A History of Russian
Philately Part 3
25 Oct 1917J -
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.
25 October 1917J (= 7 November
||With the support of the
armed forces, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin seized power in Petrograd.
Elections a couple of weeks later showed them to be in a minority
position, and the country rapidly fell into civil war for the next
several years, with various alternate groups fighting against the
The civil war was essentially over
by late 1920, to be replaced by a period of hyper-inflation, settling
down again in 1923.
What was formerly Imperial Russia
now became known as the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic
This is a dreadfully confusing (or
amazingly interesting - depending on your point of view) period of
Russian postal history. Many of the breakaway groups issued their
own stamps, all manner of different surcharges were applied to
pre-existing stamps, and confusion and chaos generally reigned supreme!
||The new Soviet
government initially continued to use existing stamps - it was way too
preoccupied with a desperate struggle for survival to consider such
lesser things as new stamp designs!
However, in January 1918 they
authorised the postal use of some three Postal Savings Bank stamps - a
1k, 5k and 10k stamp, all still bearing the Romanov double headed eagle.
31 January 1918J
||This was the last day
that the Julian calendar was used. People went to bed on the night
of the 31st of January and when they woke up the next morning, it was
the morning of the 14th of February.
15 May 1918
||Regular airmail service
in the US was established on this date between New York and Washington
7 November 1918
Scott 149, Michel 149, SG 187
|The first RSFSR stamps
were issued today - a 35k and a 70k stamp showing an image of a sword
cutting through chains.
Important note :
Although not generally credited as such by the major catalogs, White
suggests that this stamp was actually designed and "prepared"
during the brief period of the Kerensky Government the previous
year. If so, I think it significant to appreciate that the stamp
that is generally considered to be the first issue of the RSFSR
government actually was not, but rather is the only issue of the
Note that even after this date -
more than a year after the revolution - the government continued to
issue new stamps in old imperial patterns, such as the 1R, 3R and 7R
stamps issued in November and December of 1918.
Note that this largely
anecdotal information on collecting in Russia is based on material
kindly provided by Anatoly
Kiryushkin of the WSRP.
||The Civil War has a
massive impact on philately in Russia. Most serious collectors
either were forced to flee from Russia, or were casualties, either on
the battlefields or in the basements of the notorious Cheka secret
police. As for their collections - confiscated, destroyed, or
19 April, 1922
||An obligatory tax stamp
was issued on this date. This was the first of such stamps (others
followed). There were four different designs in the set, with
values shown as 2T, 2T, 4T and 6T. The "T" (which is the
same letter in both English and Cyrillic) stands for
"thousand" and means that the stamp values are actually 2000R,
and so on.
These stamps had no stand-alone
postal value but were added as a surcharge to registered letters, money
orders and parcels in addition to the regular applicable postal charges
(and stamps). Proceeds from the stamps went to help famine
relieve in the Roston-on-Don region.
15 July, 1922
Scott C1, Michel 196, SG 284
|Sort of the first
airmail stamp was issued on this date.
It was actually a Consular Fee
stamp issued only at the Russian Embassy in Berlin, and showed values in
both German Marks and Russian Rubles and were used for mail transmitted
from the Embassy back to Russia via the Berlin-Moscow air service.
6 July, 1923
||The Soviet Union is
officially constituted, comprising initially of the RSFSR plus the
Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR) of Ukraine and Belorussia and the
In October 1924 the Uzbek and
Turkmen SSRs were added, and in December 1929 so too was the Tajik
A new constitution
was adopted on 5 December 1936, at which point there were 11
republics. This grew to 16 in 1940 and reduced to 15 in 1956.
19 August, 1923
Scott 242, Michel 224, SG 325
|The first Soviet stamps
Interestingly enough they are
commemoratives, not definitives (these came later, in October), and were
issued to denote an Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow.
||Those who survived the
previous period returned to philately plus the state programs of
education started to use philately as a form of distributing knowledge
to the population as a whole (fascinating concept - I must say it works
as I recognise a lot more Russian painters, writers, etc, after having
seen them repeatedly on stamps!). Numerous philatelic societies
were established and a new generation of collectors joined the hobby.
||During this period -
the era of the worst totalitarism in the history of the USSR (under the
rule of Stalin) the authorities became to understand that collectors
have too many contacts and know too much outside of the confines of
official propaganda. Moreover philatelic societies (as any other
unofficial community of more than one person) were looked upon
suspiciously as potentially counterrevolutionary organisations.
Accordingly well known and active collectors went either to labour camps
or were killed. During this period the collections of such
unfortunates were accurately confiscated and sold to finance the rising
Soviet military industry.
||Germany and Russia,
after recently signing a treaty making them allies, jointly invade
Poland. Poland turns to its own treaty partners, including France
and Britain and appeals for assistance in resisting this attack.
Poland's allies demand that Germany/Russia withdraw from Poland, and
when they don't, they declare war on the Axis powers - Germany, Russia,
and Italy. The alliance between Russia and Germany surprised many,
as the political leaders of both countries had, until that time, been
outspoken critics of each other.
||The role of stamps as a
wartime propaganda vehicle is applied for the first time.
Curiously enough, World War 1 (1914-18) went entirely unremarked,
philatelically speaking, in Russia. However April 1940 sees the
release of the first war themed stamps for World War 2, with a series of
five stamps recording Russia's occupation of new territory (SG893a-897;
Scott 767-71, M 736-40). Interestingly Scott, Michel and Liapin
record this as the Red Army being welcomed to Western Ukraine and
Western Byelorussia whereas SG says the stamps denote the occupation of
The cheery Russian soldier holding
a happy child on the 10k, and the friendly villagers welcoming a tank
crew on the 30k stamps bore little reality to the grim brutality that
was occuring. These early stamps had yet to record the horror of
war which subsequently was more realitically portrayed philatelically.
22 June 1941
||"...a date that
will live in infamy..." - no, we're not talking about Pearl
Harbor. Instead this date - as all Russians will clearly remember,
4am with a surprise bombing attack on Kiev - marks the occasion when Nazi Germany
launched its sudden full-scale attack against Russia.
Subsequently, historical documents have revealed that Hitler beat Stalin
to the punch by a narrow margin - Stalin was preparing at the same time
to launch a surprise attack on Germany! The outcome of this
falling out was, of course,
Russia changing its status from an ally of Germany (and therefore at
war with the western powers) to becoming an enemy of Germany, and, on the
basis of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" an ally of the
western powers for the balance of the Second World War, or, as it is
referred to in Russia, "The Great Patriotic War".
S856, SG983, M825
|Philatelic support for
the change in Russia's war fortunes is quick to follow. Less than
two months after their change in sides, they release a stamp encouraging
men to volunteer for the Army. The stamp shows a soldier bidding
farewell to his mother, underneath which is the slogan "Be a
Hero!" (S 856, SG 983, M825).
||Collectors who survived
the previous period continue to die either at front during the
"Great Patriotic War" or have their collections confiscated
by, this time, German administrations if they find themselves within
occupied territory. In 1944 and 1945 things went other way round -
Russian soldiers and officers (with any interest to stamps)
"confiscated" private collections in Hungary, Romania, Austria
and Germany and a flood of stamps went to Russia to fill childrens
collections with rarities. While these "enthusiastic
amateurs" brought home stamps as part of their war "souvenirs,
the officials did it more seriously, moving to Russia entire postal
archives, State collections and especially accumulations of stamps
formerly confiscated by the Nazis all over Europe. (Anatoly writes
that while a beginning collector, he knew a Polish Jew who was a stamp
dealer before the war. The whole war he spent in a concentration camp
and survived because of his philatelic knowledge - the Nazis needed
specialists to sort out confiscated collections. When the Russians took
Poland he was brought to Russia together with stamps and continued the
work in NKVD camps till 1951).
||During this - a
relative golden era in Russian philatelic terms - there was the rising
of a new generation of collectors. Shops are full of nice stamps
at prices next to nothing, and collectors were not so afraid to
communicate with one another, as after the war the value of human life
was ascribed a modest amount of value. Stamp clubs were
established in major cities under the overall management of official
societies such as the Artists' Union, Theatre societies and similar
||Russia releases a stamp
to commemorate the world "International Geophysical Year"
showing a telescope and the sky. This is significant as I believe
it to be the first overtly space themed stamp released. This first
stamp is the precursor of what is soon to become a common and popular
theme. Indeed, in the remaining half of this year eleven space
themed stamps are released.
I've tried to make a table showing
the number of space themed stamps issued per year, but even such a
simple task as this is not as simple as it might seem, because some
stamps are ambiguously themed - are they "space" themed or
not? Anyway, if you're interested, here is the table. Let me know if you think I've omitted or incorrectly
included stamps in this list.
beep". This was the sound an astonished world heard from
space on this date, when Sputnik 1became the first artificial satellite
to successfully orbit the Earth. It was a metallic sphere about 2 feet
across, weighing 184 lbs (84 kg), with long "whiskers"
pointing to one side, and stayed in orbit for 6 months before falling
back to Earth. Its rocket booster, weighing 4 tons, also reached orbit
and was easily visible from the ground.
The second Sputnik satellite was
launched on Nov 3, 1957 and carried a dog, named Laika, into space.
Biological data was returned for a week before the animal had to be put
Welcome to the "Space
Scott 1992 and its subsequent
|A dramatic illustration
of the importance of stamps to national pride and propaganda is provided
today. Barely a month after Sputnik 1 was launched, a stamp is
released to commemorate this achievement (SG 2147, M2017, S1992).
This stamp proves so popular that its first print run of 3 million is
quickly sold out and a second print run of 2.5 million is released on 28
This stamp was followed up a few weeks later by an
overprint of a stamp commemorating the birth centenary of Russian rocket
pioneer K E Tsiolkovsky. The stamp was originally issued on 7
October (2 million copies), just three days after the Sputnik launch,
and was overprinted to say "4 X 57 First Artificial Satellite of
the World" and a print run of 115,000 (yes, this short print run
does make this quite a valuable and collectible stamp, but beware -
counterfeits are known to exist) was released on 28 November (S2021 SG
||Stalin dies and
Kruschev takes over power. This was a period of liberalization in
the USSR. Many local philatelic societies and clubs were
established all over the USSR, but, please note, they were not societies
or clubs from the British or American point of view. As no philatelic
dealers, apart from state philatelic shops and mail deals of individual
"collectors" existed, the societies and clubs' main function
was a place for collectors meeting to exchange, sell and buy stamps.
||The USSR revalued its
currency. Ten old roubles were now worth one new rouble, ten old
kopeeks were now worth one new rouble. A new set of definitives
were released on 1 January showing the new values, with values
1,2,3,4,6,10 & 16 kopeek (SG2523-30, Sc 2439-48, M 2434-40).
extends its lead in the space race today when Colonel Yuri Gagarin
becomes the first man in space. His flight in Vostok 1 lasted 108
minutes - not long by today's standards, but still a massive
accomplishment and another "first" for the Russian space
program. Although he was on board the space craft, he was
essentially a passenger only. Scientists did not know what effect
the weightlessness and outer space would have on him, and so he was, in
effect, merely an "experimental cargo" rather than a
participatory pilot! The rocket was controlled by a combination of
an onboard computer and radio control from the launch control station
back in Russia.
The combined shock of Russia's two
space "firsts" causes US President Kennedy to make his famous
speech in which he commits to land a man on the moon by the end of the
This date - 12 April - becomes an
annual anniversary usually denoted by the issue of a set of space themed
stamps for "Cosmonauts' Day".
||Wow. The very
next day, Russia release a set of three stamps commemorating Gagarin's
accomplishment! Definitely a pre-planned and coordinated
event. These stamps are S 2463-5, SG2576-8 and M2473-5.
between local stamp clubs and their local authorities varied widely from
region to region. Some local authorities supported the hobby while
others paid little attention. At the same time,
"competition" in the form of trading via local "flea
markets" was becoming more intense. So in 1966 the National
Philatelic Society (VOF) was established.
This was an interesting time in
the Soviet Union with "double standards of thinking" and the
VOF was a good reflection of this in Philately. The society
founders (activists of local societies) promoted the idea of the society
(to the various relevant authorities) as a means of publicising USSR
stamps and the Communist Party ideals. Both sides knew well that it was
rubbish - really, collectors simply needed a place for official meeting
to deal with stamps and guarantees to protect themselves from local
authorities' unpredictable suggestions. The higher authorities
understood this, but needed a decent reason to support philately, which
was considered by all to be the publicising and promoting of the
underlying Communist agenda.
||A glorious climax to a
decade of the "space race" occurs with the Apollo 11 mission,
taking off on 16 July and landing back on Earth on 24 July. This
sees America put a man on the moon (4.17pm, 20 July, EDT) - a
fascinating record of the mission can be found here.
And, as suddenly as it started,
the space race subsides. Public interest in "men on the
moon" dwindles and dwindles, as does funding, and at the time of
writing this, 31 years later, scientists say that the technology to put
a man on the moon has been lost and that it would take at least ten
years to redevelop this ability. Progress is a funny thing, isn't
||Rather like the
Sherlock Holmes tale where the clue was the dog that did not bark, the
remarkable thing about today is the thing that did not happen!
Was it just a coincidence that,
subsequent to "losing" the "space race" last year,
this year is the first year in many years that the Soviet Union does not
issue a set of stamps to commemorate their 12 April "Cosmonauts'
Day" anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned space flight?
12 June, 1990
||The beginning of the
end. On this date, the Russian republic's legislature, under Boris
Yeltsin, passed a radical declaration of sovereignty, proclaiming
Russia's laws take precedence over those of the central Soviet
government in the republic's territory.
26 December 1991
||Not quite 75 years
after it was established, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved on
Note that in the several years
prior to that time, various components of the Soviet Union unilaterally
declared independence, and various stamps appeared of varying degrees of
official acceptance. Overprints of Soviet issues, and various
local issues are all to be found. Some have been postally used,
many have not been.
||A time of huge social
turmoil in Russia. A bout of almost hyper-inflation saw the rouble
drop in value from its earlier "official" exchange rate which
was in the order of 1R=US$1 to as low as 6000 to the dollar - which was
not just a notional number that economists use but a reflection of the
reality of the declining value of people's life savings.
Pensioners and others on fixed incomes saw their purchasing power and
life savings drop to poverty levels, and the government did nothing to
compensate. This forced many long-time collectors to sell their
stamp collections in a desperate attempt to raise money to live on,
bringing a lot of additional material into the market.
||Russia revalues its
currency so that one new rouble equals 1000 old roubles. A new set
of definitives are released on this date showing the new values (10, 15,
25, 30, 50 kopeek and 1, 1.50, 2, 2.50, 3 and 5 roubles - SG 6718-35, Sc
6423-33, M 628-638).
This page last
modified on May 15, 2010