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

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.