|It is particularly
difficult to try and establish any reliable valuation framework within
which to place zemstvos. This is primarily the case because they
are so scarcely traded - how, for example, can you value a stamp that
hasn't had a public trade in the last five years!!! The problem is
exacerbated by the lack of any recent published pricing/catalog data.
There have been several
bold attempts at publishing a set of valuations, with the best
known (but not the earliest) being the Chuchin work of 1925. Prior
to Chuchin a couple of catalogs were printed while zemstvos were still
being issued, and as such they suffer from not having a historical
perspective on the complete overall and resolved marketplace for zemstvo
In Chuchin's publication, he prices zemstvos in the equivalent of 1914 Gold
Rubles, with the lowest price being 0.10 rubles (ie 10 kopecks) and the
highest price being 50R. In addition, some of the very rare stamps
are rated on an "R" scale, from a single R to a quadruple RRRR.
Because the Chuchin
catalog has been around "for ever" and in a cheap widely
distributed form, it is thought that many people, both buyers and
sellers, still base their opening opinions on zemstvo values based on
taking the Chuchin prices and then increasing them by some formula to
reflect present day values.
Barefoot Modification of
In their 1988 reprint of
the Chuchin work, J Barefoot Ltd editorialise that Chuchin's pricing scale
equates in 1988 British terms to a price range from a low of about
£0.50 up to a high of about £100 (or about US$1-200). It is not
clear if the £100 upper limit equates to the Chuchin 50R or the Chuchin
RRRR upper limit. They do observe that the range between the
lowest and the highest price has narrowed from Chuchin's time due to
most of the lower priced issues increasing in price, and have the good
grace to also comment that "market prices vary enormously"!
This pricing estimate is
not only very broad, but also is now 12+ years out of date, and so
probably needs further modification to bring it closer to current market
At almost the same time
as John Barefoot was republishing the Chuchin work, in August 1987 Alex
Artuchov published the first volume of his multi-volume work on
zemstvos. In a section on pricing at the start of this book, he
refers to the pricing guide that was earlier published by a German
writer, Carl Schmidt (who published a two volume study in 1932 that
comprises the basis for much of Artuchov's work). Schmidt priced
from a low of 0.25RM (presumably this stands for Reichmarks) up to a
high of 350RM and then had four R categories on top of this.
Artuchov opines that in 1987 terms, the low value 0.25RM stamps are
worth a minimum of US$4, whereas the higher value 350RM items are worth
perhaps US$135 - a massive compression of pricing variation which he
interprets as being due to many collectors seeking to build a basic
collection of zemstvos, but few having a fully developed appreciation of
the rarest and finest specimens.
He shows prices for the stamps in terms of these
Schmidt values. He publishes a helpful table that equates between
the historic Schmidt values and his best guess of current market prices,
although it is fair to observe that he simply creates some broad price
bands rather than attempts to establish more exact pricing.
promises to update his pricing relativity table in subsequent volumes,
that has not yet happened. In recent (Sept 00) email
correspondence with him, he agrees that this is well overdue and hopes
to publish an update in either the CSRP Postrider Journal number 47 or
Back in June 1997,
Postrider 40, he also wrote a fascinating article that attempts to
understand the pricing basis that Schmidt used. Artuchov looks at
the Schmidt pricing many different ways in this article - he compares it
to other catalog pricing, he compares it to the quantity of stamps
originally issued, he compares it to the values on the stamps, and he
compares it to the known quantities of stamps that have survived.
Alas, no matter how he mixes and matches the variables, he is unable to
find any consistency in Schmidt's approach to pricing, and concludes
both that Schmidt's pricing method was probably highly subjective and
also that in the present day, some zemstvos are being sold for
substantially more than they "should be" sold for, whereas
others are being sold for substantially less. Sadly, he doesn't
tell us which ones he thinks are way overvalued or way
Valuation of zemstvos is
made even more challenging because the published values do not
distinguish between mint and used. Instead, Chuchin observes that
he prices either interchangeably, "whichever is the more
common", but fails to indicate which is the more common on a stamp
by stamp basis!!! I lack sufficient knowledge to comment as to
which are more common.
It would also appear that
postally used zemstvos might sometimes have parts of two postmarks on
them - presumably a cancel from the local accepting zemstvo office and
then a second cancel from the imperial post office that took the mail on
from the zemstvo office (in cases where the mail was going out of the
district). I suspect that these are more valuable than
"ordinary" cancels, but again don't know for sure.
Suffice it to say that I'll personally pay more for them until advised
Some cancelled stamps
have been pen cancelled and it is reasonable to assume that pen cancels
are the least valuable of stamps.
You should also read the
page on interpreting
auction results, which applies with as much strength to zemstvo
sales as it does to anything else.
A Strange and Glorious Event
It is relevant to note in
terms of interpreting the zemstvo sales price data I report on, that in
mid August 2000, a new zemstvo seller appeared in the US, and this
person almost literally flooded eBay with over 210 zemstvos for sale
during the course of a glorious one week period! While this made
for a very exciting time for those of us keen to build up our
collections - typically there would be less than ten zemstvos offered on
eBay in a normal week, and here instead were 210 - I also feel that the
sudden profusion of zemstvos acted to depress the overall prices that
the auctions achieved for this seller. A typical zemstvo buyer
probably has a limited budget to spend (I certainly know that is true of
me), and while it is convenient to pick and choose one or two zemstvos
to bid on every week or two and stay within that budget, a sudden flood
of 200 means that most people couldn't afford the consequence of
successfully winning all 200 lots, and so I suspect many people bid
smaller amounts and on fewer lots than they normally would wish
to. Please keep this in mind when evaluating sales data for the
month of August 2000 (and probably everyone will be spent out for
A Mechanistic Approach
A lot was happening in
August 2000. I was approached via email by another zemstvo seller,
offering 200-300 different zemstvos (!!!) at $4 each, being zemstvos
that Chuchin values for 50kop or less each. This same seller said
that he would sell zemstvos that were valued by Chuchin for more than
50kop on the basis of multiplying the ruble value by eight and calling
it dollars - for example, a 1R value would be sold for $8. This is
an interesting and easily understood pricing mechanism, and doesn't seem
to be all that far removed from observed market values for lower valued
zemstvos. However, I also note that he recently sold a stamp that
Chuchin values as "R" on eBay at its opening asking price of
$25, whereas his formula would suggest a hoped for value somewhere in
excess of $400! His pricing mechanism might be appropriate for
lower values, but at higher values it plainly starts to move away from
observed reality such as both he and I have seen. :)
I also observed that most
of the profusion of lower priced zemstvos released for sale on eBay in
August had opening bids set at ten times the Chuchin price (eg Chuchin
values at 0.15, opening price $1.50, etc).
The pricing approach of
$4/zemstvo for common issues - was also confirmed as being close to normal market practice
by Andrew Cronin, Editor of the CSRP journal "Postrider" in
Analysis from Terry Page
Page is a well known zemstvo collector who lives in the Surrey
district of England. He also coordinates the Zemstvo Study Group
at the World
Society of Russian Philately. He very kindly provided the
following commentary on zemstvo values in October 2000 :
As you rightly say, the
valuation of Zemstvo stamps (and for that matter Zemstvo covers)
is not as easy as normal catalogue listed material where the combined
resources of Michel, Gibbons and Scott determine and regularly update
values. But first things first, and let's look at some of the problems
and peculiarities of zemstvo philately.
every Zemstvo adhesive, even the most common, can be considered as
"scarce" in relation to "normal" catalogued
stamps. Many of the cheaper zemstvos had printings of no more than
50,000 copies and survival rates were relatively low. Stamps rated as
RRR for example are rarer than the Mauritius "Post Office"
issues or for that matter, the funny American stamp with the upside-down
aeroplane! Yet the prices are peanuts in comparison. Probably
$1000 for such a rarity, or even less.
Traditionally, demand from collectors has been relatively low.
There are only a handful of serious collectors in the world, although
there are many low level collectors who will pay relatively modest
amounts for attractive stamps, either as part of a general Russian
or a "Cinderella" collection. There are also thematic
collectors who will pay handsomely for a bird, bear, beehive or
This situation, though,
is changing, largely due to the increasing and developing interest
within Russia herself, mostly from the so-called "New
Russians", many of whom have millions in the bank and for whom such
things as taxation are mere theoretical concepts. If there is an
economic extension of the middle class in Russia (as yet debatable),
then interest will grow even more as new collectors get in to their own
local postal history.
The renaissance in
zemstvos over just the last few months has been further fuelled by
interest generated as a result of the incredible Faberge sale in Zurich
last year which, despite putting extra material on to the market, has
not weakened prices. There is also another big zemstvo sale coming
up in Zurich this December. Thus, both the supply and the demand
for zemstvo stamps is rising, although both are still low in relation to
other areas of philately.
Chuchin catalogue was published in 1925 and the Schmidt catalogue came
out in stages during the thirties. Schmidt is technically the better
work but its non appearance in English has led to Chuchin becoming the
benchmark. There are areas of disagreement between the two but the
broad consensus of agreement over values for perhaps 90% of stamps is
confirmatory of a high degree of accuracy in assessing relative scarcity
and value. Thus, the logic of fixing a notional present day value
to the obsolete currencies of these two catalogues makes sense when
trying to price zemstvo stamps in today's market. The resultant
prices will largely be correct in relation to each other and the overall
market will determine the rate of the dollar, pound or Euro to the
Chuchin Rouble. There will, of course, be wide variations in some
prices but this is normal in any small market with a low supply and in
the Zemstvo market a single collector will possibly pay much more than
the norm for an item he needs; especially when he knows he may never see
it again. Nevertheless, the Chuchin based formula remains relevant
to the majority of transactions.
4) So what
is the going rate against the Ch. Rouble and how is this expressed in
the various currencies which themselves fluctuate against each
other? I think we can accept a 15/20% variation to account for
fluctuations and rounding up.
I would say that the
retail price of any undamaged zemstvo stamp should be $4/5.
Thereafter, the rate per
Ch.R would be $8-10.
For R, RR, RRR etc
stamps, say $250/300 per "R". As some "R"
stamps are in fact rarer than others, allow for some elasticity in these
My experience is that
since the renewed interest in Zemstvos after the Faberge auction last
year, most dealers are asking for prices at the higher rather than the
lower end of this range. I am usually pleasantly surprised to be able to
buy a stamp at less than the full $10/Ch.R.
covers, there seems to be a "rule of thumb" which says $150
starting price for the most common. For a rare district (under 10
recorded covers), perhaps $600/750. I recently paid $1000 for one of two
known covers from a particular district.
For a rare stamp on a
cover from a rare district....well, I suppose its just a question of a
willing buyer and a willing seller...and the sky's the limit!
Fred Bean, the "Stamp
Professor", also agrees with this and says (Sept 00)
"Basically you have covered the major factors in the pricing
decision. Roughly $8-10 equals one ruble from Chuchin. With
adjustments for condition, experience, supply and mood swings(!)."
Pateman from Britain says (Sept 00)
Like many dealers and
collectors I use the Chuchin catalog, for all its faults, and price as
follows: Minimum price is 3 to 4 pounds (say $5) depending on condition.
Then 1 Chuchin rouble = 7 or 8 pounds depending on condition. However,
Chuchin underprices many varieties ike tete beche for which I cannot get
enough copies and can sell at a big premium on my normal price scheme.
The same goes for some imperfs (not all). I hope this is helpful - it is
not confidential. My stock of Zemstvos at present is based on parts of
the Keller and Faberge collections - from Faberge I have his collections
of Demyansk, Kamshylof, Novgorord, Orgeev, and Soroki.
Current Values, Observations,
Trying to summarise some
of the above, it is fair to say that few zemstvo will normally sell for
less than $5 a piece, and indeed my own rule of thumb is "buy it if it
is less than $5".
The correlation between
observed selling prices on eBay and Chuchin or Schmidt/Artuchov pricing
seems to be relatively weak but more strongly correlated to the Chuchin
pricing. I think what has occurred is that
the lower part of the market - ie perhaps everything that Chuchin valued
for less than 0.50 ruble - has been pretty much lumped together into the
"about $5" category, and in this lower range, the key
influencing factors are the quality and intrinsic interest/appearance of
the stamp, and random chance factors in terms of who is bidding that
week, and whether or not the stamp is one that they wish to add to their
collection or not.
seems that the Chuchin price is mainly a factor in influencing sellers
for how much they list stamps for and how much they hope to sell their
stamps for, rather than for influencing buyers as
to how much they are prepared to buy for, and the prime factors remain as above -
interest/appearance/quality and also the random fluctuations of who is
buying and what they already have. With the small number of both
buyers and sellers, pricing is sometimes a function of what the sellers
ask, and sometimes a function of what the buyers are willing to pay, but
on balance, pricing is probably slightly more a function of the seller
than the buyer - ie, it is a seller's market.
information from other sources points to a recent (ie during the course
of 2000) firming in zemstvo prices due to an increase in interest and
demand within Russia itself, and it seems that the $10
= 1 Chuchin ruble equation for "average" stamps
may sometimes need to be adjusted upwards - perhaps into the realm of
$12-14/ruble - for higher value choice material (such as tete beche and
couche items), and of course, a keen motivated buyer has to always keep
in mind that even if an asking price for a rare item is higher than it
"should" be, the alternative to buying it at this high price
might be to never have an opportunity to buy the item again due to its
scarcity - this can act to push prices way out of normal ranges on
considering higher value zemstvos, these rules of thumb become less
precise. I'd love to hear more from people that buy and sell higher value
zemstvos and learn how they appraise the value of such pieces.