Chuchin's Zemstvo Introduction

  The Chuchin catalog of 1925 (now out of copyright) provides an interesting introduction in English signed by S Antonof, a specialist collector from St Petersburg (or, as it was called at the time, Leningrad).  This gives some details of the history and usage of zemstvos, but unsurprising, it suffers from rather poor English and also assumes a level of prior knowledge that while appropriate for Russians in 1925, is probably not so realistic today!  In total, reading and full comprehension of the article is difficult.

I have attempted to add some additional comments and to improve the stylistic nature of this introduction, while leaving the basic underlying information unchanged.  This was not always easy as sometimes it was difficult to know what the original author was actually attempting to convey, and in cases of difficulty, I've taken the easy way out and left things much as they were!

I must, of course, accept responsibility for errors that I may have introduced to the piece, and can not claim credit for the underlying research!


The Evolution of Zemstvo Stamps

Imperial Russia suffered from an extremely centralised (all reporting passed up directly to the Tsar himself) and also uncoordinated (each ministry would seldom interact with other related ministries) system of government that did not work well in the outlying areas of the massive Russian Empire.  A partial response to this was the creation of a new style of local governnment which became known as the zemstvo government.  This was first established in the 1860s subsequent to a law enacted in 1864, and provided for a degree of local administration of local government issues independent of (and somewhat in parallel with) the centralised national government.

The district Zemstvo offices at the head of the Zemstvo organization experienced the urgent need of postal communication within the boundaries of the district. There were post-offices of the State in the major towns and cities, but only a very restricted number of them in the larger villages.  If there was no imperial post office, the inhabitants were obliged, in order to deliver and to receive mail, to travel a distance of typically  40-50 versts (a verst is approx 1km or 0.63 miles), or more, especial in the north of Russia.

The Zemstvo offices were meant to supply the local educational and sanitary needs and to maintain the ways and means of communication.  As such, the concept of a supplementary extension of the imperial postal service was a natural component (as well as a necessary component) of their activities.

According to Russian law, postal service was the monopoly of the State and no other organization was allowed to compete with the Imperial Post.  The Zemstvo Post, on the contrary, was considered as carrying on the work of the Imperial Post in the localities where there was none, but not as competing with it, and thus its organization and its activity was considered permissable.  The first Zemstvo Post was opened in the Vetluga district of the government of Kostroma.  At first, it had no stamps, and it was in the Shlisselburg district of the St Petersburg region, where a Zemstvo post-office was opened in Sept. 1865, that stamps appeared for the first time.

Up until 1870 the Zemstvo Post had not been formally legalized, rather it sort of occurred and evolved on an ad hoc basis.  Even so, by that time these new post offices, and with stamps of their own, had been opened in more than 20 districts.  On 27 August, 1870 the Zemstvo Post was finally legalized.

The Zemstvo organisations were allowed to transmit the mail, upon receiving it from the Imperial post-offices within the boundaries of their district (but not from one town to another), to organize further postal communication, and were bound to be responsible for the same.  This post was to have its own stamps, differing from those of the State and the postmen were not to wear the emblem of the Imperial Post (the post-horn) on their bags.

This new organization proved to be so efficient, that, according to new Zemstvo laws issued on the 12 of June 1890, the complete organization and maintenance of the local post was entrusted to the Zemstvo.

Information about Issued Stamps

It is not easy to trace the development of the Zemstvo Post, because the opening, the operating, and the closing of the offices lay entirely with the local Zemstvo authorities, and this has lead to a lack of centralised records as to their postal activities.  The problem is compounded in some localities, where the mail was carried for free, which meant that there were substantially fewer records and traces of the mail service for future historians to uncover.  Sadly, a lot of the records that did exist were destroyed during the Civil War period, and many more were simply not maintained and kept because they were not thought to have any future interest of value.

The following table gives an idea about the total stamp issuing activities during the period that the zemstvo post was in existence.


Zemstvo Issuing Data


Stamp Issuing Districts Principle varieties of stamps issued

1865 - 1869



1870 - 1879



1880 - 1889



1890 - 1899



1900- 1909



1910 - 1917




The preceding table, grouped primarily by decades, shows that the 1870 law concerning the post, and the subsequent Zemstvo Law of 1890 greatly simulated the development of the Zemstvo Post.  Later on, since 1900, the issuing of new Zemstvo stamps seems to be firmly established.  (ed note :  This table lists altogether 2427 principle varieties of stamps that were issued, but only a few paragraphs further down, the original writer refers to 3000 in total zemstvo stamps as having been issued, and makes no attempt to reconcile the two very different numbers).

According to the law of 1864 Zemstvo councils were organized in 36 regions, containing 371 districts.  In 33 of the 36 regions there was a Zemstvo Post, but stamps were only used in 162 out of the 371 districts.

Because mail was sent cost free in some localities, it is very difficult to analyse the development of the Zemstvo Post beyond the known data concerning localities where stamps were used.  In 1892, for instance, the Zemstvo Post is known to have been organized in 150 districts, but we know of stamps of that period for only 89.  This does unavoidably cause a somewhat unbalanced view of the total zemstvo postal system.

To judge based primarily on where stamps were in use, the Zemstvo Post organization was fully developed in only two governments - those of Kherson and of Perm - and considerably developed, in Vologda, Viatka, Novgorod, and Pskof.

Districts with stamps of their own are also known in the regions of Voronezh, Yekaterinoslaf, Kursk, Moskow, Poltava, Riazan, Samara, St Petersburg, Saratof, Tambov, Tver, Tula and Kharkof.

lt is common to see situations such as, for example, within the Viatka region with its peasant Zemstvo, they had a post organization in all the districts (there were eleven districts), but only in seven districts were stamps issued and used.  During the year of 1888 more than 700,000 postal packages were delivered through the Zemstvo post of Viatka.

An even more graphic illustration of the limitations on tracing zemstvo postal trends based on stamp issuance is shown in the Simbirsk region.  We know of stamps for the year 1867 only in the Alatyir district.  Out of Simbirsk's total of eight districts, the post was cost free in five, one (Alatyir) issued stamps, and nothing is known of the other two districts.

In total, slightly more than 3000 different varieties of zemstvo stamps are known.  Because the issuing districts typically served fairly small populations (typically 10,000 - 20,000) there was no need for large print runs of the stamps.  In some cases, less than 1000 stamps of a particular variety may have been printed and issued, and these days, some issues are exceedingly scarce (ed note :  eg Poltava 42 which nowadays - 2000 - has only one known example).

As well as adhesive stamps, post-free post cards were also used in Pskov, wrappers were also used in Bogorodsk, and stamped envelopes were also used in Bogorodsk, Bronitzy, Kadnikof, Kazan, Luga, Okhansk, Ostrof, Ustsyssolsk, Rzhef, Soroki, Totma, Tula, and Volchansk.

In Fatezh and Toropets only stamped envelopes were issued, no adhesive stamps.

Stamp Types and Designs

The Rural stamps were at first made at local lithographing and typographing offices.  Their size and pattern is very varied, and sometimes is quite unlike other branches of philately (at least of the period).

Stamps are sometimes very big, so as to close a letter ( envelopes being scarce in remote rural localities).  Some have the shape of a vertical or horizontal lozenge (eg Pskov and Ostrof), some are oval (Vessiegonsk), round (Kassimof) or square.

They were mostly made by a lithographic process, less often manufactured at printing offices. Sometimes they were made with the help of a metallic hand-jigger (ed note - does anyone know what this is?) or printed on a hectograph (ed note - believed to be a very primitive form of spirit based "gestetner" type copier).  Stamps made at the larger towns with the help of better equipment are sometimes very fine specimens of graphic workmanship, while some of the stamps made on more primitive printing equipment are not nearly so impressive, although still having a great deal of interest for what they represent.

The Rural stamps had to be quite different from those of the Imperial Post, especially at the beginning, when the Melitopol district stamps were confiscated due to their bearing too close a resemblance to those of the State.  Later on, however, other similarly designed stamps (eg issues of Morshansk, Bugulma, Buguruslan) were tolerated; in the districts of Tver and Borovichi they were even made after the same pattern, differing only in color.

In some districts we observe a tendency towards new designs and the imitation of foreign stamps; in that of Griazovets, for instance, there were imitations of Swiss, Bavarian and Hungarian stamps. Some districts chose a certain design, and then kept it permanently for all stamps, the separate issues differing from each other only in shades of color and minor details (such as Podolsk and Kamyshlof).

Early stamps were imperforate.  Later on, this became more varied, with sometimes stamps even being perforated by sewing machine. Very often some stamps of the same issue may be perforated, and some of them not. It happens, too, that the stamps are perforated in one district only but not in the next one.

Local printers would sometimes arrange some of the stamps horizontally for the sake of getting more efficient utilisation of the paper if t here was no place for a vertical arrangement, which is why we sometimes find couché stamps among those of the Zemstvo.

It happens fairly frequently that in a row of stamps one is turned upside down (tete-beche) - either by mistake or as the result of printing stamps in groups repeatedly on the same sheet; this is a peculiar tete-beche type with a considerable space between the stamps.

Besides these particular features there are different types to be discerned among the Rural stamps.  When a group of cliches was made, there was a slight difference between the single stamps; when the cliche was transferred to stone, the types alternated in a certain order. These stamps, together with their disposition on the sheet, are of great importance for discerning the separate issues of stamps of the same pattern.

Unique Aspects of some Zemstvo Issues

Some aspects of zemstvo stamps are unique and unknown in other postal applications, including :

  • Stamps with counterfoils bearing the same number; they were torn off and acted as quittances, certifying the delivery of the letter at the post; they were registered and thus enabled to control the dispatch of the letter to the addressee (eg Zadonsk and Kotelnich)

  • Stamps with numbers written on them for the same purpose (eg Krapivna and Lubny),

  • Stamps for paying an annual subscription to newspapers and journals ( eg Lubny)

  • The Zemstvo-Post being meant to transfer the mail from the State post to remote localities, postage due stamps very soon became necessary (eg Bogorodsk).  Instead of issuing special stamps for that purpose, the regular stamps in some districts were marked so as to show that the postal package has not been paid for.  In Ryazan, every issue was printed in pairs of different colors - one was used for local postage within the district and the other to signify postage due for mail received from the Imperial Post and distributed on into the district by the Zemstvo.

  • Sometimes stamps of both different color and of different value, too, were printed on the same sheet (Griazovets, Biezhetsk, Rostof on Don, Bobrof Pskov etc).

  • The paper they were printed on was far from being uniform; one can see quite similar stamps printed on different kinds of paper.  For determining if this is due to chance or to the stamps belonging to different issues, it is necessary to consider other details such the coloring, the space between the stamps, the shape of the perforation, etc.

Imperial Paper Printing Office Issues

An element of central participation occured when  Zemstvo stamps began to be issued by the Imperial Paper Printing Office.  These first appeared in 1884 and gradually came to become the major source of zemstvo stamps.  There were five principal types :

The first type was made for the post of the Ostrof district; artistic design, small size (18.5 x 24.5 mm).  These were first printed with two colors, starting in 1885, and was then reduced to single color printing in the 1890s so as to save money.  In 1887 similar stamps for the Lebedin district appeared for the first time; they remained two-colored up to 1916.

Very soon a second type appeared, destined for the district of Arzamas.  This was sized 22.5 x 28.75 mm and had a distinctive method of printing. The stamps were printed on a guilloché ground of the same color as the design, which was taken from that of the stamps that had been formerly printed and used in that district.  No other zemstvos imitated these issues.

The third type, referred to as the "Bielozersk and Bakhmut type" appeared first in 1883 in the districts of Bielozersk and Yeletsk. Very soon the same design was taken up in the districts of Sarapul (1893), Stavropol (1894), Novouzensk (1897), Sumy (1898), Livny (1900) and Bakhmut (1901).  In 1902 they were replaced by stamps of the so called Ardatof type, but the original design came into use again when the Shadrinsk zemstvo ordered clichés for stamps in 1910. There are three varieties of this type :

1) size 19.5 x 26.5 mm, single colored.  This is the general type of these stamps

2) same size, but two colored, with guilloché ground and the design being of two different colors (Novouzensk and Sumy)

3) stamps having an extra frame at a distance of 1 mm from the original frame border and, consequently, a larger size of 22 x 29 mm (some stamps of the Shadrinsk district)

The fourth type was issued from 1901, and exclusively for the Petrozavodsk district.  These stamps are less numerous than the others. They are single colored and rather like those used in some towns by the police on passports.

The Bielozersk and Bakhmut type was soon substituted by that of Ardatof) had a clear and artistic design (ed note - this is the fifth type).  These were first issued for Ardatof in 1902, and always single colored, this design became a favorite at the Imperial Paper Printing Office and was used as a model for other district stamps from then through the end of the zemstvo stamp period.  These type of stamps were used in 30 districts. In spite of their uniformity we can discern among them two varieties beside the principal type:

Subtype A - the brown stamp of 1913 with a pink guilloché ground, printed for the district of Vessiegonsk;

Subtype B - the general single colored type with no hatching on the design in the middle of the upper part of the stamp (Dankof, Zolotonosha, Krasnoufimsk, Lgof and Chistopol).

The stamps issued by the Imperial Paper Printing office have the same perforation (11.5, 12.5, and 13.25) but even then we can observe varieties as to the size of the holes formed by the perforating process.  Different spaces between the stamps are to be seen in some issues that otherwise appear uniform (Sarapul district); this helps us to discern each single series.

A very restricted number of stamps issued by the Imperial Paper Printing Office have no perforation at all. If there is a vertical perf, a horizontal one is never missing, either and vice-versa (ed note - does anyone have any idea what this means!).

Due to delays between ordering and receiving stamps from the Imperial Paper Printing Office, on occasion the Zemstvos sometimes had practically none left for use; in such cases an emergency supply was sometimes lithographically printed locally. These stamps could differ greatly from the "official" stamps.  A rare exception are the stamps of the Chistopol district that would scarcely differ at all from those issued by the Printing Office, if it were not for a different perforation and wider margins.

As to the methods of canceling stamps by the post office, initially it was usual to cancel them by hand with ink and to denote the date; later on special stamping came into use, but at the same time the former methods remained in use.

It ought to be pointed out that collectors may come across stamps not mentioned in this catalog; they are either reprints that differ from the original (typically in coloring) or perhaps proofs.  Forgeries also exist, as do unreleased "Cinderellas" that sometimes have quite a fantastic design unknown to any Zemstvo.

Early Activities in Collecting Zemstvo Stamps

The collecting of Zemstvo stamps in Russia has not been developed as it ought to be according to the interest that those stamps afford; it has been the pursuit of a restricted number of amateurs.

The Dresden Philatelist Society had in St. Petersburg a section, which was the chief center of collecting Zemstvo stamps. This section was founded at about 1881; F.L. Breitfuss soon became the head of it.  He had a very large correspondence with the Zemstvo Offices. It was not easy work in Russia in those times; very often the Zemstvos would refuse to forward stamps (that of Alatyir, for instance) under the plea of the stamp being created exclusively for the use of the local post. Breitfuss's correspondence has been handed over to the society and presents a great deal of material for further work. G.R. Kirchner, the Vice-President of the Petersburg section, and E.S. Lenz, the secretary, have been studying Zemstvo stamps and Lenz had them sent from the Zemstvo-Offices in order to distribute them among the members of the society.

At that period C. C. Schmidt and A. C. Fabergé, both members of the society began to study these stamps, too.  After the death of Breitfuss and the retirement of Leuz, Schmidt was elected President, and L.L. Breitfuss was elected Secretary of the society. Breitfuss carried on Lenz's work in supplying the members with stamps, forwarded directly from the Zemstvo Offices.  About this time the section of the Dresden Society was reformed and reorganized as the Russian Philatelist Society of St. Petersburg.

Another center of the same studies was in Moscow. Among the members of the Philatelist society there E. von der Beeck, A. G. Go'dstege, Sievert, Hornung and Albert Steldel must be mentioned.

The material that they collected enabled Schmidt and Fabergé to begin their work "Die Postwertzeichen der Russischen Landschaftsamter" which began to be published in a series of volumes in 1908, accompanied with illustrations on separate pages. This is a classical and complete study of the large material that was at hand. Up to 1916 20 issues appeared, forming two large sized volumes of about 900 pages total with 102 prototypical tables. This work was stopped at the letter "L"; later on, it has altogether ceased to appear and the remains of this edition have mostly gone astray (ed note - the author is perhaps being politically correct here - there was no secret or mystery to what happened after the first 20 issues in 1916.  Schmidt himself reveals, in the introduction to his 1932 book, that the war interrupted his publishing efforts, and then the Russian Revolution caused the loss of all his remaining material, forcing him to rebuild his researches again when time and circumstance allowed. This material that he then published in completed form in 1932 has subsequently been drawn upon in Artuchov's multi-volume study). The collecting of Zemstvo stamps was therefore again facing a difficult position. It was necessary to collect the rest of the material into a guide book for amateurs; this work was commenced in 1918 by a group of St Petersburg philatelists (S. S. Antonof, L. L. Breitfuss, A. C. Fabergé, A. A. Khalfan, A. A. Kraus, K.K. Melikof) with the purpose of producing a simple and popular guide-book, so as to help to discern the various types of stamps. Several difficulties chiefly of financial character arose during the work and only now in 1925 it is being published under the leadership of F. G. Cuchin, the Commissioner of the State Philatelist Organization.