Zemstvo stamps were stamps issued by various local government authorities and were used for local mail in their region, during period from about 1865 through until about the revolution in 1917. They were most prevalent in the period 1890-93 when an incredible 793 different zemstvo stamps were issued by the various different local governments. Indeed, due to the large numbers of issuing authorities (in total, 162 different districts issued stamps at one time or another), vastly more zemstvo stamps were issued during the period that they were in use than regular postal stamps - more than ten times as many!
The word zemstvo means "county" or "district" in English. The zemstvo stamps contrast with the national stamps, which were used for mail between major towns and cities, but the national postal service did not extend to regional service between and within local outlying regions of the major cities.
We have rewritten and extended the Introduction that appears in the Chuchin work and you might find this a helpful primer on this fascinating subject.
For a complexity of reasons, the major catalogs do not cover zemstvos. Most serious collectors feel this to be wrong, and believe that it is just these catalogs being lazy due to the complexities of zemstvo issues and the fact that they are not commonly traded. For whatever reason, it remains a fact of life and all we can do is try and make up for their omission.
However, there can be no doubt both that they are "real" stamps in every sense of the term - the zemstvo post was legally authorised by the Tsar, and the stamps were genuinely postally used. As such, they definitely qualify as validly collectable by the Russian philatelist. Indeed, due to their less "main stream" nature, many people find them intrinsically much more interesting than "regular" Russian stamps - after all, just how many CTO commemoratives can you possibly want! :)
Until recently, the major definitive work cataloguing zemstvo stamps was a publication issued in 1925 by the Soviet Commissioner for Philately, a Mr F G Chuchin. This work, titled "Catalog of the Russian Rural Postage Stamps" is commonly referred to as "Chuchin", and fortunately remains easily available in slightly expanded improved reprint form, for sale by J Barefoot Ltd, and last time I checked, they were selling their 1988 reprint for £9.
The key importance of the Chuchin publication appears to be currently challenged by a new multi-volume work being written by Alex Artuchov, a gentleman in Canada who is also Treasurer of the Canadian Society of Russian Philately, under the title of "Zemstvo Postage Stamps of Imperial Russia". Four volumes of this encyclopedic work have been published to date (totaling close on 800 pages), with at least two more volumes due to complete the work. Both his book and the Chuchin reprint are reviewed in our section on reviews.
These web pages follow the common categorization of zemstvo issues - listing the issues by issuing authority - a sensible enough method. Chuchin lists 162 different authorities that issued adhesive stamps (many more provided zemstvo mail service for free and a few charged for mail but did not issue regular adhesive type stamps) spread over 33 different regional governments. To see a breakdown and regional analysis of these issuing authorities, complete with maps of each region, please visit our Zemstvo by Region page.
In the table of issuing authorities listed on the left, I have placed all issuing authorities, but will only build links when I have material to show on that page. From small acorns, giant oak trees grow - we are now - Aug 00 - over half way towards having some data from each issuing district, with more than 80 districts now represented. A further update in Aug 01 - we're now up to 123 of the districts - more that three quarters of the way!
I have collated these zemstvo scans from a number of sources, many from assorted eBay auctions (which explains the wide variation in scan quality!). In addition, some scans are from my own (small) collection and I'd also like to especially thank John Nay and Terry Page of the WSRP Zemstvo Study Group for the permission to feature some of their excellent quality scans here. If you are interested in zemstvo collecting, I urge you to join the WSRP and its active Zemstvo Study Group accordingly.
Caution - Counterfeits
A cautionary note. Because these stamps are of moderately high value, and because little is known of many of them by non-specialist collectors, it has been suggested that there may have been an increase in the offering for sale of counterfeit stamps, particularly on some of the general internet auction sites. I have no knowledge as to if this is correct or over-hyped fear, but any time you are buying high value stamps from an unknown source, it is entirely appropriate to be cautious and engage the seller in some dialog to understand the provenance of the stamps and the method of identification/verification of the stamps used by the seller (usually none!) and what the seller's own knowledge level and ability to personally validate the stamps may be. This last issue is perhaps the most relevant - there are also some respected long-time stamp dealers that specialise in Russia that sell zemstvo issues, and if that is the case, you can purchase with much more confidence than you can the person selling "old dealer's stock of rare zemstvo issues"! :)
Interpreting and Predicting Zemstvo Values
Zemstvo stamps are not commonly available, but it is surprisingly easy to establish their market values. Many collectors accept Barefoot's advice and use the values in Chuchin's catalog as an approximate guide to relative values between one issue and another.
The individual pages on the left contain information on prices that zemstvos have sold for (on eBay unless otherwise specified). For more information on this subject, and how to estimate the value of stamps for which we don't have recent sale information, please see our page on Valuation Issues.
Identifying Zemstvo Stamps
Please also refer to the page about identification problems in general as they apply in particular to this website.
There are two aspects to identifying a zemstvo stamp. The first is to identify it as indeed being a zemstvo issue, the second to determine which zemstvo issue it is. Arguably the third issue is to determine if it is real or counterfeit, but that is way beyond the scope of my own meagre knowledge.
Identifying a stamp as a zemstvo stamp usually involves hoping to find the Cyrillic word zemstvo on the stamp (here are some scans). If you see this somewhere on the stamp, then you know you've got a zemstvo. If you don't see it, then maybe you don't, but note that not all zemstvo issues have the word zemstvo on them!
That was the easy part. Now to determine which zemstvo it is. I'm sorry, but there is no practical alternative to learning some of the Cyrillic alphabet! Fortunately, (as time allows) I'll make it easy for you and show the Cyrillic spellings of the local governments in a table here (when I have this at least partially done the link will appear). I suggest all you want to do is to look at the first couple of letters of each word until you get a pattern match, then check in my table to see how many letters you need to get a unique pattern match and keep matching letters till you have that - then you have probably identified the local government that issued the stamp.
The chances are that I don't have an image of the stamp yet on this site, but if the local government shows it has a link, go and have a look and maybe you'll strike it lucky. And here's an offer I'll make to you - send me a nice big clean scan of the zemstvo and I'll identify it for you - as best I can! :)
Which leads to the last item in this introductory section. It is, unsurprising, a plea for assistance. Any images you can contribute would be much appreciated!