The Samovar

Three dots, twice

David Jay - 4/12/2017 at 00:40

Since I received the excellent book on Soviet perlustration of the mail by our President Dave Skipton and Steve Volis, I've been looking for examples. Aside from the early three triangles, relevant material is not easy to find, emphasizing the magnitude of their achievement. Attached is an example of a double three-dots letter, sent from Dneprovsk Vokzhal to Artemovsk, sent and received on 3/11/1927. This is a domestic card, and presents no obvious reason for suspicion, so perhaps the idea that whole areas were targeted is reasonable. Also, unless the card swam to its destination, it seems to have been soaked in something that made the writing almost illegible. Presumably this was to look for secret writing.

The Artemovsk 3-dot cancel has a different serial than recorded in the book, while the Dneprovsk mark is likely the same one listed, but the serial is illegible here.

Attachment: Artemovsk.pdf (133kB)
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Rasputin - 4/24/2017 at 07:34

Hello, David,

Thanks very much for the kind words and the opportunity to opine on your card. I've extracted the Artemovsk cancel and placed it in the table for Mark II, whenever that gets published. The other bilingual "three-dots" (3D) is from Dnepropetrovsk Vokzal, and as you say, the serial letter is anybody's guess.

From the looks of it, the soaked part is not the result of a reagent wash, because it doesn't get at the central area of the card, and there is no pattern to it, like an "X" or stripes. The card probably was exposed to seepage of some sort.

As for the dotted date stamps in general, Steve and I are beginning to believe that we made a mistake in the way the table of censor marks and censorship-related date stamps - Appendix 24 - was arranged in the book. They should have been put in a separate table. Since the 3Ds, 4Ds, 2+4Ds and 2Ds were included in the same table with the true censor marks, (three triangles, izhitsas, zets, Ns, etc.), a serious misperception has arisen. Some folks who didn't wade through the argumentation, or did, perhaps, but misunderstood it, are popping up on eBay and Delcampe and offering these dotted date stamps as censor marks. Unless the dots come with an izhitsa or a zet on the same date stamp, they are not censor marks. It is our hypothesis that they were designed to HELP the censorship process, but the people who used them were postal clerks, not censors, and they would not have known the real significance of the handstamps. So, no suspicion as to the content of the card or the sender/recipient would have been necessary. All postcards and envelopes sent on that day from or to Artemovsk, say, would have received this handstamp, or one very like it but with a different serial letter. In addition to spying on people for counterintelligence and anti-crime purposes, the secret police also used perlustration as a means of building up information files on practically everybody, and as a clandestine polling device.

Our hypothesis remains an hypothesis unless and until someone gets access to some very interesting and eye-opening archives, and that assumes, of course, that those records survived the war and archival purges over the years. We may never know the real story.

In other news, later this year or next we're going to be coming out with a translation of a dynamite document that was dug out of NKVD archives through the good offices of Mikhail Dymshits. Stay tuned!

David Jay - 4/26/2017 at 00:25

Appreciate the comments and more enlightened view of the submarine aspects of this card. One thought -
I wouldn't be too hard on those who describe the 2+4Ds and 2Ds as "censor marks". It seems that these marks were in one way or another part of the censorship apparatus, even if those wielding the marks didn't know it. As perhaps a weak analogy, I have somewhere a WWI letter with a mark from Astrakhan that basically asks
the Petrograd office to deal with the matter. The assumption is that Astrakhan lacked the language expertise, as I remember. This is clearly not censor mark in one sense -- it is telling someone else to do the work. On the other hand, it was presumably applied by people who did censorship as their daily duty, so one can view it as part of the censorship apparatus. The normal postal clerks who presumably applied the 2+4D and 2D marks were also part of the censorship apparatus, though perhaps unwittingly.