On January 1 1860, the Kingdom of Poland, which belonged to Russia after the Congress of Vienna, was granted its first postage stamp.
In December 1859, the largely independent postal administration had announced the issue for the beginning of the following year. However, the consent of the Russian Central Post Office in St Petersburg had not previously been obtained, but it followed in March 1860. Since New Year’s day fell on a Sunday, post offices were closed so the first postal usage was possible only from the following day, and the stamp was valid only for frankings within Poland and Russia.
The standard value of ten kopecks per loth weight corresponded largely to the Russian first issue of December 1857, with the contrasting oval centre that represents the crowned double-headed eagle of the tsarist empire. The corner ornaments with the value ‘10’ and the ermine coat with crown around the middle oval were similarly designed.
Noticeable are two indentations in the inner border line on each side, which decoratively extend the corner ornament.
In the inscription around the centrepiece of Poland’s number one was ‘Potschtovaya Marka’ – a postmark in Cyrillic lettering is missing; the supplemented Russian statement ‘10 KOP. SA (pro) LOTH.’ is magnified left and right. Under the coat of arms, Russia’s version repeats the denomination, while on the Polish ‘ZA LÓT KOP.’ appears in reverse order and Latin letters
The basic colours of Poland 1 were blue for the frame, red for the centrepiece and the background, instead of brown and blue for Russia’s 10 kopecks stamp. The embossing of the eagle in the centre was replaced by the Polish government print shop in Warsaw. The engraving was done by Henryk Majer, the engraver for the Polish bank. The originals of his drawing are thought to reside in the archives in St Petersburg.
For comparison and background, it is worth taking a look at the emergence of Russia’s similar, yet different first postage stamps. The designs were supplied by engraver Franz M Kepler for the Office of the State Papers Expedition in St Petersburg, which carried out governmental printing from banknotes to lottery tickets.
On October 21, 1856 Kepler had submitted his designs. A year later, Tsar Alexander II approved the printing of three bicolour stamps of 10, 20 and 30 kopecks. The production of the lowest value began in November 1857, using two printing presses. One press from Berlin was used for the embossing and blue frame, the second for the brown printing.
The announcement of the post in a circular ‘On the circulation of stamps for general use’ stated: ‘From 1 January of the following year, 1858, ordinary private letters to all places within the Empire, the Kingdom of Poland, and the Grand Duchy of Finland, in ordinary envelopes or stationery, are to be sent exclusively with a stamp appropriate to the weight of the letter.’ A problem arose with the planned perforation of the sheets. The perforating machine ordered from the Austrian state printing house did not arrive by November 19, and then in damaged condition. Thus, the first printings of the 10 kopeck stamps from December 10 1857 were issued imperforate with watermark ‘1’.
Further versions followed in 1858, closely perforated on thick or thin paper with watermark, then wider perforated on normal paper. All these variants were also in use in Poland and can be regarded as a precursors with verifi able genuine cancellations from a Polish territory, as well as the higher values of 20 and 30 kopecks in different colours. After the introduction of its own stamps, the Russian versions were allowed to be used for another three months. Poland’s first issue remained valid until March 1865, after which the postage stamps of Russia were again reintroduced for use.
Market prices for the first and only issue of the Polish Kingdom have been quite strong in recent years. Attractive clean letters starting at three-figure amounts have often climbed to several thousands. The variety of colour shades, plate flaws, papers and cancellations deserve a closer study of each example. I recommend the Polish Fischer catalogue with detailed listings and illustrations for further comparisons
Article by Michael Burzan