The small town Alsėdžiai, in Žemaitija or north-west Lithuania, has enjoyed considerable philatelic fame as the birth-place of some very valuable overprints and covers. But its reputation has also been affected by a seemingly endless stream of forgeries. The period in question is a section of the German occupation of Lithuania in WW2 (later included in the new creation named “Ostland”) when the post office of that small township undertook to handstamp available Soviet stamps with two lines “Laisvi Alsėdžiai” (= The Free Alsėdžiai) and the date 24 – VI – 41 which marked the disappearance there of the Soviets during Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union on 22nd June, 1941.
In the context of the Alsėdžiai overprints of June 1941, extensive attention has been paid to the overprint as such (and so to the subsequent “travels” of the metallic handstamp(s) used in overprinting), the problem inevitably being that of its authenticity. Much less attention has been paid to the question of the canceller and cancellations, though any analysis must involve both the overprint and the cancel (if any).
Harry von Hofmann in his work “Baltische Postorte 1632 – 1917/8” lists ALSĖDŽIAI as (in Russian) OLSJADY, the earliest year being 1913. More details have been unearthed by Ričardas Vainora who specifies the opening of this post office on March 1, 1912 (old calendar) or March 14,1912 (new calendar). The first postmaster was Danil Ignatjevič Vasilievič. Due to the German-Russian war, this post office was evacuated to Russia, and was closed during the German occcupation in 1915-1918. During the Russian period, only one dated postmarker was used, as shown below.
A a dated postmarker used during the Russian period.
After the end of WW1 It took some time to organize a local Lithuanian postal facility. As Ričardas Vainora has discovered, owing to local pressure a Lithuanian postal office (of the lowest rank, Category VII at that time) was opened on June 3, 1924. Postal exchange was carried out via the district centre Telšiai, some 14 km away. As Ričardas has also found out, the first postmaster of the revived Alsėdžiai post office was Adomavičius. By 1928 Adomavičius was transferred as postmaster to Kartena and replaced by Motiejus Rajeckas who stayed on, including the subsquent German period as well. The newly established Alsėdžiai post office was supplied with a dated postmarker carrying the index “a“. An impression of this canceller, together with two other cachets, is shown below.
Alsėdžiai “a” postmarker.
In late 1939, due to deterioration after some 15 years of use, the postmarker indexed “a” was replaced by a new canceller which was somewhat similar but carried the index “b“. The postmarker “b” was in use for only a short time, for in 1940-1941 the Lithuanian postal system was being adapted to Soviet practices For this reason clear and full impressions of postmarker “b” are not common. An obvious detail which differentiates the new postmarker “b” from the old postmarker “a” is the small wing or (Czech) “v” above the upper-case Ž in the name ALSĖDŽIAI which produces a break in the outer circle.
New “b” postmarker in two fragments
A full impression of the “b” postmarker on a cover to Riga.
The postmarker “b” was in use in January 1941 when new instructions prohibited the use of stamps containing such national symbols as the Vytis. While some post offices employed the method of obliterating by means of an ink blot or the like, Alsėdžiai simply negated the forbidden symbols by drawing a few lines across the stamp in ink or indelible pencil.
An example of drawing a few lines across the Vytis symbol.
Strangely but in fact, Lithuanian stamps carry an ALSĖDŽIAI “b” cancel as late as April 1941, even if such stamps had been withdrawn from sale on February 15, 1941, with delayed use permitted until the final invalidation of the Litas currency on 25th March, 1941. It is possible that postal workers were confused by the stream of administrative instructions, for an occasional postal item franked with already invalid Lithuanian stamps and dated e.g. April 1941 has survived from elsewhere as well. It is not known with certainty when, if at all, ALSĖDŽIAI was supplied with a Soviet-type canceller before the outbreak of the war.
An example of a postal item franked with already invalid Lithuanian stamps.
At the beginnin of the German – Soviet war (starting on June 22, 1941), Alsėdžiai had one and only one dated postmarker, the one indexed “b”. It was normal that the local overprints “Laisvi Alsėdžiai 24-VI-41” on Soviet stamps should be cancelled by this postmarker. This fact also explains why the postmarker” b” should be looked at carefully when separating genuine overprints from forgeries.
(A cautionary note: with the growing sophistication in the technology of reproduction, one must nevertheless allow for the possibility that the postmarker “b” may be forged as well, so that it is advisable to consider additional minutiae as well.)
An example of a clear impression of “b” on the “June overprints”.
In the tangled history of forging the Alsėdžiai overprints. It is essential to be familiar with the following fact. The well-known stream of forgeries, offered mainly on the German market, appeared during the “detente” period (= the easing of U.S. – Soviet relations) and later, roughly in 1970-1980 ff. The forgers in some cases had access to the stock of the old printeries that had produced the so-called June overprints of the summer of 1941. Access to old printeries took place the case of Rokiškis, Zarasai, Ukmergė and so on. Similarly, some prewar Lithuanian postmarkers could still be located and accessed in archives. It is no wonder that the authenticity of the printers’ elements, aided by parts of old cancellers, misled even experienced Pruefers and had to lead to a more thoroughgoing re-expertisation.
As the phrase goes, a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. It so happened that in the case of ALSĖDŽIAI, forgers could no longer locate or access the postmarker ALSĖDŽIAI b, so it was necessary to manufacture a duplicate. However, despite careful attempts, the duplicate so produced turned out to be not more than a credible imitation. On closer inspection, the duplicate differed from the original in several respects, the most obvious being the upper-case Ž in ALSĖDŽIAI, whose tiny wing or “v” did not break the outer circle. The difference can be seen by the naked eye when comparing a genuine cancel with an impression of the forged reproduction. In this sense, attention to the cancels found on the overprints should be an early step of a serious analysis. Impression of the forged postmarker “b” are shown below.
Three cover examples show the use of the forged postmarker “b” on the “June overprints”.
The genuine canceller “b” continued in use throughout the German occupation. Example below shows it on a genuine, though philatelic, cover posted from Alsėdžiai during the Ostland period, in 1942.
The genuine postmarker “b” used during the German occupation.