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

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.