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Author: Subject: History of St Petersburg Geometric Cancels
David Jay
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[*] posted on 2/13/2012 at 01:02
History of St Petersburg Geometric Cancels

The geometric number cancels of St Petersburg, 1-9, XI, 13-XVII and XXXI, are amongst the most popular and iconic of all imperial Russian cancels. The 1 in-a-box-in-a-circle may, because it appears on so many postcards to the west after 1899 or so, be the most common imperial cancel on cover. It is interesting, then, that the actual history of these marks remains a bit obscure. Geometric marks were mostly used by the Otdyelenies (main branch offices) of the St Petersburg town post, but XXXI actually belongs to a telegraph office, but was used during more or less the same period as the others. The history of the St Petersburg town post is complex, and this complexity extends to the history of the associated post marks.

Thoughts or examples better defining the period of use of these marks is welcome.

The date of introduction of cancels 1-9 should be pretty clear. This is because they were preceded by the "GODA" or "year" marks that gave only a year (e.g., "1880"), but no date. The GODA marks were in use for 1876-1880. These, while not rare, are not as common as the geometric cancels were later in their history; i.e., from about 1899 on. Even though they become common later, one does not see that many geometric cancels from the early 1880s either. So especially given that loose stamps with the GODA and geometric markings do not inform very much about dates of use, it is not too surprising that there is some difficulty in pinpointing the transition date between the GODA and geometric marks. Still, there are no "1881 GODA" marks and no examples of "1880" marks used in 1881, so the transition should have been at the beginning of 1881, but could have occurred a bit earlier.

The various authorities cited by Baillie and Peel (B&P) give a variety of introduction dates. Most of these are suspicious, because they cite a uniform "1880", "late 1880" or "1881" for offices 1-9. This suggests guesswork not defended by actual items. B&P mention an item dated 22/12/1880 from office 6, but are unaware of any "GODA" marks after September 1880. I have two GODA marks, dated 14/12/1880 and 19/12/1880 from the 9th and 8th offices, respectively, and an example from the 4th office from 2/10/1880. Ratner at least gives different years for the introduction of the various geometric marks, suggesting reasoning based on examples. He cites 1880 only for office 1. Combining Ratner's dates with B&P's information, it appears that geometric marks were introduced in 1880 by at least two offices. Thus, there could have been a uniform transition around 22/12/1880, which was a Monday, if I'm doing the calendar conversion correctly. On the other hand, there could have been a gradual shift, with some or most of the offices not using the geometric marks until January 1881. We do not have any evidence of overlap between the two types of marks, but that might be due to lack of material.

The earliest and latest dates of use from material in my collection are shown in the attached Excel file. These range from 31/1/1881 for the 7th office to 20/10/1883 for the 3rd office (for which Ratner cites 1881). Not that the "open 2" and the "9 dot" are later forms for the 2nd and 9th offices, so not relevant here. In summary, the evidence shows that offices 1-9 were using geometric marks by 1881, as we infer from the absence of 1881 GODA marks. Also, we have reason to think we know within about two weeks (between 22 December to 1 January 1881) when the geometric marks for offices 1-9 were introduced. Still, it would be nice to see this reasoning confirmed by more material.

Opinions regarding the introduction of geometric marks for the later offices are quite diverse, e.g., 1889 to 1894 for the XIth office and 1894 to 1900 for the very scarce mark of office XVII, for Office XXXI (which was a telegraph office, not a town post office) and for office 14. My material is not extensive enough to constrain most of these dates very well, though I do have a office XI mark for 4/11/1895, 5/5/1898 for Office XV, and 4/1/1899 for office 14. The only possible answer is more material.

The last use of these marks is also a confusing issue and intersects another dilemma -- is there really a XVI without a hexagon (which Ratner suggests was only used in 1905)? B&P politely state that they have never seen an example. The office 13 mark may also have been used as late as 1905, but otherwise, usage dates do not extend even to 1904 for many sub-types, as listed in Table 4-10 in B&P. As the attached Excel file shows, I can confirm use of 1, closed and open 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, XI, 13 and the plain XXXI in the first 5 months of 1904, with 3, 8 and XV used in late December 1903. In contrast, the fancy XXXI is not seen after 1900 in my material, and 9 dot variety is seen only between 1893 and 1898. Ratner suggests use of the 9 dot as late as 1902, but this must have been unusual, as it does not appear on loose stamps of the 1902-1905 issue, except possibly on a 5k (the cancel is not very clear, and the dot may not really be present). Table 4-10 in B&P suggest the use of specific sub-types of the 3 and 5 cancels in 1904. The latest uses in my material is a plain XXXI on 24/5/1904 and a 13 from 11/5/1904. Thus, the material suggest uses in most offices until spring 1904. My material does not, however, provide a definite cut-off, and the suggestion of usage as late as 1905 cannot be confirmed here.

I had hoped that the information from loose stamps in the Excel file might prove of some help w.r.t. start and end dates merely from the stamps observed with geometric cancels, but it does not. Low value stamps (1 to 5k) of the horizontally laid paper (HLP) issue of 1866-1875 are found with all cancels 1-9, but the vertically laid paper (VLP) stamps Sc #19c-25a have not been found. The 2, 7 and (rarely) 20k or the next issues are seen, but never the 8 or 10k, and no VLP stamps were observed. A broader range of values (1-70k) are seen on the 1883-1888 issue, but anything above 14k is scarce. The 1889-1992 issue on HLP has the widest range of values, 1-50k, plus 1R, but the higher values remain scarce. Fewer examples and a more limited range of values (1-20k) of the 1902-1905 vertically laid paper (VLP) issue are found, which is not surprising, if the cancels were withdrawn in spring 1904. A striking feature is that loose 1 to 5k stamps of the HLP 1866-1875 issue are frequently seen with geometric cancels, but cards and covers are less easy to find -- I have only a single 1882 letter, franked with a pair of 5k with the geometric 4. The 2k of the following issue is also hard to find on a cover or card with a geometric cancel, despite being fairly common as a loose stamp with such cancels.

Thus, despite the fact that the St Petersburg geometric cancels are widely collected and fairly common (for the most part), there remains much to learn. I might add one note about rarity: the XVI and (especially) XVII are rare; XXXI (scarce in its own right) is almost common in comparison to the other two -- even cancels on loose stamps area scarcely to be found. Thus, these geometric marks range from very common (e.g., 1 and 4) to rare and probably undervalued.

Attachment: StPet_numeral_dates.xls (19kB)
This file has been downloaded 261 times

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[*] posted on 2/14/2012 at 19:55

Thanks for some interesting observations, you have piqued my curiosity and I shall have to re-examine my SPB cancels when the opportunity arises.
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