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Russian Levant

Under a treaty signed in 1720, designed to improve commerce between Russia and Turkey, a courier service began in 1721. Protected to & from the Ottoman / Russian border by escorts supplied by the Ottoman Government, couriers made regular passage between the Russian Mission at Constantinople and St. Petersburg. By 1729 this official courier service developed into a full public postal service which was used by the various European merchants operating in Constantinople.

Russia was the first nation to make such an arrangement with the Ottoman Empire, but certainly not the last as similar treaties allowed a number of nations to maintain their own postal services.

By the 1870’s Turkey was actively attempting to break from these various treaty obligations, feeling that, apart from national pride being damaged, the foreign post offices had a strangle hold on overseas mail depriving the local postal system of much needed revenue.

Over the following five decades the Ottoman authorities tested those treaty rights. The rights of the foreign Post Offices to ply their trade were robustly defended by those treaty holders including, in 1908, a threatened naval bombardment by Italy! The stamps of the Foreign Post Offices in the Levant are a fascinating subject and those of the oldest, Russian system, are extremely popular. Following the Crimean War the Russian Post Office in the Levant was entrusted to the Russian Company of Navigation and Trade founded at Odessa in 1856, a small service compared with other foreign PO’s with letters only accepted for direct transmission between the less than twenty Russian Levant Post Offices, overseas mail being handled by the Imperial Russian Postal Service at Odessa.

The first stamp, which may have been the biggest stamp ever issued at the time, came into service on 1st January 1863, there followed in 1865 another series of rather crude imperforate bi-colour stamps depicting a steamship and the initials of the Russian Company for Steam Shipping and Trade. Just three years later a much simpler design was produced to a very high standard by the State Printing Works at St Petersburg, depicting a simple numeral within an oval containing the charming inscription “Eastern Correspondence”.

1900 to 1910 saw the contemporarary stamps of Russia surcharged diagonally with local currency and in 1909 the commemorative issue for the 50th Anniversary of the ROPIT utilised contemporary Russian frames with central vignettes changed to depict a steamship & dates, surcharged with local currency. Thirteen Post Offices overprinted this set for their own use and the varieties are keenly sought after. In this sale we are delighted to offer a number of interesting lots from the Russian Post Offices in Levant including plate proofs & intact imperforate blocks showing the full “Specimen” perforating device.

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