The Moldavian “Bulls Head” Classics

5/12/2012     First Issues & Classics, Romania

Moldavia was situated in the Balkans near to the Black Sea. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1856 Moldavia was granted the right to self-govern. In late 1857 the government authorised postal stamps to be issued. Only a very short period of time elapsed before Moldavia, in 1859 became a part of the Principality of Romania. A nation steeped in tradition with a history of conquest, political and economic upheaval, foreign invasion and military occupation dating back to the time of the Roman Empire.

The 1858 “Moldavian Bulls” have long been treasured and highly regarded stamps, often mentioned in the same breath as the Mauritius “Post Office” classics they have always been of significant interest to collectors with many of philately’s most famous personalities seeking to own them with many now housed in permanent museum collections.

So famous were these elusive stamps that a consignment was allegedly offered to the Mexican government as financial collateral to secure a loan; whilst many have simply vanished into the mists of time others were seized by the Russian army at the end of World War II whilst a significant group was stolen en-route to an auction house in London.

Continuing interest is maintained by the very short period for which they were in use (July to November 1858) and the extremely low numbers printed (a total of approximately 11,750 of all denominations were sold, with another 12,300 remaining unsold in an era before stamp collectors – and officially destroyed.) An estimate suggests that maybe just 800 or so remain.

This first issue was hand printed on coloured, horizontally laid gummed paper, in imperforate sheets of 32 stamps ( 4 rows of 8 stamps) by the security printers Atelia Timbruli in Jassy, the capital of Moldavia and later Romania, the company responsible for printing Moldavia’s official stationery. An exception was the 81 Parale that was printed on bluish wove paper. All paper used contained natural irregularities that should never be confused with damage. There were four values, 27, 54, 81 and 108 Parale. The individual dies were hand engraved by a local engraver called Dettmer. They are all slightly different and have barely noticeable, yet identifiable variations that are the natural result of this type of engraving process. The original plates can now to be seen at the Romanian Postal Museum in Bucharest.

The resultant artistic image lingers in the mind. There is a circular frame within which at the top are the words in Cyrillic script “Porto Scrisori”. Translated this means “Letter” (Scrisori) -“tariff must be paid by the addressee” (Porto). An error, as the correct word is “Franco” meaning that the “tariff is paid by the sender”. At the bottom is an image of a post horn attached to which is a small circle showing the value. Between the two is the iconic “Auroch” or “Bulls Head” with a five pointed star between the two horns, from which the stamps take their name. The Auroch are an extinct breed of large wild cattle that inhabited large parts of Europe. They can be seen in pre-historic cave drawings at Lascaux in France. To a modern eye the illustration on the stamps may remind a US basketball fan of the team emblem of the famous “Chicago Bulls” though there is no link and the Club itself was founded as recently as 1966!

The example offered for sale shows a partial circular cancellation in greenish blue for Galatz (Galati), a town situated on the left bank of the River Danube. Galati is still part of Romania with a population of some 330,000 and is approximately 150 miles from Bucharest. It was one of only 12 town cancels in Moldavia that have been recorded relating to the 1858 issue. This stamp is 1 of only 14 recorded bearing the Galatz cancellation.

In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova as named, became a Republic and now continues to maintain close links and a border with Romania. Moldova issued a set of stamps a year later to celebrate the first anniversary of independence. These depict the Coat of Arms of the country and, like earlier issues, show an image of the famous “Bulls Head”, which is the national symbol of both Moldavia and Moldova

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