Fakes and forgeries: cull them or collect them?

Aug 8, 2005, 10 AM

By Rick Miller

Some call them album weeds. Chances are that a few are lurking unrecognized in your stamp collection. But don't run screaming into the night in terror.

There's nothing wrong with having a few fakes and forgeries in your collection, as long as you know what they really are. They can be collected in their own right, or they can be part of a reference collection for use in identifying other stamps as genuine or forged.

A smattering of stamp fakes and forgeries that have been sent to Linn's Collectors' Forum over the past several years is shown in Figure 1, clockwise from the top left: a Guatemalan 6-centavo-on-2c National Emblem stamp, an Egyptian 5-piaster Sphinx and Pyramid stamp, a Jammu and Kashmir ¼-anna red stamp, and an unoverprinted Iranian 50-kran stamp.

A forgery is a completely fraudulent reproduction of a postage stamp. There are generally two types of stamp forgeries: those intended to defraud collectors and those intended to defraud a postal system. Forgeries produced to defraud a postal system are usually called counterfeits.

Of the stamps shown in Figure 1, the Egyptian, Iranian, and Jammu and Kashmiri stamps are complete forgeries. They were produced from scratch by a stamp forger. The Guatemalan stamp is likely a genuine stamp with a forged overprint.

Stamp forgers run the gamut from famous and skilled engravers who considered their forgeries to be works of art to unknown hacks cranking out mediocre products in relative obscurity.

The lives and products of stamps forgers have always held a great deal of fascination for many stamps collectors. Philatelic Forgers: Their Lives and Works by Varro E. Tyler contains capsule biographies and descriptions of the forgeries of 150 of the more prolific and well-known among the breed.

The names of some forgers might surprise you. They include stamp-catalog producers J. Walter Scott and Edward Stanley Gibbons and philatelic author and dealer A.C. Roessler.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the production of stamp forgeries had not yet acquired the universally unsavory reputation that it has today, and the intent to defraud was not always present.

As Tyler says in the introduction to his book: "Some forgers produced forgeries for their own amusement or that of their children or friends. Others printed and sold them as 'space fillers,' for the benefit, they believed, of collectors and the hobby."

Today usage of the term "forgery" is usually reserved for a product intended to defraud someone or some institution. The more neutral term "facsimile" is used to describe a stamp reproduction produced without the intent to defraud.

Some forgers were so famous (or infamous) and prolific that entire books have been written about their lives and works. They include Raoul Charles de Thuin (The Yucatan Affair: The Work of Raoul Ch. de Thuin, Philatelic Counterfeiter, published by the American Philatelic Society); Jean de Sperati (The Work of Jean de Speratiin two volumes, by Robson Lowe and Carl Walske); and Francois Fournier (The Fournier Album of Philatelic Forgeries: A Photographic Composite for Reference Purposes by Lowell Ragatz).

De Sperati (1884-1957) is the cream of the crop among forgers. He was a gifted and meticulous craftsman, and his productions are avidly collected in their own right, sometimes selling for more than the genuine stamps they imitate.

A de Sperati forgery of a Maltese 5-shilling rose Queen Victoria stamp (Scott 14) is shown in Figure 2.

Although the terms "forgery" and "counterfeit" are often used interchangeably, more discriminating usage is to refer to stamps prepared to defraud collectors as "forgeries" and stamps prepared to defraud a postal system as "counterfeits" or postal counterfeits.

The fraud in a forgery occurs when a collector or dealer is deceived into buying a forged stamp for a collection or stock under the impression that it is a genuine stamp. The fraud in a counterfeit occurs when the counterfeited stamps are sold well below face value to people who use them for mailing to defraud the postal system.

Postal counterfeits are highly collectible in their own right, especially those that have been used on cover and moved through the mailstream. But some postal administrations can get a bit touchy about allowing unused counterfeits to remain in collector hands.

Shown in Figure 3 is a cover, franked with a very good counterfeit of the United States 37¢ Flag booklet stamp (Scott 3635) with small "2002" year date. The counterfeited stamp lacks the microprinted "USPS" and tagging. The cover was sold on eBay in 2004.

Apparently the missing tagging caused the automatic facer-canceler machine to reject the cover, and it was handcanceled with a roller cancel. The recipient's name and address have been graphically obscured.

A fake stamp differs from a forgery in being a genuine stamp that has been altered to make it appear to be a more valuable stamp. Fakes can be created by changing the color, design or denomination of the basic stamp to make it resemble a more valuable stamp.

Fakes can also be created by thinning or thickening the stamp paper or by adding or removing perforations to the stamp.

Adding a forged overprint to a genuine stamp is one of the most common ways of producing a fake stamp.

Shown in Figure 4 is a fake Czechoslovakian 1.50-koruna-on-2k lilac semipostal stamp (Scott B37). The basic stamp is an Austrian airmail stamp (C1). The "Posta Ceskoslovenska 1919" overprint on the stamp is forged.

The Austrian airmail stamp used to produce this fake is valued at $1.50 in the ScottStandard Postage Stamp Catalogue. The genuine Czechoslovakian semipostal stamp has a Scott catalog value of $200. The stamp faker can realize a handsome profit, if he can mass produce these fakes and dispose of them as genuine.

While fakes, forgeries and counterfeits replicate the design of real stamps, bogus stamps, also called false emissions, pretend to be real postage stamps without replicating the design of genuinely issued stamps.

Two bogus Confederate States of America postmaster's provisional stamps that were submitted to Linn's Collectors' Forum in the past several years are shown in Figure 5.

The stamp on the left purports to be a Lynchburg, Va., postmaster's provisional, while the one on the right pretends to be from Galveston, Texas. Both are listed and described along with scores of others in "Crazy Confederates or Bogus Adhesives" by H.F. Rooke, which was published in the January-April 1969 issue of Confederate Philatelist.

The bogus Lynchburg stamp has a design that is similar to a real Confederate postmaster's provisional. The bogus Galveston stamp was created from whole cloth.

While collecting bogus stamps of the 19th and early 20th century has gained some acceptance in the hobby over the years, recent bogus stamp issues, usually referred to as "illegal stamps," often are roundly condemned by some stamp writers.

Some of the hardest album weeds to detect are unofficial reprints. These are stamps that were unofficially produced using the same printing stones or plates that were used to produce officially issued stamps. This happens when the printing plates or stones pass into private hands through theft, sale or salvage.

Because the stamp designs of unofficial reprints are generally identical to the issued stamps, the best clues for detection often come from the color or shade, paper, gum or perforations.

Postmarks, cancels, postal markings and entire covers also have been faked and forged. This is done by adding genuine stamps or forged postal markings to a genuine cover, or by creating an entirely forged cover on which neither stamps or markings are genuine.

How can you detect those weeds in your stamp albums? The most basic way is to be familiar with the characteristics of the genuine stamps.

Many older stamp forgeries were cheaply produced by stone lithography for the packet trade. If the genuine stamp is engraved, you can quickly pick out the packet impostors.

Examine the color, measure the stamp's perforations and check the type of paper. Most collectors seem to assume that if the gauge of perforations on a stamp differs from that listed for the stamp in a catalog, then they must have a rare and valuable variety. In reality, it is much more likely to be a forgery or a fake.

An entire library of specialist literature is available on stamp forgeries as are several multi-volume texts on general forgeries. While you might not be able to afford to buy all the forgery literature you will need, most of it is available on loan to members of the American Philatelic Society from the American Philatelic Research Library.

For expensive stamps and covers, expertization is recommended. This is especially true for overprinted stamps or for stamps for which dangerous and convincing forgeries are known to exist.

The three leading general expertization services in the United States are the American Philatelic Expertizing Service of the APS, the Philatelic Foundation and Professional Stamp Experts.

Many specialist societies also offer expertization services as one of their membership benefits.