By Charles Snee
When it comes to counterfeit stamps, the United States Postal Service is not feeling the love.
In mid-August, Linn’s learned of yet another counterfeit of a recent U.S. issue — the Love Skywriting stamp issued Jan. 7 (Scott 5155).
A stamp dealer, who wishes to remain anonymous, tipped Linn’s about the bogus stamp via email Aug. 14, saying “they are being sold on eBay by some of the same sellers as the other counterfeits” Linn’s has reported during the past six months.
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Counterfeits are a special type of forgery, which is a completely fraudulent reproduction of a postage stamp.
Forgeries are of two types: counterfeits, which are intended to defraud postal authorities of revenue; and bogus issues, which are intended to fool collectors. Here, the terms counterfeit and bogus are used interchangeably.
Like its genuine counterpart, the bogus Love Skywriting stamp was printed using offset lithography, an indirect printing method easily susceptible to counterfeiting because the technology is readily available and affordable.
That yet another counterfeit of a U.S. stamp has surfaced should not come as a surprise. An active supply chain, operating out of China or Taiwan (or both, perhaps), has been funneling bogus U.S. stamps into the country for at least the past decade or so.
More troubling are the frequency and speed with which these bogus stamps are now being produced.
So far this year, counterfeits of the following U.S. stamps have appeared in the marketplace (primarily via online channels) and will be listed for the first time in the 2018 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers: 2015 Love [Scott 4955(CF1)-4956(CF1); Linn’s, Feb. 27], 2014 Flag and Fireworks coil [Scott 4868(CF1); Linn’s, March 13], 2016 Diwali [Scott 5142(CF1); Linn’s, April 3], and 2012 Four Flags coils [Scott 4637(CF1)-4640(CF1), 4637(CF2)-4640(CF2); Linn’s, May 1].
The counterfeit 2017 Love Skywriting stamp came to light too late for inclusion in the 2018 U.S. Specialized catalog, which will be published in October.
Robert Thompson, president of the Plate Number Coil Collectors Club and a keen observer of modern U.S. counterfeit stamps, told Linn’s he acquired panes of the bogus 2017 Love Skywriting stamps Aug. 11 via eBay.
Thompson said he identified two eBay sellers offering bogus Love Skywriting stamps under user names “cardrushinc” and “schw2952.”
Of these two sellers, cardrushinc also has sold counterfeit 2015 Vintage Rose [Scott 4959(CF1)] and 2016 Diwali stamps.
Thompson cautioned that bogus 2017 Love stamps “are very close” to genuine stamps. Indeed, when a genuine pane and a counterfeit pane are placed side by side, they look nearly identical.
For example, the perforation gauge of the bogus stamps matches the genuine: 11 by 10¾. The color of bogus stamps is only slightly lighter than the light blue color of genuine stamps.
Nonetheless, Linn’s detailed examination reveals important characteristics that allow the observant collector to separate the fake from the real.
1. Panes of real Love Skywriting stamps are printed on prephosphored paper, which makes the stamps glow a light yellow-green under shortwave ultraviolet light. Counterfeit Love Skywriting panes are printed on paper that glows bright blue under shortwave UV light because the paper is not tagged.
2. Die-cut peaks of bogus stamps are more pointed than those of genuine stamps. On counterfeit panes, there is a slight misalignment of the horizontal and vertical serpentine die cuts where four stamps come together.
Specifically, the straight-line breaks in the vertical and horizontal wavy-line die-cutting patterns do not intersect perfectly where stamp corners meet. This is readily seen under high (60x) magnification.
3. Under high magnification, the lithographed dot pattern of counterfeit Love Skywriting stamps is much coarser in comparison to the much finer dot structure of genuine stamps.
In addition, the legible microprinted “USPS” just below the airplane at lower left on each genuine stamp appears as an indistinct white spot on counterfeit stamps.
The “2017” year date in the lower-left corner is legible on both genuine and bogus stamps. However, the “1” is missing the bottom serif
4. Genuine Love Skywriting panes have rouletting on the backing paper that allows for easier separation of individual stamps, along with serpentine slits on the backing paper, centered on the middle of each stamp, to facilitate removal of the backing paper from a single stamp.
Bogus panes lack this rouletting, and the serpentine slits are slightly misaligned in relation to the backs of the stamps.
5. In the text printed on the bottom of the back of counterfeit panes, the “L” in “UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE” is missing. Of course, this difference may only be seen on intact panes.
In 2004, Linn’s was first to report the discovery of counterfeit 2002 37¢ Flag stamps, which are now listed as Scott 3635(CF1). At that time, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was engaged in an ongoing investigation to determine the source of the counterfeit stamps.
Thirteen years later, a total of 40 additional counterfeit stamps have been listed in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog. Twelve more counterfeits, mentioned at the beginning of this story, will appear for the first time in the 2018 edition of the U.S. Specialized catalog.
Postal counterfeits of U.S. stamps were listed for the first time in the 2013 edition of the U.S. Specialized catalog, published in October 2012.
Today’s web of stamp counterfeiting has spread far and wide, making it even more difficult for postal inspectors to pinpoint the producers and sellers and shut them down.
Linn’s ongoing investigation into the murky origins of the Love Skywriting and other recent counterfeits, which began in early February, suggests that the problem is larger than initially thought.
However, the powers that be in the Postal Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service seemingly don’t have the time or inclination to dig more deeply. This, in turn, puts the onus on collectors and dealers to make the discoveries and get the word out.
Linn’s welcomes reports of the appearance of counterfeit stamps in the online marketplace, as well as examples of postal use.
Please send information to Linn’s managing editor Charles Snee via email, or write to him at Box 4129, Sidney, OH 45365-4129.