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  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:11 pm on November 25, 2004 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , British Guiana, , , diet food, du Pont, exotic sugar products, , high-tech brown sugar, island of Mauritius, isle of Mauritius, Joseph Osmond Barnard, Mauritius, Natural brown sugar, Olympic wrestler, Philately, Post Office, , , , , , stamp dealer, Sugar, Sugarcane, Sweeteners, , Vernon Vaughan   

    Of Sugar and Stamps 

    Sugar producers must be reeling from the effects of low carbohydrate diets: how else you’d explained this shining example of sugar marketing that I found recently in my hotel room?

    That’s right – only 15 calories per serving! It’s a diet food!

    I found another example of sugar marketing innovation in a grocery store where I shop – Dominos Sugar seems to have a wide variety of exotic sugar products, like Organic Sugar, Brownulated® Sugar (a perfectly cromulent word for high-tech brown sugar) and these ultracool sugar stick packets that upon closer examination turned out to be even more exotic:

    “Available in two varieties: pure cane granulated and Demerara – a golden brown crunchy sugar grown and harvested on the island of Mauritius, off the African Coast.”

    Ahhh, that set off a whole bunch of childhood memories for me. First of all, growing up in the Soviet Union where most sugar was made out of beets, upon reading about cane sugar in Mayne Reid’s books I thought it to be something super exotic, like the books themselves. Because of that I always associated it with America and adventure, and found the common explanation that cane sugar tasted exactly like beet sugar, except a bit less sweet, (which is indeed the cast) inadequate.

    Mayne Reid, by the way is one of that breed of writers that are extremely obscure in America, but famous in the former USSR. There Reid was considered to be on par with Jack London, just like Robert Sheckley enjoys popularity equal to that of Ray Bradbury. I mean, come on, Sheckly basically invented the concept of reality television, but this seems like a topic for a whole different post.

    Back to our exotic sugar. “Grown and harvested on the island of Mauritius”, huh? Generally horribly ignorant of geography I immediately recognized the isle of Mauritius as the location that produced two of the most famous rare stamps known as “Post Office Mauritius” stamps.

    The highly romantisized story goes something like this: the governor of the tiny British colony wanted to issue some of those newly invented “postal stamp” thingies and ordered a batch from local engraver Joseph Osmond Barnard. The engraver allegedly forgot what copy needed to go on the left side of the stamp and went looking for the postmaster. When he was approaching the post office, he suddenly remembered – “Post Office”, went back and put that on the stamp. The postmaster was massively pissed off – it should have said “Postage Paid”. Most of the stamps from the “error” batch went onto the governor’s wife’s fancy dinner invitations.

    There is a lot of controversy (read further down) weather “Post Office” was actually a mistake, but mistake or not, the story captured collectors’ imaginations and the invitation envelopes sell in multimillion dollar range today.

    The postmaster of nearby Mauritius used handstamps to “cancel” postage, but back in those days stamps were sometimes “cancelled” by hand, with a strike of a pen or sometimes with a signature. For instance, the postmaster of nearby colony of British Guiana placed his autograph on every single stamp along with a stamped “cancel”.

    His autograph on the famous “Penny Magenta” was sold for just under 1 million dollars in the nineties. What makes the story more interesting is that the original owner, Vernon Vaughan, 12, of Demerara (aha!), British Guiana sold the ugly, dirty stamp that had its corners clipped by somebody probably out of boredom, for an equivalent of a couple of bucks to a stamp dealer.

    I remember reading about the last sale in the philatelist magazine and wondering who the anonymous buyer was. Only now I learned that it was the crazy du Pont heir that was convicted of killing an Olympic wrestler.

    In this age of book superstores and computer processed mail, recently I was pleasantly surprised to see a real pen “cancel” on an USPS parcel containing shipment of books from a small bookshop. Maybe there is no automatic sorting machine at that remote little town and the postmaster could not locate a handstamp :)

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:46 am on January 4, 2003 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Philately, , , Ruble, ,   

    Where’s Waldo 

    What’s unusual about this sheet of 100 ruble RSFSR stamps?

    Because of printers mistake a single 70 ruble stamp made it into a 100 die plate. A regular 70 ruble stamp is purple.
    I’ve purchased this sheet for $20 on ebay.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:21 pm on November 14, 2002 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: All Russia, Cinderella stamps, , , , , Philatelic fakes and forgeries, Philately, , , Revenue stamp, , , ,   

    Confession of a Stamp Collector 

    Yes, I am a nerd. It’s very possible that I have a very mild case of Asperger’s. I have to confess: I collect stamps. More than that. I don’t just collect any stamps. I inhabit a very very obscure and narrow niche in stamp collecting. It will probably take a paragraph or so to explain what kind of stamps I collect.

    I collect stamps of RSFSR (РСФСР). You see, familiar to everyone USSR (CCCP) was not formed right after the Bolshevik Revolution. That revolution transformed Russia into RSFSR – Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic. RSFSR was created in 1918. In 1922 it became a part of the USSR.

    It was a post-revolutionary time. Time of confusion, reform, destruction, civil war, hunger, commissars. Lenin in charge, St. Petersburg is called Petrograd. The whole country is in convulsions. But the post continued to function. More than that, very talented engravers created stamps of amazing simplicity and striking beauty. As a reflection of the times the stamps are sometimes printed imperfectly. A stamp might have had hundreds of small variations, which may or may not affect their value. People spend their entire lives researching this stuff. The cool thing is that these stamps are in their majority very affordable because they were printed in large numbers.

    More recently I started collecting another weird type of stamps. This category of stamps is even narrower and they are not even technically postal stamps. They are charity stamps of something called VSEROKOMPOM. As you might have noticed, Bolsheviks very much liked acronims and shortened pharases. VSEROKOMPOM is a shorter version of “Vserosiyskiy Komitet Pomoschi Bol’nim i Ranenim Krasnoarmeytsam i Invalidam Voyni pri Vserosiyskom Ispolnitel’nom Kommitete Sovetov”. I’ts can be roughly translated as “All Russia Comittee for Helping SIck and Vounded Red Army Soldiers and War Invalids with the All Russia Executive Comittee”. VSEROKOMPOM seems easier in comparison, right?

    Well, in any case, it was a charity that helped sick and wounded Red Army soldiers (and there were lots of those around after the revolution and the civil war). These stamps were sold all over the country. It would work approximately like that. A boss in some office, store or factory would get a quota of these stamps to distribute. He or she would distribute those stamps among all the workers. And they in their turn would try to sell them. Cashiers often forced customers to accept the stamps instead of change. A bureaucrat would affix these stamps next to revenue stamps on government paperwork and charge the person who submitted the papers. The stamps would be added to movie and theater ticket stubs, money transfers. Well, you get the idea.

    The cool thing about those stamps was their design. Bright, expressive these stamps speak to you. They scream at you. They are real works of art. This stamp would make a pretty good poster, don’t you think?

    The text on the back of the stamp says: “Forced Selling Prohibited”. Yeah, right.

     
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