French, Russian rarities sprinkled all across recent sale from David Feldman

May 3, 2021, 10 PM

Auction Roundup — By Matthew Healey

David Feldman held a sale of worldwide stamps and postal history June 27-30 in Geneva, Switzerland. The catalog spanned several volumes, featuring France, Russia, and other areas.

One of the more remarkable items was a French “ballon monte” cover from the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war.

For several months in late 1870 and early 1871, German forces surrounded the French capital, and mail was unable to get in or out. The Parisians resorted to the world’s first airmail service, sending mail out by balloon and even by pigeon.

Although some of the balloon flights ended in disaster, a remarkable number were successful, and flown mail from this emergency innovation in postal transportation is highly collectible.

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The vast majority of letters were addressed within France, although a few scarce foreign destinations are known.

Among these is a rare ballon monte cover to Tampico, Mexico. Posted Dec. 28, 1870, and franked with an 80-centime carmine Napoleon III stamp (Scott 36a), the letter presumably flew early the next morning on the balloon Bayard.

After the balloon landed and the mail was retrieved, the cover passed through London Jan. 3, and presumably left Southampton shortly after that on a steamship bound for the Caribbean or Central America.

Ballon monte flights are listed in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940, after France’s semipostal stamps. The Bayard flight is listed as Scott BM52, with an average value. However, there is always a premium for covers to scarcer destinations.

The Mexico cover sold for about $25,350, including the 20 percent buyer’s premium added by Feldman to all lots.

An exhibit collection of the postal history of the Trans-Siberian railroad, which in the early 1900s connected the European part of imperial Russia with its farthest-flung parts on the Pacific coast, was among many large lots and collections in the Feldman sale.

The 128-page exhibit focused on the postmarks used along the line from Chelyabinsk, in central Asia, to Manchuria.

Many of the markings were described as rare or unique; each page was embellished with maps and other details to help place their usage in context. The lot sold for $28,150.

In the summer of 1922, the Russian embassy in Berlin produced a set of Official airmail stamps, by overprinting consular fee stamps with the words “Vozdushnaya pochta” (air mail) and the initials R.S.F.S.R. (for Russian Soviet Federative Soviet Republic), together with a denomination in German marks.

Only the lower two denominations appear to have been put into use. Of the higher denominations, the scarcest by far is the 1,200-mark-on-50-kopeck (Scott CO6). Feldman sold an unused example described as “fresh and very fine,” with a hinge remnant, for $36,600.