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

January 27, 2013

RSFSR: Russia, America, Famine & Reevaluation

The Famine In Russia - 1920/1923

After the Bolscheviks' uprise in 1917, Russia suffered a long period of internal fighting between political wings, and civil wars. The destructive nature of the political changes, combined with the chaos of war led to the greatest famine that the Russian people ever suffered from. Such dramatic was the famine that it is estimated that 20 million men, women and children died from it between 1920 and 1923

The situation of famine threatening the whole Europe just after the outbreak of WWI awoke the world's public awareness; in the USA an emergency measure was promptly decided: the American Relief Administration was founded by the American congress on 24th February 1919, backed up with a 100 millions $ budget, promptly boosted by private donations. Later on it ran operations of food supply to fight against the terrible famine that was devastating Russia during 1920 & 1923. 

After a while, further agreements were signed on December 30, 1921, between the American Relief Administration and People's Comissar for Foreign Trade, Leonid Krasin. It is estimated that more than 10 million people were fed on a daily basis. The ARA operations were shut down on June 1923 (officials discovered that the Soviets renewed the export of grain).

Card from the American Relief Administration regarding the dispatch of food in Odessa
Combination of standard RSFSR stamps and Imperial Control stamps used as postal stamps

Some postal material intimely bridges the gap between philately and the atrocities of history. As such they remain a modest, but direct, testimonial of the sufferings of the people and their countries. Documents illustrating that dramatic period of famine can still be found today. 

There is an interesting article in the last issue of the British Journal of Russian Philately, authored by Edward Klempka, regarding the usage of reevaluated stamps during the RSFSR period; in the pages 14-15 Edward illustrates four cards emitted by that American Relief Administration and sent from Moscow to various places abroad, namely Berlin, Nice, New York and Berne. 

I am able to illustrate another card from my stock, please see scan above. It is a card sent from Moscow on the 15th May 1922 and adressed to Mr Greiss in Chicago, USA. It has been franked at the 8000 rubles rate, with the following combination:

  • 7500 rubles with a standard issue overprinted 
  • 500 rubles with TWO control stamps reevaluated at 250 rubles each
  • = 8000 rubles
Not only food was lacking at that time, but actually everything, including postal stamps. Hence the use as an emergency measure of the Imperial control stamps as postal stamps, reevalued at the 'ghost' (without overprint) value of 250 rubles each. The 8000 rubles rate does not correspond to any kind of official rate of that period (though I must admit that I just had a quick look at my reference files); nevertheless the American Relief cards were all tacitly accepted and forwarded by the postal clerks... It would have probably been heartbreaking to block such correspondance!

The back of the card

All American Relief cards that I have seen so far have been sent from Moscow. Quite surprisingly, two of the cards in the BJRP article have also been sent from Moscow on the 15th of May 1922, like my card; there has probably been a major dispatch abroad that day. 

Despite the huge number of victims, the impact of the American Relief Administration help in Russia has been of a tremendous nature. It is believed that the future president Hoover, who was at the head of the orgazination, once received a letter from the famous author Maxim Gorky, who wrote:

"Your help will enter history as a unique feat, a gigantic achievement, worthy of the greatest glory, and which will long remain in the memory of millions of Russians whom you have said from death".

Maxime Citerne

January 13, 2013

Pricing & Ebay

When a dealer or a collector decides to sell an item, correct evaluation followed by an adequate pricing is of great importance. Regarding Ebay, which is now the reference place for low and middle range material, pricing is definitely a jungle and some dreamers are always trying to pull the blanket to them. And sometimes it works.

Nevertheless I disagree with the tendancy of some collectors to roughly slander Ebay for its unrealistic prices and rubbish material. I have two reasons for this. First, although Ebay is certainly not the ideal place for stamp market, actually quite unsafe for most novice philatelists (the Ebay motto 'we want to make it a safe place for buyers' is only paying some lip service), one can still make some good deals (paying less) or find the rare item. At least I did, on numerous occasions.

Secondly, in philately, knowledge is power and most of the 'wrong buys' could be avoided with common sense and caution. But some collectors are just lazy. They don't want to put the effort to learn more than to barely scratch the surface of things, and they don't want to listen the very important advice: if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is! They are the first ones involved, and most should first blame themselves and their lack of dedication, not Ebay or its sellers, for being the fools; but as life is teaching us (at least for those who are interested in learning the lessons of life), it is much more easy for the ego to blame our faults on others than on ourselves, and yet...

That being said, I often find some nice material for my collections (Zemstvo, Indian states, Vietnam postal history...) that I would like to buy, even at a full 'realistic' price. But I have to throw in the towel, the prices being completely unreasonnable. It seems that some sellers have some unrealistic perceptions of pricing, especially for arcane material where they got no information to rely on. Instead of letting a customer making a simple normal deal (not even to mention a good one!), they prefer to tag some unrealistic prices, 'just in case' they might not lose some money. The result is pathetic, as the great majority of highly overpriced items remains unsold (both the seller's and the wannabe-buyer's lost).

That situation is NOT the sole fact of Ebay. This sad tendancy was the one of many 'real life' stamp dealers before Ebay's advent, and still is. Just go for a stamp walk in Paris, for instance, and visit the dealers there. Most of the material is old and without interest (the stamps, not the dealers, even though sometimes...) and ridiculously overpriced. 

For instance, last time I checked Behr's prices (a famous dealer in Paris), I almost had a heart attack: he was asking 1000 euros (1300 $) for a standard used copy of Russia #1 (!) 

I usually pay mine 3 to 4 times less...