A History of Russian Philately

This is very much a work in progress, but already it has become too large for a single page - not so much because there is a lot of "boring history", but because of the associated images which slows down the page load time if you're still stuck at the far end of a slow modem.

I'll keep splitting this into smaller and smaller sections as I add more entries and more images.

Please also read down below the contents to the notes that explain the entries.

Please Help!

If you can add any more dates and details to this history, please let me know.  I need to know the date (Julian or Gregorian if relevant and known), the event, and also - most important - a reference source to confirm the accuracy of the event if at all possible.

Part 1

From 255BC (I kid you not!) through until 31 December, 1857J, the day before the introduction of the first adhesive stamp in Russia.

Part 2

From 1 January 1858 through until the fall of the Tsar on 2 March, 1917J.

Part 3

From the Bolshevik Revolution on 25 October 1917J through to the present day.


Access our 'Today in History' database for any day you wish.

This is the information that displays for today on the main home page - if you want data for a different day you don't need to wait for it - just go here and choose the day you want!

Russian Dates Explained

Imperial Russia used the Julian calendar up until 1918, whereas the rest of the western world used the Gregorian calendar.  The Julian calendar was twelve days behind the Gregorian calendar for most of this period, and thirteen days behind for the last several years - I'm guessing since 1900 (it didn't have as many leap years as in the Gregorian calendar).

In 1918 Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar, with January 31 being the last day of the Julian calendar, and the next day then being deemed to be February 14.

This allows for plenty of confusion, because it isn't always clear which calendar is being used to refer to any given date.  If I'm referring to a date that I know to be in either the Julian or Gregorian calendar during the period of ambiguity, I'll put a J or G alongside it.  Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine, and frankly, what is a day or two when it comes to events of 100+ years ago!  And, of course, subsequent to 14 Feb, 1918, all dates are Gregorian.

Russian Money Explained

This is fairly simple.  Or, at least, it should be!  Russian currency is in rubles, and each ruble has 100 kopek.  In Russian cyrillic script, the letter "r" (for ruble) actually looks like a "P".  Helpfully, the letter "k" for kopek looks just like a letter "K", so there is no ambiguity there.

Now for the difficult part.  Russia has had a couple of periods of rampant inflation, and at least two remonetarisations as well (where so many old rubles are equated to be worth fewer new rubles, such as in 1997 when 1000 old rubles where deemed to be worth one new ruble).  These remonetarisations make it more difficult to track the change in pricing for postage.

About the Images

The images are not to any consistent scale.  They have been collated from a range of various sources, and scanned at different dots per inch, meaning that you can not assume that because one image is bigger than another, the underlying stamp is also bigger.

Source and Reference Material

I've prepared this timeline from a variety of sources.  The Stanley Gibbons 5th Edition Russia catalog was a major help, all the more so for being in English!  I've also used Scott and Michel catalogs for added insight and information.

Other specific sources of material includes :

Russian Postmarks - an Introduction and Guide by A V Kiryushkin & P E Robinson.  Published 1989 by J Barefoot Ltd.

The UPU web site.

Zarealye Co Russian Stamps Online web site - a convenient source of images.  They also sell a CD - I have a copy on order and will review it when received.

The Russian Alphabet in Translation and Transliteration

Russia uses a different alphabet to what we use - it is called the "Cyrillic" alphabet, named after St Cyril who codified the alphabet.

There are more letters in the Russian alphabet than in the English alphabet - 33.  Some of them look the same as their English equivalents, and sound the same, too - A K M O T.  Others look the same, but sound different, such as P (which is actually pronounced like an R - you'll see a P as the abbreviation for Ruble) and C (which sounds like S, which is why the Russian way of abbreviating USSR was CCCP) and some others, too.  Then there are letters which don't look like anything in English, but which are used for English sounds, like, for example, the letter for the English P (I'm trying to avoid having to put Russian characters on this page!).  If you'd like to learn more about being able to read and sound Russian words (which is easier than you might think) please have a look at our web pages on this subject.

Still more letters (which may or may not look familiar) are used to pronounce sounds that in English are shown with a combination of English letters, like "ch" and "ts" and "sh" and "ya".  Lastly, there are a few letters that denote sounds not commonly found in English, or letters which are used to modify the sound of the previous letter.  Many of these unfamiliar looking letters are very similar or identical to the same letters in the Greek alphabet.

When trying to show a Russian word using English letters - what is called "transliteration" - there are some ambiguities as to which way to spell out some of the Russian sounds.  For example, the word "tsar" and "czar" represent two different ways of showing the single Russian letter "ts".  Or, for example, the new name for Russia is nowadays shown on postage stamps as "Rossija" (which is a transliteration based on, I think, a French set of rules) but I prefer the transliteration "Rossia" (hence this domain name).

Transliteration guidelines have evolved over the years, but some names are so well recognised using old transliteration methods that they supersede the new "rules" - for example, in theory Tchaikovsky would probably be transliterated something like Chaikovskiy or Chaikovski or Chaikovskij these days, but the old transliteration tends to dominate, even in a book that might use the new transliteration scheme for everything else!

One last issue.  Many Russian place names have been Anglicised in a manner that the local Russians would struggle to recognise.  Even Moscow itself is, in Russian, "Moskva" and pronounced "MuskVA" (with the emphasis on the second syllable) - really nothing like the way most Americans say "Moscow" with the second syllable like the bovine animal, or the way many English people say "Moscoe" with the second syllable like "know".

The point that I am struggling to make is that transliterating is an inexact science!  The only exactness is to stick to the original Russian!




This page last modified on May 15, 2010