So Russia has given us great literary classics (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, etc.,) along with great music (Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Rimsky-Korsokov, Borodin,Cui, etc.,) and other great cultural gifts.
Now add artistic postal materials to the list.
In Russia, envelopes and stamps are pure works of art with a rich history.
From Wikipedia -
Early postal history
Records mention a system of messengers in the 10th century.
Early letters were carried in the form of a roll, with a wax or lead seal; the earliest known of these seals dates from 1079, and mentions a governor Ratibor of Tmutarakan.
The earliest surviving cover was sent in 1391 from La Tana (now Azov) to Venice.
By the 16th century, the postal system included 1,600 locations, and mail took 3 days to travel from Moscow to Novgorod.
In 1634, a peace treaty between Russia and Poland established a route to Warsaw, becoming Russia's first regular international service.
Peter the Great enacted reforms making the postal system more uniform in its operations, and in 1716 the first post offices opened, in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
The earliest known Russian postmark dates from July 1765; it is a single line reading "ST.PETERSBOVRG" (in Latin letters), but the first official recommendation to use postmarks did not come until 1781.
Postal stationery made its first appearance in 1845, in the form of envelopes that paid the 5-kopeck fee for local mail in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The idea worked well, and was extended throughout Russia on December 1, 1848.
Local postal systems used stamps referred to as Zemstvo stamps, from the term for local government begun under Alexander II in 1864.
The postage stamp idea had already swept much of the world when, in September 1856, the Russian authorities decided to follow suit.
The first stamps went on sale 10 December 1857, but were not valid for use until 1 January 1858.
The first value was a 10-kopeck to be used for letters weighing up to one lot (about 12.8 grams).
It was an imperforate stamp depicting the coat of arms of Russia, and printed using typography in brown and blue.
This was followed on 10 January by 20-kopeck and 30-kopeck perforated stamps using the same design but in different pairs of colors, along with a perforated version of the 10-kopeck stamp.
The paper was originally watermarked with the numeral, but this was soon abandoned, and later printings in 1858 are on regular wove paper.
A 5k stamp for local postage was introduced in 1863, and in the following year a new common design, with the arms in an oval, was introduced for 1k, 3k, and 5k values.
These were used to make up complicated rates for international mail, which had previously required cash payments at the post office.
After 1866 the stamps were printed on laid paper watermarked with a pattern of wavy lines and "EZGB" in Cyrillic.
The "grain" of the laid paper was usually horizontal, but for a minority of each value the grain is vertical.
In September 1865, the Shlisselburg district became the first of the zemstvo offices to issue stamps; the system was officially organized by a decree of 27 August 1870.
In 1874, Russia became one of the original 22 countries forming the General Postal Union (later the Universal Postal Union).
The coat of arms design was changed in 1875, and used for 2k and 8k values, and a 7k in 1879.
The 7k was also printed on revenue stamp paper watermarked with a hexagon pattern; these are quite rare.
A new issue of 14 December 1883 featured an updated design, lower values printed in a single color, and new high values - 14k, 35k, and 70k.
January 1884 saw the introduction of 3.50-ruble and 7-ruble stamps, physically much larger than existing stamps.
In 1889 the designs were changed again, this time to introduce thunderbolts across the posthorns underneath the double-headed eagle, and in printings after 1902 the usual grain of the paper was changed to be vertical.
At the end of 1904 Russia issued its first semi-postal stamps. The four values were each sold at 3k over face to provide for orphans of casualties in the Russo-Japanese War.
In 1909 a new series came out, using a mix of old and new designs, all printed on unwatermarked wove paper, and with lozenges on the face to discourage postage stamp reuse.
Russia's first series of commemorative stamps appeared 2 January 1913 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty.
The 17 stamps featured portraits of the various Tsars, as well as views of the Kremlin, Winter Palace, and Romanov Castle.
But in 1915 and 1916, as the government disintegrated under the pressures of World War I, several of the designs were printed on cardboard and used as paper money.
7k and 14k stamps were also surcharged 10k and 20k due to shortages.
The period of the Russian Revolution is complicated philatelically; post offices across the country were thrown on their own devices, and a number of the factions and breakaway republics issued new kinds of stamps, although in some cases they seem to have been as much for publicity purposes, few genuine uses having been recorded.
Entities issuing their own stamps include:
•Army of the Northwest
•Far Eastern Republic
In 1917 the Provisional Government reprinted the old Tsarist designs, but sold them imperforate.
The first stamps of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic appeared in 1912, as two values depicting a sword cutting a chain.
While great quantities of these stamps survive, they saw little use, and used copies are worth more than mint.
The next stamps appeared in 1921, after inflation had taken hold.
The set's values range from 1 to 1,000 rubles.
By the next year these stamps were being surcharged in various ways, with face values of up to 100,000 rubles.
A currency reform in 1922 that exchanged money at a 10,000-to-1 rate enabled new stamps in the 5r to 200r range, including a set marking the 5th anniversary of the October Revolution, Tsarist stamps surcharged with a five-pointed star containing a hammer and sickle.
Stamps with portraits of a worker, peasant and soldier also appeared this year; variations on these portrait designs would continue to be issued throughout the 1920s.
Finnish occupation of Aunus
At 1919–1921 there was Aunus expedition where a group of Finnish volunteers occupied parts of East Karelia (Aunus in Finnish, Olonets Karelia in Russian).
There were stamps issued for Aunus troops by local authorities. They were Finnish definitives from 1917 with overprint Aunus.
Now for a timeline -
Wow. Twelve 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.
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 they governed.
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 lead seal.
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 Warsaw.
This marked the start of Russia's first regular international postal service.
The first post offices to be established under Peter the Great's new uniform postal service structure were opened in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Along with all his other reforms, he paid attention to the postal service, and endeavored to create an overarching uniform structure to what had developed into a complex mess of different jurisdictions, different government departments, and various private contractors.
Peter the Great's 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.
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.
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
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.
1 January 1858J
Russia officially adopts its first stamp - an imperforate 10 kopek stamp, good for the postage of a letter weighing up to 1 "lot".
A "lot" is a measure of weight, approximately equal to just under half an ounce (0.45oz) or 12.8grams.
An announcement on 10 December 1857 referred to not only this stamp but also 20k and 30k stamps as well, and they actually went on sale shortly after that date, quickly becoming available at all post offices throughout the country.
They were not valid for use prior to 1 Jan, 1858, but SG reports there are known examples of them being used in December, however.
10 July 1864J
A new design of stamps was issued - the first stamps lasted a long time!
These new stamps were for new lower values - 1, 3 and 5 k.
Shortly afterwards (June 65) they were reissued with a different perf, and at the same time a set of 10, 20 & 30k stamps were also reissued on the same design as originally (just using the new perf gauge).
The reason for the new lower values has to do with international mail.
Until this time, all mail sent abroad had to be prepaid in cash only (see item below dated 1874), but in 1864 the Postal Department decided to allow international mail also to be paid using stamps, and so they needed to introduce some smaller value stamps so as to be able to make up the various irregular fees for international postage.
The first zemstvo post office opens and issues stamps in the Shlisselburg district of the St Petersburg region.
27 August 1870
On this day an Imperial decree was published regularizing and authorizing the establishment of the Zemstvo postal system.
9 October 1874G
Russia was one of the 22 countries that formed the General Postal Union on this date in Berne, Switzerland.
The date has been commemorated ever since as "World Post Day".
This arrangement greatly simplified all aspects of conveying mail internationally, and also allowed for simplified and generally lower postal rates as well.
For example, prior to this convention there were some 1200 different rates for the transport of mail between the 22 different member countries - subsequent to the convention this reduced down to - only one!
The developments and efficiencies brought about by this convention caused a rapid and substantial growth in international mail.
The concept proved very popular amongst countries, with many more countries joining the original 22, and in 1878 the name of the organization was changed to the "Universal Postal Union".
19 June 1875J
New stamp values were released, and with a new design as well.
A 2k and 8k stamp came out at this time, and a 7k was added in March of 79.
In addition, the 10 and 20k stamps finally came out in this design, too - the first change since 1858, 17 years previously!
One of the stamps issued in 1875 for 8 kopecks.
14 December 1883J
Another new design is released, a mere eight and a half years since the last design!
This also saw the first issue of 14k, 35k and 70k value stamps.
Shortly after the issue of the 70k stamp, which was the highest value stamp issued to date, new stamps are issued in January 1884 for 3.5 rubles and 7 rubles.
The first issue of 4k, 50k, and 1R stamps appear.
A 7 kopeck stamp issued in 1883 and used in 1889.
18 December 1904
A set of four stamps were issued and sold for 3k over their face values (face values were 3, 5, 7 & 10 k) with the extra 3k being donated to a fund for the orphans of soldiers who participated in the Russian-Japanese war that had recently ended with Russia's disastrous naval defeat.
Only a relatively small quantity of these stamps were printed - 278,000; 208,000; 332,000 and 191,000 respectively.
1 January 1905J
The first issues of a 15k and 25k stamp appear.
1 June 1906
The first issues of a 5R and 10R stamp appear.
2 January 1913J
The first issues of a 2R and 3R stamp appear.
9 October 1913J
The Russian Postal Service converts to metrics and the use of "lots" as a measure of weight is replaced by multiples of 15grams (just over half an ounce - 0.53oz).
Russia is starting to fall apart.
A shortage of coins caused the government to print "currency stamps" - these were normal stamps on one side, but on the other side was written (in ancient Russian script) "having circulation on a par with silver money".
The stamps were printed onto card instead of paper, and no gum was applied to the reverse.
Although intended primarily as a substitute for coinage, some were used for postal purposes.
World War 1 (which started late in 1914) disrupted Russia's international postal routes (which tended to go via Germany or Austria, both countries that Russia was now at war with) while at the same time, internal mail volumes rose sharply due to correspondence between soldiers at the front and their families back home.
Add to that the first twinges of inflation, and a shortage of postal staff, and the postal service was having a very difficult time (as was the rest of the country - one must keep a perspective on such things, mustn't one!).
2 March 1917J (= 15 March 1917G)
After an uprising in St Petersburg (recently renamed to Petrograd) the Tsar abdicates.
A provisional government is formed under Prince Lvov, which is replaced by a second provisional government under Kerensky on 7 July J (= 20 July G).
During this time some stamps were issued as part of existing sets, all still bearing the distinctive double-headed eagle emblem which was the symbol of the (up until then) ruling Romanov dynasty.
No special new stamps were issued apart from some more currency stamps.
25 October 1917J (= 7 November 1917G)
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 Bolsheviks.
The civil war was essentially over by late 1920, to be replaced by a period of hyperinflation, settling down again in 1923.
What was formerly Imperial Russia now became known as the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic (abbreviated RSFSR).
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 authorized the postal use of some three Postal Savings Bank stamps - a 1k, 5k and 10k stamp, all still bearing the Romanov double-headed eagle.
7 November 1918
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 Kerensky government!
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.
One of the first stamps issued under the Soviet Government in 1918, known as "Sword Breaking Chain", worth 35 kopecks; it is more valuable when its used because so few were used in postal services since pre-Revolutionary stamps still existed.
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 stolen.
A stamp from stamp worth 250 rubles in 1921 that was marked up to 7,500 rubles in 1922.
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, another 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
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.
19 August, 1923
The first Soviet stamps are issued.
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 recognize 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 organizations.
Accordingly well-known and active collectors either went to labor camps or were killed.
During this period the collections of such unfortunates were accurately confiscated and sold to finance the rising Soviet military industry.
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.
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 Eastern Poland.
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 occurring.
These early stamps had yet to record the horror of war, which subsequently was more realistically portrayed philatelically.
13 August 1941
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!"
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 children’s 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 organizations.
4 July, 1957
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.
5 November 1957
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.
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 December.
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.
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.
From 1958 - 10 kopeck postage stamp depicting a 16th century mail courier for centinial anniversary of Russian postage stamps.
From 1958 - 10 kopeck postage stamp depicting a medieval scribe for centinial anniversary of Russian postage stamps.
1 January, 1961
The USSR revalued its currency.
Ten old ruble were now worth one new ruble, ten old kopecks were now worth one new ruble.
A new set of definitives were released on 1 January showing the new values, with values 1,2,3,4,6,10 & 16 kopeck.
12 April, 1961
Russia's dramatically extends its lead in the space race today when Colonel Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space.
This date - 12 April - becomes an annual anniversary usually denoted by the issue of a set of space themed stamps for "Cosmonauts' Day".
13 April, 1961
Wow. The very next day, Russia release a set of three stamps commemorating Gagarin's accomplishment! Definitely a pre-planned and coordinated event.
The relationship 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 publicizing 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 publicizing and promoting of the underlying Communist agenda.
12 April, 1970
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.
A time of huge social turmoil in Russia.
A bout of almost hyper-inflation saw the ruble 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.
1 January 1998
Russia revalues its currency so that one new ruble equals 1000 old ruble. A new set of definitives are released on this date showing the new values (10, 15, 25, 30, 50 kopeck and 1, 1.50, 2, 2.50, 3 and 5 ruble).
While America does have similar stamps and envelopes, Russia makes so many that are educational – famous people who worked for science, painters, composers, writers, and so on – that it becomes impossible not to know who these people are.
Russia also honors people who are not Russian in their postal materials: anyone who is important to history shows up on Russian postal materials.
A stamp depicting an Irish Setter.
An envelope depicting
An envelope depicting
An envelope depicting various dog breeds including a Japanese Chin, a Poodle, a French Bulldog, and others – with no Russian dog breeds in sight.
An envelope depicting
Unit 8; ypok 8; year 2; Postal; Artwork; Stamps; Envelopes