Monday, October 24, 2022

Undercover mail from Iran

Israel always had good relations with Iran during the regime of the Shah. Iran was one of the few Middle Eastern countries that had any relations with Israel. Mail passed freely between the two countries. When the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, mail from and to Israel was no longer handled. Mail to Iran was stopped in 1983. Mail from Iran addressed to Israel was returned to sender and received an instructional marking of "There is no postal relations between Iran and Israel". Israel was suddenly cut off from Iran. Note: The actual message was: "Thereis no postal relations between Iranand Israel".

Postcard sent from USA to Israel that was routed in error to Iran. 

In the 1980s, I had a huge interest in mail from Arab countries with no relations with Israel. Items such as the one above were the most difficult to find seeing as how these were pre-Internet days. However I saw an auction lot showing letters from Iran, addressed to Geneva, and it had Hebrew writing on it. This really piqued my interest and I purchased the lot. In those days I worked in a company where there was an Iranian ex-pat and I showed her the lot. She looked at it and said the postbox number looked familiar, so I decided to do some digging.

As I said, there were no postal relations between Iran and Israel, meaning that Jews in Iran couldn't send letters to relatives in Israel. The Israel Broadcasting Authority attempted to fill this void. The I.B.A. set up a post office box in Switzerland (P.O. Box 152, Geneva) which was meant to receive mail sent from Iran. Every day, the I.B.A. broadcast the news in Farsi to listeners in Israel and out of Israel. This transmission was broadcast as far away as Iran. The gist of the broadcast was that listeners could write to "Radio Israel in Farsi" at the given address.

Mail leaving Iran, generally to non-Moslem countries, was often censored by the Iranian authorities and as a result people sending to this drop box did not put a return address on the envelope. Very often people did not even put stamps on the envelope so that they would risk entering a post office. This mail was then taxed by the Swiss Postal Authorities.

Since this service was quite open, there was always the possibility of terrorists using it to send letter bombs. As a result, when suspect mail arrived in Israel's hands, it was screened for letter bombs and "Checked" hand stamps were applied. The security officer who checked the mail signed the hand stamp as proof of its authenticity.

In theory, this could be used by Jews in all countries having no postal relations with Israel, although there were very few as many had been expelled from their host countries.

It is impossible to know how many letters were sent via this method as the Jewish community in Iran is not large and no records are available but it helped Jews in Iran who had no other way of getting word to Israel.

  • "Undercover mail with Iran" ~ Lawrence Fisher, HLPH 57 -58

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

My problem with eBay

I am a stamp and postal history collector and over the years I have bought items that I would now like to sell duplicates so that I can buy other items I want. As I have been a member of eBay since last century, somewhere in the 1990s, I also sell there, but a year ago, things took a turn for the worse.

Up until then, I was selling on eBay and getting paid in PayPal, in dollars, and that money was used to buy other stamps or to pay for exhibition fees. Now listen to my anti-eBay diatribe:

I charge $4 for postage anywhere with postal relations with Israel. The letter is sent registered mail. Why registered? Because if you do not and the other side complains that it hasn't arrived, eBay immediately refunds the buyer. Fair practice, right! If it is registered, then it has been signed for. If it is lost, you can ask the post office to reimburse, but that has limits as well. They refund up to $50.

So I put an item on eBay for $5, knowing that it is worth $20 (I paid much more) and it gets sold for $5 (that is the name of the game) and then I add the $4 and the buyer pays $9. NOT TO ME, but to eBay. I now have to send this within 4 working days or eBay starts sending me mails and notices whatever.

I then go to the post office to send the item registered, the actual cost is $4.70 but no worries. I pay for this out of my own pocket because eBay has not transferred the money to me. However am I getting the $9, nope, look at this image:

As you can see eBay takes a fee on the entire amount, not just the amount the lot was sold for. Over and above that, they take a fee for sending it international, so the postage is taxed twice.

So eBay will only pay me $7.42 of which $4.70 I had already paid to the post office, so for the item I sold, I am only getting $3 for! Is that fair practice? Of course not, but that is eBay.

Does eBay pay me immediately? Oh no. About a year ago they signed a monopoly deal with a company called Payoneer and you can no longer be paid in PayPal. You have to setup and account in Payoneer and eBay will transfer the money there. When do they transfer? They have two days in a month when they transfer, 1st or the 15th. Sold an item on the 1st, next payout day is 15th, so you have to wait.

End of story, no. eBay wants to make sure that the recipient receives the item. They will not release funds until the recipient has the money. I already paid $4.70 out of my own pocket and I don't have the item or the funds. How does eBay know when the recipient has received it? Either by feedback, or if you show them a mail that he says he received it or the registration number has shown to be delivered. Many countries do not share this information, England, Germany and America are some of those.

If 6 weeks has passed, they transfer the $7.42 to Payoneer, on the payout day.

Yippee, now I can use the money to buy items. Oh no! Payoneer doesn't allow that. I can only withdraw the money to my bank account and they charge $10 for that and only if you have at least $50 in the account and only to that limit. But, if you withdraw then the bank charges you a conversion rate, so more loss. Edited: So I decided that I needed $100 and decided to withdraw it to my bank account. So to get $100, I have to have $110 as that is the Payoneer charge. They used IBAN to transfer to my account and they made me pay the charges of $3. So that is $13 taken off in commission.

What about if you want to buy something on eBay? PayPal or your own credit card! Another foreign currency conversion.

Basically what both of these companies are doing is to make a profit on the money that they are holding, which is rightfully yours.

Edited: Now eBay is taking seller fees, for items that I received cash from, from my credit card and not from Payoneer. I can't even pay for items using Payoneer.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Don't always believe the auctioneers

Lately I've been trying to build a display page about the national awakening in Europe in the 19th century because this had an impact on the fathers of Zionism. One example of the events taking place in Europe was the unification of Italy and the delayed addition of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venice.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna convened, which was intended to shape the map of Europe after the upheavals caused since the French Revolution and during the Napoleonic era. Strangley the Congress determined that the kingdom would be included in the territory of the Austrian Empire. The Kingdom of Lombardy-Venice was Italian speaking and Austria was German speaking, very different cultures, history and languages.

In 1859, Austria was defeated by the Kingdom of Sardinia and France in the Second Italian War of Independence, and was forced to surrender Lombardy to the French Emperor Napoleon III. France, for its part, transferred the territory it had just won to the Kingdom of Sardinia, and thus the end of the unification of Italy was in sight. For the sake of completeness of the historical picture, I will mention that the area of Venice was handed over to Italy only a few years later, in exchange for its participation on the side of Prussia in its war with Austria.

The thematic point that interests me is the handover of Lombardy to Italy in 1859. One day an item caught my eye at a well-known European auction. The title in the auction catalog was:

Sardinian War, 1859: Austria against the Kingdom of Italy - loss of the Kingdom of Lombardy.

Interesting, I said to myself. The Sardinian War is another name for the Second Italian War of Independence, so I should definitely read the auctioneer's description of the item:

23.12.1856, Augsburg- Milan, 2 double 6 red-brown Kreuzer, on a letter weighing up to 1 luth. At that time Lombardy was still part of Austria, and the letter was sent within the Austro-German postal union. The letter passed through Switzerland, and the Swiss Post received 3 kreutzers in return. Arrival stamp of Milan from December 27, 1856.

Nice, I thought to myself. Augsburg is a city in Bavaria. A luth is a unit of weight that was used at that time in Austria, and is equal to 17 and a half grams. The fact that Lombardy was still part of Austria is exactly the heart of the matter for me. I paid 130 euros for the item, to which were added 65 euros in additional expenses (commission, handling and shipping fees), as well as 110 NIS that I paid to customs in Israel.

The item arrived and I excitedly opened it and then I sat down to examine it more carefully. I immediately had questions. The Bavarian stamps are indeed from the 1850s, but I found no sign of the letter passing through Switzerland or of a payment to the Swiss post office in return. Then I noticed that the year on the stamp is 1866 and not 1856 as written in the sale catalog! In 1866 Lombardy was already part of Italy, and the letter had nothing to do with the Sardinian War that ended seven years earlier.

Here is a classic case of an incorrect item description in the auction catalog. I contacted the auction company, and to their credit they took responsibility for the error and refunded everything including the 10 euros for shipping the item back to them, but not Israeli taxes. I would say "caveat emptor" but in this case, the online image was not clear to see the '66 part.

Fortunately for me if I had trusted the description in the auction catalog, and a judge had caught me out, I would have been embarrassed and lost points on thematic knowledge. I also would not be able to get my money back from the seller, well depending on how much time passed.

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Monday, July 18, 2022

Papillon de Metz, what is it

This is the story of two sisters, both deeply in love with one another, but once they were bitter enemies. Their names are Germany and France. Today they live at peace with one another and are leaders of the European Union alliance, but as late as WWII, they were bitter enemies. Their animosity to one another can be traced as far back as Roman times but here we will stick to one specific incident, the 1870 Franco Prussian war.

Before the unification of Germany in 1871, one of the states was the Kingdom of Prussia, led by Otto von Bismark, the same person who was responsible for the unification of Germany. In 1870 a coalition of German states led by Prussia went to war with France and eventually defeated France. The end result was the creation of a unified Germany. In this war Paris and other areas of France were surrounded and were under siege by the coalition forces.

One such area was a fortress named Metz. The French Army of the Rhine was defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Gravelotte on 18th August 1870 and they retreated into the Metz fortress. The fortress was promptly surrounded by German forces. The French thought that they had enough food for about five months but because there were about 170,000 soldiers trapped in the fortress, the provisions only lasted for 41 days. They needed food.

Beato, Felice A. - Eine von Deutschen besetzte Festung in Metz nach der Übergabe durch General Bazaine (Zeno Fotografie).jpg
One of the Metz forts under German occupation after the French surrender
By Beato, Felice A. - Image, ID number 2000185254X, Public Domain, Link

So now we have a surrounded fortress with people inside who need to send messages out to whoever, loved ones or request for reinforcements or whatever. So they took out their iPhones and loaded the WhatsApp app and immediately tapped in messages. Oh wait, this is 1870. How do they get messages out? Some people did rely on smugglers to get messages in and out, but this was unreliable and of course unofficial and on the other hand, can you really trust a smuggler?

On September 1st, Major Doctor Papillon, medical assistant in the ambulance of the Guard, was talking

Julien François Jeannel
to the military pharmacist, Julien François Jeannel, and he suggested the use of paper balloons to send messages out of the fortress. Actually ths was the end of his contribution to the system. On September 2nd, Jeannel proposed this method to Chief of Staff, Marshal Bazaine. He scoffed at the idea but enabled Jeannel to build a few balloons for initial testing. He had no confidence in the idea and considered it to be kids' toys.

These initial balloons became known as the "Pharmacists' balloons". From September 5th to 15th, the pharmacists launched 14 hydrogen-filled balloons carrying around 3000 very small letters. They called these letters "butterflies", maybe because the idea came from Doctor Papillon which means butterfly. These letters were constructed of tracing paper coated on both sides with varnish to make them waterproof. Only 7 of the first 14 balloons managed to carry messages to their destination. Today less than 20 letters are currently known. How many balloons were sent on which dates? No one really knows as there were days in which it rained heavily, so it would make little sense to send out a paper balloon.

Although Marshal Bazaine felt that these were toys, they reached their destination and so the senior commander of the Metz Fortress, General de Coffinières, decided to take it under his wing. He approached the Artillery and Engineering Application School to develop a new system and making it available to all, civilians and soldiers. A post office was opened and the mayor of Metz was informed of the official creation of the balloon post. The letters were to be written on "onion skin" paper, and measure only 10 cm x 5 cm. These balloons became known as The balloons of the School of Artillery and Engineering. I wonder why?

Ten balloons were launched by the Engineers between September 16th and October 3rd, each containing several thousands of the butterflies. Marshal Bazaine claimed that a number of the balloons had been captured by the Prussians and discontinued their use as of October 3rd. According to Yvery and Telliers specialized catalog, the total number of letters transported in this way is estimated at 150,000 but less than 125 are currently known.

On 20th October, the food provisions of the fortress ran out and I will not write here about what the French Army ate instead. 27th October, Bazaine was forced to surrender his entire army, simply because they were starving.

The letter above, was sent on the 9th balloon on 29th September 1870. It was sent to Abbeville, Gateway to the Bay of Somme. 

  • "Le Siège de Metz" ~ Yvert &Tellier Le Spécialisé p 487 - 489

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Monday, July 11, 2022

Some notes about my YouTube channel

Just a short update this time. My YouTube channel now has 290 subscribers (stalkers). This puts peer pressure on me as I feel the need to continue to provide good content. How many more subscribers do I need until I am considered a YouTuber?

I entered my YouTube in the first Virtual Philatelic Websites and Social Media Exhibition. I will not go into the details of the competition, but you should check it out. Of special mention are two young philatelists, meaning under 40, yes babies in the philatelic world, but these are Lisa from StampCat and Richard from Richard Philatelist.
Ok, I hear you asking why am I telling you this? Well way back in November there was an exhibition in which I entered this blog. There was a popular voting option, in which you my readers, can vote for me. With your help, I came runner up in the popular vote. So now I am asking again.

Here is the link to the page:

Now that you are there, look for my YouTube channel, near the bottom of the sites. It is listed alphabetically.

Click "View the Site" in the bottom right.
Now you will see an option of "Vote for this site". 
Please click that button for me.

Thank you

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The special case of Theresienstadt

The Theresienstadt Ghetto was established by the SS during World War II in the fortress town of Terezín, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. The ghetto is quite close to Prague and you can actually take day trips to get there. The Gestapo was tasked to turn Terezín into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp.

Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SS, established the ghetto and directed the transportation of Czech Jews in November 1941. It held Jews from German-occupied Czechoslovakia, as well as tens of thousands of Jews deported chiefly from Germany and Austria, as well as hundreds from the Netherlands and Denmark. More than 150,000 Jews were sent there, including 15,000 children, and held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps in occupied Poland, as well as to smaller camps elsewhere. Less than 150 children survived.

The Nazis intended the camp to house elderly, privileged, and famous Jews from Germany, Austria, the Czech lands, and western Europe. Conditions were harsh. At times, over 50,000 Jews lived in the space once inhabited by 7,000 Czechs. Food was scarce. About 33,000 people died at Theresienstadt, mostly due to the appalling conditions arising out of extreme population density, malnutrition and disease.

The ghetto also served as a "retirement settlement" for elderly and prominent Jews to mislead their communities about the Final Solution. It was also presented as a “model Jewish settlement” for propaganda purposes.

Ghetto inmates were only allowed to write on official postcards, and at set intervals. Postcards were written to or received from family members and friends, but could also be used as confirmation receipts for packages or permits to send packages. Receiving parcels was very important as they often included food to supplement what they received in the ghetto. The messages on the postcards had to be written in block letters in German and couldn’t exceed 30 words. Later on, the rule regarding the word limit was abolished.

The ghetto had a specific and complex postal service. The way it worked was like this:

  1. The ghetto internee makes a request from the Jewish Council in Prague. "Send me food please"
  2. The Jewish Council in Prague forwards the request to the sender of the parcel, a relative, a friend, sponsor.
  3. The person who is going to send the parcel, comes in to collect the stamp (pictured here) or the stamp is sent to him.
  4. The sender either hands the parcel into the Jewish Council in Prague with the stamp affixed to the parcel or mails it at the post office with both the concessionary stamp on the parcel and correct postage on the waybill. Not all the senders lived in Prague.
  5. The parcel is then delivered to the ghetto.
  6. The receiver then signs a thank you card and a receipt and receives the parcel and takes it home. Food at last!

Some of the inmates tried to contact their relatives through letters and messages that were illegally smuggled from the Theresienstadt Ghetto in order to bypass the strict censors from the “Jewish self-administration” and the SS.

Although parcels were more important to the inmates, the number of preserved postcards reveals the scale of the mail system in Theresienstadt. The content of the postcards was strictly regulated and censored.

I will end this blog post with a warning. I had the used stamp in my exhibit for many years, until I could buy a mint issue. When I had the mint issue I wanted to sell the used one, but found out that it was a forgery. How could they tell? It turns out that there are some tell-tale signs, such as the lack of a window in the cathedral.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sample without value

A few years back I purchased an item that had black cloth on it. I was told that I could use it whenever I wanted to use something black. This week I decided I wanted to use it and I thought it would be good for something like, Black September or Jews had to wear special cloth or during mourning we wear torn material or even, we were looked on without value, the sky’s the limit.

I didn't understand the philatelic explanation and wanted to learn more. This sparked me to go on on a philatelic research endeavor.

The black cloth here is what is known as a “sample without value” or in French “échantillon sans valeur” in essence a merchant could send a sample through the mail system at a special rate, a kind of precursor to today’s parcel mail.

In France and French territories, meaning those that Napoleon conquered, in Article 16 of the law of 22nd August 1791, "samples without value" were charged at 1/3rd of the single letter rate. This was again confirmed by the “Instructions Générale” of 28th April 1808, article 18. Of course this was under certain conditions, the main condition being that the sample must be mailed under a wrapper or in any manner that it was very visible that this was a sample; if not full postage would be required to be paid.

As of the first postal convention between France and the German Empire, dated 14th December 1801 (article 14), this was also implemented in international mail exchange.

After the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Congress of Vienna created a kingdom for the House of Orange-Nassau, which combined the United Provinces of the Netherlands which included Belgium. When the Dutch took over the postal administration, it suspended the Napoleonic special rate for “samples without value”.

Belgium gained her independence in 1830, and kept some of the Dutch postal instructions, including the suspension of this special rate.

This letter was sent within Belgium from Brussels to Verviers in 1843, a distance of 116km. From 1st January 1836, new rates were in implemented, so the postage rate was 5 décimes (50 centimes) for a distance between 100km and 150Km. It was sent in the countryside, SR or service rural to Francomont and this required additional cost, an extra 1 décime making the postal rate of 6 décimes = 60 centimes.

New rates were implemented in Belgium on 14th September 1864 and cheaper rates for samples under were re-enacted. So in Belgium from 1830 to 1864, samples without value were sent at the regular postage rate.

I would like to thank my friends Michaël Smorowski and Mr. Paul Wijnants for there help here. It was invaluable.

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