UPU mail to Africa

Pre-UPU (Union Postale Universelle) Russian mail sent abroad has always been a quite popular field of specialization among classical collectors. The subject of study is broad, wrapping postal history, rates and franking combinations, postmarks transit and postal routes.

The scarcity of Russian mail sent abroad before 1875 (that is, the year when Imperial Russia joined the UPU) greatly depends on its destination. Mail to countries like England, France, Germany or Italy is found in relative quantity: Russia had established solid commercial and diplomatical relationships with these European countries, which naturally impacted on the amount of correspondance back and forth. More scarce is the mail to Scottland, Spain or (surprisingly) Sweden . 

As a matter of fact, the scarcity of Russian mail sent in far countries, preferably transcontinentally, raises exponentionally. For instance, mail to USA, South America or Australia prior 1875 is much, much, much more difficult to find.

 Russia to Africa: French colony of Algeria - October 1874
Enveloppe from the 'Dossat correspondance'
Very rare, only a few covers known to Africa 

The cover above is a very nice example of a very rare pre-UPU mail to Africa (!)

This small enveloppe from Kovno is adressed to Madame Dossat, 8 place Disly à Alger, Algérie, Afrique. At that time Algeria was part of the vast French colonial empire, incorporated in 1830. There was a large number of French inhabitants among the local population, running the major businesses and holding key-places in the society, such as police and army officers or school teachers. Dossat is a French last name, and this Madame was probably part of this French community holding a strong grip on their colony. 

The sender in Kovno (a relative?) sticked two Imperial stamps on the enveloppe (interestingly, a combination of both the 1868 vertically and 1866 horizontally laid paper issues) then remitted the cover to the local post office, where the clerk appropriately cancelled the adhesives with the single ring postmark of the office "Kovno 31 october 1874" (Empire calendar = 12 november in Gregorian calendar). Another further strike on the right side indicates that the cover was actually dispatched the same day. 

Upon transit in Paris the 14 november (Gregorian calendar = 2 november Empire calendar), a blue "Russie-Erquelines-Paris" transit cds was applied along with the red framed "PD" (Payé jusqu'à Destination: paid until destination). In Marseille, the enveloppe embarked on a boat, crossed the Mediterranean sea from north to south and finally reached the hands of Madame Dossat at Alger, 8 place Disly, on the 19th (7th november Empire calendar). It took only 8 days to the cover to travel from Kovno to Alger: it  would certainly not be better today!

We can always fancy that our recipient was eagerly waiting some news from her far-travelling lover and that, in spite of holding him in her arms, at least she decided to preciously keep the empty enveloppe as a poor souvenir.

When I acquired that enveloppe illustrated above, I decided (as always) to do some research. [edit: I sold this cover to a collector in USA in 2013] To my great surprise I discovered a SECOND cover, sent one month later from the same person to  that same Madame Dossat ! That second cover, from what we could now temptatively label as the 'Dossat correspondance', was part of the Bianchi collection of pre-UPU Russian mail. It was auctioned in Switzerland in 2008 where it reached the cozy price of 552 € (lot 2276). But things didn't stopped there ... yesterday I had a nice exchange with my colleague Jean-Pierre Magne (France), who confirmed that he is in possession of a THIRD cover from the same correspondance, dated 2nd of december.

A fourth cover, franked 35 kopecks, is known from Rostov on Don to Alger as well, dated July 6, 1870. It is from a different correspondance and has been illustrated on the Samovar (Rossica' s forum). Two more covers have been recorded as well.

Until now I am aware of 7 covers sent from Russia to Algeria before 1875, including these three Dossat enveloppes. In fact, speaking of mail sent to Africa, I know of only one other cover: a letter from St Petersburg to Cape Town (South Africa), dated March 1873, ex Bianchi (lot 2287) which was described as unique. Although more covers are likely to exist in collections or dealers' stocks, Russian pre-UPU mail to any country in Africa (excluding the Middle East) is definitely extremely scarce.

It would be interesting to record all covers to Africa; I would be very grateful if any reader has more information on the subject. You are always welcome to contact me.

Maxime Citerne.

April 9, 2012

Ego Value versus Market Value

A common mistake among stamp collectors is to believe that their stamp investment is a good one  simply because they like and enjoy what they have bought. This is a subconscious trick from the ego, subtly suggesting that if I enjoy what I do (collect), others will automatically... How wrong this is!

The only test for value lies on the real market. Simply because you like your accumulation of hundreds of WWI censor marks doesn't mean that you will get your investment back, or even benefits from it!

Creating a stamp collection, without neglecting its fun and educational aspect of course, should better be  approached with an objective eye ... the eye of an entrepreuner starting a business plan.

Here are a few points to start with, or to reflect on:

  • What is your budget and your timeframe? If you have a 250 euros monthly budget (3.000 euros per year), and a 10 years timeframe (= 30.000 euros investment), it is simply unrealstic to start a 1858-1875 specialized collection with rarities. But it is completely realistic to start a Romanov or a Postal Stationary collection.
  • What do you want to achieve with your collection? Do you prefer stamp study (shades, plate flaws...) or postal history? Is the design of stamps important for you? Are you fond of WW2 history? Assessing your own preferences will help you to determine in which direction your collection should go to bring you the maximum 'joy' satisfaction.
  • Educate yourself. Buy specialzed books and journals; contact relevant philatelic societies; follow auction houses; make friends in your selected field; contact and respectfully ask advices from your chosen field's experts. This is probably the MOST important point to bear in mind. You might not become an expert, but educating yourself will definitely boost your collection: you wil learn how to avoid bad material and how to extract gems from the dust. Do not limit yourself to your field: you can also educate yourself on stamp printing methods and stamp expertizing as well. Why not?
  • Treat each item in your collection as a museum piece. Don't let any item take the dust. Research when and where the stamps have been printed, why, when and where the postmarks have been applied on your covers, look for the strange, the unusual, and write some nice (but short!) description of your items. Even cheap material can become lively and more desirable if you skillfully put it on a piedestal. Besides the pleasure of seing your items becoming 'alive', it will also definitely increase the value of your stock when you decide to sell.
  • Quality versus Quantity. Simply put: buy quality, or even better superb quality items. Only for very rare, very special or unique pieces should you allow some flaws to enter in your albums. If you collect mint imperial stamps for example, simply run away from defective items. If you collect ship mail, buy only readable postmarks, with the sole exception of huge rarities. 
  • Do not be afraid to pay a good price for the 'Wow' item. Ironically, if you expect to save money by buying low quality (thus cheaper) material, then you are grossly mistaken. Defective items will always be hard to sell, and you will always have the feeling to play Russian roulette when selling such items. On the other hand, you will (almost) always get your money back with quality-outstanding items, simply because some people will desire them more. I remember a quote from a famous dealer who  said 'quality and the pleasure of ownership last long after the pain of the price has been forgotten'.
 I wish you a happy and quality collecting!