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 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)


  1. Wise words, Maxime. I was stunned at the Casey realizations as well. I mean, 600,000 Euro for a Kuldja cover? (with poor postmark strikes)

    I simply find collecting like that uninteresting. Like you, I chose to broaden my scope and get away from Russia for a little bit. And there are so many interesting collecting fields out there that cost a fraction of what Russian material costs these days. Of course you have to avoid the German States and most of the British Commonwealth, and China is pretty much a lost cause as well these days, but that still leaves so many fun areas. I was fascinated by 1920s Afghanistan for awhile and only just managed to avoid collecting it!

    You zemstvo collectors are indeed fortunate. It seems the Faberge sale has triggered some kind of permanent flow of zemstvo material onto the market.

    More fun in 2013! Vietnamese postal history? Hmmm, interesting!

  2. Dear Ivo, yes I certainly share your feelings. And Afghanistan seems attractive as well!

    My guess is that only blind investors, and NOT some knowledgeable philatelists, can spend so much money on a relatively rare item. 600000 € for a 1857 Tiflis stamp, that is THE iconic (and first! and extremely rare) postage stamp of Classic Russia, why not. But for a more or less important cover of a Mongolian office. Pfeeee...

    It is ironic that for the price of that single Kuldja cover, one can finance a complete specialized collection of Vietnam AND classic Bolivia AND probably a couple of other countries as well.

    Russian philately is a wonderful field that I really love (and always will), but such high speculation is indeed creating a 'lost cause' feeling - and you precisely hit the nail with that expression - which is rather pushing many of us more toward the frustration than the joy side of collecting, which is what philately shoud be about.

    There are still some areas where fun and passion are making a happy wedding at a relatively reasonable cost, such as Zemstvo: one can still buy a very rare classic stamp for less than a thousand bucks, sometimes for far less than this!

    Yesterday, just to have a try, I bought 3 classic Vietnam covers on Ebay, from the first period of independance following the French defeat: I paid only 23 $ shipping included. And mint stamps in full sheets are selling for a bargain. Other countries are temtping as well. That could represent a nice harmony with my collection of Russian Zemstvos!


Your comments are always welcome, as long as they are expressed in a polite manner.