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Russian Offices in China

Imperial Russia and Imperial China had an interesting history. Despite having a joint border that was thousands of miles long, they never had a declared war. Don’t get me wrong; they did fight with each other in what they considered only minor disputes.

There was commerce between the two empires. There were trade routes between the various parts of China and Eastern Russia and with the far-flung trading posts in Siberia, Inner and Outer Mongolia and so on. Because of this far-flung trading network, the Russians developed a primitive postal system to service the traders and soldiers in the wilds.

Much of the mail was hand-carried during the 18th and 19th centuries. A treaty was signed in November 1860 allowing the establishment of a postal service to carry letters and mail for the merchants. A previous treaty in June 1858 established mail service only between the two governments and the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Peking,

There were three periods

of postal history:

• Post of the Russian Embassy, from approximately 1858-1870. Postal markings may have been used but none known as of today.

• Private post of the Merchants’ Guild, 1863-1870. Use of postal markings doubtful and no covers reported.

• Office of the Imperial Postal Administration, 1870-1920. From 1870-1899 ordinary Russian stamps were used exclusively. Overprinted stamps were used from 1899-1920. Covers are known with some being common (at least available!).

The Russian stamps overprinted for use in China are not as popular with collectors as are the stamps of the other powers with offices in China, i.e. France, Germany or USA. There are few articles about these stamps; most articles are about detecting the fakes. Most collectors collect these overprinted stamps mint, as a sideline of their Imperial Russia collection.

The major Russian Post Offices in China consisted of the following offices:

Peking Kalgan Tientsin

Chefoo Hankow Shanghai

Related to the Russian Post Offices in China were other remote offices in China, Inner Mongolia, Mongolia, Sinkiang, Manchuria and the Far Eastern Railroad as well as Russian Fieldpost stations related to the Boxer Rebellion.

The above Russian Post Offices began to use postage stamps specifically issued for use in China during 1899. Current stamps of Russia featuring the coat-of-arms were diagonally overprinted in Cyrillic letters "KITAI" meaning "CHINA". The first issues were the small vertical designs (Figure 1) on horizontally laid paper. They were perforated 14.5x15 on watermarked paper. The 1899 issue consisted of 6 values overprinted in either blue (B) or red (R). The values used were:

1 Kop (K) orange (R)

2 K yellow green (R)

3 K carmine (B)

5 K purple (B)

7 K deep blue (R)

10 K blue (R)

In 1904 two added values were issued, a 50 K green and purple and a 1 Ruble (R) which is perforated 13.5. Both were overprinted in blue.

During 1904-08 this issue was continued but on vertically laid paper unlike the horizontally laid paper as noted above. This group is perforated 12.5x15. The stamps were watermarked and had the "KITAI" overprint in blue or red. The values used were:

4 K rose red (B)

7 K deep blue (R)

10 K deep blue (R)

14 K rose & blue (R)

15 K pale blue & brown violet (B)

20 K carmine & blue (B)

25 K mauve & green (R)

35 K green & dark violet (R)

50 K green & violet (B)

70 K orange & brown (B)

Added Ruble values (Figure 2) were perforated 13.5, as follows:

1 R orange & brown on pale brown (B)

5 R pale & deep blue on green (R)

3.50 R grey & black (R)

7 R yellow & black (B)

10 R grey & scarlet on yellow (B)

1910-16 saw the release of 13 Kopeck values plus 2 Ruble values on unwater-marked wove paper with varnish lines on the face. They were perforated 14 x 14.5 (Kopeck values) or 13.5 (Ruble values). The overprints were black (BK), red or blue. These values were the last of the "KITAI" overprints:

1 K orange (B or BK)

2 K green (BK or B)

3 K rose red (B or BK)

4 K carmine (B or BK)

7 K blue (BK)

10 K deep blue (BK)

14 K rose & blue (BK or B)

15 K blue & dull violet (BK)

20 K scarlet & blue (BK)

25 K violet & green (BK & B)

35 K green & violet (BK & B)

50 K green & violet brown (BK & B)

70 K orange & pale brown (B)

1 R orange & brown on pale brown (B)

5 R pale blue & deep blue on green (R)

In 1917, a new group of Russian coat-of-arms stamps were overprinted diagonally with a new value in Chinese currency. These Chinese currency issues were printed on three types of paper, with the surcharges all applied in black, as follows:

The first part of the Chinese Currency Issue consisted of 14 values, on stamps printed on wove paper with varnish lines on the face. See Figures 3 & 4.   Values were:

1c on 1 K orange

2c on 2 K green

3c on 3 K carmine

4c on 4 K red

5c on 5 K claret

10c on 10 K deep blue

14c on 14 K deep carmine & deep blue

15c on 15 K blue & purple brown

20c on 20 K scarlet & blue

25c on 25 K violet & deep green

35c on 35 K green & brown purple

50c on 50 K green & dull purple

70c on 70 K vermilion & brown

1D on 1R orange-vermilion & deep brown on pale brown

The second part of the Chinese Currency Issue was printed on vertical laid paper, watermarked with wavy lines. There were only three values, all in Dollars.

3D50 on 3R50 grey and blue

5D on 5 R pale blue & deep blue green

(Figure 5)

7D on 7 R yellow & black

The third and final part of the diagonal Chinese Currency Issue consisted of only two additional values. They were printed on unwatermarked wove paper perforated 13.5.

5D on 5 R pale blue & deep blue on green

10D on 10 R pale grey & red on yellow Before I leave the "KITAI" overprints, I must mention a "literary" use of "Kitai". Does any one remember Robert E Howard, the "sword & sorcery" fantasy writer? How about Conan the Barbarian? Or Arnold Schwarze nnegger? Robert E Howard, in the 1930’s, created a literary world populated by people like Conan.

The names of the countries or regions were based on real life. "Kitai" was a region that was very similar to ancient China. Howard appears to have taken the name from the overprint on the Russian stamps meaning "China" in the Russian language. Perhaps Howard was a stamp collector?

The Russian Post Offices were all closed in November 1920. Sometime before the closings, seven stamps of the small Arms issues were surcharged horizontally with Chinese Currency (Figure 6). All stamps were perforated 14 or 14x15.5 except for two values that were also issued imperforate. Surcharges were applied in black or red. Unfortunately I do not have exact dates of issue. I do know, however, that these stamps are not easily found and are very desirable used on cover. Overall, it is safe to say that the Russian Offices in China have more value used than mint and much more value used on cover or post card.

Final series consisted of the following:

1c on 1 K orange, perforated (BK)

1c on 1 K orange, imperforate (BK)

2c on 2 K green (R)

3c on 3 K carmine (BK)

4c on 4 K red (BK)

5c on 5 K claret, perforated (BK)

5c on 5 K claret, imperforate (BK)

10c on 10 K deep blue (R)

10c on 10 K on 7 K blue (R)

On the above stamp, the new surcharge is in red but the 10 K previous surcharge is in black.

One final area to collect is postal stationery. The postal stationery issues of Russia from the same time period were also overprinted (Figure 7) with "KITAI" the same as the stamps.

I have considered adding something on postal history to this article but it is already halfway down the fourth page. If any readers can add information as to issue dates of the above stamps, feel free to contact me: so I can do a "Part II" of this article.

Contact's: Joe Cartafalsa