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

November 27, 2013

Romanov: An Exceptional Early Postcard

Figure 1Oldest mail recorded with some Romanov stamps: 30 December 1912
Postcard sent from a Travelling Post office to the small city of Starozhilovo in the Ryazan Gubernia.  
3 days before the official first day issue of the famous commemorative set (!!!)
A stunning rarity for the Romanov specialist. Unique, ex Leonard Tann.

[ Author´s collection ]

The popular Romanov set strikes back again. I have written this year about a very rare earliest usage recorded of a Ruble value: 1 ruble Romanov adhesive cancelled on the 4th January 1913 (third day of use), one of three known. That item nevertheless pales in comparison with the postcard pictured above.

The Romanov set was officially launched on the 2nd January 1913. On the first of January, the post offices were closed to the public but incoming mail was treated by the postal clerks. In other words, the public could´t buy any Romanov stamp before the 2nd January, BUT those stamps were already available to the postal clerks in most of the post offices in Russia and, as well, Mandchuria [1] and Mongolia [2], as early as December 1912.

There are a couple of first day covers (i.e 2nd January 1913) recorded in the litterature with kopek frankings, as well as a handfull of extremely rare loose stamps cancelled in December [2]. The postcard above is absolutely exceptional. It is the only recorded usage on cover, to the best of my knowledge, of any Romanov adhesive in 1912 (Figure 1).

It was sent from a Travelling Post Office (postal wagon) to a small city in the Ryazan Gubernia. The sender wrote the message, and asked the postal clerk for franking. The later took what was available to him at the moment, picking up in a pile of the freshly delivered and ready-to-use Romanov sheets. Working in such a small office, he probably had only a short selction of values below the counter, excluding the 3 kopek, otherwise he would have logically picked up some of those 3 kopek stamps to complete the franking.

Then he cancelled the stamps with his TPO handstamp, dated from the day: 30 December 1912. The postcard travelled by train as expected and reached its final destination on the 1st of January 1913. The arrival postmark proves that the post offices, although closed to the general public, were indeed treating incoming mail on the 1st. 

And as a result of this fortunate sending, we have today an amazing and rather unexpected item of Russian postal history.

Maxime Citerne


[1] Harbin 3.01.1913. Dr Casey collection. See David Feldman sale, December 2013 sale.
[2] Antoine Speeckaert: 35 kopek and 70 kopek cancelled Urga 21.12.1912
[3] Rev. Leonard Tann, "Three days early", in The Post Rider Volume 27:4-5, November 1990

November 5, 2013

Filarossia Sale - November

For the next few days I am selling on Ebay a selection of nice Russian stamps & material, within a various range of prices.

Don´t hesitate to have a look, maybe you will find something of interest for your collection.


November 1, 2013

Unusual Destinations

There are still some nice collections to build with a modest budget. Even postal history collections. And even from the Imperial period.

The following is a short selection of cards sent to unusual destinations. Most of them can be find, unrecognized, on Ebay or at your usual retailer for a small price, sometimes a few dollars. The price paid is usually not in relation with their scarcity. And the detective work to find them, then to exploit their story as a postal historian, adds lots of fun to the game.

 Figure 1 - October 1911: St Petersburg to Queensland, Australia

Figure 1 illustrates a postcard sent from St Pertersburg on the 22th October 1911 to Queensland, in Australia. It is franked only at the 2 kopek rate (printed matter, confirmed by the "PETCHATNOE" single handstamp). 

Figure 2 - March 1907: Warsaw area to Santiago Del Chile, Chile

Figure 2 shows a postcard sent from a city in the Warsaw area on the 25th March 1907 to Santiago Del Chile, Chile, South America. In my experience, Russian mail to south america is more encountered with destinations such as Brazil or Argentina, more rarely Chile. 

Figure 3 - May 1906: Riga to Papeete, Tahiti, Oceania

Figure 3 illustrates a postcard sent from Riga the 12 May 1906, and adressed to Papeete, Tahiti, Oceania. An amazing connection and, needless to say, a very, very unusual destination for Russian Imperial mail!

 Figure 4 - January 1894: Odessa to Mozambique, Eastern Africa

Figure 4 is a reply-card already shown in an earliest post. Sent from Odessa in 1894 to the Governor of Mozambique, East Africa. A very scarce destination indeed.

Obviously, this is only a short selection, but it will give you, I hope, a glimpse of what can be achieved. With more than a hundred countries as possible destinations, this should keep the winter days busy.


October 30, 2013

Belgian Army In Russia: 1915-1918

When it comes to Russian postal history during the First World War, most collectors think about the censorship handstamps, the Romanov issue or the Mute cancellations. There are other fascinating areas that are far less known though, and among them lies the military intervention of the Belgian Expeditory Corp of Armoured Cars in Russia during 1915-1918 (French: Corps Expéditionnaire Belge des Auto-Canons-Mitrailleuses en Russie).

This military corp has a fascinating history. Arriving from Brest in Arkhangelsk the 13th octobre 1915, it was meant to supply military support to the Imperial Army of Nicholas II on the eastern front. 350 Belgian volunteers fought side by side with the Russian in Galicia during the Broussilov, then Kerenski, offensives.

Figure 1 -  "Armée Belge en Campagne"
12th December 1915 - Cover sent from Petrograd to an active officer from the Belgian Armoured Corp in campaign. Military free frank. Censored in Petrograd. Real departure the 29th. Arrival at the Belgian Corps the 25th January 1916. A rare postal history document.
(Author´s stock)

The Belgian Armoured Car Corp in Russia had 58 vehicules, including 12 armoured cars "Minerva" (actually, built by Morse & Peugeot with a Minerva engine) (figure 2). This group of soldiers, surprisingly, fought successively for three different governments: they first fought for Belgium, later for the Tsar (before the Revolution), finally for the Red Army (after october 1917), although it is believed that they prefered to destroy the cars rather than to give them to the "Reds". Trapped into the Civil War in the early 1918, they could only managed to find their way home through the Transsiberian railway to Vladivostok. They embarked the SS Sheridan for the USA (arrival in San Francisco, 12th May 1918).

Figure 2 - Belgian Corp soldiers in Russia with the "Minerva"

Those foreign soldiers fighting for the Russian Motherland were officially recognized by the Imperial governement, and the mail from those soldiers in action naturally benefited from military free frank. It is not clear as to when the free frank privilege has been set up, since an early postcard from October 1915 is known franked with a 4 KOP Romanov. A small archive from the soldier Van Bompay also contains a few covers, all franked (but it might well be the ignorance of the sender regarding the free frank).

The first scan above shows a cover sent from Petrograd to an officer of the Belgian Corp (figure 1). Please note the manuscript mention "Armée Belge en campagne" (Belgian Army in Campaign). In December 1915, when this letter was sent, the Armoured Corp was in Russia since about two months and already had engaged in campaign fields in Galicia.

The Russian Post accepted the cover as a free frank, but international friendship having its limits, the Imperial Censors opened the envelope and applied their censor handstamp. You can die for my country, but let me read your mail first! Upon receipt on the 25th January 1915, the postal service of the Belgian corp applied its specific handstamp on arrival (figure 3)

Figure 3 - Close up of the very rare Belgian Corp handstamp
(upper part: "Postes Militaires") 

Obviously the surviving correspondance, due to the very small number of soldiers, is very scarce. I am aware of a dozen of covers only. You probably have a better chance to find some mail from the British or American Allied Intervention in North Russia during 1919.


September 26, 2013

Rossica Virtual Gallery - New Additions: Zemstvo & Leningrad Blockade

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The Rossica Society is keeping its excellent work on the Virtual Gallery. This section of the website presents the scans of some extremely interesting collections, kindly provided by their owners.

There is a wealth of precious information, given for free. This effort has to be highlighted. The two most recent additions to the Virtual Gallery are especially mind blowing. 

Firstly, a wonderful portion of the Werbizky collection of Zemstvo, dealing in particular  with stampless covers. Dozen of scarce postmarks and an in-depth travel within this difficult area. I especially liked the parts dealing with Zemstvo districts that never issued postage stamps, but maintained a postal service, usually free of charge. > click here

 Unrecognized and Overlooked Zemstvo Mail, by George G Werbizky

The second virtual addition is the collection of covers of the Leningrad Blockade (1941-1944), formed by Alexander Kolchinskiy. There has not been a lot published in Western language on the subject, so this presentation is most welcome. > click here

Maxime Citerne


August 23, 2013

Russian Stamps Market - On The Decline?

It is obvious to all of us that the philatelic market (like any market) is ruled by the law of offer & demand, and that this law is greatly influenced by the global economy. On the other hand, internet has also radically changed the market since 10 years and - good or bad - has allowed a stabilization of the pricing of the average material. Today, with one click, you can find hundreds of similar lots and compare the prices. If you are smart enough, there is no way for you to pay 300 $ to a dealer for a set that at least three of four others are selling for only 150 $. This is the good aspect of it for the collectors.

Observing regularly the market, it seems to me that since a few years there has been an important decrease in the general philatelic market. Regarding Russian stamps, collectors worlwide are definitely bidding/buying less aggressively now than 5 years ago.

There are some exceptions of course (just have a look at the crazy results of Dr Casey´ Russian Post in China collection) but overall I notice a weakened Russian stamp market, especially for average and both low & medium price material.

The growing accessibility for average material has made the prices more affordable and, in many cases, more realistic. As an example, in 2009 there was around 150 lots Zemstvo offered weekly on Ebay. Today there are more than 1000 ... 6 times more! For sure, this has calmed down the mind of many collectors, who can take their time to choose the best for their collection, at the more affordable price. With 1000 Zemstvo lots (most of them not scarce) at the same time, there is no need (perceived or real) and no envy to push the bidding.

Some stamps that I bought 100 $ on Ebay in 2009 are now selling around half of that price only. I don´t believe that the so-called "weakened global economy" holds all the responsability for it. There are other factors, like the huge internet accessibility - worldwide access in one click only. 

It is also good to ponder the fact that the Russian fever has cooled down, and that the hot countries at the moment I write those lines are China, Australia (the famous "Roos"), Classic India (in good quality) and growing slowly but surely the Indian "Uglies".

Finally, as always, nice quality and scarce material will normally sell at a good price: more buyers than sellers, and attractive quality/scarcity boosting the collector´emotions. That last recipe, at least, has not changed since the inception of philately in the early 1860s!

Maxime Citerne


June 27, 2013

Imperforate Arms Stamps - Early Use in 1917

Figure 1  21 May 1917 - Postal card franked with a 3 kopek Arms Imperforate stamp
Early use of the imperforate issue. Late usage of a WWI Mute postmark.
Ex. Fabergé (author's stock)

In his excellent philatelic blog, Trevor Pateman illustrates a postcard franked with a 5 kopek Arms Imperforate stamp, used on the 16 April 1917 (those stamps were issued in the begining of the year 1917 as imperforate). Trevor asked for earlier dates of use.

I have not seen any earlier dates until now, but I am able to illustrate a very nice item in the same vein (figure 1). The card above has been sent from Riga to Petrograd on the 21 May 1917 and franked with a 3 kopek Arms Imperforate stamp. Mr Pateman records the 5 kopek as possibly the first imperforate value to be released (April 1917). May 1917 seems to be a early use for the imperforate 3 kopek value.

There is a very interesting bonus to that card. The adhesive is cancelled with a Mute Damaged Machine from Riga postmark. WWI Mute cancels were devised as an anti-spy measure during the war (no indication of departure). According to Arnold Levin (The Mute Cancels of Russia, Part 1: 25), this particular canceller was used slightly prior the start of WWI, and examples are known until 1917. Mute WWI cancels are generally found during the years 1914-1915, and their use decreases as the German army  progressed deeper in Russian territory. Mute cancels from 1917 are from a late and scarcer usage. 

It would have been initially hard to decipher the exact time of use on that card, because as you can clearly see on the scan above, the last digit in the year is rather incomplete. That would normally call for a guess-game, which always leads to a no-certainty opinion. But two further researches definitely clear the doubt and prove that it is indeed a 1917 card (thus, both an early use of the imperforate issue, and a late use of a WWI mute cancel).

First, the card is franked at the 3 kopek rate, the tariff in effect for an inland postcard until  14 August 1917, when it was upgraded to 5 kopek. Of course, there is always the possibility that that card was sent later in 1918, and insufficiently franked, but:

Secondly, this Riga Mute Damage Machine has been thoroughly recorded by Levin. Figure 2 illustrates that postmark. Please look at the "7" digit from "1917". It matches perfectly the postmark of my card (figure 3 - it is more obvious on the strike on the left).

I would like ro add a last comment. It seems that Mute Cancels applied on those provisional imperforate issues are very scarce at least.

                                           Figure 2 - Detail of the 1917 Riga Mute Damaged machine in Levin

Figure 3 - Detail of the same cancel on the 3 kopek imperforate stamp 

Maxime Citerne

June 12, 2013

Russian Early Philatelic Mail

Philatelic mail (as opposed to commercial mail) can be described as any envelope or card being sent on philatelic purposes. Most of them have genuinely travelled through the post, and been franked at the correct rate. 

What is worth noting though, is that the motivation behind their sending is stamp-collecting oriented. Whenever you decide to buy such item for your collection, you should be aware of that, as it can (or cannot) impact on the future sale of your item.

As philately developped and grew during the XIXth century, philatelically inspired mail became more common. Collectors wrote abroad to send their stamps for an exchange, or against cash. For Classic Russia, the most famous correspondance known to date is the Breitfuss correspondance (he was one of the giant of Imperial Russia philately). 

Figure 1 - St Petersburg to New Jersey, 1879 : "Mr Ackermann, dealer in stamps"

The postal stationary envelope illustrated above has been sent from St Petersburg to USA in 1879 (Figure 1). The 20 kopecks indicium has been correctly uprated with an example of the 1 kopeck adhesive, making it to the 21 kopecks rate (triple rate to foreign destinations in 1879).

The adress is very telling: 'Mr E.K Ackermann, dealer in stamps'. You cannot make it more philatelic! Mr Ackermann was a very famous stamp dealer, and probably one of the first to operate on the American continent. This is a rather early philatelic cover from Imperial Russia. If any reader knows about earlier sendings, please leave a comment.

It is amazing how much trouble the early collectors took to get their hands on exotic material. Remember that, at that time, there was no telephone and that communication between countries, not to mention continents, had an 'epic' taste. Figure 2 illustrates a reply card sent in January 1894 to the Governor of Mozambique (!), regarding the exchange of stamps. The sender apparantly was very eager to get some stamps from the Portuguese colonies. 

Figure 2 - Odessa to Mozambique, 1894 : Regarding the exchange of stamps

This phenomenon of early philatelic covers is not, of course, limited to Russia itself. All the major countries, especially in Europe, had their share of philatelically-oriented mailings. But some of them are scarcer than others.

Figure 3 illustrates a very scarce envelope sent from Kahuta in the Indian State of Poonch, franked with a combination of Indian stamp and the local Poonch 2 annas issue. This envelope is part of the well-known (well, at least for the specialists...) J.C Bechtler & Co philatelic correspondance, based in Allahabad. The Indian State of Poonch was located in the area of Jammu & Kashmir. Definitely not a developped, greatly populated industrial area in 1892!

Figure 3 - Poonch to Allahabad, 1892 : philatelic cover from a mystical area!
(Author's collection)

June 2, 2013

A New Feature For Our Readers: The Search Engine

A new feature of this website is now available for the readers: the Google search engine. This practical feature has been improved by Google over the last few years and now I am satisfied with its efficiency.

This feature is now on the upper right corner of each page 's menu:

With the growing number of posts and articles on Russian stamps, this feature will make it very easy for you to search this website for specific words. Just type in any relevant word or date which are fitting your research criteria.

I hope you'll enjoy the easiness of that new feature.


May 29, 2013

Russian Railway Postmark: Early Franked Cover, August 1858

17 August 1858. Folded entire franked at the 10 kopecks rate [Michel #2, January 1858 issue] and adressed to 
a ‘respectable merchant and citizen’ [Почетному Гражданину и гильдий купцу] at the famous Nizhni Novgorod Fair [Въ Нижнегородской Ярмарки].

Special dotted hexagonal railway postmark “1” from the St Petersburg Nikolaev railway station. 
Possibly one of 4 or 5 railway postmarks covers known during the first year 1858.
(author's stock)

Railway postmarks were introduced in the Russian Empire during the pre-adhesive period, in the 1850s. The earliest cover recorded is a postal stationary sent from the St Petersburg Train Station to Sominsk, dated 8 December 1852 (collection Valentin Levandovskiy).

With the introduction of the first Russian stamps in January 1858, franked covers were of course still accepted for transportation via the railway system; during the first half of 1858, there was no specific change regarding postmarks or cancellations for train station post offices. The 26 February 1858, the official circular N°138 introduced the first set of dotted cancellations (circular dotted postmarks, used for the Gubernya towns), nevertheless it is only with the cicular N°1847 of 31 May 1858 that a special set of dotted devices were officially announced for the rest of the offices. 

With that May 1858 circular, hexagonal dotted postmarks were attributed to the railway post offices of St Petersburg ("1") and Moscow ("2"). There is a third circular (N°157) dated 17th August 1858 that gives some additional information about those cancellations.    

Those covers bearing Russian stamps cancelled with a railway postmark are rather scarce in the early 1860s. Their scarcity dramatically increases as you get back in time, and very early covers (prior to the end of 1858) are definitely very rare. According to my experience, as well as the personal communication with Philip Robinson, there are possibly less than 4 or 5 railway franked covers with the hexagonal dotted postmark used during the first 6 months (mid-1858 till end of 1858). 

If you wish to learn more about Russian Railway Postmarks, I would highly recommand the viewing of the Levandovskiy collection, which has kindly been made available on the Rossica Virtual Gallery. Enjoy!

Maxime Citerne

May 27, 2013

Positive Thinking & Harmers Auction SA, Switzerland

There is a natural inclination in the human behaviour to attach itself to the negative happenings that are making up what we call 'life'. We reload again and again the same bad movie in our mind, as if we needed (we don't) to re-experience the same trauma. Needless to say, this leads to nowhere.

Personally, as a professional alternative medicine teacher and healer, I am very aware of that pattern, and try my best to point it out to myself whenever it catches me again. A useful method to fight against negativism is, of course, positive thinking. And a good way to nourrish that positive thinking, so important as it has been demonstrated by many modern research studies on the brain, is to point out the good, pleasant and positive things in our daily life.

Back to philately: any dedicated philatelist has his/her own bag of bad experiences with some auction houses. Some companies can be very tricky or disrespectful to their customers (comes to my mind a very unpleasant happening with the very unfriendly communication of Lugdunum Philately, from France).

A few months ago though, I did purchase from Harmers Auction, Switzerland, a rare registered Zemstvo cover from the Belebei district, one of 3 or 4 known. Upon receipt, it appeared that although the cover is genuine, the Belebei stamp does not belong to that cover, therefore greatly reducing the value of the item. As I waited quite some time before asking for a refund, I was expecting some hassles and inconvenience from the auction house (yes, this is the negative thinking pattern I mentionned earlier).

To my great delight, not only Harmers Auction SA, Switzerland did replied positively, but they did not even asked me a counter-expertise certificate, and, cherry on top, refunded my purchase (375 €) immediatly, without waiting to have the item back into their hands. Just great. The icing on the cake was certainly the very friendly exchange with the team, especially Silvia Cavaciuti. In her own words 'in this wild world we certainly want to give a good service to our customers, they are our best asset!'.

So congratulations, Harmers of Switzerland, for providing an excellent and friendly customer service, as well as the opportunity to feed my training with positive thinking!

Maxime Citerne

May 8, 2013

Fake Alert 2 - Arkhangel Allied Intervention AEF Overprints

Good or Bad? Don't Lose Time & Money!


As you know, many faked and forged stamps & covers are offered on the market, especially on Ebay. Without a proper knowledge, it is often difficult for the collector to seperate the wheat from the chaff. We have decided to include that section to spot the wrong items on the market and to help our fellow philatelists to avoid some bad deals.

If you spot some fakes elsewhere on the internet, you can contact us and we will include any item, if appropriate.


Offered on Ebay May 2013 ||  Seller  rogbon  ||  Ohio, USA

Civil War 1919 - Arkhangel USA Allied Intervention

BEWARE! Several lots are offered. All stamps have bogus overprints to deceive the collector (unrecorded overprints, unknown on covers, overprints ON postmarks, wrong spelling, etc.)

The Fake Alert 1 - Zemstvo Laishev Cover

Good or Bad? Don't Lose Time & Money!


As you know, many faked and forged stamps & covers are offered on the market, especially on Ebay. Without a proper knowledge, it is often difficult for the collector to seperate the wheat from the chaff. We have decided to include that section to spot the wrong items on the market and to help our fellow philatelists to avoid some bad deals.

If you spot some fakes elsewhere on the internet, you can contact us and we will include any item, if appropriate.


Offered on Ebay April 2013 ||  Seller  alex78_2012  ||  Moscow, Russian Federation

Zemstvo - So called 'Laishev' cover

BEWARE! This cover was part of the Laishev section of the David Feldman sale (2012). It was not sold as a single lot, and for a good reason. It is possibly a fake and, at best, an extremely doubtful item. The Zemstvo stamp probably doesn't belong to that cover. Please see below the detail showing how both lines of the manuscript cancellation extending over the envelope don't fit exactly with the stamp cancellation. The word 'сентябрь' (September) is incorrect as well (!).The seller has been contacted but avoids to mention this 'detail' on his description and answers with the usual 'some philatelist told me it is genuine' etc.

April 23, 2013

A New Column On Filarossia - The Fake Alert

Due to the amount of fakes and forged russian stamps and covers offered for sale, especially on Ebay, I have decided to include a new section to point out some doubtful or clearly forged/faked items on the internet or public auctions. 

This new column starts with a Zemstvo cover from Laishev offered on Ebay this week.

You can follow this new column here.

Do not hesitate to participate by contacting me if you are aware of some forged/fake material offered in auctions. Send me the link via the contact form.


April 19, 2013

Romanov 1913 - Early Use of a Ruble Value

4 January 1913 - 1 ruble Romanov used on a parcel card from Moscow to Liège
Earliest use recorded of any Romanov ruble value on cover
(discovered by the author)

The 1913 Romanov issue is one of the most cherrished set of Russian stamps among collectors. It is sometimes the subject of deep specialization, some philatelists dedicating themselves to that set only. It is indeed a fascinating issue to study, right from its inception to the late usages known from the early 1920s. The proofs and essays are beautiful, the stamps themselves have been the subject of the special attention of the Postal Department.

This set was supposed to be launched on the 2nd January 1913 (the post offices were closed to the public on the first of January). Nevertheless, some stamps have been sold and used beforehand, possibly as an emergency measure (if you are a postal clerck left without the regular value that you need to frank that cover, then it is only sensible that you pick up in the newly arrived stock of Romanov sheets freshly lying down behind the counter).

The philatelic litterature records a handful of loose stamps and covers used from the 31th December 1912 till the first official day of issue (2nd January 1913). Those rare items only consist of some kopecks values.

But there is little information available on the early use of the ruble values (1, 2, 3 and 5 rubles).  

The parcel card illustrated above will break that record. It has been sent from Moscow (2nd Exped.) to Liège (Belgium) on the 4 JANUARY 1913, franked with a combination of 20 kopecks Arm and a single 1 ruble Romanov. It is the earliest use known until now on cover of any Romanov ruble value. A second card from the same correspondance exists, also sent the same day (collection of a philatelist in the UK).

Maxime Citerne

Left & right - details of the Moscow departure postmark dated 4 JANUARY 1913

March 29, 2013

Imperial Railway Post in Tiflis & Erivan - A major discovery!

Pre Armenia & Georgia Postal History
Erivan-Tiflis Railway Line: Travelling Post Office #230 - June 1904. 
Only recorded document from this line 
(Discovered by the author)

One of the wonderful things about philately is that the search for rarities is never over. It takes time and dedication, but what rewarding things in life don't? Of course, depending on your attitude  this feeling can be truly motivating ... or frustrating. When I found the postal card above in a dealer's box in Paris, something struck my eyes. Advanced philatelists know that nice feeling when you realize that the item in your hand is special, without really knowing why, until you go back home and dig into your references.

This card, at first glance, looks like any other Russian TPO (Travelling Post Office) card from the early XXth century. The 7 kopecks Arms stamp is most common, though overfranking this card, which should have required only 3 kopecks. And there are really plenty of those oval railway cancels.

Notwithstanding the above, let us have a closer look at the cancel, and what it really has to tell us:

                                                                                                        Close-up of the cancellation

The cancel is a typical oval railway TPO postmark, the type being introduced in the Russian Empire by the official circular N°9 of 3 February 1903. The postmark reads ERIVAN * 230 * TIFLIS June 1904 (day unclear). That is, Travelling Post Office N°230 on the railway postal line between Erivan (former capital of today's Armenia) and Tiflis (former capital of today's Georgia). Upon arrival at Tiflis, a strike of the Tiflis office was applied (18 June 1904).

The card is self-adressed to a Mister Fernand Bourbon, Kirpichnaya Street 12, House B. Z. Saradjev in Tiflis. The short message written on the reverse tells us that Mr Bourbon was a French speaker who was apparantly enjoying his travel in those remote areas of Russia ("...excellent voyage...."). He sent the card to his own residence in Tiflis, probably to secure some telling souvenirs from his unusal voyage.

                                                                                                             Reverse of the card

The card illustrates a scenic view of the fountain nearby the Narsan Galery, in the old city Kislovodsk (a spa city in the northern Caucasus). But the manuscript text in French is of first importance, as it shows that the card was actually written and posted in "Alexandropol 18 June 1904, excellent trip, friendly, Fernand".

                                                           "Alexandropol 18 June 1904, excellent trip, friendly, Fernand"

Alexandropol is located 125km north to Erivan, in the north-west part of today's Armenia, and 130km south-west to Tiflis. In 1904 the population was about 32000 inhabitants, with only 2% Russian, who were mainly imperial soldiers reinforcing the russian presence in this strategic position. Nowadays Alexandropol is better known as Gyumri, the second largest city of Armenia. It felt under Russian rule in 1804, at the very begining of the Russio-Persian war (1804-1813). At that time it was still named Gyumri, until the Tsar Nikolai I, while visiting the city in 1837, renammed the city Alexandropol to honor his Prussian wife;  newly-converted to Orthodoxy, the princess responded to the now more suitable name of Alexandra Fyodorovna. 

The southest extension of the Imperial railway system in the Caucasus area was of crucial importance both for the nation's economy and the military forces; as a result of such policy, the building of the first line linking Tiflis to Alexandropol souther was achieved in 1899. Later in 1903 (or 1902, according to different sources) the line was finally extended to Erivan. Unfortunately there is no evidence of any postal activity along the Tiflis-Alexandropol-Erivan railroad during the years 1899-1903.

1893 Map - At that time the Erivan-Tiflis railway line was not built yet.

Although the very existence of the Tiflis-Erivan line had been previously recorded from official texts (see Robinson & Kiryushkin), no material had been recorded so far in the litterature, including P.T Ashfort 'Russia Post in Transcaucasia Pt 4', with the exception of a single strike on a loose stamp without any clear date. Therefore, this unique and exquisite card amazingly bridges the gap between Imperial Russia, Georgia and Armenia, in a formidable fashion. Additionally, it is one of the rarest of all Russian Railway postmarks known to date, even rarer than most of the Chinese Eastern Railway's.

Moral of the story? Besides always expertizing every single piece in your collection (yes, even that cheap 1 euro item that you caught in that dusty dealer's box), rest assured that the search is never over, and that a casual trip to a local shop could well be the trip of the year. This card is now in a specialized TPO collection in USA making the happiness of its new owner.

Maxime Citerne

The author wishes to thank Philip Robinson (FRPSL, BJRP) for his kind and very friendly help in checking some data in his voluminous references.

February 16, 2013

Russian Post in China 3: Mandchurian Railway & Sweet Talk

A seemingly common item can often become charmful when you look at it under the prism of postal history. This nice card above from my stock has been sent from the Russian post office in Xarbin (actual China) to St Petersburg on the 11th of June 1914.

Franked with a 3 kopecks Romanov stamp, the adhesive has been cancelled with the Railway Station oval device (Vokzal) and the postcard was packed with the rest of the mail, placed into sealed bags and travelled through the Chinese (Mandchurian) railway lines until reaching Russia proper. The use of Romanov stamps in China (and Mandchuria) is always actively sought after by collectors, rightly or wrongly, but this is not what I find the most interesting about this item (although a Romanov stamp cancelled in Mandchuria is always a nice bonus). 

What I really enjoyed about that card lies in the message itself. 

"22-го июня

Ст. Харбинъ
II/VI/14 г. 
Дорогая Марусечка!

Ненаглядная, бесценная моя крошка! Вчера только прибыл въ Харбинъ, сегодня иду дальше по линiи. Сегодня или завтра напишу подробное письмо, а пока что спешу сообщить тебе мой адресъ: Станцiя Ханьдаохэцзы Китайской железной дор. линiи до востребованiя.
Твой и только твой 

Крепко целую моя дорогая."


"22nd June
Train Station Xharbin

Dear Marussechka!

My priceless baby! Yesterday only I arrived in Xharbin, today I go further on the line. Today or maybe tomorrow I will write to you a more detailed letter, but now I strongly want to give you my adress: Station Handoakhetse,  Chinese railway lines [Станцiя Ханьдаохэцзы Китайской железной дор].

Yours and only yours,

Kissing you strongly, my darling"

A sweet message which gives, beyond that lover's passion, a clear and scarce reference to the Chinese railway lines by a direct user of them.


February 14, 2013

A New Book: The G.H Kaestlin Collection of Imperial Russia

I just received my copy of the newly published book "The G.H Kaestlin Collection of Imperial Russian & Zemstvo Stamps", authored by Thomas Lera & fellow Rossica member Leon Finik.

This fantastic collection, built largely before the end of WWII by a London banker of Russian origin, has been recently re-discovered sleeping in the American National Postal museum. Such is the importance of that holding that the museum has decided to publish this opus, expertly commented by the written voice of Leon Finik.

Not only do I applaud the effort, but I also congratulate Rossica & the National Postal museum for launching a 'pleasure reading book', exactly the kind of format that we are strongly missing in classical philately (and my comment is not limited to Russia, but applies to Worldwide Philately as well). Yes, it is certainly very pleasant to balance once a while the time we spend reading some technically-packed and serious-minded articles with some light and colorfull readings on our hobby.

A very good idea of gift for a child or a philatelic friend, this is also the perfect book to relax your philatelic mind, or when you just feel the need to dream lightly about beautiful rarities that you might probably never own  :-)  Beginners can enjoy a clear, colorfull and step by step introduction to the wonders of Imperial Russian philately, reaching its peak toward the middle of the book when Leon is commenting the Zemstvo pages of the collection. But mind you, there are also lots of sound information and the serious philatelist will certainly learn a thing or two as well.

And to give you a single taste of what wonders lie in the pages, just enjoy this fantastic bloc of four of Russia #1, a piece that was once believed lost during the war. 

Russia 1857 - Michel 1 / Scott 1 
Unique Bloc of Four

A bloc of four was already mentionned in the Cercle Philatélique France-URSS catalogue back in 1956 (I once had the original catalogue, alas lost!), where Serge Rockling - who saw the bloc during the 1928 Monte Carlo exhibition- described it as 'in bad quality'. I believe that it might well be the 'Kaestlin bloc' above.

You can have more detailed information about G.H Kaestlin and his fantastic collection, as well as order the book, on the Rossica Society website.