A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tannu Tuva

1927 Scott 28 1r yellow brown & violet
"Tuvan Riding Reindeer"
Quick History
Exotic doesn't describe the stamps of Tannu Tuva. The 1926-1936 issues are found multi-colored, with scenes such as a Tuvan impaling a bear, all on diamond, triangle, and rectangle shapes.

What schoolboy would not want these stamps?

Map of Tannu Tuva
1935 Scott 54 1k yellow orange
The Bolshevik supported Tuvan People's Republic, located in southern Siberia in the Tannu-ola Mountains, forests, and steppes, on the northwestern border of Mongolia, existed between 1921-1944, when it was formally annexed into the Soviet Union. It's 1926 affirmation of independence was recognized solely by the Soviet Union and the Mongolian People's Republic.

Tuvan Republic's location in Russia currently
The capital was Kyzyl, and the population in 1931 was 65,000 Tuvans and 17,000 Russians.

The issues of Tannu-Tuva were considered of dubious legitimacy by some, but there are enough (mostly philatelic) covers from Tannu-Tuva to Moscow to establish that the stamps were postally used in the mail, and all the major catalogues now list the stamps.

The reality, of course, is that almost all of the stamps were produced in Moscow, and sold directly through the philatelic trade to collectors for hard currency.

Remember, I mentioned that the issues were naturally popular with schoolboys in the 1930?

One of them was the Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, who, during the 1970s, recalling the exotic images on those stamps, took up a 10 year quest to visit Tannu Tuva (youtube video).

1932 Scott 34 15k on 14k, Black Surcharge
"Bactrian Camel Caravan"
Into the Deep Blue
The 2014 Scott Classic Specialized 1840-1940 catalogue has, for Tannu Tuva 1926-1943, 141 major descriptive numbers that are in the regular or air post categories. There are, in addition, some 24 bolded minor numbers that are varieties (imperforate, different perforation).

Of the major numbers, 55 are CV <$1-$1+, or 39%. The WW collector should want to have a nice representative selection from this interesting part of the world. For a few dollars more, there is even more selection available.

Russian or Soviet stamps were used in Tuva prior to 1926, and after 1944.

Most Tuvan stamps, except for the 1942 Scott 117-123 & overprints, were printed by the State Security Printers in Moscow.

There are also a group of 31 stamps- the 1938-1943 handstamped surcharged with new values stamps and locally hand printed stamps- that are quite expensive (CV $ hundreds). This is specialty territory.

A closer look at the stamps and issues
100 Mongo = 1 Tugrik
100 Kopecks = 1 Ruble
100 Kopecks = 1 Tugrik (1934)
100 Kopecks = 1 Aksha (1936)
1926 Scott 5 10k violet "Wheel of Truth"
The first 1926 ten stamp issue for Tannu Tuva was lithographed, and depicts the wheel of cyclic existence, as found on the outside walls of Buddhist temples in the Indo-Tibetian geographical region.

The script is Mongolian.

The Bhavacakra,
Sera Monastery, Tibet
The paintings of the bhavacakra, or cyclic existence, or wheel of life, represent, in part, the God realm, the Demi-god realm, the Human realm, the Animal realm, the Hungry ghost realm, and the Hell realm.

1927 Scott 15 1k black, light brown & red "Tuvan Woman"
In 1927, an interesting bi-color fourteen stamp issue with multiple shapes was released. CV ranges from <$1- $6+.

Clearly, the Tuvan woman appears to be Mongolian, and indeed the Tuvan people (or Tyvans) were Mongolian.

Geographic Map of Mongolic Peoples
The map shows the present extent of Mongolic peoples (red), with the outline (orange) showing the reach of the Mongol Empire.

1927 Scott 17 3k black, blue green & yellow
"Mountain Goat"
Tannu Tuva has over 8,000 rivers, and the Yenisei River, the fifth longest river in the world. The eastern part has forests, and has mountains (highest: Mount Mongun-Tayga- 13,020 ft- 3,940 meters). The west is the dryer lowland steppe region. Ubsunur Hollow is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

1927 Scott 23 18k dark blue & red brown
"Sheep Herding"
The 1927 issue showed husbandry (sheep), but also a depiction of Tuvans riding Reindeer, as illustrated for the post header.

In point of fact, in 1931, 80% of Tuvans were involved in nomadic cattle breeding. The Stalin loyal Peoples Revolutionary Party and government, meanwhile, was pushing collectivisation, and trying to destroy Buddhism in Tuva.

1927 Scott 25 40k rose & blue green 
"Fording a Stream"
With 8,000 rivers, there were plenty of streams to ford. ;-)

1932 Scott 30 2k on 50k black, green & red brown
Brown Surcharge; "Weaving"
In 1932, six stamps from the 1927 issue were surcharged in various colors. This surcharged issue was, apparently, to promote the Romanization of the alphabet. The surcharges were applied in Moscow.

1934 Scott 49 5k ultramarine 
"Tuvan Milking Yak"
That Yak appears huge! The 1934 photogravure issue consisted of eight stamps. The stamps are labeled "registered", but apparently were used for ordinary postage.

1934 Scott 51 15k dark lilac
"Herdsman Lassoing Reindeer"
Like the old west, except with Reindeer. ! CV for the issue is $1-$2+.

The 1934 issue is also found imperforate, with minor Scott numbers.

1935 Scott 63 5k rose red "Ermine"
The 1935 issue, knowing a good thing, had seventeen more stamps in various shapes featuring local wildlife and scenes of the Yenisei River. CV is $1-$2+. Clearly, considering the modest cost today, the issue was well distributed to the philatelic trade.

Who is to deny, though, that the designs are attractive. ;-)

1936 Scott 71 1k bronze green "Tuvan Arms"
The 1936 issue- 20 stamps, both in perf 14 (major) and perf 11 (minor)- was dedicated to the 15th anniversary of independence (albiet as a Soviet satellite).

1936 Scott 83 30k plum  "Bactrian Camel & Train"
The designs, although exotic, were not entirely true to real life in Tannu Tuva. This Moscow-designed stamp shows a train: There is no railway in Tannu Tuva.

Bactrian Camels
BTW, the camels are Bactrian camels with two humps on the back, and are native to the central Asian steppes.

1936 Scott 90 2a rose red
"Partisans Confiscating Cattle"
The 1936 major (perf 14) issue has a CV <$1-$3 for 18 stamps.

1936 Scott C11 10k purple & cinnamon
"Tuvan Plowing"
There are two air post issues: 1934 (nine stamps) and 1936 (nine stamps). CV is $1-$4 for 16 stamps. Large diamonds, triangles, and rectangles makes these issues (and really, all of Tannu Tuva) hard to ignore.

Deep Blue
1926 Issue in Deep Blue
Deep Blue (Steiner) has sixteen pages for the 1926-1943 stamps of Tannu Tuva, and all major Scott numbers are given a space. In addition, the 1934 eight stamp imperforates (Scott 45a-52a) are also given spaces. The 1936 Perf 11 varietals (minor number) are not, however, given a space- only the major number (Scott 71-92)  perf 14 have spaces.

The expensive 1938-1943 handstamped numeral surcharged stamps also have spaces. These will remain empty, unless one wished to specialize in this country.;-)

1934 Scott 52a 20k gray black, Imperforate
"Hunter Shooting Fox with Arrow"
Big Blue
Big Blue '69, on one page located between Syria and Tasmania, has 20 spaces for the 1927 (actually 1926) and 1932 issues. All very colorful designs!

Coverage is 14%.

The 40s BB editions have the same coverage.

For some reason, BB does not have any spaces for the 1934, 1935, 1936 regular issues, and the 1934 & 1936 air post issues. These inexpensive releases have 52 stamps @ CV $1-$2+. I wonder if the question of legitimacy (at the time) had to do with the fact that there are no spaces for these issues? 

BB does have spaces, as mentioned, for the 1932 surcharged issue. The inclusion yields six stamps @ CV $10 or $10+.


1927 (actually 1926)



A) Expensive stamps ($10 threshold):
1932 Scott 29 1k on 40k ($10)
1932 Scott 30 2k on 50k ($10)
1932 Scott 31 3k on 70k ($10)
1932 Scott 32 5k on 8k ($10)
1932 Scott 33 10k ($10)
1932 Scott 34 15k on 14k ($10+)

1936 Scott 79 12k black brown "Tuvan Impaling Bear"
Out of the Blue
I must have a lot of schoolboy in me.  True, as an adult, I am fully aware that Tannu Tuva issues bordered on being exploitative,  Yet I like them. ;-)

Note: Map scans and image pics appear to be in the public domain.

Have a comment?


  1. Unfortunately Feynman died of cancer and never made it to Tuva. I think his daughter might have traveled there some years later.

    1. Yes, it is too bad he didn't get there. It is interesting that one of the seminal minds of modern physics was, like us ordinary mortals, intrigued by the "exotic" on stamps.

  2. Another interesting post, Jim!

    The first set of airmails (C1-9, 9a) is easily found on eBay. The second set (C10-18) is very difficult, especially unused. There are a few for sale as CTOs. The one MNH set I just found is $350! Scott values it at $120.

    Russian stamps in general have become much more costly in recent years.

    When buying Tannu Tuva stamps, check the descriptions and pictures carefully. Many are offered as unused or MNH when they are actually CTOs. Look carefully for the cancellation in one corner.

    The listings on eBay are quite extensive.

    1. Thanks Ed- always appreciate your comments about air post.

      And thanks for the warning about fraudulent unused.

      I notice I still need the first air post set (C1-C9), and only have part of the second set.

  3. Truly one of the most fascinating corners of the philatelic world, with a fascinating history from both the pre-Russian colonization area and after the region's incorporation into Russia. For anyone interested, the history of the Tuvans and other Siberian peoples and their relationship with Russian colonialism is wonderfully discussed in James Forsyth's "A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony 1581-1990" which while not a quick read, is a fascinating discussion.

  4. Gene- I will see if I can get a hold of that book. Thanks!

  5. As you speculated, many issues were not present in the older Scott catalogs, having been added in the last 30 years, so not surprising Big Blue coverage is sparser than it could be.

    1. Thanks for the explanation Dave - makes sense.