ASTP USSR covers
Like all mass-issued philately items in USSR, ASTP covers were produced in huge quantities and very common in the space philately market. From the other hand – these are very limited designs to be compared to USA. There are two types of covers – FDCs and XMKs (actually I tricked the Russian abbreviation for art-cover with printed stamp). The cancellations are Moscow First Day and four ASTP special cancellations: Moscow red (International Post Office), Kaluga, Baikonur and Star City. Some other deviations occur like Gagarin town and Araklyk (Soyuz landing site). The dates are very predictable – 15, 17, 19 and 21 but sometimes you can find Jul 25th – for Apollo splashdown (due to 8 hour difference, Apollo recovery occurred 4:18pm CMD = 0:18 Moscow … but Jul 25th). Many were used for the Soyuz-19 crew autographs (I do not collect autographs, so perhaps I put the signed cover, when it occurs). On some of the USSR covers you can see the German “trace” – stamped inscription for the ASTP milestones.
In early and mid-1990s in chaotic economic environment while the stamp issues were not sufficient to cover every-day changing tariffs a new type of bogus stamp-making has evolved –“local overprints”. Not only these once were pure fantasy and never had any legal basis for being used, but also were produced by a couple of known dealers and promoted to collectors as "hard-to-find" rarities. Still those can be obtained from various auctions. ASTP theme did not escape its destiny and I have some examples in my inventory representing Altay and Adygea regions and a dumb-looking FDC produced and distributed by Lollini in early 2000s.
“Club” covers or by many – “philatelic garbage”. I am not a philatelist, I am astrophilatelist with all the cons and pros and though USSR club covers times were gone long ago, I started to look at some alternative issues for ASTP and found them! The most known possibly is Tartu club editions of ASTP milestones. Although around 250 pieces of each cover were printed, they are widely available. Note the serviced covers that use a sticker cachet cut from the actual club covers. I do not know whether these covers went through the real post or just a nice "collector souvenirs". All of them have the inside card with the stamped address of Juhan Noormagi - the founder and leader of Tarty Collectors club.
Actually it appeared to be much more than I expected – various cancellations, overprints and designs. I have no idea who, how and when those covers were created, some possibly have been issued privately and got appropriate postmarks, others were forged. Nevertheless I show them, as they are the part of ASTP philatelic history.
Note, some of the "club" covers are pure fantasy made by a handy dealers in Moscow and in Germany. I don't have any bulletproof arguments but it was mentioned by a couple of experienced Soviet age philatelists.
Note several “Baikonur” covers with limited edition of 150pcs. These are Lollini covers with fake Baikonur cancellation. They are easily recognized by bended (or dancing) “K” in the word БАЙКОНУР that resembles “X”. The other type of Baikonur forged cancellations used for ASTP covers bear referral to Karaganda region. Baikonur Cosmodrome was never a part of Karaganda region, but Kzyl-Orda region. Note unusual red ink cancellation.
The ASTP “Baikonur” covers are only a tiny piece of tens of thousands of forgeries that spread all over the market and were even promoted by space philately catalogues (like Lollini COSMOS) for serious money as hundreds of $$$. Basically many of such covers can be found on Russian trading sites for $15-20.
More on Baikonur postmarks fakes on my page devoted to the Cosmodrome.
In July 1975 a local space philatelic exhibition devoted to Apollo-Soyuz flight was held in Novosibirsk. 700 covers with printed cachets were ordered upon the request of Novosibirsk philatelic society towards the event as well as two oval exhibition cachets (big and small). Another 100 blank covers were supplied from the same batch – these were used for stamped cachets. Additional special rectangle seals were produced – ASTP launch, docking and Novosibirsk – Kondratyuk hometown; these were used on July 15 and 17 together with general postmarks while the mobile post office was servicing covers at the exhibition. All the arrangements were done by a then known philatelist – Oleg Maifat. He received 500 of the cacheted covers and 50 blank ones as he prepared covers to be sent to western collectors like Eberard Coelle, Pfau, Lollini and others as well as fellow Soviet philatelists. All the covers mailed from the exhibition were postmarked by a general Novosibirsk post-office postmark and had a 20k ASTP stamp issued in May 1975.
Interestingly – the phrase that appeared on the cachet re Yu. V. Kondratyuk - “bright theoretician of cosmonautics” has been taken from the personal letter of Konstantin Bushuev to Oleg Maifat.
Be careful – some fakes have been revealed lately! They differ from the originals by printed addresses and Novosibirsk postmarks details. There are many covers available around with Novosibirsk 9 and 15 postmarks – these were not serviced at the exhibition and backdated, as the USA-USSR joint issue ASTP series was not available in Novosibirsk by July 15.
The story was told by Oleg Maifat in my correspondence with him.
This small section is devoted to ASTP postmarks. The issue got to be obvious but it is such only from the first glance. In general there are two types of ASTP postmarks – special cancellation and FDOI. Special cancellation was designed by the artist Yu. Kosorukov and produced for four locations – Moscow International Post Office, Kaluga, Star City and Baikonur. Need to mention that this was the first ever Baikonur special cancellation that preceded by the opening of official post office in Baikonur and first usage of Baikonur postmarks in April 1975.
Yakobs catalog lists four types of Baikonur ASTP postmark. The types can be easily identified by the various features like format of the date stamp, the shape of the letter “Й” and position of the letters in the word Baikonur (БАЙКОНУР). These are not the only differences but the most obvious ones. The first and the only type that was actually used in Baikonur post office had an interchangeable date and was applied on July 15, 1975 (though some other dates exist probably set up unofficially or backdated). The second type (“small date”) was used in the Moscow post office K-600 that was acting in the ASTP press center in Moscow “Intoutist” hotel.
Type III has the same “Й” letter shape as Type I but letter “Б” is the word Baikonur is positioned directly beneath “A” in АПОЛЛОН vs Type I where “Б” is more under “П” (see the picture). This type was used by the Directorate of publishing and forwarding postage stamps (Russian - ДИЭЗПО) for servicing Mezhkniga requests and by Soviet Philatelic Society.
Type IV (fixed date 17.7.75) – it is a major controversy and no unified opinion exist whether this one really was used or not, besides being mentioned by Yakobs. We can find a postmark with very clean and streamlined date on the Franklin Mint commemorative medal sets and on the covers on some very rare occasions. This looks promising …but besides the date format there is no other difference from Type III. According to Sergey Poznakhirko – the date mechanism of the cancelling device could be possibly replaced as this was sometimes the case while servicing too many requests. Sergey lists Type IV with the short “Й” letter but I have not yet seen any cover with such cancellation, so I cannot list it in this section.
A variation of the Baikonur ASTP cancellation can be seen bearing an erroneous spelling of the word APOLLO – АППЛЛОН (APPLLO). According to information given by Sergey Poznakhirko - this was an official cancelling device issued by the Ministry of Communications and being used for some time to service Mezhkniga requests, then subsequently destroyed. According to my observations - the erroneous cancellation is not uncommon and can be found on the Franklin Mint medal sets, German covers and Soviet ASTP official covers (on the rare occasions). Probably this is the missing Type IV and its date mechanism was subsequently used in the Type III device. There is some logic behind but right now it is only my imagination.
All of the respectable researches mentioned forgeries of the Apollo-Soyuz Baikonur special postmark but it looks like those are rarer than the original ones ;-) I am lucky to have one 100% confirmed forged cancellation distributed by Lollini as dually postmarked cover. This cover pretends to go further than famous Eberhard Coelle’s dual cancellations of Moscow and Cape Canaveral – Lollini’s has two postmarks from Jul 15, 1974 – Cape Canaveral and Baikonur. Cool! …but the last one is a “fake”.
Besides the pure fakes there is illegal usage of red ink with genuine postmarks probably to make philatelic souvenirs more "fancy". My example is Type I cancellation.
Interestingly that the ASTP special cancellation was already promoted in western press some 3 weeks earlier as a part of “Partners in Space” ASTP commemorative set that included Baikonur and KSC special postmarks and silver medal. This set was produced and distributed by The Franklin Mint. The Baikonur postmark shown in the ads had a Latin number for July (VII) that was actually relevant for the ASTP FDOI postmark but not for Baikonur case. Probably the company got a prototype of the cancellation from Mezhkniga without a date and manually inserted the desired one using Xerox or other printing device just for the advertisement purposes. But this is only my imagination that has no explicit evidence to support it.
Star City, Kaluga and Moscow International post office special cancellations got two types each – one used in the specified location and the other by Mezhkniga for servicing collector requests. I will show the differences of the relevant postmarks on the examples in my inventory. There is an observation of a red -ink Star City special cancellation used on 21.9.75 during ASTP crews visit to Star City.
The last but not the least is the FDOI Moscow postmark that was issued in three types according to Yakobs catalog. As in Baikonur special cancellation case, the types are mainly differing by the letter “Й” outfit and some other details. Type I was used in Moscow post office Jul 15 and 16, 1975. Type II was used in the ASTP press center post office located in the “Intourist” hotel in Moscow (K-600) while the last Type III was used by Mezhkniga for servicing collector requests.
Note, in the Pfau catalog there are four types of FDOI postmark (type A-D) though the last type is categorized as type "C" extension. Pfau uses a different method of differentiation based on the lines around the world SOYUZ. On the other hand he lists only three types of Baikonur special cancellation still using a different approach.
In the fall of 1975, Star City philatelic club established and led by a cosmonaut Lev Dyomin arranged a meeting with Soviet and American crews of ASTP during the visit of American astronauts to Star City after the flight. Towards this visit, two commemorative covers were designed and issued by the Star City club in agreement with the Soviet Ministry of Communications.
Lev Dyomin was known as “chief philatelist” of the cosmonaut detachment later became а CEO of Soviet Philatelic Society.