Legal Status of Zemstvo Stamps and why they disappeared from the Catalogues


The Zemstvo Postal Services and their postage stamps which existed from the sixties of the past century and ended with the advent of the October 1918 revolution, are well known.

Their Origin, phases, Operating systems, difficulties that existed with the Imperial Government which controlled and directed the Zemstvo postal service are covered extensively in various books, articles and catalogues. Since their appearance they have been met carefully described and quoted in many postage stamp catalogues, such as Moens, Stanley Gibbons, etc.

Apart from having been listed in the present-day catalogues, there were special catalogues of Zemstvo Postage stamps, S. Koppovsky’s, “Les Timbres Poste Buraux do Russia”, Bruxelles 1875, being the oldest one known. The Scott Stamp & Coin Company published in 1696 the complete Zemstvo postage stamp catalogue of William Herrick, also the Collin & Calman Catalogue of Russia with the complete listing of the Zemstvo stamps.

One of the oldest publications on the subject, the “1878 Stamp Collector’s Handbook” by E. L. Pemberton,, in its introduction states: “…these stamps.. have now taken a recognized position among postal emissions…” Further on, he quotes the Circular of the Ministry of Interior Affairs printed in the 3rd Sept. 1870 number of “St. Petersburg Exchange News”, adding that the above publication “is the organ of the Russian Post Offices, so their legality is set at rest forever”.

Wn. Herrick in his article “The Origin and Status of Russian Rural Stamps”, American Journal of Philately, Vol. X, 1897, pp. 72-76, published by Scott Stamp & Coin Co. Ltd., quotes fully the above-mentioned Circular of 3rd Sept 1870, as follows:

“Ministerial Decree of September 3d. 1870.
“Considering the limited means allowed the Post Office Department., which are becoming insufficient to insure to all the inhabitants of the Empire the delivery of their private correspondence., especially in localities which by their geographical position are almost totally deprived of postal communication, or are at a great distance from the organized offices of the Imperial post, in order to facilitate to the inhabitants of these localities the means of exchanging their correspondence in an easier and especially cheaper waylaws, in accordance with the laws of the Senate. dated August 27th of this year, I authorize the establishing of a private local post office in localities where the necessity in felt. on the following conditions:

The local post is authorized.

To transmit from the post office the ordinary mail as well an newspapers and circulars, money orders., registered letters and other mail matter to all points more or lens distant of the district.
To transmit the various articles of mail matter of the district to the nearest post office.
Also to transmit the local mail between the various localities of the districts deprived of postal service.
The local post office is responsible for the regularity of the mail received by it from the Imperial post office, and in case a registered letter and be lost this local post office will agree, upon an order from the Postal Department of the Imperial administration, to reimburse the sender a sum not to exceed 10 rubles.
The transportation of the local mail is only authorized on the cross-roads between the cities and villages.
The local post office is allowed to have its stamps, only on condition that their design differs entirely from those of the stamps used in the Empire.
The post men of the local post office may wear on their bags the arms of the province or the district, but without the post horn.
Notifying your Excellency of the measures taken, I have the honor of begging you to transmit to the different offices the ordinances of the organization of the local post so an to insure to the inhabitants of the districts the free exchange of their correspondence.

The Governor of the Ministry of the Interior,
The Director,

Herrick concluded: “This decree places the Russian rural stamps on an entirely different plans, much higher than other so-called local stamps, the establishment of rural post offices being not merely sanctioned but recommended by the Government; the stamps are really semi-official, or if I may express it thus: Government stamps issued by proxy.”

N. I. Sokolov whose complete article, “Establishment of the Zemstvo Posts in Russia”, which was printed in the “Postal-Telegraph Journal” of 1897 (the official organ of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs), is printed serially in the number 73 of “Rossika,” after describing in detail the struggle between the ever-suspicious bureaucratic elements and Zemstvo’s, mentions in the and, that the Committee off the Ministers has finally decided that the Zemstvo Posts, as the institutions complementary to the Empire post “must, when possible, be encouraged … the Committee decided on the following measures to ensure the further development of both:

Elimination of competition between the Empire and Zemstvo Posts.
Conversion of the Zemstvo Posts into really useful auxiliary organs of the Empire Post.”
After having been fully recognized and quoted by the major catalogues for many yews, Zemstvo postage stamps ceased to be listed in them. What has happened? What may have been the reason for the elimination of Zemstvo postage stamps from the catalogues? This thorny question in troubling many Zemstvo collectors today.

F. Chuchin in his work: “CATALOGUE OF THE RUSSIAN RURAL POSTAGE STAMPS, Commissioner for Philately and Vouchers of USSR, Moscow, 1925”, (official government publication printed in 2000 copies) states:

“The Zemstvo Post was a branch of the State Post established by the now Zemstvo laws … ” The complete text of Chuchin’s foreword and introduction will be printed in the forthcoming numbers of Rossica.

K. Schmidt in his major work an the Zemstvo stamps in the 40-page introduction to his famous 706 pages “Die Postwertzeichen der Russischen Landschaftsaemter” published in 1928, writes:

The Zemstvo Posts were not private posts in the ordinary send of the word, but lawfully established and protected auxiliary organizations of the Imperial Post whose Government was compelled by force to abandon their rights because they ware not in position to give everywhere to their subjects the advantage of the postal connections, and therefore left to them the sphere of activity which, in space, was far more extensive then their own.
“When one, therefore, bans the stamps of these postal establishments from the catalogues, which up to now has unfortunately been the case, this cannot be justified either in the history of the post or from a philatelic point of view.

The Royal Philatelic Society, London reported in the fourth meeting of the session 1942-43, in “Royal Philatelic Society, London.,” Pages 39 and 40:

My afternoon’s display was by Sir John Wilson and “The Introduction to Russian Zemstvo Posts”.

“Sir John Wilson, in his final words, mentioned that “what he has stated was more or less a resume of existing literature an the subject and referred the members to Koprovskis work of 1875 and to Vols. 11 and 12 of the “Stamp Collector’s Magazine” in which appeared a splendid story of the development of the Zemstvo system. The stamps were not “locals” at all, they were really Government post, and although removed from the catalogue were just as much Government issues an half of the stamps listed in Stanley Gibbons catalogue.”

Col. Hans Lagerloff, F.R.P.S.L., in the foreword to his technical paper “Russian Zemstvo’s” states:

The Russian Zemstvo Stamps open an intensely fascinating study for the serious philatelist. Unlike the United States Postmasters’ Provisionals, Scandinavian locals, Swiss hotel adhesives and hundred quasi-official stamps, Zemstvo’s served a legitimate postal duty so nothing could be more erroneous than depriving then of catalogue listing.

C. C. Handford, one of the foremost present-day authorities on the Zemstvo Post of Imperial Russia, writes in the British Journal of Russian Philately (Sept. 1958,9 PP. 756-758) under the heading “Status of Zemstvo Stamps”:

The following points must be made perfectly clear:
The Zemstvo Councils were composed largely of the Intelligentsia of the district, small landowners, doctors., lawyers, teachers etc. and could in no sense be considered an commercial undertakings.
The Zemstvo postal services wore ran for the benefit of the community. In many cases these were rendered free of charge but even when fees wore levied such an by the sale of stamps for franking mail, the amounts realized never defrayed the expenses involved, and in most cases were used for the purpose of recompensing the services of village clerks and never towards defraying any other expenses of the Council. In view of these irrefutable facts the omission of Zemstvo stamps from the catalogues of our leading stamp dealers in entirely unjustified either from a Philatelic or Historical view point.

“Why standard catalogues such. as Moens and Stanley Gibbous , which formerly listed them, now fail to do so, is inexplicable, Their status as legitimate postal issue is beyond question, whereas some of the catalogued stamps issued by the Russian Armies, and from a purely commercial angle by the Russian Steam Navigation and Trading Co., cannot in any way be considered their equals.

“It is altogether wrong and invidious to place Zemstvo stamps in the same category as the local stamps of Scandinavia, Germany or even those of the USA, which were invariably posts run as private commercial gain even though in some cases they performed a public and necessary service.”

Enigmatic as it may appear, the explanation of the disappearance of Zemstvo stamps from the catalogues, to my mind at least, is very simple. I will try to state my personal ideas on the subject in a rather candid straightforward way.

Any philatelist, even the one dedicated to collecting or the study of postal history in some very limited field, will agree with me in the following:

Among the ranks of the most prominent stamp dealers, auction houses, publishers of catalogues and philatelic literature, are enthusiastic philatelists. But first and foremost they are businessman. For them, as much as some of them may admire postage stamps, the stamps are merchandise, be it the stamps of U.S.A, Great Britain, Zemstvo’s, St. Pierre & Miquelon or Ghana. They are subject to the strict commercial laws of supply and demand. This same law of supply and demand comes into play whenever any merchandise for some reason become scarce. Then, no matter how much it had been advertised in the past, the publicity stops and, in time the merchandise is forgotten. A new article in advertised, the consumer is re-educated. The articles no longer in dealer stocks in eliminated from the catalogues. New advertising is centered on other merchandise in better supply.

Zemstvo stamps, which were relatively common in the past, at the beginning of this century are becoming scarce. It was not possible for dealers to maintain stocks. An “merchandise” Zemstvo’s lost their importance Consequently, this variety of “merchandise” having became so scarce, the question arose; Why advertise them? In the case of Russian Zemstvo stamps it was a relatively simple procedure. There were not too many Zemstvo collectors. Again, the “merchandise” was not publicized; collector interest was not boosted artificially. They were grouped in a separate chapter in the catalogues. There were just too many pages of a non available material to allow of a commercial sound justification for continuing catalogue listing,

For example, Wm. Herrick’s catalogue of Zemstvo’s, published by Scott Stamp & Coin Co., 1897, separately from the World Postage Stamp Catalogue had 128 pages of Zemstvo stamps, while the Imperial Russia (with abroads) had 8 pages. Part II, Stanley Gibbous 1897, of 412 pages under the headings Russian Government local Stamps,” listed 65 pages of Zemstvo’s, or one-sixth of the whole book, while there were only 6 pages of the rest of Imperial Postage stamps”. As a matter of interests, United States listings in the same catalogue comprised 35 pages. 1883 Moens World Catalogue, (Postage Stamps Postal Stationary, Railroads, Telegraph, Fiscal, etc. total 764 pages, lists 28 pages of Zemstvo stamps, while the Imperial Postage stamps are all on one page.

A few other related matters were in cataloguers minds at that time: Why print so many, non-income-producing pages? How to eliminate customer queries which brought the stock answer: “We are sorry, we are temporarily out of stock”? How to value the rare and short issues when there were absolutely no bases (market action) to establish values” Etc., etc.

For a purely business point of view – the view of commercial establishment – it was simpler to just cut them out., the expectation being that collectors, with the passage of time, would forget them.

Fifty years have passed since the October Revolution of 1917 and the abolishment of the Zemstvo institutions, But this period did not kill the memory of the Zemstvo postage stamps despite their elimination from the catalogues. These stamps, being rare, increased considerably in value, and are today known and sought by the most prominent collectors. The dealers do not have them; the catalogues do not list them. But you see then in larger auctions when someone’s collection in broken up. They are advertised in important mass. For example, Robson Love Ltd. had on the cover of its 25 May 1967 sale catalogue, together with the photos of other world rarities, a photo of ZIENKOV Zemstvo 1878, 3 kop. black on buff stamp and another one of CHEMBARY Zemstvo, an uncatalogued blue adhesive, without indication of value, pen canceled, a great rarity.

I wish to express my gratitude to various persons and organization whom I have freely quoted in this article, always monitoring the source but without obtaining their permission.


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