Chapter 4.
The fate of the Tiflis stamp and its owners.

K. K. Schmidt — discovery of the forgotten stamp.

Karl Schmidt.

Karl Schmidt.

It has long been observed that rarities are unique not only in the number of copies extant, but by their unusual, absolutely fantastic fate. In full, this feature was also manifested in the history of the Tiflis city post stamp. Because of the peculiarity of appearance (regional character of circulation, small edition, short use, etc.) this postage stamp has practically disappeared for collectors. Everybody forgot about the Tiflis city post stamp of 1857. And perhaps nobody would remember about it if it were not for an outstanding collector and greatest connoisseur of Russian philately Karl Karlovich Schmidt.

K.K. Schmidt was born in St.Petersburg in 1866, shortly after his family had moved here from German. Having finished German gymnasium, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts, where he became the royal holder of scholarship. He graduated from it in 1893. Since 1896 he served at the Ministry of Justice. Schmidt’s talent was revealed in the architectural field; he rapidly became famous. But first he manifested a considerable talent for drawing. That was the influence of drawing classes in a famous painting school of Baron Stieglitz. He won the competition for drawing the medal in honor of the 100th anniversary of the ministries — the Emperor Nicholas II liked his sketch. Later, Schmidt became the author of the official stamp for one of the administrative offices. The architect became very proud of the complex for a company in St. Petersburg — a recognized sample “art nouveau”. There according to his project there was built a building for the court jeweler Carl Faberge.

In Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk he had built palaces and villas; in Tver he built a bridge; in Rostov-on-Don he built a provincial house; in Sofia — Cathedral. Schmidt devoted two decades to the Ministry of Justice. He was awarded the title of State Councilor and almost all Russian orders.

In his memoirs (they were written in 1935 in Germany in the German language and published dozens of years later by his granddaughter) Karl Schmidt noted that the passion for stamps came to him at age seven. [50] And he remained faithful to this passion all his life. Petersburg period of his life (fifty-five years) formed a philatelic hobby. At some point, after meeting with the well-known collectors of that time, the priorities of his philatelic interests finally determined. In 1888, he joined the St. Petersburg section of International (Dresden) Philatelic Society. It was organized on December 5 1883, by a member of the Imperial Technical Society, hereditary honorary citizen of the city F.L.Breytfus, who later was its permanent chairman until his death. This is the date the current St. Petersburg Union of Philatelists begins on. In March 1910, the St. Petersburg branch of the International Society of philatelists in Dresden was reorganized into “Russian Philatelic Society in St. Petersburg”. Traditionally, the members of the society gathered in the evenings at the restaurant of Leiner 2 times a month (the 1st and 3rd Wednesday). Karl Schmidt was elected Chairman of the Company, Chairman of the companion (deputy) — G.R.Kirhner, secretary — L.L.Breytfus, treasurer — A.V.Ryabov.

Over the years, Schmidt’s collection was replenished with many unique pieces. His particular interest was centered on the Zemsky post office. “While diligently collecting the stamps of Zemsky post offices, I have been considering the idea to write a book about these stamps”, — said Schmidt in his memoirs, stressing the fact, that appeared at that time catalogs did not meet his demands.

He begins to issue an illustrated edition in the German language “Russian Zemsky Stamps” in collaboration with the jeweler and also a great collector-philatelist Agathon Karlovich Faberge (who was his distant relative). Karl Schmidt’s publishing house was located in St. Petersburg in the house number 12 in Perekupny side street. It was supposed to publish 30 issues in 3 volumes (10 issues in each). This splendid edition was printed in a limited number of copies by subscription in an artistic company R.Golik and A.Vilborg. Unfortunately, it remained unfinished, as it came only to the letter “L” — it was interrupted by the war.

Much later, in the 30s (ie, after the issue of the catalogue edited by F.G.Chuchin), Karl Schmidt, who already lived in Germany, had issued a complete specialized catalogue of Zemsky stamps. There were a limited number of copies, just 50 copies. Written in telegraphic style, this catalogue does not repeat many of the facts in the monograph of Schmidt and Faberge. Finally, after K.K.Schmidt had donated his collection to the Berlin postal museum, he issued a new catalogue of this collection in 1934, which was a shortened version of the previous catalogue. In these three publications all preceding literature on Zemsky stamps had been fully covered.

Karl Schmidt’s collection of stamps was extensive and unique. It included 46,000 pieces of Zemsky stamps, envelopes and other things. And after buying at the auction in 1925 the Zemsky section from F.Ferrari’s collection, it reached 67,000 articles. However, K.Schmidt had to go through the ordeal to keep it after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. “In the first wild days of the revolution — wrote Schmidt in his memoirs, — I have stayed in Pavlovsk, since the railway communication with St. Petersburg was interrupted. It was only from newspapers, that we learnt what was happening in the capital; I, personally, did not see anything”.

Schmidt decides to immigrate to Germany. As soon as the German Consulate opened, Schmidt was trying to obtain an exit visa. This is how Eugene Sashenkov describes this story in his article in “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”: “K.K.Schmidt’s father and sister managed to leave earlier, but the case of the others was delayed. The Consulate was awaiting confirmation from Berlin, whether Karl Schmidt and his family retained German citizenship. It took week after week, month after month. Wasting no time, Schmidt ordered boxes and packed his huge library and paintings in them. As for the collections, they were placed in the safe, as it seemed place, in bank safes. But reliability was imaginary. Revolutionary chaos of the new power was unlimited. They started to audit the banks. When checking the safes numismatics was immediately confiscated. That was an outstanding collection of old Russian coins, including interesting gold and platinum specimens. Fortunately, only by accident just a collection of stamps survived. The pastor of the Lutheran church who knew about the priceless collection of stamps suggested re-hiding the collection in anticipation of the events. There was a small room in the basement of the church, where for a few days all the albums with the collections of the Zemsky stamps were relocated from the bank. The door to the “vault” was blocked with a heavy iron-barred wardrobe, and this little trick turned out to be very useful.” [51]

Then there came the time of robberies. The household goods were stolen; the library was robbed. But the fate spared the box with philatelic literature. “No lovers were found only for the philatelic books”, — later wrote K.K.Schmidt. Apparently these books were considered to be a useless junk. By the way, other great Russian collectors had also suffered from seizures and robberies.

But Karl Schmidt was lucky. Perhaps his fame helped it. Individual copies from the library, including something from the “philatelic box”, were later sent to him to Germany by complete strangers. The numerous publications on philately in the pre-war Russian and German magazines brought him a deserved fame.

It was only many years later that it became possible to finally transport the stamp collection to Berlin. However, something was literally smuggled in 1918, when the whole family crossed the border on the train. The stamps in small envelopes were stuffed in children’s stockings. Perhaps in one of these children’s stockings there was hidden the jewel of philately — Tiflis stamp.

It was only in 1925, that taking advantage of a business trip to Leningrad, Schmidt was able to transport the entire collection to Germany. And soon, finally, two-volume work was completed “Postage marks of Russian Zemsky post offices”, which was recognized the best achievement of philatelic literature in Germany in 1933. And then on the VIPA — International Philatelic Exhibition in Vienna Schmidt’s collection as well as his literary work was awarded by a gold medal.

In 1922, first in Germany and later in 1924 in the article “City Tiflis stamp”, which was published in the journal “Soviet philatelist” №7, Karl Schmidt already being abroad, in fact, reopened Tiflis stamp for collectors. This stamp had been in his collection since 1913. But as it is said above it was possible neither to describe, nor to expose it and the very safety of the rarity was under a big question. [52]

K.Schmidt writes: “Although the first copies of the Tiflis City postage stamp were found more than 10 years ago, however, this stamp is still quite unknown to collectors, philatelic literature is silent about it and it is not placed in the catalogues. So I decided to describe it, to share my thoughts with collectors and to tell them the little that I became aware of it, giving more lucky ones to complement everything what I could not at all desire explain.”

The rumors that sometime in the city of Tiflis there was a city post office and that a special city postage stamp was used for local letters, had been spread since 80-ies of the XIX century. According to these rumors a well-known publisher of the magazine “Le Timbre-poste” (Postal Stamps), Jean-Baptiste Moens in 1889 addressed to the Director of the post office of the city of Tiflis with a request. He asked if there ever was a special postage stamp in Tiflis city and when it was in circulation. The Director of the Post Office replied that he clearly remembered that once there were special city stamps in circulation. But he, unfortunately, didn’t have any opportunity to give any more precise indication of the time of their use. [53]

As a result of these vague but persistent rumors the largest at that time catalogue was published by Zh.B.Moens entitled Tiflis with a multi-meaning question in each new edition: “Il y a eu des Timbres, mais lesquels?” (The stamps have been published, but what stamps?)

Shortly before the First World War, the fog which cloaked the stamp had cleared due to the discovery of three copies of this stamp. All the circumstances of this finding are entitled to assume that any possibility of fraud or forgery is excluded. [52]

Then Karl Schmidt, describing his attempt to find at least some information about the issue of this stamp, expressed an erroneous assumption that the stamps of the city of Tiflis were to be issued and enter into the postal circulation “in any case, before 1855”. This idea was based on an analysis of the pattern of double-headed eagle, depicted on the stamp over the emblem of Tiflis (on the basis of dropped wings). The double-headed eagle with wings drooping down was in in fashion until about 1855 (for example — the watermark on the first Russian envelopes and stamped paper, double-headed eagle on the coins, etc...). At Alexander II double-headed eagle already got fan-shaped wings as it is depicted on the first Russian State postage stamps.

At the end of the article the outstanding scholar and the expert in philately especially emphasizes the state status of Tiflis stamp. He writes that it is possible to “say with certainty that the described stamp has been a state one. It can’t be considered to be a Zemsky stamp, because at that time Zemsky institutions had not yet been introduced, and they had never existed in the Caucasus. The Caucasus had always been ruled by the vicegerent. On the other hand, it could not join the so-called private stamps because they did not exist anywhere in Russia.

So, there was only one thing to do — to join the city Tiflis stamp to the category of city postage stamps of 1863 of the city of St. Petersburg and to the city’s postal envelopes of the two capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

By publishing this material, the editors of the magazine “Soviet Philately” accompanied it with their commentary appealing to the conscience of all Soviet collectors: “By printing the article about the Tiflis city postage stamp of our employee K. K.Schmidt, honorary member of the International Society of philatelists in Dresden, the editors of “S.F.” consider it a debt of honor of our Russian and Caucasian collectors to find and publish in our magazine “S.F.” complete and indisputable information about this stamp. On our part we will remind about it to the colleagues on the pages of “SF” to disturb their conscience.”

But appeals to conscience did not help solve the mystery of life and the emergence of the Tiflis Unica. And no new materials or publications were published for the next five years. Only in 1929 developing K.Schmidt’s article, an article of S.I.Kuzovkin (Baku) was published in “Soviet collector” magazine: “Forgotten Philatelic Unica. Postage stamp of Tiflis city post 6 k. of the issue of 1857”. [54]

S.Kuzovkin, continuing the research of K.Schmidt, tried to find official sources that would confirm the existence of Tiflis stamps. Searches were complicated by the fact that according to the recognition of the author “richest archives of the civil and military institutions of the Caucasus, kept in Tiflis, at the beginning of the imperialist war in the Caucasus, under the threat of attack of Tiflis, were transported in boxes to Batum, Vladikavkaz and Stavropol skirting the fortress Kars and Turkish army of Iskhan Pasha. The part of the archival property was later returned to Tiflis, and here in 1921 was almost entirely lost during the Civil War, being burned or used as the wrapping paper.” However, he managed to discover in “Caucasian calendar” for 1858 the “Rules for the city post in Tiflis and delivery of magazines and newspapers home”. They talked about the existence of Tiflis stamps and their use to pay for postal correspondence.

Looking through the “Caucasian Calendar” for three years (1857—1859), S.Kuzovkin came to the conclusion that the stamps of the city of Tiflis could come in circulation even in 1857 and run since November-December of that year till March 1, 1858. In his article, he justified the start time of the introduction by the fact that in the Caucasus, “postal stations of Tiflis province and the city of Tiflis were taken from under the jurisdiction of the County Police and transferred as an experiment under the management of the postal authorities of the Caucasus for three years to develop and to regulate postal services. This governmental measure applies to 26/X-1857.” The end of existence of Tiflis stamps was connected with the publication of national postage stamps of Russia. He believed that the Tiflis stamps were withdrawn from the post circulation since March 1, 1858 due to the introduction at the Caucasus national postage stamps from the same time.

Having analyzed postal services in the South Caucasus in the first half of the nineteenth century and almost complete text of the “Rules for the city post in Tiflis and delivery of magazines and newspapers home”, published in “Caucasian calendar” for 1858, S.Kuzovkin makes a number of conclusions. Firstly, why instead of the word “stamp” the document uses the term “paper print stamps, having the properties of a cachet”. Secondly, the justification for the price of the stamp and peculiarities of its drawing in the form of the emblem of Tiflis. Thirdly, the terms of the circulation of the stamp. He first time used the term to name the stamp of the city post of Tiflis, which later had a long life, having called it “Unica of Tiflis”. So for a long time this extraordinary stamp had its own name. The magazine “Rossika”, the body of Russian society of philatelists abroad which at that time was published in Yugoslavia replied to this publication. In a short note V.Agapyev retells Kuzovkin’s publication and places a bad picture of one copy of the stamp.

V.Agapyev, Tiflis stamp, “Rossika”, 1930, №3, s.7-8.

V.Agapyev, Tiflis stamp,
“Rossika”, 1930, №3, s.7-8.

About a year later the journal “Soviet collector” publishes another article about Tiflis stamp. Its author N.I.Nosilov responds to discussion and criticism of the Tiflis city post stamp in the philatelic world, which appeared after the publications about it abroad.

In his article “About the new first stamp of Russia” N.I.Nosilov writes about peculiarities and uniqueness of Tiflis city post stamp of 1857 and proves the groundlessness and artificiality of all doubts about the legitimacy of the state mark of postal payment.

By that time Karl Schmidt had already managed to exhibit his copy of the stamp at the philatelic exhibition “Iposta” in Berlin in 1930. In particular, N.I.Nosilov wrote: “The discovery of Tiflis city post stamp by the famous expert of Russian stamps K.Schmidt, which, according to the time of its issue, is the first one among all known until now... gave a rise to a whole literature in the West, mainly of the critical character.” [55]

The objections made by some Western philatelists regarding giving the Tiflis stamp an official value along with other stamps of Russia, consisted in fact just of a few points. It was pointed out that this stamp was not a city stamp, but an ordinary zemsky one, that it was used to for the letters sent from Tiflis to its suburbs, particularly in Kojori. According to their manufacture these stamps are quite different from other Russian stamps. The fact that Tiflis stamp has not been found until recently speaks against its official character. The drawing of the state eagle on the stamps can say absolutely nothing in its favor. The right of the vicegerent of the Caucasian to issue postage stamps was questioned.

To all these critical notes and doubts K. Schmidt published a detailed answer in the journal “Die Postmarke”. [56] He described these judgments as farfetched due to a lack of familiarity with the reality of old Russia in general, and with the history of its mail in particular. Karl Schmidt rejected any comparison of Tiflis stamp with Zemsky one, as it didn’t have anything to do with the latter according to its own origin. In his opinion it was only possible to compare this stamp with a well-known stamp of the capital city post of 1863. As for the official nature of city post, as such, K. Schmidt made an interesting excursion into its history. Since the emergence of postal relations in Russia before the beginning of the 30s of last century, the state post office served only nonresident mail correspondence, as it was believed that within the city all sorts of the messages could be delivered through the messenger or even personally. However, the gradual growth of large cities had created some requirements in special mail institution which would serve communication of their residents. A special city post office with a completely independent organization and management had been established.

It was first introduced in St. Petersburg on January 17, 1833; where at first there were 42 offices to receive correspondence. In 1835, 31 more offices were established. Since then, the city post firmly entered the state economy system. After the Tsarskoye Selo railway was opened in 1838, the service area of the city population was spread on Tsarskoye Selo, as a summer residence of the imperial court. Prior to 1845, St. Petersburg was the only city in Russia, which used public mail services. On January 1, 1845 it was introduced in Moscow. On October 19, 1845 there came a governmental decree on the introduction for this post office special postage in a form of stamp envelopes, the sale of which began in St. Petersburg on December 1 of the same year, and in Moscow - at the beginning of the next 1846 year. Despite the obvious benefits of the City post to the public, the post department took time to introduce it in other cities. Only in the 50s it was organized in Warsaw, and in the 60s — in Kazan. As it is known, 5-kopeck stamps were issued for the capital city post in 1863. The number of cities which had their own post office gradually increased. By the end of the 60s, in addition to the above-mentioned cities, such mail functioned in Odessa, Kiev, Chisinau, Kharkiv and Zhytomyr.

German catalogue publisher G.Mihel officially cataloged the stamp. In 1933 he placed in his catalogue “Europa” the data about the stamp without its pattern, and in 1938 and 1941 gave a drawing. [57]

In 1936, the catalogue of Zenf brothers gave a description of Tiflis stamp. And in 1941, it published the conditional drawing of the stamp according to the existing description.

In 1941, the description of the stamp was placed in the catalogue, published in the New York by S.V.Prigara under the title “Russian post office in the Empire, Turkey, China and post office in the Kingdom of Poland”, number 24.

Later, in 1957, Tiflis stamp was included in the English specialized catalogue for Russian stamps, developed by D.Reynolds and in German catalogue “Lipsia” (Lipsia Briefmarken-Katalog, Leipzig: VEB Verlag Transpress). The first years were without cost. [58, 59]

In 1955 a long article about Tiflis stamp was published by Dr. G.Bondarenko-Salsburi in the journal “Rossika”, which at that time was the organ of Russian foreign Philatelic Society, published in the United States.

In 1967, in the book “Rare stamps” Leon and Maurice Williams mentioned Tiflis stamp together with a number of other world rarities. [59]

In 1964 A.Kolesnikov reminded about the global significance of the Tiflis stamp to the philatelists of the Soviet Union in his article “The first Russian postage stamp? About Tiflis City postage stamp”. Having basically repeated the information of prior publications, the author asked a number of questions. The main one among them could be formulated as follows: “Where are three known copies of the stamp, which have previously been mentioned in publications?”. [60]

And indeed it was absolutely unclear where K.K.Schmidt’s stamp had disappeared? In 1933, he donated his rich collection to the Berlin imperial post museum. But it is known that the bombing caused damage to the museum. They managed to take away the collection of stamps, in which there were world famous rarities. Saving a collection from the bombing in November 1943, the valuable artifacts were packed in a few dozen boxes and transported to the south, to the shafts of abandoned salt mines at Eisleben. There it found the end of the war.

Michel’s catalogue. Europe 1938.

Michel’s catalogue. Europe 1938.

Brothers Zenf. Illustrated catalogue of the postage stamps of 1936.

Brothers Zenf. Illustrated catalogue of the postage stamps of 1936.

Brothers Louis and Richard Zenf. Illustrated catalogue of the postage stamps, 1941.

Brothers Louis and Richard Zenf. Illustrated catalogue of the postage stamps, 1941.

Russian post office in the Empire, Turkey, China and post office in the Kingdom of Poland. A detailed guide for people, collecting stamps, whole things and postage stamps. Put together by S.V. Prigara, New-York, 1941.

Russian post office in the Empire, Turkey, China and post office in the Kingdom of Poland.
A detailed guide for people, collecting stamps, whole things and postage stamps.
Put together by S.V. Prigara, New-York, 1941. (See № 24).

Dr. G. Bondarenko-Salsburi. “Rossika”, USA, 1955, № 46-47.

Dr. G. Bondarenko-Salsburi. “Rossika”, USA, 1955, № 46-47.

H.L. and Maurice Williams. Rare stamps, Stuttgart 1967.

H.L. and Maurice Williams. Rare stamps, Stuttgart 1967.

US commanders, who knew that this area would come under the management of the Soviet administration, moved the boxes with artifacts in the American occupation zone and accommodated them in an empty castle. Later it turned out to be that from the sealed boxes eight of the most valuable items recorded in the inventory of the museum had disappeared. These were: two “Mauritius”, the blue one — on a letter, two cents red stamp of 1850 and four cent blue of 1856, published in the “British Guiana”, two and five cent stamps of so-called “Hawaiian-missionary’s issues” of 1851–1852, thirteen cent post miniature Gavaev of 1851–1852, and thirteen cent stamp of Hawaiian-American issue. Each of these stamps is surrounded by legends.

The cost of all these rarities is measured in millions of dollars. For a long time, nothing was known about their fate. 30 years later their track was found in the United States. In 1976 in Philadelphia there was held the International Philatelic Exhibition “INTERFIL-76”. One of the residents of this city, the former captain of the US Army (the press does not give his name), having read in the newspapers that at the auction the envelope with two “Mauritius” was sold for 380,000 dollars, recalled that in the attic of his house there was kept a tight brown bag, where there were two envelopes and some stamps. Taking the package, he offered a well-known London stamp dealer, the organizer of the largest auctions, Robson Lowe, who came to the exhibition to purchase the contents of the package. But Robson Lowe remembered seeing these rarities before the war in the Berlin Museum, and quietly, so as not to alert the person refused to buy them, referring to a lack of demand and examination of authenticity.

Returning to London, he privately informed Scotland Yard of the received proposals, and it in its turn, passed the information to Interpol. A few months later the owner of the Philadelphia stamps was found. According to some sources, the guy, having learnt about the stamps he gave them to the federal US Customs himself, according to others — US Customs confiscated them as the values illegally brought into the country.

Former captain explained that the stamps came to him in June 1945, when he, together with his military unit was leaving Saxony, which, in accordance with the Allied agreement, concluded in 1944, was after the capitulation of Nazi Germany to become part of the Soviet occupation zone. Some couple asked the captain to take them to the West, which he did. In gratitude, the couple presented him with the package of stamps. Returning home, he threw the bag into the attic and soon forgot about it. Until Philatelic Exhibition in Philadelphia...

The customs authorities of the United States notified the German Embassy in Washington about the incident. The latter was determined to pay 50 thousand dollars to the former captain “for the return of the findings”, but while the customs documents were being completed, he died. Meanwhile the information penetrated into the mass media, and GDR declared its right of ownership on the detected stamps, because an imperial museum of communication before the war was in the building at Leyptsiggershtrasse on the territory of East Berlin. This building now is the Postal Museum. The dispute lasted for many years. The lawyers could not determine who the successor of an imperial museum was, and who the detected values belonged to. The trial, according to some experts, could last 2–3 years. The matter was complicated by the fact that all eight stamps were stolen by the Nazis from a private individual — a philatelist. But no one knows who he is and whether he is alive. After Germany was united, the issue was resolved and the stamps were returned to the German postal administration.

However, from this entire detective story it was not clear: what is the fate of another important rarity — Tiflis stamp from the collection of K.Schmidt.

Special intrigue to the story added the fact that the Russian State Collection of the postages, which is stored in the Central Museum of Communications after A.S. Popov in St. Petersburg, does not have any copy of the stamp of such significance for the Russian philately! That is by far the Russian national postal collection is not complete, because they do not own one of the most important exhibits, from which the Russian philately took its beginning. Moreover, the museum did not have complete and verified information about a stamp.

The articles about Tiflis stamp, which later appeared in mass media, did not give any answer to these questions. [61, 62, 63] Even in the most complete and detailed studies of Boris Kaminsky published in the journal “Philately of the USSR” in 1970—1971 about the history of the Tiflis city post, there was no response about the fate of the Tiflis stamp. [64, 65]

Fortunately, the Tiflis stamp, found by Karl Schmidt, had not disappeared. The visitors of the Berlin Museum of Communication (German Museum fur Kommunikation Berlin — Former Imperial Postal Museum) can admire it today. This is one of the largest national postal museums of the world. Here, in the treasury house, next to the famous stamps “Blue” and “Pink Mauritius”, “British Guiana”, “Hawaiian Missionaries” and other unique rarities, the stamp of the Tiflis city post is stored. This is a worthy place for it — in a series of comparable values.

The Berlin Museum of Communication.

The Berlin Museum of Communication.

The sheet with Tiflis stamp from the collection of the Berlin Museum.

The sheet with Tiflis stamp from the collection of the Berlin Museum.