Tuesday, 10 November 2020 05:09

Rural Stamps of the Russian Empire (1910)

Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Rural Stamps of the Russian Empire (1910) Rural Stamps of the Russian Empire (1910)

The following article concerning the rural stamps of Russia was originally published in “Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly” (September 1910) and written by Fred W. Edwards, FRPSL, FCS.

In an elementary introduction to the Rural Stamps of the Russian Empire, as this paper purports to be, it will not really be of the nature of a digression for me to first briefly review the postal history of this great and mighty Empire, which embraces more than half of Europe, and comprises in all, about one-sixth of the land on the globe.

It frequently stands to the credit of private and local posts, to have preceded the establishment of regular government services; and thus many of them did a great amount of useful and meritorious pioneer postal work; and it is mainly on account of their interesting historical associations in this direction, that makes the study and collecting of local stamps of far greater interest to us than are the issues of thoroughly organised modern government post offices.

Rural Stamps of Russia

The thought has frequently occurred to me that when the first Centenary of the introduction of postage stamps is celebrated with all due honour (and by that time every country in the world should have a well organised postal service, with universal penny postage), with what interest will philatelists celebrating that auspicious anniversary look back on the first chapter of the philatelic history of each country and the pioneer work of many local posts!

In Russia, that vast and mighty Empire with its millions of square miles and many millions of people, not only were local posts the pioneers of postal reforms, but even to-day the government postal service cannot undertake the postal functions of the whole Empire without the co-operation of scores of local posts; hence it is that the legitimate postal business transacted by these rural posts, and the fact of their working under government sanction, merit our special notice and consideration.

Above: One of the gaudiest of Russian Rural stamps, the 5 Kopecs of Tiraspol, issued in 1879, which is printed in black, gold, yellow, and orange!

Of the fifty Governments in European Russia, over thirty contain rural district posts which issue, or have issued, postage stamps; and these thirty odd Governments or Provinces include between them about 150 stamp-issuing places, which can account for an aggregate of something like 2,000 varieties of stamps.

Although during the last ten years the Russification of Finland has proceeded at a rapid pace, in so far that the current Finnish stamps are little better than minor varieties of Russian, yet neither the government issues nor the locals of Finland come within the scope of the present paper; otherwise the Finnish envelopes issued in 1845 might have received special notice. As becomes the capital, St. Petersburg pioneered postal reforms in Russia by issuing on Dec. 1st, 1845 (three years before the introduction of stamped envelopes for the Empire) an envelope stamp of the value of 5 kopecs, the currency being: 100 1 kopecs = 1 rouble = 28.

In 1846 an envelope of the same value appeared in Moscow, the former capital.

Adhesives were introduced by the Russian P.O. in Dec., 1857; the first value being 10 kopecs. The St. Petersburg local post followed suit in 1863 by issuing a bi-coloured stamp, but of 5 kopecs value; and curiously enough this stamp is the only Russian Rural included in current catalogues. At that time there was no Imperial stamp of 5 kopecs value; and it is a singular testimony to the status of this St. Petersburg stamp to say that the issuing of a 5 kopecs stamp, by the Imperial post in the following year, did not involve the immediate suppression of its local fore-runner, which continued for some time in use concurrently with the regular issue. The use of this local stamp was not confined to the capital, but was also allowed in Astrachan, Kazan and Moscow.

But both the modern and ancient capitals of Russia were preceded in the issue of adhesives by Wenden, one of the chief towns in the province of Livonia; for as early as 1862, an adhesive stamp, the product of private enterprise, was issued; and the stamps of Livonia (Wenden) are singular in having inscriptions in German-the prevailing language of the district.

But we need not linger long over Livonia, as its twenty odd varieties (1862-1903) are all listed in current catalogues; as are also the stamps of the Russian Steam Navigation Co., better known under the title of Levant (Russian).

The year following the introduction of adhesives in St. Petersburg, saw the establishment of Rural Councils throughout Russia; and these “Zemstvos,” as they are called, had not only charge of primary education and agriculture within their respective districts, hut also to a large measure the organising and improving of postal facilities, although this latter work was not their original function. Without waiting for government sanction, several of the rural district authorities started, soon after their creation, to organise local posts and to issue local stamps. That these enterprising “postal reformers” fulfilled a useful function in supplementing the Imperial service which was then, and even to-day is, unable to serve the remote places in the vast Russian territory, was evident even to the Autocratic Government; and in consequence of the system of Rural posts thus finding commendation, official sanction was given to the system by an Imperial edict of Sept. 3rd, 1870 (old style), signed by the Governor of the Ministry of the Interior, Prince Lobanoff Rostovsky, duly authorising the various Local Assemblies to establish postal services in their jurisdiction, under certain restrictions, one of which was that the local stamps must essentially differ in design from those issued for the Empire. It seems rather unfortunate that there was apparently no restriction regarding the maximum number of varieties to be issued from each post, otherwise a place like Bogorodsk, in Moscow, boasting of a population of about 11,000 would not have had occasion to establish the unenviable record of nearly 150 varieties of adhesives alone, not mentioning envelopes; and Griazovets, the “runner-up,” might have been stopped far short of the 117 varieties issued therefrom between 1873 and 1899.

However, fortunately for collectors, these philatelically prolific places are an exception, most of the rural districts being satisfied with a moderate number of varieties; at the least, half-a-dozen posts being satisfied with one variety apiece, whilst many others went one better and issued no stamps at all!

The functions of these Russian Rural posts were not therefore confined to the mere issuing of stamps as alas! was the case with many German and Scandinavian private posts, but they supplemented the Imperial service by carrying the local letters from one point to another of the postal district, and also by taking the letters to and from the nearest Imperial Post Office, which was frequently scores of miles away. The Imperial Post Office controls the establishment and suppression of these rural posts; and their existence is determined solely by the ability or otherwise of the Imperial service to cover the outlying districts in Russian territory.

When the Imperial service can be extended to cover a district or place, wherein a local post has been established, the latter is suppressed; but on the other hand, sometimes districts are abandoned by the Imperial service, and a local post established instead. It has frequently happened that a local post has been suppressed and then re-opened after a lapse of years.

It seems to me that a highly desirable postal reform would be accomplished if the Russian Imperial post straightway suppressed for ever, all local posts found guilty of issuing varieties in an inverse numerical ratio to the number of deliveries and despatches, or issuing commemoratives.

As I have remarked, one of the restrictions placed on these rural posts was, that the stamps issued therefrom must differ in design from the orthodox Russian stamps, and this condition was certainly fulfilled; but there is notwithstanding a certain uniformity of design about all these rural stamps, which enables even the tyro to distinguish them as such; though the classification of these stamps into their respective districts is rendered rather difficult, mainly on account of the Russian language with its peculiar and unfamiliar characters.

The design of most of these rural stamps is heraldic, representing the Arms of the town of issue, or the Arms of the Province or Government in which the town is located, or sometimes both combined.

A notable example of several district posts using the Arms of the Province on the design of the stamps, occurs in the districts within the Province of Perm, the Arms of which depict a bear; and in like manner the beehive shown on the stamps issued within Tambor, is copied from the Coat of Arms of this latter Province.

As regards catalogue value, the stamps issued in the rural post of Saratov, from its establishment in 1869 to its suppression in 1874, rank the highest amongst all Russian rurals, the catalogue value of the set of the five Saratov stamps unused being about £10.

Collectors of blocks, panes and sheets, will find Russia a happy hunting ground for tete-beche varieties and other specialities, as in a great many issues of “rurals” there are at the top, bottom, or side of the sheet, one or more rows of stamps printed sideways, as in the first issues of Zolotonoscha; whilst in the case of the fourth issue of Arzamass, there is one stamp per sheet in that peculiar position.

To better enable the postal authorities of certain districts to keep an account of the letters despatched, a blank space is provided on the stamp for the writing of a number in pen-and-ink, this quaint idea probably originating in the post of Lubny; but an even better method obtained in Kotelnich and Zadonsk, both of which places issued stamps bearing a detachable counterfoil, which was dated, numbered, and retained by the Post Office.

The stamps of Kotelnich have another claim on our attention, as this district was divided into five sub-districts, each of which had in 1875 stamps of the same design, but in different colours, all having counterfoils.

Furthermore, Kotelnich was one of the rural posts which issued postage due stamps for the purpose of collecting the extra postage due to the iocal post office for bringing the mail-matter from the nearest Imperial post to the local district.

The rural stamps never franked letters outside the place or province of issue: hence letters for other parts of Russia and for foreien countries required the regular Russian stamps as well.

The policy of the Russian Empire has generally been one of territorial expansion and trespassing, but the crude and queer set of three stamps, all depicting a horse’s head in profile, issued in Jassy in 1879, recall the days when this border-town was within the Government of the Russian province, Bessarabia; but the rectification of the frontier in 1879 gave the town to Roumania.

The cancellation of Russian rurals calls for comment, as the cancelling was generally done in pen-and-ink, sometimes with pen strokes, sometimes with the date or name of the postal clerk, or both; but in the more recent issues the cancelling is done with an ordinary obliterator.

Time and space prohibit me from endeavouring to review individually the stamps of about 150 places, comprising a collection of something like 2,000 varieties, the purpose of this paper being merely to serve as an elementary introduction to this vast group of stamps, which are of very great interest and real value, enjoying a high status which renders them worthy of far greater popularity amongst English-speaking philatelists than they have hitherto enjoyed.

I am strongly of the opinion that any collection or catalogue of Russian stamps, which excludes those of the rural posts is far from complete, because the rural posts are part and parcel of the postal organisation of Russia.

Such is the popularity of Russian rural stamps on the Continent, especially in Germany and Russia, that, a sumptuous illustrated periodical, dealing exclusively with them, is now appearing in the German language, and when complete will make a magnificent standard work, doubtless going far to popularise this grand group of stamps.

English-speaking collectors are not altogether at a loss for literature on this subject, as Mr. Wm. Herrick, of New York, has written a notable work on “Russian Rural Stamps,” and many of the Gibbons old albums and “Local” catalogue issued in 1899, include them.

Source: philatelicdatabase.com