In order to build this collection, I utilized pretty much all of the usual suspects as sources.
I will start by saying that I built this collection one stamp or set at a time. I never picked from collections or other large lots. My goal was top quality and MNH if at all possible and those collections and larger lots do not come on the market. They are thoroughly picked beforehand unless they are more modern era collections. Top quality and fresh MNH Russia from the early to mid-twentieth century is a tough nut to crack. eBay
, Hip, Delcampe and a couple of very obscure websites that escape me at the moment were sources. On those sites it was a mix of regular dealers and collectors disposing of items. Probably 50/50 although the harder to find items came from the collectors. As time went on, I purchased more and more material from overseas, Germany, Israel and Italy being excellent sources, in particular Germany. There are two sellers on eBay
that hold regular auctions exclusively of Russian material and they are both good. AG Stamps and AF Stamps are the names. AF Stamps is the better of the two with top quality. You will not get anything on the cheap from them, however. Expect to pay regular auction prices. I actually scored one stamp from NYStamps (shame on me), a consular airmail stamp, that was a smoking bargain. (Know what you are doing before buying these overprinted stamps) I built a great offline relationship with one eBay
seller that was great for both of us.
My main (really my only) brick and mortar source was Loral Stamps. The owner, Leon Fink, is an old school Russian dealer with a stock that is mind boggling. Incredibly broad and deep. If Leon does not have it there is no such thing. He can be pricey though and so you really need to know the market. When Leon hangs up the tongs it will be one hell of a liquidation sale.
Auctions were the most entertaining and satisfying means for me of picking up things. Shout out to Raritan, Cherrystone, Old Louis, Harmer, Aldrich, Modern, Sterling, Feldman, Kelleher etc. They were all flawless to deal with. The best auction house for good prices on middle ground material was Old Louis (great proprietary bidding platform by the way) with their material coming from Ukraine. Raritan and Cherrystone both are experts in Russia and stand behind authenticity 100%. Feldman and some other German houses have material you never see in the States, but you usually will pay up for it. Modern and Sterling were by happenstance and endless catalog gazing. Some really nice material pops up at their auctions irregularly and I made some real scores. The bottom line is the Houses you expect Russian material at will have a lot of competition for the lots from Russian collectors and the others may present opportunities to step in and get what you want at a good price with little to no competition.
I will note that of the three means of acquiring material, eBay
produced a lot of misdescribed returns and some damaged in shipping items. Loral was flawless as were all of the auction houses. There was one set at Cherrystone that I was unhappy with and with one email to Josh it was immediately replaced.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Cherrystone Online Stamp Store. An amazing selection of hard to find and more common material with good quality, accurate descriptions, fair pricing and inexpensive really quick Fedex shipping. Not just Russia either. It pays to look if you have not already.
And so now I need to take a breath and remount the collection. I also continue to add to it with varieties of which there are thousands for Russia as well as Postal History.
I am very happy with my choice of Country and period to work on. Russia and philately have a strong and inseparable history together and I love the subject matter and diversity.
Most importantly I availed myself early on of all of the reference material I could find whether it be electronic or hardcopy. I would not recommend seriously collecting Russia without at least a Zagorsky and a Michel catalog. Zagorsky in particular has great depth to it. Hard to collect without it. The Rossica Society archives are of extreme value and are free to explore through the University of Florida. Priceless information.
PS: Russian philately is renowned for the chicanery of many of its players and general corruption through the years. If you learn enough about the topic, you can avoid being a victim and be entertained at the same time. This was a LOT of fun!