The fate of the Tiflis stamp and its owners.
The riddles of Agathon Faberge’s collection.
Artist Velo Paluoja.
Agafon Karlovich Faberge.
In the history of the Tiflis stamp there was another no less interesting fact. It is associated with well-known personality in the world — Agafon Faberge and the history of his unique collection.
Agafon Karlovich Faberge was born in 1876 in St. Petersburg. After graduating from the elite school of Peter Schuler and gymnasium of Wiedemann, he learned from his father and the masters of the company to evaluate gemstones. Next, career rise: at the age of 22, he became an expert of the Diamond Room of the Winter Palace, then the appraiser of Loan Treasury. According to his father’s warrant he worked as an appraiser of the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty.
At the same time, he was involved in the family business affairs — together with his father and brother Eugene he managed the work on manufacturing the royal regalia and jewelry for royal family members. After the success at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the Faberge Company became a supplier of many monarchs. Agafon himself, who spoke five languages, was a company representative at the royal houses of England, Sweden, Norway, and Siam. In 1897, Agafon married the daughter of a wealthy Riga merchant, Lydia Treyberg. After the birth of his fourth son in 1907, his father presented Agafon a cottage (dacha) in Levashovo not far St. Petersburg. Contemporaries called this cottage “Small Hermitage”, because it was decorated with antique furniture, antique carpets and tapestries, porcelain and bronze, prints, icons, miniatures and sculptures. There were also two very unique collections — precious stones and stamps.” 
Russian-German stamp collector from St. Petersburg Breytfuss Friedrich (1850–1911) involved A.Faberge in collecting stamps. The instructions of the experienced collector Breytfuss played an important role in formation Agafon Karlovich’s interest to stamps. Once a stroke of luck made A. Faberge an owner of a huge number of stamps of the beginning of XIX century. Large St. Petersburg Company, which had a huge business correspondence around the world, had decided to get rid of old documents on the account of their move to new premises. Agafon Karlovich was given the correspondence of Sterk — an archive consisting of ten thousand letters from Finland, Scandinavia, Russia and the Far East. They were a real gem of philately.
In 1916, Agafon Faberge retired from his father’s company and opened up an antique shop. After the February 1917 conspiracy against the tsar, antique trade was very busy. Wealthy people leaving Russia sold rarities. There was no shortage of the buyers — the nouveau riche millionaires. The October Bolshevik coup made A.Faberge close the shop. There began lootings and robberies.
In June 1918, Agafon Faberge reopened the antique shop. But later, the terror unleashed by the Bolsheviks forced him to smuggle his wife and five children to Finland. If he had not done that, then his two eldest sons would have been shot. They previously had time to do some fighting in the army of Yudenich, and thus became enemies of the new regime.
In December 1918, the Bolsheviks closed all the antique shops. A. Faberge found a job as a translator in the Danish embassy. Six months later, according to the new denunciation he was arrested by security officers, this time on charges of profiteering and sent to a concentration camp. Shortly after his arrest there was a pogrom at his dacha. Everything that could not be taken away was disfigured and broken. Agafon Faberge spent in a concentration camp more than a year, where considering being a “bourgeois counterrevolution” he was taken out to be shot three times. Torture and hunger were not in vain — 44-year-old man had become old and gray-haired; his house, villa and property were confiscated.
In the late 1920’s the officials involved A.Faberge into an urgent secret work — evaluation of a large lot of diamonds. After signing the peace with Estonia, the Bolsheviks found a channel for smuggling gold and precious stones. The interested traders came to Revel to participate in clandestine auctions. Having learned that the Bolsheviks brought “buckets” of diamonds, they decided to bring down the price and refused to buy the stones. Trade Representative telegraphed Lenin that the experts deliberately overstated the price and it was impossible to sell the stones. A. Faberge was arrested again on charges of sabotage. After some time, the authorities learned about his connections with the staff of the Finnish diplomatic mission and decided to make him their agent. He came out of prison only after he had given his agreement to work for the GPU. But A. Faberge did not want to have it on his conscience, so he confessed everything to his Finnish friends. For a while he tried to get some work. Academician A.E.Fersman helped him; he invited him to work in the commission to study production forces of Russia at the Academy of Sciences.
At the end of 1921 State Valuables Depositary needed good specialists to describe the jewelry. Deputy of People’s Commissar of Finance A.M.Kranoschekov persuaded Faberge and several other experts from St. Petersburg to do the job. But they did not agree. Shortly before that 18 employees of State Valuables Depositary were executed on charges of embezzlement. The same fate could expect new specialists. A.Faberge, a member of the top five Russian gemologists, was very necessary for the People’s Commissar of Finance. Then Agafon Faberge risked putting forward a condition: he wanted to be returned the apartment, a collection of antiques and stamps. Leon Trotsky, who was the leader of the “Commission on the withdrawal the values”, personally ordered to return confiscated property to Faberge. So, the unique collection of stamps returned to the owner. At that time there was the Tiflis stamp in that collection.
Externally, the Faberge family lived happily. But he could not and did not want to stay in Bolshevik Russia. In 1923, he had a son, Oleg from his second marriage. The family was in constant fear — both for their future and the future of their children. A.Faberge planned to flee abroad. But before that he tried to smuggle his values there. Gradually his friends-diplomats transported to Finland a collection of stamps, a few paintings and carpets; found Finnish fishermen who promised to help to cross the border. December night in 1927 the family was moved to Finland in the sledges on the ice. They were fired by the Red Army, but only Agafon Faberge was wounded.
“With the help of our friends, the father was able to start a new life in Finland at the usual level — recalled his son Oleg, — but this simple explanation of our good financial position was not suitable for those for whom the gossip was the main hobby... in émigré circles there was spread a rumor that in a bag, that during our escape was in four sledges there were not toothbrushes and soap, but it was packed with diamonds!”. These people not only spread rumors, but they sent denunciations to the OGPU that A. Faberge had brought the diamonds of the royal family and was trading stamps stolen from the St. Petersburg Postal Museum and etc. Learning about these rumors, Agafon Faberge was shocked and stopped communicating with compatriots except for a few old friends.
Before the revolution A. Faberge had been a member of the St. Petersburg Society of philatelists for many years. His collection — the best in Russia — was legendary among the collectors. In 1920, when confiscated collection was transferred to the museum there were 311,447 copies in it! As it was already mentioned, on the order of Trotsky’s philatelic collection was returned to the owner. In Finland, he divided the collection into two parts — main and secondary. Partial sale of the secondary collection gave him money to buy a house. However, even selling stamps did not save Faberge from debts, renovation and furnishing the house forced him to borrow from friends.
In 1933, Faberge brought the main part of the collection to Vienna for an exhibition. Collectors were shocked to see the rarest stamps of Old Italian states, of New South Wales, Argentina, Norway and many others. By that time, Faberge had serious debts. The British offered him a loan of 18,000 pounds under the stamps, which should have been stored in London. He was forced to agree.
Having paid his debts to his friends, A. Faberge tried to raise the funds for the purchase of stamps: he mortgaged the house and the furniture. But he didn’t succeed in collecting the necessary sum for the purchase of the collection. The collection was sold off piece by piece.  It was put up at Harmer auction. Wishing to save the collection, Agafon Faberge sent additional material to England. But he only managed to push back the deadline of the auction. Volume of sales was enormous. The collection was divided into four parts, on which the same number of catalogues was published. By that time the war had started in Europe. During the war, the main buyers were Americans and British. A.Faberge had never received his money. Although there were unique items such as pairs and sixes of the first Finnish stamps on the envelopes and one envelope with four pairs of 5-kopeeck oval stamps. About 80 per cent of the classic material in Finland and Russia went through the hands of Agafon Faberge at different times. After Harmer auction Faberge was very upset. It was still not clear who had acquired the main part of the material. 
In 1940, Faberge family was forced to leave his house, which was sold by auction, and remove to a modest apartment. After his father’s death in 1951, his son Oleg gradually paid the debts.
In that pre-war period in the collection of A. Faberge there already were three copies of the Tiflis city post stamp. Unfortunately, Agafon Faberge did not leave any notes, his unique knowledge of the rarest stamps in the world were lost. But the history of Tiflis stamp could be traced from a letter of his son Oleg sent to the publishing house in the late 80s and partly published in “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” in 2002.
According to his letter, Oleg Faberge, who lived in Finland, followed the publication about the Tiflis celebrity. The article in Russian of A.Vigilyev in the magazine “Philately of USSR” in 1988 came in his sight. In his letter Oleg Faberge strongly disagreed with many of the A.Vigilyev’s statements and gave concrete facts. 
The speech is about the Tiflis stamp. The Vigilyev’s article states that “Faberge reported to no one about his finding”. The son of Agafon Faberge objects: “But, first, it was not a finding, and secondly, there was no need to report, as it was already known at St. Petersburg philatelic society... Before 1917, Agafon Karlovich acquired two copies of Tiflis stamp. The first and the best one was purchased from Agar Romyanovich Kirchner, the second one came from V.Verhmeyster. Later, in the 1920s, in connection with the sale of the Ferrari collection he managed to buy a third copy...” This is how we learned about the first official owner of Tiflis stamps. As one can see in addition to Karl Schmitt three other copies have visited the hands of very famous collectors.
Then Oleg Faberge continues: “The author of the article (A.Vigilyev) assures that the collection was not available until 1958, when the heirs sold the collection at the international auction. All this is pure fantasy and nonsense. The parts of Agafon Karlovich’s collection, including three Tiflis stamps, were put up for the very first philatelic exhibition in Finland already in 1928 in Helsingfors. Then all three stamps were exhibited at the international exhibition WIPA in 1933 in Austria...”
Vienna Exhibition WIPA (German Wiener Internationale Postwertzeichen Austellung — WIPA; in the literal translation — Vienna International Exhibition of postage stamps) of 1933 was a great event in the international philatelic life. It took place from June 24 to July 9, the three places in the city: in the premises of the Vienna Secession (Secession), in the House of Artists (Vienna Künstlerhaus) and in the Military Casino (Militärcasino). The organizer of the exhibition was an outstanding Austrian philatelist Edwin Müller (Edwin Müller). This is where the World Philatelic public first saw the three copies of the Tiflis stamp from the collection of Faberge.
“Everything which was exhibited at WIPA-33, after the show was hypothecated and transported directly from there to London, where it lay until the high point of the Second World War. And it was then, when all relations between the two countries became impossible, the pledged collection were demanded to be redeemed! This, of course, was impossible, and the collections were sold at the Harmer auction in London in November 1939, and of course, THEY WERE NOT SOLD TO THE HEIRS, who there couldn’t be at that time. Agafon Karlovich lived until October 1951”.  We mention a philatelic auction in London in Bond Street, held 10 times a year (since 1918) by Henry Revell Harmer.
Then Oleg Faberge describes in detail the fate of three copies of the family collection which remained in oblivion: “Of course, the rare items of the collection were sold for a pittance. Only collectors who lived in England could participate in the auction. This entire sale could be described as very dirty business. <...>. At this auction on November 20, 1939 a John Wilson — one of the two persons who in 1933 willingly gave a loan for collection, bought the best copy of Tiflis stamp for 28 pounds. I do not know where this copy is now, but there is a reason to suspect that it is in Switzerland.” If Oleg Faberge is right, then we are probably talking about Sir John Mitchell Harvey Wilson, 2nd baronet (10 October 1898 — February 6, 1975). He was a great British philatelist, President of the Royal philatelic society of London (RPSL) since 1934, chairman of the Committee of experts of the company since 1937, and the Guardian of the Royal philatelic collection from 1938 to 1969.
Indeed, later this copy of this Tiflis stamp turned out to be in Switzerland in the album of the known collector and connoisseur of Russian stamps Zbigniew Mikulski.
The second copy was bought by Sh.Lavrov for £ 25, for C.Stibbe’s collection (Charles Stibbe). And when this collection was on sale on October 2, 1957, it was purchased by P.V.Davidson (P.V.Davidson) per 180 pounds.
Finally this stamp came in the collection of R. Bergman (R.W.Baighman), and when it was in realization at the auction of “Siegel” company (“Robert A.Siegel Auction Galleries Inc.”) in New York and was sold on March 24, 1971 for 7250 dollars. (Imperial Russia and Zemstvo. The Robert W.Baughman Collection. 1971. Siegel, New York).
Then Tiflis stamp appeared in connection with the auction of Norman Epstein (N. D. Epstein, USA) in October 1985 on the Harmer auction in New York. For $ 9,000 (with a starting price of 7500), this copy also went to the collection of Zbigniew Mikulski.
The third copy, the weakest on the preservation, was mentioned on 19 February 1958 at the sale of the collection of Hubert Goss (N.S.Goss, England). It was bought for 175 pounds. Later, according to rumors, it turned out to be in the collection of the daughter of a famous collector Berlinzher from Luxembourg.
The sale of A.K. Faberge’s collection. Catalogue “Agafon Faberge. Collection of Russian stamps.
Auction of G. R. Harmer. London 1939.
Catalogue of Charles Stibbe’s auction, RUSSIA. London 1957.
Ch. Ch. Gandford. Auction of G. Stibbe’s collection of Zemsky stamps. “Rossika”, 1958, №54.
Robert Siegel’s Auction for the sale of Robert Bergman’s collection.
Tsarist Russia and the Zemstvo. Stamps and envelopes. New York 1971.
Collection of Norman Epstein, RUSSIA, part 1.
The catalogue of Harmer auction. New York 1985.
The name of Zbigniew Mikulski has been inextricably linked with the classical Russian philately for more than half a century. He is one of the most respected members of the International Association of Philatelic Experts (A.I.E.P.) for Eastern Europe. He is the member of the Royal Philatelic Society of London; Grand Prix Club; Club de Monte-Carlo; accredited judge FIP. He has entered in the list of the outstanding philatelists (2002), has been awarded for outstanding achievements in the field of philately by Hunziker Medal A.I.E.P. (2003); Keler Award (2000), the author of major studies in the field of expertise and reference books on philately.
Two Mikulski’s collections have been recognized as the best in the world, “Kingdom of Poland” and “The Russian Empire”. Collecting the things for many years Z.Mikulsky communicated with such well-known world authority in the field of philately as Filip de Ferrari, Agathon Faberge, Baron Rothschild, H.C.Goss, R.Boughman, J.Wilson, N.D.Epstein, M.Liphshutz.
He is a leading, internationally recognized expert in Russian philately and an official expert on Russian issues. He has been constantly acquiring numerous rarities from the collections of Ferrari, Faberge and other famous international collections. That’s why the interest of this respected and competent person to this unique postage stamp as Tiflis stamp is understandable. Just thanks to Z.Mikulski, the stamps again saw the light at the World Philatelic Exhibition.
In 1996, both brands from the collection of Agathon Faberge entered the catalogue of the exhibition in New York. They were worthy neighbors to another rarity from Zbigniew Mikulski’s collection — an envelope with the first stamps of the Russian Empire.
In Russia, they were first shown at the World Philatelic Exhibition “Moscow-97” in October 1997. The stamps were delivered, as a great value, and at the exhibition took place in the “Honorary class”. They were exhibited together with the rarest stamps of the world and the collection of the Queen of England Elizabeth II and Prince Rainier of Monaco III.
International Philatelic Exhibition “Amphilex 96”.
The sheet from the collection of Zbigniew Mikulski.
The two stamps previously owned by Agathon Faberge.
World Philatelic Exhibition in Russia “Moscow-97”. Catalogue.
Collection of Zbigniew Mikulski.
The two stamps previously owned by Agathon Faberge.
Taking into consideration the special status of the Tiflis stamp (I would remind, it was issued six months before the first official stamp of the Russian Empire and the first stamp issued on the territory of Georgia), this event could not go unnoticed in Georgia. In 1997 there were issued anniversary block and the stamp with the drawing of the Tiflis stamp.
Anniversary postal block dedicated to Tiflis stamp.
International Philatelic Exhibition “Moscow-97”, Georgia, 1997.
The catalogue “Michel”, # B13.
Anniversary postage stamp dedicated to the Tiflis stamp.
International Philatelic Exhibition “Moscow-97”, Georgia, 1997.
The catalogue “Michel”, №255.
Visiting Z.Mikulski, St.Gallen, Switzerland.
However, the story of Tiflis stamps from the collection of A. Faberge was not completed. In 1998, two Tiflis stamp Z. Mikulski sold Viktor Gittin (Russia). Intermediary transaction was the company “Doren Finance Ltd.”.
In 2007, Russia celebrated the anniversary of the first edition of a postage stamp. Company “Standard Collection” (St. Petersburg) has published a book dedicated to the Tiflis stamp — “Tiflis Unic”.
After the publication of the first edition of this book in 2007, for the anniversary of the issue of the first Russian stamp, the authority and importance of the Tiflis stamp became well known. There appeared its souvenir options. For example, interesting gold replica of the stamp was manufactured with a limited edition, which was quickly sold out among the collectors, and has become a rarity itself.
Replica of the Tiflis city post stamp.
Replica of the Tiflis city post stamp
- Dimensions — 24x24 mm.
- Weight — 4.2 g.
- Minimum ligature weight — 3,57 gr.
- Gold — 585 °.
- Workmanship — Proof-like.
- Circulation — 300 pcs.
- Manufacturer — St. Petersburg Mint. On the flip side of all replicas there is a hallmark.
Now the stamp is represented in many international and Russian catalogues. It is described in detail and even has a conditional evaluation. [69, 70, 71, 72]