AKTSIZNAYA MARKA: The online tax stamps collection of Andrey Vasiunin

If you live in a European, African, Asian or South American country, and are a smoker or know smokers, you may have noticed fancy little labels stuck onto the cigarette boxes or other tobacco products you encounter. Attached like a stamp on an envelope but with the ornate designs and security features of paper money, these little slips of intricacy are neither truly stamps or banknotes.

They are in fact cigarette and tobacco tax stamps, a method of collecting taxes by governments. While most countries and territories levy tax on goods such as tobacco and alcohol – the so-called ‘sin taxes’ due to the health implications of using these products – only some issue these special stamps which are attached to the packets by manufacturers in their factories. They are a really elaborate way of saying “Yes, I paid up the tax on my products”. Tax stamps also help tax officials and consumers distinguish the real deal from counterfeit, and often very dangerous, tobacco products. The stamps also act as a quality seal, positioned on the packaging in such a way that opening the box or pouch breaks apart the stamp, so a whole, undamaged stamp means a fresh and non-tampered pack of 20.

 

Most tax stamps are issued by national governments, who usually delegate the task of printing millions of stamps to their finance ministries or tax boards, depending on the administration. According to Professional Security Magazine Online, more than 140 billion tobacco and alcohol stamps are produced annually by more than 150 different national and state agencies. As tax agencies tackle an increasing tobacco smuggling and counterfeiting industry and the resulting need to safeguard tax revenues, they have made their stamps more and more complex, including hard-to-forge features such as holograms, machine-readable elements, UV and infra-red printing, complicated patterns and other security features. These attempts to thwart Ben and his cross-Channel smuggling band of chums flogging cheap ciggies at the local pub have had the added effect of making tax stamps more attractive as a collector’s item

Tax stamps have been around since the 19th century, but most people pay little attention to them. Nevertheless a community of collectors have grown around the humble and official-looking stickers, also known as banderoles or excise stamps. While nowhere near as popular as its cousin, postage stamp collecting, many have come to appreciate the hobby and of course, the beauty and collectible nature of these items. Indeed, early 20th century tax stamps from the United States’ Internal Revenue government body and 19th century European issues can fetch more than £5,000 on auction sites among dedicated hobbyists and investors in collectibles.

Andrey Vasiunin, a resident of Russia’s capital Moscow and the guitar and keyboard player of doom metal band Armaga, is probably the closest thing to a celebrity in the tax stamp collecting universe. A Korolev-born father of one who graduated in economics from the G.V. Plekhanov REA educational institute, Vasiunin caught the ‘collecting bug’ early on in his childhood, gathering up collections of badges, toys and wrappers in his school days. He even built up a fine dossier of the phrase “I love you” in various languages. Then in 2001, while lounging around on a fine and warm July summer’s day in his garden, smoking a cigarette, Vasiunin noticed the tax stamp perched nonchalantly on his smokes. His curiosity piqued, he admired the colourful patterns of the stamp’s design and became hooked. He peeled off the stamp and tucked it into his wallet.

It was this chance counter with a Russian ‘aktsiznaya marka’ or excise stamp, that would be the first step in Andrey Vasiunin’s ascendancy to become one of the leading lights of the hobby. He undertook a trip to the Czech Republic, where he encountered a different breed of tax stamp. Further intrigued, Vasiunin filched the Czech versions too, straight into his wallet. He then chanced upon Italian and French examples affixed to the pages of a friend’s notebook. Soon word of Vasiunin’s new and unorthodox hobby began to circulate among his friends, and tax stamps from across the globe started filling up his wallet. His addiction to tax stamps became so insatiable that he spent a day at a customs depot, going through cigarette packets being shipped in from the rest of Europe and removing their stamps for his collection.

As the Internet became established in Vasiunin’s home country, he decided to embrace the new technology, placing his stamp collection online for the world to see. In 2005, he created a website, akciza.narod.ru. Written bilingually in Russian and English and featuring scanned images of his prized specimens, Vasiunin’s one-stop tax stamp gallery on the Information Superhighway became the world’s first and currently only one of two such websites dedicated to tax stamps for tobacco and alcohol. Within a period of seven years, Vasiunin acquired nearly 600 stamps and cigarette seals from a hundred countries, many donated by good friends and fellow hobbyists who he met online.

In 2008, Andrey Vasiunin switched web service providers and unveiled a new and heavily upgraded site “Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey” with a more detailed look, customised header graphics and a bigger selection of images drawn from his collection, which now numbers more than 2,000 examples. With its distinctive vintage appearance and interactive gallery of Vasiunin’s collection, scanned in great detail and sorted by geographical region, countries and territories, the site has become a detailed window into this unknown hobby. According to Flag Counter, his e-collection has received more than 9,000 visits from over 6,000 visitors representing 175 countries. The highlight of the ‘Tax Stamps Collection’ is definitely its gallery, with stamps arranged as if though in a high-quality album, like the heavy-duty pricey ones you can find in stamp collector’s hobby outlets. Each image enlarges when clicked on, allowing you to appreciate the full beauty and detail of each of Vasiunin’s stamps. The issues for each territory are arranged in chronological order from oldest to newest. Fellow collectors can also arrange to swap and sell stamps to Andrey, with the website maintaining a guestbook for collectors to introduce themselves and interact with Andrey.

More recently, Vasiunin has branched out into social media, opening a Facebook version of his hit site – www.facebook.com/TaxStamps – where he showcases the latest additions to his collection. The Facebook page has already accrued a small community of nearly 200 fellow collectors.

You can visit Andrey Vasiunin’s site at www.tax-stamps.com

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:

“TAX STAMPS” – Andrey Vasiunin http://www.akciza.narod.ru/index2.html

“About Me” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey http://www.tax-stamps.com/about

“Collection” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey http://www.tax-stamps.com/collection

Andrey Vasiunin’s Facebook profile.

Cigarette tax stamps collection, Andrey Vasiunin, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/TaxStamps/

Flag Counter http://flagcounter.com/

“Track and trace” – Professional Security Magazine Online (10 July 2017) http://www.professionalsecurity.co.uk/news/interviews/track-and-trace/

“Armaga” – Spirit of Metal http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/groupe-groupe-Armaga-l-en.html

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WORKPLACE PENSIONS: Advice and information from the DWP

Since October 2012, all British workplaces have been required to offer a ‘workplace pension’ to all their permanent employees. The rule was first applied to large companies, but now all employers, even those run by one person with one staff member, must have pension provisions in place by law. Until then, employers varied wildly in their pensions packages or whether they even offered them.

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions, in collaboration with the Pensions Regulator have a useful website which aims to demystify the regulations surrounding compulsory pension schemes, a scheme known officially as ‘Automatic Enrollment’. As millions of people now have workplace pensions that both they and their employer pay into, the website explains to businesses how this will affect them, their businesses and their clients’ businesses.

Even if a company has only a single employee, that employee still needs to have a pension to help secure their staff’s income post-retirement. This includes cleaners, nannies, PAs and other personal care assistants. Employers are defined by the DWP as those who pay wages and deduct tax and National Insurance contributions from their salaries. If a company employs agency staff however, then responsibility for automatic enrolment lies with the agency, not the company using the workers. So far, around 79,000 employers have already signed up.

So far, 5.4 million employees have already been automatically enrolled, where they will see their pensions topped up by the employer and get these contributions paid into their pension pot tax free. The employee also benefits as this means they can start saving for retirement early. The earlier someone starts putting money aside for their later years, the better financial circumstances they will have when that time comes. Until AE was phased in, many employees had no pension plan put in place, which would have meant them relying on the basic State Pension. Many companies simply did not offer pensions, and many workers had not given any thought to what would happen once they no longer need to work. Employees who have retirement plans already in place or who do not plan to retire in the UK, for example, can opt out of the pension scheme if they wish. Under the scheme, employees can only be enrolled if they are not now with a pension, are aged between 22 and the ‘state pension age’ (65 for men and women currently) and work in Britain on a salary of £10,000 or more a year.

Using the catchy hashtag #DontIgnoreIt, the DWP and the Pensions Regulator are promoting the site with the help of a brightly coloured and furry mascot named Workie, a ‘larger-than-life’ character created to help remind employers of their pension responsibilities. The site also features a video starring millionaire businessman and panel member of the Dragon’s Den show Theo Paphitis, explaining the benefits of workplace pensions for employees.

The website is available at: www.workplacepensions.gov.uk

SOURCES:
“HEM Businesses” – The Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind/lists/hem-businesses
DWP, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/DWP
“Workplace Pensions” – Department for Work and Pensions and Pensions Regulator http://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/?utm_source=Social%20media&utm_medium=Twitter&utm_campaign=TPRAEE102015
“Employers” – Department for Work and Pensions and Pensions Regulator http://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/employer/
“Employees” – Department for Work and Pensions and Pensions Regulator http://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/employee/
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

DPADD: The new social network for online gamers

Vijay Shah (reporter/editor)

(c) Dpadd.com
(c) Dpadd.com

In an online world dominated by social media, there’s always a new niche to explore and cater for. We have Twitter for soundbites big and small, MySpace for artists famous and not-so-famous, Instagram for the budding and experienced photographers, and not forgetting Facebook, the indefatigable selfie mill of choice. However, despite the dominance of the big name social media companies, many audiences are not yet represented with social networks, including online gamers. 

A new online journal and social network designed especially for online gamers plans to change all that. Dpadd, recently set up in Vancouver, Canada by a “one-man startup” headed by Clayton Correia, promises to give gamer guys and girls a chance to share their love of the console and keyboard with like-minded people, while keeping the dialogue spam-free unlike some competitors. Correia is a design expert who has previously worked with various other startups and technology companies before moving on to his own venture.

The founder of Dpadd has a profile on the site. (c) Dpadd
The founder of Dpadd maintains a profile on the site. (c) Dpadd

Operating in a similar fashion to the popular online book club/sharing website Goodreads, Correia’s concept enables users to record every game they play, rate and review titles and manage a wishlist of games they want to play. Gamers can share updates with their friends and industry professionals, meaning that gamers can not only improve on their game skills, but potentially help input into the development of forthcoming titles. Dpadd also offers an all-in-one profile for gamers to manage their existing accounts like Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Steam and Twitch. 

Users can also keep track of important milestones, like high scores and trophies, giving good ammunition for some online boasting. There’s a 40,000-page games encyclopedia of both the latest releases and more established titles.

Dpadd opened its doors to the gaming fraternity on October 7 after seven months of development in beta stage, with tests carried out by an exclusive batch of invitees.

http://dpadd.com/

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a promotional piece. However the Half-Eaten Mind did not accept payment for writing this article.

All information and images courtesy of Clayton Correia at Dpadd.com, Vancouver BC, Canada.

ANJALI’S PICS 2: More family photos from the Princess of piZap

By Vijay Shah

On March 17, the Half-Eaten Mind played host to a selection of family portraits and fun images made by my youngest sister Anjali (with one produced by younger brother Arjun on his phone using an app he has unfortunately forgotten the name of). She built up these works of art using the photo effects/editing suite piZap (pronounced ‘PIE-zap’) which can be found at this link –  piZap.

piZap is an online photo editor and collage maker with more than 7.1 million likes on the social network Facebook. With piZap you simply upload a photo and using a range of templates, filters and decorative graphics, you can make your own fun collages and jazzed-up photos to display or share with family and friends. It attracts thousands of users a day and is headquartered in Los Gatos, not far from the ‘Silicon Valley’ region of California, home to many cutting-edge technology start-ups.

Anjali has very kindly emailled me another three images, two which would look smashing in a special piZap family album, and one very limited edition collage made as a special commission of sisterly love for me and the blog, as we head towards the Easter weekend here in England. All will be revealed below:

(c) Anjali Shah / piZap
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap

PHOTO ONE: Entitled “Family Collage 7” this picture is one of Anjali’s trademark family photo collages showing our coming together as a family unit and the love and kinship that binds us and not just through blood. It is also a colourful and meaningful method of Anjali using her creativity to show her love for all of us. I am really touched by this. I think Mum would have loved getting a framed glossy printout of this picture for Mother’s Day that just went past. The photo content is so wildly varied in terms of backgrounds of the component portraits and the different kinds of stick-on hearts Anjali has included. The sheer diversity of it all is so overawing and involving to me. I love the proverb in the top right hand corner….”No Gift to your Mother can ever equal her gift to You – Life!!”. A very humbling and truthful quote.

Shaniya,Soraya & Anjali
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap

PHOTO TWO: This jazzy picture full of neon and tinsel has been entitled “Shaniya, Soraya & Anjali“. It pays homage to three of the craziest girls in my family (I kid!!). Shaniya is my niece (my other sister’s daughter). She is famous for having a cute little face that has launched a thousand expressions and an adorable, intelligent personality to match…and she’s only three years old. Trying to squeeze her way in in the middle is my cousin Soraya who is also a piZap fan. On the right is the legendary photo master herself. I am really feeling the party vibe with this picture. Anjali has used a filter with the image which makes them look either like a) ghosts b) they were doused in flour, or c) the photo was developed on rice paper. But I am not making fun. Oh no!. For me also it has to be said that this filter makes them look like little angels bathed in the glow of some heavenly light. That is until you look a little closer and see the cheeky faces they are pulling. It is never a dull moment in the Shah/Bachell/Maghoo household and family.

(c) Anjali Shah / piZap. Republication copyright solely under the Half-Eaten Mind & Vijay Shah.
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap. Republication copyright solely under the Half-Eaten Mind & Vijay Shah.

PHOTO THREE: A complete change of subject here. Hell, not even a change, but a complete shift into an alternate dimension. One where the sun always shines, spring is definitely sprung, the grass is perennially green and the eggs are not made of cheap chocolate fortified with maize starch and dioxins. This special edition emission of Le Studio Photographique du Mlle. Anjali (cue haughty Gallic laugh) is titled “Vijay Easter Pzap” (sic). My sister made this completely as a surprise for me to commemorate Easter and I assume as a thank you gift for the previous photo article I penned for her. She was really chuffed and pleased with it and I was just as happy to put a smile on her face. She even read that article three times. That’s love. That’s family.

This commissioned piece just screams cute. Looking back into Easters long gone past from my childhood, this picture reminds me of the beautifully designed and child friendly packaging you get with certain Cadbury’s Easter eggs that are marketed in the run up to the holidays for a good month now (the shops start flogging off festival stuff really early here!). Just like the Easter bunny with her basket full of different patterned treats, my mind, as half-eaten as it is, is always full of ideas of what to write in this blog. Well, 70% of the time anyway. It is a crazy place sometimes up there in that brain of mine and the emoticons sound that little fact out nicely. I was so impressed with this image, it is now the cover photo for the Half-Eaten Mind Facebook page.

Returning to the piZap site, I have mulled over creating some of my own interpretations of family and other general pictures  – redefining them with the help of piZap’s many filters, stock images etc etc. Anjali even gave me a quick crash course in the software’s features. Hopefully during my time off this weekend, I might just give it a spin and publish the results here. You have been warned!!

To see Anjali’s earlier work, why not acquaint yourself with the article below:

ANJALI’S PICS: Family photo showcase

The Half-Eaten Mind wishes all of its readers and supporters a very Happy Easter.

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