Gardinas (Grodno) 1919

[A more detailed study of the Lithuanian post office in Gardinas / Grodno in 1919 will appear as a separate publication. The following is a brief summary of the basic facts, including the two types of provisional cancellations and registration markings. Some attention is paid to the covers containing the overprints on Russian stamps released on March 4, 1919.]

In early 1919 Grodno functioned as a major railway and support facility for German troops returning from Russia. Until February 18, 1919 Grodno was host to the HQs of the disintegrating German Tenth Army and subsequently became an important base for volunteer border guards, the Grenzschutz Ost. From January to late April 1919 Grodno also housed both the continuing Feldpost 737 and the volunteer Frw. Feldpost 3007.

The German military postmen helped out the Lithuanian post office in Gardinas by taking over and sending on its mail via Feldpost channels, sometimes adding Feldpost postmarks. This fact explains why most items from the Lithuanian P.O. in Gardinas, if addressed to Germany, do not bear any German censor markings. However, the large number of collectors among German troops also accounts for the considerable quantity of philatelic mail and, generally, plentiful CTO cancels.

A Lithuanian post office in Gardinas was opened on December 30, 1918, its postmaster being Dimitrius Artemjevas (Artemyev) appointed by Pašto Valdyba as early as December 16, 1918. He had brought with him from Vilnius the “first” stock of the recently printed Lithuanian stamps, namely 10 and 15 values of First Vilnius and 20 and 30 values of Second Vilnius Issues. For cancelling, at first he used a one-liner cachet “Grodno”.

On January 3, 1919 the one-liner “Grodno” was replaced by a violet circular cachet with the inscription “GRODNENSKAYA…KONTORA”. This cachet was used throughout the remaining period of the P.O.’s existence. It was closed down when, by previous agreement, Grodno was  handed over by German military to Polish troops on April 26, 1919.

The “first” stock of Lithuanian stamps was supplemented by the “second”, consisting of the remaining 10, 15, 40, 50 values of the Second Vilnius Isssue.

These values were followed by First Kaunas, then Second Kaunas without 60 value, then 10, 15, 20 values of the Third Kaunas plus 60 value of Second Kaunas Issue.

There is some doubt whether Gardinas also received at least some values of Second Berlin Issue. Although such stamps have indeed been seen on genuine mail from Gardinas, it is possible that they were obtained elsewhere by enterprising local stamp dealers.

As a result of a claim that the post office was running out of stamps, a set of overprints on Russian stamps appeared on March 4, 1919. For their cancelling only the circular “KONTORA” was used.

Gardinas never obtained a regular registration cachet. When this service was put into operation, an appropriate MS notation with a serial number was made by the postmaster Artemjevas himself, and is recognisable by a capital “A” in his signature. However, in late April some notations have a different appearance and carry a signature starting with a cyrillic capital L.  This letter stands for Paulina Lapidus who was Artemjevas’s assistant.

Gardinas items have been forged at various times and in various respects. At least two  examples:

(a)  a pre-war set of forged Gardinas overprints on Russian stamps where the “KONTORA” cachet is also forged.

(b)  A more recent forgery of Lithuanian origin with a forged Gardinas “KONTORA” cachet and a reproduced Kaunas cancel.

[A work-in-progress Register of Gardinas mail, which by now is quite extensive, will be included in the projected detailed study as a separate publication.]