A History of Russian
Philately Part 1
255BC - 31 December 1857
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.
hundred years ago. Way back then, the earliest known Russian
writings referred to messages being sent from person to person, between
one town and another. We don't really know how these were sent,
but the one thing that we do know for sure is that the "mail"
in some form or another dates back a very long way!
And just to put this into
perspective, the very first ever known postal document predates this by
quite a bit. 255BC is the date of a postal document found in
Egypt, and of course, it is fair to infer that even before that time,
postal services of sorts ("kings' messengers", religious
orders) were in existence.
To start with, these various
services were all, of course, essentially private and did not allow the
general public to have their ordinary communications conveyed.
||The casual methods of
communication evolve into a system of messengers across the land,
enabling territories to summon troops, and for governments to pass
important messages (about such things as taxes!) to the districts that
||Letters that were sent
from one town to another were typically in the form of a roll, with a
tied on address label, and the whole thing sealed with either a wax or
Needless to say, none of the wax
seals have survived, but the earliest known lead seal dates back to
1079, and records that the document so sealed was from the governor of
Tmutarakan, a gentleman by the name of Ratibor.
||The earliest known
cover from Russia is what is known as the "La Tana" cover sent
this year to Venice. La Tana is nowadays known as Azov.
||By this time, the
postal system had improved to the point where there were some 1600
different postal stations spread across the country.
Mail travelled fairly efficiently
and regularly - for example, a letter from Moscow to Novgorod (a
distance of about 350 miles) would usually take 3 days in transit.
(Dare I point out that today mail between those two cities frequently
takes considerably longer!!!)
||A war between Russia
and Poland ended and as part of the peace treaty, the two countries
agreed on the establishment of a regular postal route between Moscow and
This marked the start of Russia's
first regular international postal service.
||This year saw Peter the
Great ascend to the Russian Throne. At the time he was only ten,
and ruled jointly with his brother Ivan V. When his brother died
in 1696, Peter was then declared Sovereign of All Russia.
Under his rule, Russia did become
a great nation, and in 1721 he proclaimed Russia an Empire. He
took the titles Emperor of All Russia, Great Father of the Fatherland
and "the Great."
Peter was a study in
contrasts. He could be an immensely cruel tyrant (he tortured and
murdered his eldest son, and that is far from the worst thing he did)
but he was also very intelligent, sensible, far-sighted, and had a clear
vision as to how to make Russia into a great power.
He instituted many reforms in just
about every aspect of Russian life. Indeed, so far reaching were
his actions that he created an entire new city where previously there
had only been swampy marshlands and decreed it to become the new capital
of Russia - the glorious city of St Petersburg (not named after
Along with all his other reforms,
he paid attention to the postal service, and endeavoured to create an
overarching uniform structure to what had developed into a complex mess
of different jurisdictions, different government departments, and
various private contractors. His reforms and improvements to the
postal service established the rudiments of a uniform postal system
throughout the entire vast country that is Russia, and a code of
procedure that safeguarded the fast and safe delivery of mail.
He died unexpectedly on 28
January, 1725(J). He is buried, along with (I think) every Tsar
after him (including, finally, now Tsar Nicholas II as well), in the
Cathedral of the St Peter & St Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.
He will always be considered one
of the pivotal leaders in Russia's history and these few short
paragraphs don't start to do justice to the extraordinary changes he
wrought in all aspects of Russian society.
||The first post offices
to be established under Peter the Great's new uniform postal service
structure were opened in Moscow and St Petersburg.
28 November 1765
||The first known Russian
postmark can be traced back to this date. It takes the form of a
single line with the word ST.PETERSBOVRG appearing exactly as written
here - in English not Cyrillic. It is on a letter that was sent
from St Petersburg to Pernow.
General practice prior to about
this time was to record in some form of ledger at the receiving post
office details about each letter, where it was going to, and what the
amount charged was (based on weight and distance). Sometimes some
hand written details would be written on the back of the letter to
record these facts, and sometimes not.
16 August 1781
||The first official
reference to postmarks occurs on this date in a note from the head of
the Riga Post Office that recommends the introduction of postal marks in
all post offices as proof that the appropriate fees had been collected.
This recommendation was speedily
acted on, and in the postal regulations of 1782 is a requirement that
each post office will have a postmark that states the name of the town
as proof that postal charges have been collected.
This original concept of postmarks
was based solely on a way of demonstrating that postal charges had been
paid, rather than as a way of recording any details about the delivery
of the letter.
The concept of recording the date
that the letter was received by the post office came later, and was
slowly introduced between about 1816-1818.
6 May 1840G
The Penny Black
|A quick test of your
philatelic general knowledge. What extraordinary event occurred
Okay, so the answer is nothing to
do with Russia, but it sure is everything to do with philately.
Today is the day that Britain released its first ever stamps - the
"Penny Black" and "Twopenny Blue". It also
released, at the same time, two prepaid envelopes.
Interestingly, the idea of buying
stamps in advance initially met with some resistance, but the general
public soon came around to the "new" way of doing things, and
by the end of 1840, some 72 million Penny Blacks had been issued!
||In a major step towards
adhesive stamps as we know them today, the postal authorities introduced
envelopes that were pre-stamped to record the payment of a 5 kopek
postal fee for the local posts in St Petersburg and Moscow.
1 December 1848
||The concept of the
pre-stamped envelopes proved popular and successful, and so was extended
to all post offices throughout Russia
18 February 1855J (= 2 March
||Tsar Alexander II
ascends to the throne of the "Empire of all the Russias".
His reign was brought summarily to
an end when on 1 March 1881J he was killed in St Petersburg by a bomb
thrown at him by a student member of a revolutionary group "The
National Will". A new church was subsequently built on this
location, the "Cathedral on the Spilled Blood". This is
a spectacular church you should make a point of visiting if you are in
St Petersburg; it has recently been wonderfully restored inside and out,
and architecturally it is every bit the equal of, and much larger than,
the better known St Basils on Red Square in Moscow.
Mr Stanley Gibbons in later life.
|At some time this year
Mr Edward Stanley Gibbons of London (then aged a mere 16) bought a
sackful of rare triangular Cape stamps from two sailors recently
returned from South Africa for £5. With this he founded the
business that is today the world's longest established stamp collecting
company, Stanley Gibbons.
It is thought that his new company
was the first ever company to commercially trade in stamps for
||The rapidly increasing
popularity of the postal services means that further efficiencies are
needed, and so it is decided to introduce adhesive postage stamps.
The stamps are printed,
distributed, and even placed on sale in mid/late December of 1857, but
(in theory) are not to be used until 1 January 1858. Details of
which are in the next part of this chronology.
This page last
modified on May 15, 2010