By Charles Snee
For the United States Postal Service, a rose by any other name, it seems, is a counterfeit.
In early September, Linn’s Stamp News learned of a second counterfeit of the 2015 nondenominated (49¢) Vintage Rose forever stamp (Scott 4959) from an eagle-eyed collector.
Carrie Latour of New Hampshire, while poring over an assortment of on-paper stamps, found a Vintage Rose stamp that didn’t look quite right.
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“It has a fake intaglio feel via tiny lines of clear dots,” Latour wrote in an email to Linn’s Sept. 3. “In bright light at an angle the dots appear to be clear acrylic lumps pressed on after the counterfeit is printed.”
Latour, who says she has “people saving stamps for me all over the country,” spotted the suspect stamp quickly.
Linn’s asked Latour to send an example of the suspect counterfeit for examination.
The stamp, close-cut on gray paper, is a distinctly different counterfeit from the bogus Vintage Rose stamp that began appearing in 2015 [Scott 4959(CF1)].
Unlike its counterfeit cousin, the new lithographed fake does not have ink that “stands up” as on genuine engraved Vintage Rose stamps.
To mimic engraved printing, the counterfeiters added tiny, raised dots over the surface of the printed flower and its stem. These dots are easily felt by gently rubbing a fingertip across the stamp.
Seeing the dots is best accomplished by viewing the stamp at an angle, with a direct light source overhead or to the side.
For comparison, Latour’s on-paper single is shown at left with on-cover examples of Scott 4959(CF1), middle, and 4959, right.
An overall darker appearance is seen on Scott 4959(CF1), while the engraved printing of the genuine stamps shows a much crisper appearance, with finer lines and shading.
Note the conspicuous dots on the newly reported counterfeit, which resemble small rain drops.
Under high (60x) magnification, these dots impart a grayish cast to the underlying black ink, similar to a dried drop of Elmer’s glue on a sheet of black construction paper. Other dots look like white pinpoints because of the light reflecting off them.
Arrows point to a few of these dots on the bogus stamp pictured at left on page 11.
Linn’s careful examination revealed additional important characteristics that allow the observant collector to separate the new fake from the already listed counterfeit and the genuine stamp.
1. Panes of real Vintage Rose stamps are printed on prephosphored paper, which makes the stamps glow a light yellow-green under shortwave ultraviolet light.
Panes of both counterfeit Vintage Rose stamps are printed on paper that glows bright blue under shortwave UV light because the paper is not tagged.
2. Die-cut peaks of both 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 the gutter selvage between columns and rows of stamps. This is easily seen under high (60x) magnification.
3. Under high magnification, the lithographed printing of both counterfeit Vintage Rose stamps appears as distinct patterns of dots. On the genuine engraved stamp, in contrast, the printing appears as a mix of fine lines and dots.
4. On both counterfeit Vintage Rose stamps, the end of the loop of the “5” in the 2015 year date at top right points up. The loop points down on a genuine Vintage Rose stamp.
5. Both counterfeit Vintage Rose stamps have gauge-11¼ die cuts. Genuine stamps have die cuts that measure 10¾ by 11.
6. In the text printed on the bottom of the back of counterfeit panes (both types), the word “news” is misspelled “new.” Of course, this difference is visible only on intact panes of 20 stamps.
This oversight, now repeated, suggests that both counterfeit Vintage Rose stamps are coming from the same source.
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.
Unlike its genuine engraved counterpart, the newest bogus Vintage Rose 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. Also worrying is the noticeable improvement in overall production qualities, including better paper stock, clearer printing, and more accurate die cutting.
Stamp collectors, armed with the information provided via Linn’s analysis, won’t be easily fooled by these fraudulent stamps. The same cannot be said for the vast number of postal customers who are not philatelically inclined.
Thus far this year, counterfeits of the following U.S. stamps have appeared in the marketplace (primarily via online channels such as eBay and Amazon) and are 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, which Linn’s reported in the Sept. 4 issue, came to light too late for inclusion in the 2018 Scott U.S. Specialized catalog, which was published this month.
In 2004, Linn’s was first to report the discovery of counterfeit 2002 37¢ Flag stamps, which is 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 52 additional counterfeit stamps have been listed in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.
Postal counterfeits of U.S. stamps were listed for the first time in the 2013 edition of the Scott 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 newest Vintage Rose 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. Linn’s tried several times to contact the USPIS for comment regarding any action taken against counterfeit stamps. No reply was received.
And if Carrie Latour’s recent experience is any indication of a broader pattern, more education is needed.
While attending a stamp show recently, she was surprised to discover “most dealers and collectors didn’t know there were lots of modern U.S. counterfeits and never looked for them.”
“I think the fake feel technique on my stamp is a fascinating new criminal invention,” she told Linn’s. “I hope more are found but not manufactured.”
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.