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180 years of first postage stamps

On May 6, 1840, the first postage stamp, popularly known as the “Black Penny”, was officially issued in England.

The background of its creation is as follows. Rowland Hill, secretary of the Society for the Colonization of South Australia, drew attention to the imperfection of the then British postal system, as well as the fact that because of this, few people use it, and the Royal Mail loses a large amount of money. According to the rules in force at that time, the recipient paid for the letter, and the price depended on too many factors, was unpredictable and high, so poor Englishmen preferred to send letters with an opportunity.

Mr. Hill drew up a draft of postal reform, the essence of which was the introduction of a single postal fee: four pence for each letter, regardless of weight, appearance and distance, and the sender paid for the services of the mail. The new rules required a universal postage stamp. They decided to make stamps that were previously used on documents as proof of payment of taxes. Now these small squares have become evidence of the introduction of an almost modern mail forwarding system.

It took several years to get the reform through parliament, and on May 6, 1840, the world’s first postage stamps went on sale. They featured the profile of Queen Victoria on a black background, cost one penny, and so quickly gained the nickname “The Black Penny”. Just two days later, similar blue twopence stamps appeared in everyday use – “blue twopence” – but they did not earn such fame and symbolism. At the same time, by the way, the first postmarked envelopes were invented, but they were not in demand – people, out of economy, glued stamps directly on rolled-up letters.

Postal reform and the introduction of stamps contributed to the growth of postal service in England (from 75 million letters in 1839 to 168 million in 1840), easier handling of mail and easier payment for them. Rowland Hill was accepted into the postal service and rose to become General Secretary of the English Postmaster General. In London, a monument to him is erected, and Hill himself is buried in Westminster Abbey next to the inventor of the steam engine, James Watt.

“Black Penny” was also the beginning of philately-stamp collecting began, of course, with it. This stamp is not a rarity among professional philatelists – quite a lot of them have been preserved.

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Consular fifty kopecks

«Consular fifty kopecks» — philatelic name of one of the stamps in the series (CPA № ОС6; Yver № 7). Red ink overprint of the text «Воздушная почта Р. С. Ф. С. Р. 1200 герм. марок» it was made on stamps of consular duty with a nominal value of 50 kopecks. This is one of the rarest postage stamps of the RSFSR, its approximate circulation is 50-75 copies.

Consular stamps, or stamps of consular duty, — type of fiscal stamps for payment of consular fees when processing entry and exit documents. In Russia, they have been used since 1913. They were also used as postal services. “Consular” stamps are also called a series of official airmail stamps of the RSFSR of 1922.

In 1922, after the formation of the joint Russian-German Society of air communications “Deruluft” (нем. Deutsche Russian Luftverkehr), the first international air line in the RSFSR — Moscow — Konigsberg-was opened. Although the company’s planes delivered only diplomatic mail, its charter provided for the possibility of sending private paid correspondence, paid for when sent from Moscow with Soviet stamps, and when sent from Germany — with German ones.

During this period, a number of representative offices of Soviet trade and industrial organizations were located in Berlin, but they did not have diplomatic status. Having a lively correspondence with Moscow, these organizations were inconvenienced by the fact that the official procedure in Germany for receiving mail in the RSFSR with a two-week interval led to delays in the ever-increasing official correspondence. With the aim of eliminating these delays, on the initiative of the Soviet representative in Berlin, M. V. Krestinsky was asked to send the mail of Soviet missions along with diplomatic correspondence. However, unlike the diplomatic service, the mail of the trade missions had to be paid properly, taking into account the current airmail rates.

To account for these payments, in July 1922, the stock of consular stamps of the Russian Empire, which was available at the Embassy of the RSFSR in Germany, was made a typographic red overprint of the new affiliation and nominal value. The series included stamps of eight denominations from 12 to 1200 Deutsche marks. The stamps were supposed to be used as postage stamps for franking official correspondence of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR and other Soviet organizations sent by air mail to Moscow.

Since this release was carried out without the consent of the People’s Commissariat of the RSFSR, the initiative of the diplomatic mission was not approved in Moscow. Soon after the arrival of the first flight with the mail in the capital, an order was issued to withdraw the stamps from circulation, and the circulation was requested in Moscow.

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Carton block

On December 5, 1932, the 1st All-Union Philatelic Exhibition opened in the building of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. In fact, she was the second. The first All-Union philatelic exhibition, called the “All-Union Exhibition on Philately and Bons”, was held much earlier, from December 14, 1924 to February 1, 1925 in Moscow. It was initiated by one of the founders of Soviet philately, Fyodor Grigoryevich Chuchin – who at that time was the Commissioner for Philately and Bonds in the USSR. The exhibition of 1924-25 was very large-scale and truly international. Philatelists from dozens of countries gathered in Moscow, and the Dutch, Turks, Swiss and Lithuanians even received awards for their exhibitions.

But government policy has changed significantly over the next seven years. Chuchin’s exhibition was too … well, capitalist. Private individuals presented their private collections and collections, and private individuals received awards. In 1932, this arrangement was no longer suitable. Therefore, the organizers of the 1932 exhibition turned a blind eye to the 1924-25 exhibition and called the new exhibition the First. There were no private philatelists with collections there any more – at the 1st All-Union Philatelic exhibition the state collections of the People’s Commissariat of Communications of the USSR were presented. Let’s face it-these were good and rich collections, but very limited due to the ideological component. In fact, this was the reason for the change in the format – in private collections, there could be stamps of ideological enemies.

For all philatelic exhibitions around the world, postage stamps are necessarily printed that glorify these exhibitions (of course, this statement applies only to global, state-scale exhibitions). Plus, the exhibitions themselves always (including local ones) print their own non-postal, souvenir stamps.

The People’s Commissariat of Communications of the USSR for the 1st exhibition issued two souvenir stamps with the image of the Pushkin Museum (drawing by Vasily Zavyalov) in denominations of 15 and 35 kopecks, printed on paper with a watermark. They were put into circulation on the opening day of the exhibition, December 5, 1932.

In 1932, for the 1st International Philatelic Exhibition in the USSR, they decided to join the world-wide format and also print a block of 168×120 mm in size. And they printed it-in 500 copies. It was not intended for free sale (although you could cut a stamp out of it and stick it on an envelope if you wanted), so it is more correct to call it a “souvenir” rather than a “postal”one. Its 500 copies were attached to the invitations to the exhibition for the guests of honor.

As you can see, on the block, in addition to 4 stamps, there was an inscription «Народный комиссариат связи СССР» and its dubbing in French – “Commissariat du Peuple des communications postales et électriques“. The souvenir sheet was handed over to the exhibition management, which, in fact, was engaged in sending out invitations. Naturally, the blocks “settled” in the collections of the invitees or were subsequently transferred by them (resold). Today, several such blocks can be found in free sale (mainly at auctions), their starting price is on average $ 20,000. Of course, the circulation is 500 copies. Rare!

Moreover, at the exhibition, it was possible to extinguish the block with a special red extinguishment. But almost everyone left their blocks in their pure form – so the hash is now worth some generally unintelligible money.

But in fact, the circulation of the blocks was not 500, but 525 copies. What were the mysterious 25 sheets? They were named names. They were overprinted “The best drummer of the All-Union Society of Philatelists“. They were sent not to anyone, but to 25 people who made the greatest contribution to the development of Soviet philately – all of them took part in the organization of the exhibition.

But there is an even more subtle division. Such blocks, as in the picture above, were not 25, but 22. On the last three blocks with the overprint “The Best drummer of the All-Union Society of Philatelists” there was another, additional, hand-made overprint-indicating the specific position and name of the invited person. As we can see in the photo below, one of the blocks was intended for «председателю Президиума МО – Э. М. Нуркас». MO is the Moscow Society of Philatelists.

The second block with a personal message was received by the then Chairman of the Presidium of the Leningrad Society of Philatelists. And the third – none other than Henrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda, at that time – the head of the secret operational department of the OGPU and a fanatical philatelist.

So we have:

– 500 ordinary blocks (some slaked);
– 22 blocks with an overprint ” to the drummer»;
– 3 named blocks.

Each of the named blocks is a so-called unique, that is, a brand that exists in a single copy. The exhibition ended. The blocks were deposited in the recipients ‘ personal collections. But the fate of the three named blocks is interesting. Unfortunately, I do not know who headed the Presidium of the Leningrad Society of Philatelists in 1932, and I could not find this information. But according to rumors, he was repressed and shot in the late 1930s. Henrikh Yagoda, as you know, was also shot-on March 15, 1938. Their blocks may or may not have been preserved. It is quite likely that somewhere there was a block with a personal overprint to Yagoda (look in the grandfather’s album!), and its starting price, I believe, will be about 800-900 thousand dollars.

In 2008, the Nurkas cardboard appeared at the Cherrystone philatelic auction and was sold for crazy money – 776250 US Dollars.

Interestingly, in 1997, the block received a “second life”. Not the name block of Nurkas, but the usual one, without an overprint. At the initiative of the Canadian Society of Russian Philately, a small print run of “cardboard-97” was made, which completely copies “cardboard-32” and differs from it by a commemorative inscription on the front side and an inscription on the back.

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Tiflis unika

«Tiflis unika», or «Tiflis stamp», — philatelic name of a very rare postage stamp issued in the Russian Empire (on the territory of modern Georgia) for the city post office of Tiflis (now Tbilisi) and Kojori in 1857. The release date and symbolism allow us to speak of the “Tiflis Unika” as the first Russian brand.


The nominal value is 6 kopecks. Postage within the city was 5 kopecks, and 1 kopeck was added for the cost of manufacturing.
Tiflis stamps were toothless, had a square shape and were printed, most likely, in strips of 5 pieces per sheet. They are made of colorless embossed relief, on yellowish paper. On the back is a thick layer of yellowish glue.
The drawing of the stamp is very clear and clear. The drawing shows the coat of arms of Tiflis, and above it — a double-headed eagle with lowered wings. The ancient coat of arms of Tiflis consisted of two parts: The upper half is Mount Ararat with Noah’s Ark on top, the Kura River and the patron saint of Georgia — Saint George on a horse; on the lower part of the shield — the rod of the god Mercury. On the four sides of the outer margin of the stamp are the words: «ТИФЛИС:», «ГОРОДС:», «ПОЧТА», «6 КОП:».


The stamp was created on the initiative of the manager of the postal district in the Caucasus and beyond the Caucasus, N. S. Kokhanov. The original issue was called “paper stamp stamps that have the properties of wafers”, with one stamp (“stamp seal”) required to be pasted for mailing around the city, and three stamps for sending to Kojory (or back).
In the past, it was believed that the Tiflis stamps were issued in November or December 1857, but earlier than December 10 of the same year — the date of the appearance of the first stamps of Russia. According to new data, they were released on June 20, 1857. They were used in circulation on the territory of Tiflis and Kojor until about 1865-1866.
According to other, earlier information, the stamps were in circulation for a short time and were canceled on March 1, 1858, when all-Russian stamped envelopes and stamps began to be used in the Caucasus.


For the first time, the philatelic community started talking about the fact that there was a city post office in Tiflis and that a special city postage stamp was used for local letters there in the 1880s. However, at that time, no one had yet seen the brand itself. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the publisher of the largest catalog of postage stamps in its time, Moensu, from 1889 onwards, constantly reporting about it in each new edition, raising the question: fr. «Il y a des timbres, mais lesquels?» (“There are stamps, but which ones?»). With the discontinuation of the publication of this catalog at the end of the XIX century, information about the Tiflis stamp for some time ceased to be placed in catalogs.
In 1933, the description of the brand is given in the catalog “Michael”, and since 1934, the image of the brand appeared in” Michael”.
In 1941, the stamp was again placed in the catalog published in New York by S. V. Prigar under the title “Russian Mail in the Empire, in Turkey, in China and mail in the Kingdom of Poland”. Later, in 1957, the Tiflis stamp was included in the English specialized catalog for stamps of Russia, compiled by D. Reynolds, and in the German catalog “Lipsia”. Moreover, in the last catalog, the stamp’s drawing and inscription were distorted.
The name of the brand “Tiflis Unika” was proposed in 1929 by the Baku philatelist Sergey Ivanovich Kuzovkin.

Philatelic rarity

Before the First World War, only three copies were found. The first copy, known to collectors, was bought by the architect K. K. Schmidt in 1913. During the 1910s-1920s, all three copies of the Tiflis stamp were purchased by the famous philatelist Agafon Faberge (son of Peter Karl Faberge), who emigrated from Russia: The first and best copy is from George Kirchner, the second — from V. Werkmeister.

These stamps were exhibited at the philatelic exhibition in 1928 in Helsingfors (now Helsinki, Finland) and at the international exhibition “WIPA-33” in 1933 in Austria. Everything that was shown at this exhibition was mortgaged, transported to London and sold at auction in 1939. On November 20, 1939, the best copy of the “Tiflis stamp” for 28 pounds sterling was bought by J. Wilson.

The second stamp was bought for 25 pounds by T. Lavrov for the collection of H. Stubbe. On October 2, 1957, this stamp was sold for 180 pounds. It was purchased by R. Davidson. Subsequently, it was in the collection of R. Bergman and was sold on March 24, 1971 at auction in New York. The price of the brand was brought up to 7250 dollars. The sensational sale was commented on by New York newspapers, noting that this is “the largest amount of money received for a Russian brand.” On October 15, 1985, it was mentioned in connection with the auction sale of the collection of N. D. Epstein.

The third copy was sold in 1939 for 14 pounds. On February 19, 1958, he was featured in the sale of the X collection. Goss and was sold for 175 pounds.

Later, two stamps were in the collection of the famous philatelist and expert of Russian stamps Zbigniew Mikulski, who lives in Switzerland, who showed them in 1997 in Russia at the World Exhibition “Moscow-97”. The third copy, the worst preserved, came to the collection of the daughter of the famous collector Berlinger from Luxembourg. In 2000, Zbigniew Mikulski sold copies that belonged to him for half a million dollars, while the name of the new owner of the stamps was not reported.

On October 5, 2008, at the largest philatelic auction David Feldman SA (Geneva, Switzerland), one of the three copies of the Tiflis Unica known in the world at that time, previously owned by Zbigniew Mikulski, was sold for 480 thousand Euros (which amounted to more than 700 thousand US Dollars).

In March 2011, another unquenched copy of the “Tiflis Unika” was found in the vault of the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. It was in the collection of G. H. Kestlin, a Russian philatelist who lived in Great Britain, donated to the museum in 1984 by his heirs.

To date, eight copies of the Tiflis unika are known.

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