The overprinting of Soviet stamps with the three-liner NEPRIKLAUSOMA / LIETUVA / 1941 – VI – 23 was authorised by the Lithuanian Provisional Government after Germany had declared war and her troops moved into the Soviet Union in the early hours of June 22, 1941. The date included in the overprint “1941 – VI – 23” signified the particular day, the 23rd of June, when at 9:28 am a representative of the Provisional Government declared, on the Kaunas radio, the re-establishment Lithuania’s independence.
The quantities of Soviet stamps so overprinted were considerable and the intended total would have run into millions. However, as the text of the overprint which meant “Independent Lithuania” went contrary to German war intentions and was politically unacceptable, a German order soon came down to destroy the stamps so overprinted. Although the confiscation for destruction took place basically at the printery, a small proportion of each value escaped that fate having already been promptly taken by Lithuanian postal officials for local use and distribution to some other district post offices.
As a result, the smallest surviving quantity was that of the 2 kopek value. Of the total overprinted quantity of 70,000 only about 17,000 appear to have been supplied to post offices. This was a small quantity number compared with relatively large quantities of the other values. Before long, a lively demand for complete sets revealed the scarcity of the 2 kop. value, which in turn led to forging.
The earliest known forging attempt involved the “production” of additional 2 kop. values at apparently the same printery, the aim being completion of the set. The viewcard below shows how an incomplete set of genuine stamps was completed by adding a 2 kop. forgery.
The fairly successful production of a cliché for the 2 kop value seems to have tempted to produce other values too, as shown below, including inverts which were known to be relatively rare.
While relatively successful, the forgeries have a noticeable fault: their linear text shows a so-called “horizontal squashing”. Moreover, individual letters are not as neat as in the genuine overprints. The details can be expressed in terms of precise measurements, but when compared with genuine overprints the differences can be seen by the naked eye. For example, compare capital U.
This forgery can be found only on the small size values, not on the large size 80 kop. Mayakovsky which would have required a larger cliché. At the time, such forging was not needed, since the 80 kop value was almost as plentiful as the 5 – 60 kop. Values. On the whole, the quantity of forgeries produced in this manner seems to have been quite small, for the known copies of each value seem to come from the same sheet or part of sheet. It should be noted that the overprints forged at this period, at least in part seem to have been made on stamps of printings from batches different from the overprints made in the summer of 1941 on Soviet stocks available at the store of the Kaunas Central Post Office.
It is possible that the “success” of the forging described above led to an attempt to manufacturing what might be claimed to be “proofs” (or printer’s waste) of the NEPRIKLAUSOMA LIETUVA overprints. To make them more impressive and collectible, the stamps so employed were colourful commemoratives. Indeed, among some [Lithuanian] collectors in the Soviet period they were treated as desirable. However, apart from their intriguing origin, they could not be displayed openly, just as it was politically risky to collect or show interest in the so-called June overprints. The quantity of such “proofs” was small, though on the whole they did move around and seem to have found a place in several collections. Below is a group held by one particular collector:
(click to enlarge, then click ⊗ in the upper right corner)
Some items from this group of forgeries managed to acquire international recognition when for a few years two stamps were entered in Michel: the 80 kopek North Pole and the 1 rouble machine-gunner. The justification for entry was their claimed postal use, which on closer inspection by another expertiser was revealed as a forgery and resulted in their removal from Michel. An example of such “postal use” is shown below.
Cancellations. Because of German prohibition and massive destruction, NEPRIKLAUSOMA LIETUVA overprints are seldom found on genuine mail, especially from Kaunas where after all they originated. Though covers and cards with full or shorts sets are no rarities, they are mainly philatelic creations and more often than not they show either backdated cancellations or were cancelled by postmarkers in private hands and so must be treated as commercial forgeries. For overprints in “used” condition it is recommended to seek expert opinion.
A sizeable exception is mail with NEPRIKLAUSOMA LIETUVA overprints posted in Šiauliai and northern Lithuania generally. So far, the most valuable account of how these overprints came to Šiauliai and were in turn distributed to smaller offices has been written [in Lithuanian] by the then postmaster of Šiauliai, Jonas Tijūnas, who was not fully aware of the prohibition in Kaunas and had even organized an effective regional postal network. It was in this way that the overprints came to fulfill their intended use in northern Lithuania, and in some post offices were used until the formal introduction, on September 1, 1941, of German stamps and later on their Ostland overprints. Even so, genuine mail from the northern post offices is rare. Rarer still, is registered mail. Shown below is a registered cover from the post office of Akmenė – so far the only known surviving registered item with NEPRIKLAUSOMA LIETUVA overprints processed through regular postal channels.