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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stamp Investment Tip: Russia - Offices in China

Russian soldiers in Manchuria, 1900
 In the late 19th Century, Russians aimed for control over the Amur River for navigation, as well as the Chinese all-weather ports of Dairen and Port Arthur in the Liaodong peninsula. The rise of Japan as an Asian power provoked Russia's anxiety, especially in light of expanding Japanese influence in Korea. Following Japan's victory in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the Triple Intervention of Russia, Germany and France forced Japan to return the territory won in Liaodong, leading to a de facto Sino-Russian alliance.

 However, local Chinese in Manchuria were incensed at these Russian advances and began to harass Russians and vandalize Russian installations, such as the Chinese Eastern Railway. In June 1900, the Chinese bombarded the town of Blagoveshchensk on the Russian side of the Amur, and in retaliation, the Russians massacred several thousand Chinese and Manchus in that town. The Czar's government used the pretext of Boxer Rebellion to move some 200,000 troops into the area to crush the Boxers, who retaliated by launching a guerrilla war against the Russians, which continued until their defeat by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War.

 The Russians issued stamps for their post offices in China in 1899. These were Russian stamps overprinted with the word "KITAI" (Russian for "China") in Cyrillic script. The overprint was applied to all types of stamps up to 1916.  Although the post offices had always accepted Chinese currency at par, a Chinese cent being considered equivalent to a kopeck, in 1917 the overprint was changed to clarify the situation, simply consisting of the value in Chinese money and using Latin letters.  A later round of overprints, in 1920, saw little use, since all Russian post offices in China were closed in that year.

   Many of the stamps of the Russian Offices in China are quite inexpensive, but since all have overprints, I recommend purchase of those which are sufficiently valuable to justify the cost of expertization.. While no quantities issued information is available for these stamps, I estimate that fewer than 1,000 of each of those cataloging $ 250+ were issued, and possibly fewer than 200 for the most valuable. I've listed these stamps and their Scott '14 Catalog Values for unused below:
  • 1899-1904 7k Dark Blue, inverted red overprint (Scott #5a; $500.-)
  • 1904-08 10k Dark Blue, red overprint  (Scott #11; $1,450.-)
  • 1904-08 5r Multi-colored, inverted red overprint (Scott #21a; $375.- )
  • 1917 $5 on 5r Multi-colored, inverted surcharge (Scott #68a; $500.- )
  • 1920 5c on 5k Claret, double surcharge (Scott #80b; $250.-)
   I consider all better stamps of the various foreign offices in China to be long-term investments. As with all stamps issued by the colonial powers in China, the Russian Offices stamps have been neglected because the Chinese view them as shameful relics of that period of subjugation, which they are. Until reticence replaces resentment and demand for the Foreign Offices is boosted among Chinese collectors, the stamps' values will probably continue to increase steadily, based mostly on collector demand in Russia.

   Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are encouraged to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, and provides a useful venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.     

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