The Tesserakontalepton
THE NINE PEARLS VARIETY
GREECE, 1831

By Sergio Sismondo

Perhaps you can find a stamp which resembles the ones in the block pictured here. It is time to look into that Cinderella stockbook or cigar box where so many treasures, both large and small, have been tucked away through the years. It is time to sift through all those "not-listed" items which lie there waiting to be rediscovered as more information comes along. I will sketch here (1) a brief history of the issue; (2) a description of the characteristics of the genuine stamps; (3) some information on the varieties and rarities which are known to exist; and (4) suggest others that should exist and may yet be found. If you do find some of these varieties or even a nice single stamp you will indeed have stumbled upon a treasure. Read on and you may be amazed by some of the facts about this stamp.

The "Lepta 40" stamp is from Greece and the reason for its issuance has generated some debate. The Kohl Handbook, authority on so many matters, dedicates two pages to this stamp. It states that the "Lepta 40" is a postage due issue designed to be affixed to incoming mail in the ordinary way, to denote payment of fees upon letter's arrival destination. The Vlastos catalogue, instead, states that it is a postal tax stamp intended to raise funds for the relief of Cretan refugees in the Greek mainland during the wars of liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. In the latter case the stamp would belong to the category which in the Scott catalogues is designated by the lettering "RA". That is, stamps affixed to letters to indicate the payment of contributions to various funds, charitable or otherwise.

The date of issue seems to be May of 1831 on the basis of the fragmentary evidence available to me. A decree of the young Government of Greece, signed by President J. Capodistrias in May of 1831, authorized the issuance of "a fragment of paper just large enough to bear a stamp" to act as a receipt for the payment of contributions to the Fund for Cretan Refugees. In addition, the typesetting of the stamp and the paper upon which it was printed are characteristic of the supplies used by the Government printers of the time for the production of the other public documents, such as the decree itself.

The Kohl handbook illustrates one famous cover bearing this stamp and discusses in some detail two other known covers from subsequent years. More about this subject follows later.

The issue may have been intended for duty as a postage due stamp or as a postal tax stamp. In either case it would be contender to become the earliest adhesive postage stamp known. It may, on the other hand, be a fiscal instrument with little or no relation to the posts, in which case it would not be such an important "first". It would still be an important fiscal stamp, and given its rarity and fascinating history, a most desirable one at that. According to Dr. Z. Zeron the first adhesive fiscal stamp was introduced by Tasso (founder of the Thurn and Taxis postal empire) in the second half of the 16th Century. A nice history of fiscal adhesives may be found in Dr. Zeron's delightful book "FROM THE WINGED HEELS OF MERCURY", which, incidentally, makes no mention of the 1831 "Lepta 40".

The artwork for the stamp is simple. The denomination "Lepta 40" is in the center, and a double border composed of straight lines and shaded pearls completes the design. The outside dimensions of the stamp are 26.5 x 36.0 mm. The printing method is typography, and the size of the plate is not known. It can be easily observed, however, that each position was drawn and set on the plate independently of the others as each position differs in detail. In the block illustrated, for instance, two major types can be easily distinguished. The left-hand stamps have ten pearls in the vertical frames, and these I have labelled Type I. The two right-hand stamps have only nine pearls in the vertical frames and these I have labelled Type II. Another distinguishing feature is that Type II stamps are only 25mm. tall. In addition, the corner pearls differ in the position of the shading, creating further subtypes.

Each pearl can be shaded at the top, bottom, right or left (T, B, R, or L). Thus clockwise from the top-right corner, the upper Type II stamp may be labelled RBTT and the one below it RLTR. Following this procedure I have been able to identify so far two subtypes of the nine pearl stamps (both illustrated above), and eleven sub-types of the Type I stamps (alphabetically: BBLL, BBLR, BBRL, BLLT, BLTL, BLTR, BLTT, RBTL, RLLR, BLTR and RLTT).

The distance between the stamps in the plate is 18 mm. horizontally and 8-10 mm. vertically. Thus single stamps should normally have substantial margins. The example tied to a cover illustrated in the Kohl Handbook has narrow but complete margins all around of about 1 mm. Most copies I have seen are larger. The stamp is printed in black on thick laid paper of ivory color (a bit irregular, raging from 100 to 125 microns). The laid lines are uniformly spaced 1 mm. apart. The stamp is imperforated and produced without gum. Quantities issued are not known, but what is known is that the number of examples which have survived to this date is very small indeed.

The block illustrated above was in my collection, and to the best of my knowledge it is one of only two surviving blocks (two stamps in my block are defective). The two stamps of Type II in the block are the only two examples of this variety that I have recorded. Used copies, if more should be found, will likely be cancelled by red crayon. Any other cancellation would constitute a world-class rarity and could shed new light on this subject.

Returning finally to the issue of the covers, the Kohl Handbook lists three known covers. They are from Athens and addressed to Piraeus and date from December 1840 to June 1848. It is possible that these covers represent genuine usages, and certainly it is a fact that many of the finest philatelists in Europe have seen them and have agreed to their authenticity. The dates of the covers, however, leave a lingering doubt in my mind. If a cover dated from the early 1830's bearing this stamp were to be found, that would settle the issue for me. Forgeries and reprints are not known to me. Are there any out there?

I would be happy to correspond with any and all who have examples of this elusive Cinderella stamp, especially in the event that the multiples or sheet-border positions should surface. That would assist the continuation of my plating study. Used copies would also be of greater interest, as would any other variations, fragments or covers. More material is required to learn more about this mysterious and intriguing stamp.


References:
Munk, Herbert. Kohl-Briefmarken-Handbuch. 11 Auflage. Verein der Freunde des Kohl-Briefmarkenhandbuchs, E. V. Berlin, 1926.
Vlastos Stamp Catalogue and Postal History of Greece. Orestis Vlastos, Ltd. Athens, 1992-93.
Zeron, Z. From the Winged Heels of Mercury, Collectors Club of San Francisco, San Fransisco, 1984.
This article first appeared in the HPSA NEWS BULLETIN JUNE 1995, NO. 150


Copyright © 1998 by Sergio Sismondo

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