By Rick Miller
The joyous world of stamp collecting is full of pitfalls.
You've just acquired the beautiful mint example of the 1/- British surcharge and overprint on the 1-mark Kaiser's Yacht Hohenzollern stamp, Samoa Scott 110, shown in Figure 1.
The unused stamp catalogs $3,000 in the 2004 Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940. The basic stamp without the British overprint, Samoa Scott 66, catalogs only $2.40.
Overprints are notoriously susceptible to forgery. What if someone has pulled a fast one by applying a forged overprint to an inexpensive stamp? How do you know that the overprint on your stamp is genuine, and if the stamp is really worth what you paid for it?
What if the overprint is genuine, but the stamp has been repaired, regummed or has flaws that you haven't detected?
The answer is expertization.
You may have heard the advice, "Be you're own expert." It is very good advice, particularly as relates to inexpensive, but frequently forged stamps of the type that Varro Tyler used to concentrate on in his Focus on Forgeries series.
For example, using Tyler's book, I am reasonably confident that the 50-kopek green Russia-Army of the North stamp, Scott 5, shown on the left in Figure 2, is genuine and the one on the right is a forgery. The stamp catalogs only 40¢ in unused condition and 70¢ used, so there isn't a whole lot at stake, even if I am wrong.
Other general reference works available for self-expertization includeAlbum Weeds by R.B. Earee and the Serrane Guide. There is also a vast corpus of specialized literature on the subject.
Being your own expert also provides the challenge and pleasure of increasing your own philatelic knowledge.
For high-end material, the annual journal Fakes Forgeries Expertspublished by the International Association of Philatelic Experts (AIEP) is both beautifully produced and fascinating reading.
However, anytime significant amounts of money are involved, expertization by a recognized and respected body of experts is beneficial to both the buyer and the seller.
An expensive stamp or cover with a recent certificate from a respected expertization service will often sell for much more than the same stamp or cover without a certificate.
For the collector who is spending his money to acquire the item, an expertization certificate provides some confidence that he is really getting what he paid for.
When you submit a stamp or cover, referred to as a "patient" by some experts, for expertization, there are generally four possible outcomes.
The expert committee might render an opinion that the item is genuine and can note condition or flaws and faults.
The committee might render an opinion that the item is a genuine stamp or cover but something other than what you thought it was (for example, a common stamp instead of a rare variety).
The committee might render an opinion that your item is bogus: a fake or a forgery.
Very rarely the committee might be unable to render an opinion.
How does the committee arrive at its opinion?
One basis is personal experience and knowledge. Persons chosen for expert committees are normally the most knowledgeable available in their given fields. They probably have looked at hundreds, if not thousands, of genuine and bogus examples of the stamp that you are submitting.
Another is by comparison with known genuine and bogus examples. Expert committees have access to reference libraries. Expertization normally involves comparison of your item against the reference examples of the same stamp available to the committee.
Forensics is the area of expertization in which the greatest strides are being made. The committee might subject the item to an increasingly sophisticated battery of technical or scientific tests in order to reach an opinion.
According to stamp expertizer Herbert J. Bloch, the more rare and valuable a stamp is, the easier it is to expertize. Rare stamps have been studied in depth and are individually known and recognized by experts the way that you might recognize your children or your pets.
Rare stamps have provenance. The history of where the stamp or cover came from and who owned it for how long is known. Even the provenances of many forgeries of rare and valuable stamps are known and studied.
If you turn up a stamp purporting to be rare and very valuable but lacking provenance, it's dollars to doughnuts that you've got a fake or forgery. Which is not to say that discoveries are not possible, just uncommon.
The three primary expertization services in the United States are the American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX), Professional Stamp Experts and the Philatelic Foundation.
APEX is operated by the American Philatelic Society. A joint service of the APS and the American Stamp Dealers Association, the service is available only to ASDA and APS members.
At present, the APEX expertization fee scale is $20 for anything cataloging $1,000 or less, plus 2 percent of catalog value, regardless of condition, for anything cataloging $1,001 or more up to a maximum of $400.
APEX accepts United States and worldwide foreign stamps and covers for expertization.
APEX certificates are normally issued within 90 days of submission of the item.
Fees for misidentified items are adjusted to the true value of the item. If APEX fails to render an opinion, the fee is returned, less an $8 administrative charge.
APEX encourages that submitters donate items judged to be fakes or forgeries to the APEX reference collection, both to enhance the collection and to remove them permanently from the market.
For more information about APEX, write to American Philatelic Expertizing Service, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803 or visit the web site at www.stamps.org/Services/ser_AboutExpertizing.htm.
The Philatelic Foundation was chartered in 1945 by the education department of the University of the State of New York as a nonprofit educational institution.
The Foundation boasts an extensive reference collection, a 5,000-volume library, a collection of auction catalogs and photographic records of specialized collections.
The Foundation accepts United States and foreign stamps and covers for expertization.
The Foundation's fee schedule for stamps is $25 for stamps with a catalog value up to $555 and 4½ percent of catalog for stamps with a value more than $555, up to a $600 maximum fee. Fees for covers are 5 percent of valuation, with a $25 minimum fee and a $600 maximum fee.
According to the Foundation, time from submission to issuance of a certificate averages about 30 days.
In the event that an item is determined not be genuine or the Foundation is unable to render an opinion, the minimum $25 fee is charged.
There is also a $2 handling fee for each packet submitted, regardless of the number of items for expertization in the packet.
For more information, write to the Philatelic Foundation, 70 W. 40th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or visit the Foundation web site at www.philatelicfoundation.org.
Professional Stamp Experts Inc. provides expertization for United States regular postage stamps and some back of the book items.
It has two fee scales: one for express 15-day service and one for regular 30-day service. The fees for regular service are given here.
Five stamps with a catalog value less than $100 each may be submitted for $15 each. Single items with a catalog value of less than $700 are charged $25. Graduated fees based on catalog value are $700 to $999, $30; $1,000 to $2,499, $45; $2,500 or more, $70.
PSE also offers a table of special rates and fees for what it calls "specialized" stamps.
PSE offers services beside standard authentication.
The authentication and grading service assigns a grade as well as authenticating the stamp. The grading and encapsulation service assigns a grade and seals the stamp in what PSE calls a "sonically sealed, tamper-evident" plastic display case.
For more information, write to Professional Stamp Experts, Box 6170, Newport Beach, CA 92658 or visit the web site at www.psestamp.com.
Certificates from all three services are shown in Figure 3. Note that all of the certificates are numbered and dated and that all include a color photo of the item expertized that is tied to the certificate by an embossed seal. The certificate number appears on both the certificate and the photo of the item.
All certificates bear the signature of one of the experts representing the committee that examined the stamp.
All expertization services emphasize that their decisions are opinions, not guarantees. Opinions can change over time, particularly as knowledge and forensic capabilities increase. That is why it may be important to have a recent certificate when you are selling a very valuable item.
In addition to the three services described here, many specialist societies offer expertization as one of the benefits of membership.
There are also international and foreign expertizing services.
In the past, instead of issuing certificates many foreign experts, particularly in Europe, marked the stamps or covers that they examined.
This system is considerably less elegant and more complicated than the American practice of issuing certificates.
Many American collectors do not want their stamps and covers marked. Even more problematic is the identification, trustworthiness, genuineness and meaning of the many experts marks. If stamps can be forged and faked, so can an expert's mark.
Philatelic Experts, a web site devoted to deciphering experts' marks is found at www.geocities.com/Augusta/5525/experts.html.
More recently, many European experts have both issued certificates and marked the items. In most cases, instead of a photograph of the item that was expertized, the certificate bears an example of the expert mark that was applied to the stamp.
Expertization certificates provided by Dejan Tubinovic of Belgrade, Serbia, and Velimir Ercegovic of Zagreb, Croatia, are shown in Figure 4. Note the sample expert's mark above the signature, in the box beneath the opinion.
The previously mentioned AIEP began issuing certificates in 2000. For information about expertization by the AIEP, write to Wolfgang Hellrigl, Box 349, I-39100, Bozen, Italy, or visit the web site at www.aiep.net.