The sign on the title image says "do you speak Russian?" in the Russian language
One of the questions asked in the 3rd Quarter 2021 issue of the Philatelic Literature Review was about specialized society libraries. The question was: Are you a member of a state or specialty society? What kind of resources are available for your area of collecting, whether books, articles, websites, or catalogs, and why are they useful?
I believe our society’s library is kind of special but then I am the president of the Rossica Society of Russian Philately. Rossica has been active in the United States since 1954 and was founded back in the 1930s by White Russian expatriates, first in Europe until 1939 then in China until 1941.
The collecting community of Russian philately is as geographically broad as its diaspora. There were very active groups at one time in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Today, there are still very active groups in Europe, Great Britain and Russia, as well has here in the United States.
Because of this diversity, Russian philatelic literature comes in multiple languages: Russian, English and several other European languages. What started out as a primary Russian-speaking community has now, in the West, developed into an English-speaking membership with a significant body of Russian philatelic literature in English. Since 1992, with the fall of the Soviet Union, an ever-increasing volume of philatelic literature in Russian has also become available in the West.
Due to the large body of English language literature, a new collector interested in Russian philately does not have to be able to read Russian. I did not when I started, and while I’ve learned the Russian alphabet to be able to read postmarks and philatelic names, I still don’t. One should learn the alphabet and find a good philatelic dictionary that includes Russian key terms, like “block, sheet” and “colors”. Just enjoy the stamps- there are more than enough references in English to help you for years, and over time, you’ll learn enough philatelic Russian to handle your chosen specialty.
With more than 6,000 stamps, a new collector of Russia needs a good catalog in English to start. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue is OK, as that is the primary catalog dealers use and its numbering system is used throughout the U.S.
The biggest weakness in the Scott catalog is that many of the civil war republics and states, as well as the new Commonwealth of Independent Republics, are not grouped with Russia. Almost all the stamp-issuing states used Russian stamps or overprinted them. A better choice is the Stanley Gibbons Russian catalog which includes most of these states in the same volume. For the general Russian stamp collector that will be all that they need. But, as they specialize into different periods or subjects, their choices of research material expand exponentially. That’s where access to the Rossica library helps.
The objective of the Rossica library is to collect and make available this body of specialized knowledge to our members. In keeping with the library’s mission to promote Russian philately, it collects Russian philatelic material from around the world and maintains a large collection of both English and non-English material.
The library has a volunteer librarian who spends a significant amount of his time managing this library and responding to member requests for books and articles on a vast array of subjects. He helps guide the researcher on what is available in their subject area; first in English and then to the Russian if need be. He will provide short Russian language items in a format that can be easily translated using Google Translate. However, at this time Rossica does not have a translation service.
To help preserve material, significant amounts of literature are stored on the Google Drive Cloud and our librarian has been sending digital copies of requested material either by email, if it a short article, or by link to the cloud-located copy if it is a long one. This keeps scarce material safe by not having to send it through the mail. It is also a whole lot quicker than the mail.
The society has been publishing an award-winning journal twice a year since 1954. We also maintain complete runs of all the English language journals as well as ones in other language. In the past year we have also created a Facebook group for all collectors, both members and non-members to ask questions and exchange ideas and information.
As I noted earlier, Russian philately is broad, it includes Imperial Russia, its local post system, Zemstvos; Offices in China and Turkey, the civil war armies, and various short-lived republics that existed from 1917 to 1921. There are the Soviet period with the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), Far Eastern Republic and Soviet republics that were merged into the Soviet Union. The USSR period, including WWII and since 1992, the Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent Nations. You have periods of inflation, almost continuous censorship, and military mail, all documented in the postal history of Russia. There is a vast array of revenues from all periods and several stamp-issuing states.
There are several areas that are fertile ground for continued research. The modern area since 1992, has many opportunities. We have big holes in formal documentation on postal rates beyond postcards and letters. There are services that produced printed matter, package rates, local surcharges for paying the local post offices. Several of these areas, such as express mail, go back to the Soviet period. The postal rates from several of the new republics are still unknown and must be worked out by the mail available. Surcharged stamps and postal stationery are poorly documented. Many are fantasies but some were used locally by the postal authorities to move the mail. Imperial Russia, the RSFSR, and Zemstvos are being heavily researched, and the results are being documented in journals and books.
Russian philately is a vast area to collect; there is still so much to be learned. A major asset for the collector is the Rossica Society. Membership gives its members access to all the tools we have, the journal, the library, books for sale, a website with a Question-and-Answer forum and now a Facebook forum.