Postal stationary with ruble overprint and Elenovka cancel

The latest addition to my collection is this blank Zsarist postal stationary, surcharged with 5 Rubles and cancelled to order Elenovka “b”. Those stationary were produced when new, not 30 Kop. overprinted, stationaries were received from country districts. At some point the owner of this postcard had it cancelled to order in Elenovka. Perhaps on the way to Tiflis. Serebrakian and Boels come to mind but since nothing was written on the card this is pure speculation.

Elenovka was a post station on the important road link between Tiflis and Erivan. Located on the western shore of Lake Sevan.

Imperial Russian Stamps Used In Transcaucasia – P. T. Ashford
Postal Stationary surcharged with 5 Rubles including HH monogram. C.T.O. Elenovka Eriv. / * * b
The date is unreadable – year seems to be 20. The Elenovka cancellation is quite rare. Zakiyan number is S21. Ashford only lists two different cancels for Elenovka at all. This one being Type 2 used between “? 1913 – ? 1923”. All the examples in my collection show the same weak ink.
The overprint shows the typical ink and shape of the genuine 5r HH Type 3.
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What can be learned from sheets?

The manual overprint process in combination with a wide variety of ink(s) used, based on what quality and ingredients were present, lead to quite a range of different overprint appearances. T&A describes is a the “human factor”. This can be seen as a thing of beauty that well documents how the work of the postal organization was done in the difficult times of war, hunger and inflation. On the other hand, it proves be a hurdle when to distinguish between genuine overprint and forgery.

A lot can be learned from larger multiples and sheets. An easy and useful start is to understand, that the variety in ink is a sign of a genuine overprint. Overprints need to vary from stamp to stamp. A multiple with identical overprints is most likely digital forgeries. Genuine overprints vary in:

  • Position on each stamp
  • Ink density – reinking was applied after two or more print processes
  • Ink distribution – characteristics of the usage of real ink like oiliness, dust particles adhering to the handstamp, unequal distribution of the color (e.g. prominent borderlines)

Here are scans of two half-sheets of the 500 ruble Essayan pictorial issue, one with and one without overprints. Both are the lower half of a full sheet. Full sheets were normally cut in half right after the printing process, since the large size was cumbersome to deal with. As a result tête-bêche items are quite rare.

Lower half of 500 ruble sheet with overprints
Lower half of 500 ruble sheet without overprints
Example of ink getting weaker before reinking the handstamp
Example of double overprint
Example of weak and clear overprint

This is excellent to study the characteristics of the genuine overprint. Most prominent ones:

  • gaps a bit left of the center on top and bottom of the zero
  • oval shapes inner part of the zero
  • ball shaped serife at top of the two
  • narrow part at the bottom of the “swan nack”
  • upward looking serife at the end of the baseline of the two, slightly tilting to the left
  • straight and kinda thick horizontal base of the two

Typically, not every imprint of the handstamps allows to see all these characteristics. This means, when provided as single stamp, a lot of overprints can not safely be checked as genuine. This is just part of the nature of these overprints and reduces the amount of genuine stamps of a given catalog number below what was historically produced. Typical and well shaped (impressed) overprints are a quality sign of especially collect-worthy stamps. And may be more expensive.

Plate markings and field positions

With the lithographed stamps from the picture issues another interesting option arises: the possibility to check the position of a certain stamp regarding its place in the sheet (field position).

The most prominent plate mark of the 500 rubles stamp is the “lightning”.

Plate mark “lightning”

Within the lower sheet its position is here: 4th row, 5th stamp.

Position of the “lightning”

Since I got two different sheets I can also see which “plate flaws” are generally present and which are “random” or perhaps happened during the print run – e.g. when the stones were damaged after the printing process started. Of course these are only two examples but when comparing this with the described plate flaws in the literature, the results seem to be valid enough.

Here I put an red arrow on each characteristic “flaw” I could find on both sheets. The blue arrows show “flaws” that are only present on one of the sheets.

Plate flaws in red

Scans I got from Rafael that belong to the comment below:

500r A tree on the mountain variety
500r A tree on the mountain variety reverse
500r A tree variety, Zakian marks
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Where is Nikolaevka Elisavetpol?

While working on the Transcaucasian Star Overprints (used almost exclusively in Azerbaijan) I found a scan of this Money Transfer Form ex B. Taylor collection.

Late and remote use of Star Overprint – also underlying Armenian framed Z

This item is extremely rare and interesting for the following reasons:

  1. Latest documented use of Star Overprints. Ceresa assumes because of the remote location new stamps did not arrive yet.
  2. Shusha is one of the larger cities in the region that now is part of Nagorno-Karabakh (nowadays de-facto under Armenian rule).
  3. Nikolaevka is probably only a small village. The location of which is unknown.
  4. A rather high amount – it is inflation time, but in comparison to other money transfers.
  5. Franking with perforated 1 Ruble stamps with Armenian large framed Z.

Addressed to Shusha, the item bears the cancel of Shusha Elisavetpol.

Shusha Elisavetpol * * b – Ashford Type 11

It was sent from Nikolaevka Elisavetpol.

Nikolaevka Elisavetpol * * a (Ashford with no type or image)

Ashford describes Nikolaevka as village with postal sub-office. Apparently he had never seen the cancel himself and references Voikhansky:

Nikolaevka was a village lying remotely in Shusha Uezd, beyond Agdam. The P.O. was opened sometime after 1893. No datestamp can be illustrated, though E. S. Voikhansky lists a double circle datestamp (serial “a”) used on stamps of Azerbaijan. This could have been in use pre-1918.

Ceresa shows another late used item with Nikolaevka cancel in his books and also refers to this Ashford text.

Voikhansky just lists the cancle in a table of stamps used 1919-1923 as Nikolaevka Elisav. “a” double circle (18mm, 28mm) in black and in yellow-black ink.

I tried to find the village on old maps but without success (e.g. Zsarist maps of 1905 and also later ones). There are also no references on the internet etc. Ashford shows the location on his hand-drawn map, but there is nothing on the the geographical maps I referred to. The name Nikolaevsk may have been given to a settlement where Russian settlers lived (Zsar name). Or an already existent village was renamed and later this was changed back to the former name.

The only Nikolaevka I could find is a village near Shemakha. Source Wikipedia.

İkinci Cabanı (known as Nikolayevka and Dzerjinovka until 1999) is a village and municipality in the Shamakhi Rayon of Azerbaijan. It has a population of 834. The municipality consists of the villages of İkinci Cabanı and Cabanı.

There is also a reference in a Wikipedia Article about Russians in Azerbaijan.

In the mid-1830s ethnic Russians from the governorates of TambovVoronezh, and Samara began to arrive in the Shamakhy and Shusha uyezds, establishing the settlements of VelPrivolnoyePrishibNikolaevka, and İvanovka.

While it is possible that Ashford made a mistake locating this village, the problem remains that the cancel reads “Elisavetpol Gubernia”. And the Nikolaevka near Shemakha is in the “Baku Gubernia”.

This is a real riddle. I hope some of my readers can help.

PS: And here comes the help from Arkady Sarkisya (see comment). Thank you very much, this is just great! I would never have found this alone.

The Nikolaevka postal sub-office is located in a Russian village in Shusha Uezd on the main road from Karyagino (Karyagin Uezd) in the South towards Terter in the North (Djevahshir Uezd) through Agdam on the former Imperial postal route Karyagino-Nikolaevka-Khonashen-Kotlyarovka-Agdam-Terter.
Nikolaevka is located approximately at a distance of 33 km from Shusha to the East, almost equidistant from Karyagino and Agdam at a distance of about 28 km

I tried to mark it on this map section from a Russian map issued in St. Petersburg in 1909. You can see roads and postal office marked!

Area around Shusha

I found Karyagino in the South following the road north then Shusha, Agdam and Terter. But I can not see a road from Shusha to the east and also if I draw a line from Karyagino to Agdam I go through Shusha rather then being east of it. Where did I go wrong? And were is Khonashen and Kotlyarovka?

Here is an overview of the area nowadays done in google maps. 22 km east of Shusha, directly would be over steep hills, but anyways not on the road to Agdam or Karyagino.

The Karyagino I found near Tatev is most likely the problem. Here is another map section showing a route from Uezd south of Shusha and Agdam, passing west of Shusha. This relates to the distance of the 28-30 km east of Shusha and Ashford draws Karagino north of Vank.

Post offices around Shusha
Postal routes around Shusha (parts unsure)

Update: The riddle is solved. A reader sent me this map picture where Nikolaevkoe can be seen east of Shusha. Very nice!

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Is my postal item legit and without faults?

Recently I bought some postcard / cover with cancels from the Caucasus region I found attractive and wanted to add to my cancel collection for later reference. Also useful for documenting used inks and types of devices.

When I received the item I made a high res scan (2400 DPI) and had a look at it on my large size monitor to check the cancels and other details. Next step is checking the literature e.g. Ashford for his remarks on the cancels and serial characters. Then checking the Text on the card itself. Is it some person or organization of importance.

Postcard with Dzhulfa-230-Tiflis *a* cancel

What I did not see on the ebay scan but stuck right to my eyes now was the problem with the cancel on the stamp.

Postcard detail stamp and cancels

The stamp can not be part of the original card. The cancel does not match. Also the date on the cancels outside (1908) is several years before the date on the stamp (1915).

When contacting the dealer he admitted the fault and asked me how to detect such problems when buying from clients for later reselling.

There are several problems that usual arise with postal items lets discuss some of the most common ones. This one is a nice example for what to look: always check the area of the stamps and cancel:

  • Does the ink of the cancel look typical? How does the ink of the cancel compares between parts that are on the stamp versus parts that are on the paper. Be aware that there might be normal differences due to the different materials. For instance when the stamp is chalked the ink cannot penetrate and is often smeared.
  • How is the transition of the cancel from stamp to paper and vice a versa? A small gap is normally ok, when not too much pressure was applied. The stamp lies “elevated”. When no part of the ink is on the paper be cautious.
  • When the same cancel is applied several times, check for differences between each impression. Keep in mind that the clerk not necessarily re-inks every time. In this case the upper impression was applied first and then without re-inking the second on beneath. Just a bit weaker.
  • Look for date figures, serial characters and other striking characters. Forgers often struggle with generating the same distinct font type. Check serifs.

Here is another example, I got from a reader of the blog.

Cover with added stamps

Aside from the fact that the overprints on the stamps are faked, a comparison of the cancels from front to back part shows obvious differences in ink, texture and shape.

Compare ink and texture!

Quite obvious when comparing directly, but not so easy with a generic low res scan…

Another interesting example. A postcard going from Delishan Elisavetpol to Nakhichevan-on-Don (do not mistake with Nkhichevan in Armenia).

Postcard from Delishan to Nakhichevan-on-Don

A nice item with a genuine Armenian overprint none the less. But something is missing.

Something is not right

Why is there only a part of the cancel visible? Again a case of missing stamp. Why was the stamp removed?

  1. Because the Armenian overprint was covered.
  2. Because the postcard was sent on 1924 and at that time a generic soviet stamp was used – which kind of devalued the item.

It is not unusual that “old” postal stationaries were used at a later time when the original charge was not valid anymore.

Another general question is: should be there a stamp on the cover / card or not. Normally we expect a track of franking on every item. Some exceptions are:

  • mail of army organisations often is free
  • mail of specific stately organizations e.g. communist party can be free
  • no stamp was at hand and postage due value is written on the item

When no stamps are present, some reason for this must exist.

Here an example where the missing stamp is not so obvious.

Where is my stamp?

You can still see that the paper is damaged where the stamp has been. The frame of the “mesto for stamp” is only partially present. Some effort was put into patching this up and generating a smooth surface.

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Star Overprints: A Mysterious Cover – which address is correct?

While gathering material for a collection of the Transcaucasian star overprints I bought the following item.

Letter from Baku to America front-side.

A bit roughly opened but looking quite interesting and showing a lot of cachets and added script texts. A typical oversee letter.

There are all kinds of nice cachets in this. First of all the cachet of the Baku town sub-office no 1.

The corresponding cancel BAKU 1 “* e *” (Baku town sub-office no 1) is the Ashford type 87 cancel introduced in Soviet Azerbaijan period and used till 1923.

In New York several more cachets were added:

  • Directory Service Given Englewood Station.

The address is in red ink and reads as follows:
A. Tamiroff; Al. Jolson’s 59th; Theatre, Moscow Art Theatre, Chicago

Akim Tamiroff (Armenian name Hovakim Tamirian) was an Armenian-American actor, born in Baku. He learned in the Moscow Art Theater and moved later to the United States where he was very active in the movie business, participating in more the 80 movies – enjoying a successful Hollywood career.

Al Jolson (Russian-born) was at his time (1920s) America’s most famous and highest-paid entertainer. A theater in Manhattan (shown in the address) was named after him.

The first mystery of the letter is the address. It is a mixture of three different locations:

  • Jolson’s 59th Street Theater in Manhattan New York (can be found in Wikipedia)
  • The Moscow Art Theater is a theater company in Moscow. (also in Wikipedia)
  • Chicago

Moscow, New York, Chicago? Which is correct? Moscow Art Theatre possibly means he was part of a group of actors touring the States. Perhaps they visited Chicago?

The post office of New York tried to make sense out of this and corrected the address. However, the only thing I can decipher is “39th St(reet).”

The sender can be found at the bottom of the front side and reads:
“sent[or]sender/ Baku, Kladbishchenskaya 100 [cemetery street], flat of M. D. Dzhafarov, P. M. Kara-Myrza for A. M. Tamirov/. “.

So it was written to him by Mr. Kara-Myrza on his behalf. The reason may be some bureaucratic requirements that needed to be fulfilled so the letter could be sent abroad.

The next mystery is the timing of the letter. According to the Wikipedia article Tamiroff visited the United States for the first time in January 1923, staying for three months and returning later in November staying till 1924. The cover tries to reach him in June 1923.

Letter from Baku to America front-side.

The franking is made out of a block of ten 35 Kopeck stamps with a red star overprint and five 10 Kopeck stamps with a black star overprint. According to the used revaluation scheme of the RSFSR the Kopeck face value is multiplied by 1 million giving the new value in Rubles. A possible exception is the 35 Kopeck stamp where some source give the value as 30.000 Rubles instead of 35.000 Rubles. As a result the franking is either 350,000 or 400,000 Rubles. There are also a lot of receiver cancels of the New York post office but no Chicago cancel can be found.

The ink of red overprint is partially water-soluble which can be seen at right side of the star on this detail view.

All other stamps were overprinted using black ink. There is only on exception, a rare variation in blue ink.

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Gärtner 43th Auction – Some Remarks

It is always nice seeing Armenian items in auctions. In this auction you can find several lots containing single items, small sets and also large collections. Among them the following lots which are not difficult to assign as forged – if you are familiar with how the genuine overprints look.

All show a similar kind of forgery. Some of the basic stamps are also forgeries. I wish they would provide better scans. There is room for improvement. Other auction house do better.

This set has always been a popular target for forgers. I guess because it seems easy to just use some random number cancel and red ink. The auction house has already withdrawn the lots so there is not danger anymore.

I quote the description text from one of the lots: “An absolute gem.”

Her another – well known and older – forgery. Beware.

ex SG. 36c/44d
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Fake covers with Erivan ‘d’ cancel in Berlin auction

In the last entry about the fake covers in the Raritan auction was a reduced cover with a forged Erivan ‘d’ cancel. Apparently that is not the only case a reduced cover was pimped up. Here are two reduced covers offered by the German auction house Georg Bühler which is located in Berlin. The starting prices are quite low, which makes me wonder, if they knew something is wrong with the items…

Item 1: cover from Erivan to Tiflis 11.11.1921

The cover is reduced at the right side where the original stamp was most likely located. The stamps that can be seen were added later by the forger. Also, war charity stamps were not used in postal transportation in Armenia. At least, so far no usage has been documented. That would make this a real rarity.

The 100r HH overprint is obviously fake.

The cancel is a rather dangerous forgery of the Erivan ‘d’.

Item 2: cover from Erivan to Tiflis 22.11.1920

The cover itself looks genuine. It bears the well known address of Mr. Serebrakian. The overprints on the stamp are most likely genuine – no obvious or crude forgery is present.

Again the cover is reduced at the right side. Most likely to get rid of the original franking. Perhaps it was damaged or a collector had removed the stamps… All present stamps were added later.

The forged Erivan ‘d’ cancel.


The forged cancels are good efforts on part of the forger. I consider them quite dangerous. Shape and ink are well done.

Covers need careful examinations. All parts – paper, address, franking – need to be checked. If something looks fishy – like the cover being reduced at the place where the original franking was most likely located – and then a very colorful franking has been added – the alarm bells should ring.

Extra hint: the genuine Erivan ‘d’ cancel shows one (!) dot between month and year.

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Raritan Auction #79

Again there are several lots with Armenian stamps and items in their auction. Here are my thoughts on some of them. Let us start with the newspaper items. I am always quite skeptical when I see them.

The newspaper with the Alexandropol Zhe cancel

This time with a better scan than usual. It allows checking more details.

The cancel shows the 10.02.1923 as date. Stamps with this 5(k) overprint where used at this time. Tariff is below the rate of letters at this time.

I do not like the ink. It is very untypical. The horizontal bars on the left cancel look very unclean, especially where they meet the inner circle right under the “k” of Aleksandropol. Also the “noise” (small dots) all over upper part of the right cancel. It looks like printed with a modern device and then the left one “improved” by hand (painting).

A check with the real cancel reveals some mistakes where the second star “*” is located. The small areas that do not match could be due to not using a scan from my calibrated device in the same resolution.

Conclusion: The cancel is forged. The forger used a genuine examples of the cancel as base.

The newspaper with the Erivan cancel

A low res scan.

The interesting part: the two stamps with the cancel. The resolution is way to bad to be helpful. Even the overprint is only a heap of large pixels. The date cannot be read. The description of the item gives 1920 as year.

Conclusion: A very doubtful item. My guess: an Erivan “d” cancel which was forged a lot.

The reduced Erivan to Tiflis letter

Again a low res scan.

The stamps are with a date from the 16.12.1920. At least the left one. I do not like the overprints, but the resolution is very low. The ink of the cancels is not too bad (see newspaper item) but I still think this is a forged cancel. On the left stamp the ink of the last character of the city name goes right into the outer border. A tariff of 125 rubles is way too much for the end of 1920. In December 1920 Soviet Armenia was established and they forbade the use of Dashnak stamps.

The receiver cancel looks genuine but no date can be seen. Perhaps the reducing of the letter helped to achieve this, perhaps it is random.

Conclusion: The stamps do not belong to the letter: Fake.

The late 1920 Erivan to Tiflis letter

Another low res scan.

This is not one of the usual cancels. The date figures look totally different in comparison to the other Erivan cancels. The serial character is not readable. The only possible match would be “g”. This is a very scarce cancel. I do not have enough examples of the Erivan “g” cancel. If someone can provide scans – I would be quite grateful.

The stamps add up to a 250 rubles franking which is way too much for end of 1920. It all looks kind of messy but since the scan is low res there cannot much to be done. I do not like the overprints. The date of the receiver cancel looks also a bit fishy, especially the “20”.

Conclusion: Fake item.

The lilac 100r HH overprint

This overprint was not done in lilac. The ink is not similar to other lilac overprints. The shape looks good though. The scan is bad.

Conclusion: Forged.

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Some comments to the Raritan items from #78

Newspaper with stamps

The stamps are added and the cancel is forged.

Postcard with overprint and added stamp

And the enlarged fragment

Those cards are not too uncommon since Serebrakian produced a lot which he sent to his brother in Tiflis. This card goes to batum and makes a good impression at first. An added 20 Kopek stamp was usually used to make up the 50 Kopeck tariff. But a closer look raises some concerns. A late April usage is rare. Especially when used with small size framed Z overprints. The ink/color of the framed Z is totally different from the genuine ones. The Aleksandropol cancel looks not bad but I could not find the nick in the outer ring above the “k” of Aleksandropol in any of the other imprints of this cancel in my collection.  The Romeko signature has been forged and as this is not a safe sign.

I have serious doubts about this item. A deeper analysis requires the item itself, a scan is not enough.

Serebrakian Letter


This one looks like the typical Serebrakian covers.

Framed Z on 1 Rubel stamps – group

All overprints are fake (D.1d)

Romanov stamps cover

I wonder why there is no enlarged fragment of the stamp area. Probably because the overprints are fake. At this time a letter would need at least a 50 Rubles franking.

The rest

There are also several really nice items listed. I especially like the Paris issue book of errors – at a moderate starting price.

Take care with the overprinted Romanov and War charity stamps. I have seen forged overprints and cancels there.

I do not like the collection. A first look showed a lot of forged overprints and stamps (pictorial issues).

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Plate varieties of the 500 ruble stamp of the First Essayan issue

Some of the stamps of the first pictorial issue spot some very distinctive plate varieties. So far not much is described in the literature in detail. Only the “old” Zakiyan/Saltikov book lists some varieties. Included are the basic variations like more or less pronounced “secret marks” as well as several minor abnormalities (small spots etc.) and some of the striking “specialties”. While checking my material I found several small abnormalities as well as one new large and striking example and some candidates or in between types. Since the small variations are not so interesting, quite common and sometimes hard to distinguish from random printing side effects I will present only the ones listed by Zakiyan and the “large” ones I found additionally.

One of the basic variations Zakiyan lists – I do not consider them plate varieties – correlate to the four different types of the top left corner. As there are:

  1. clean and closed frame corner
  2. corner prolonged to the left
  3. small gap in corner
  4. large gap in corner

Here some examples. You can find all these variations together with different characteristics of the remaining stamp. Also in between sizes of the gap.

And a “perfect” corner.

The second basic variation Zakiyan deals with the lower left corner where often a line protrudes downwards. Here an example of both cases.

Now on to the real plate varieties.

Plate Variety No 1 :  Extra strikes on left border

This is a nice and easy to spot variety. Zakiyan only shows the top most prolongation of the corner but I found they always come with the additional strikes below.

Plate Variety No 2 :  Broken “5”

The top of the digit “5” is damaged and shows a typical scraggy look.

Plate Variety No 3:  Protrusions at the value tablet

Two distinct protrusions at the left border of the value tablet and a characteristic damage to the “5” are the signature of this variety.

Plate Variety No 4:  Square blob left of value tablet

There is a blob in the shape of a square to the left of the value tablet, together with a frame gap. Additionally another gap on the top frame and a blob above the ornament complete this type. Zakiyan describes the top blob above the ornament as a gap (also has a picture of this) but all my examples show the blob.

Plate Variety No 5:  Protrusion at top, above the ornament

I found that one only on the other shade/color of the stamp. There is also a gap in the frame, just below the value tablet at the left side. But since I could not find more examples it is not clear if this is random or if it belongs to this variety.

Plate Variety No 6:  Gap in frame left of value tablet

With typical break to the outside (like to be seen on the Zakiyan image) but open corner gap – Zakiyan describes this with closed corner.

Plate Variety No 7:  Antenna left of value tablet

Some blobs or “antenna” just below the corner gap.

Plate Variety No 8:  Bull horns break through pillar

Typical blob at the bottom left corner looking a bit like the bull went thought the pillars with its horn.

Plate Variety No 9:  Lightning strikes

A strong line goes though the major part of the right part of the picture. I consider this a major variation type because it very eye-catching and also large.

This is what a whole stamp looks like.

Plate Variety No 10:  Boulder on right peak

A large boulder resides on top of the right mountain peak. Also quite striking and the second major variety in my opinion. The arrows point to typical blobs of ink that are always present together with the boulder.

Plate Variety No 11:  “Missing boulder” on right peak

The same as before with all three typical blobs, just the boulder has rolled down and is no longer resting on the top of the peak. Like a sub-variety of the one before.

Plate Variety No 12:  Comet over mountain

A comet shows over the right slope of the mountain. There are also two characteristic blobs on the left border coming along. This one is not listed in Zakiyan.

Possible Plate Variety No 12:  Tree at left mountain side

There is also damage to the “5” which looks exactly like the variety described earlier. I am not sure yet if this is a real variety. I need to see more material of this.

Possible Plate Variety No 13:  Tree before the middle of the mountain

Another striking variant. Again this is something I need to see more material in order to be sure to list this as plate variety.


The stamps of the first pictorial issue offer a lot of interesting detail and there are yet many things to discover and check. Happy hunting for those big and nice varieties.

Also some questions remain as how often do those variants occur? At which position in the sheet?

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