The Arthur Salm Foundation

The Salm Foundation was formed by the Collectors Club of Chicago in March 1991 to conduct research on philatelic products. Funding was donated by the Salm family with the CCC providing a matching grant. Officers, who served without compensation, are Lester Winick, president; Bernard Hennig, Vice President; Jacob Bard, Secretary; and Raymond Vogel, Treasurer.

The Foundation purchased commercial philatelic products manufactured around the world that are sold in the United States. These materials were submitted to a professional commercial laboratory for testing. One problem has been that stamp collectors have found that their album pages show serious deterioration due to acidic conditions present in the paper. This acidic codnition has been found to “migrate” to the postage stamp or cover attached to the page. Paper with low acidity or manufactured under neutral or alkaline conditions, can be expected to contribute signifcantly to the life of the pages and mounted philatelic material.

The CCC published a series of six pamphlets on a variety of philatelic products using an independent laboratory to do the testing. Results included the name and publisher of each item as well as a description. Testing was quite extensive and included album pages, stamp hinges, stock books, corners, glassine envelopes, stamped envelopes, computer paper for printing pages, false stamps, pressure sensitive self-adhesive U.S. stamps, and more. 146 commercial products were tested, not including the various fakes stamps specified in the reports.

More than 4,000 of these reports were distributed throughout the world, and the CCC is proud to state that not a single product was challenged. We did have one challenge from a distributor who threatened to sue the CCC. We asked for a copy of his lab test but he had none. We sent him a copy of our lab test to show to his manufacturer. Very sheepishly, he called to apologize and said that the CCC report was correct.

The six reports are available for a legal or large size self-addressed envelope with $1.06 postage affixed. Send your requests to: Collectors Club of Chicago, 1029 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60610-2803. Please allow 3-4 weeks for delivery.

The information in this report came from a speech presented by Susan E. Morton, U. S. Postal Service Crime Laboratory, San Bruno, Ca. at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, New Orleans, 1986. It was brought to our attention by Collectors Club member Ken Gilbart, who took part in the investigation and thefindings.

The dealer is not named since he, and his wife, committed suicide rather than go to trial and they were never found guilty or innocent.

The Collectors Club of Chicago notes that many of these fake covers are still "flying around" on the market and we feel that this is the proper method to alert all collectors of their existence.

This is report No. 6 in the series. Report No. 1 covers the quality of album pages. Report No. 2 studies the quality of paper products including mounts, stock pages and glassine envelopes. Report No. 3 is a study of hinges and polymers used in stamp collecting. Report No. 4 lists entities that produce labels passing as postage stamps with or without legal authority. Report No. 5 addresses concerns involving pressure-sensitive adhesive stamps.

Report Number 6
February 2000

Flying Fakes

Nearly every object of value in human experience has spawned its fakes. Philatelic items are certainly no exception. The faker of such items faces a number of difficulties, many of which are well illustrated in a case recently brought to the attention of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by philatelists.

A philatelic society had been concerned for several years over counterfeit air mail covers that seemed to be traceable to a dealer in Santa Cruz, CA. Confrontations with the subject had not resulted in cessation of the fakes, and the philatelists finally sought the assistance of the Inspection Service.

The philatelists not only pursued the complaint, they supplied material and information fundamental to the investigation. Three dealers supplied numerous covers purchased from the subject at some expense, and the philatelic societies identified owners of covers of undisputably genuine documents of comparable issue. Six of these, each of great value, were loaned to the Inspection Service for comparison. Very helpful references were also provided. The stipulation was made, quite understandably, that only nondestructive laboratory techniques be employed.

At this point, a note in historical prospective would be helpful in understanding the type of document in question and problems faced by both the forger and the laboratory. As soon as news was spread of the Wright brothers’ successful powered flight in 1903, reverberations of “Eureka!” rumbled through the Post Office Department. From the very earliest days, the possibility of air mail was recognized and pursued. The Wright brothers were not isolated inventors pursuing a fantastic dream; they were merely the first to achieve a feat long recognized as feasible. Many others were also assembling “flying machines” which were soon churning the air. Designs were as varied as inventors, but all of these contraptions were fragile. None had the stamina or range for reliable mail delivery.

The Post Office bided its time and lent support to aviation where it could. One way it could lend support was to issue special cancellations to commemorate various aviation events. A “barnstormer” would appear at a county fair, take a bag of mail aloft and dump it out, where it would be scooped up, given a special commemorative cancellation and sent on its way. Quite a number of these special “Pioneer” cancellations were made. Most date from 1910 through 1916 and now sell for several hundred dollars. As is often the case, war spurred technical development. Planes improved, and by 1918, the Post Office established regular air mail routes. Planes were purchased, contracts made with airstrips, and pilots employed. The history of the early days of air mail service makes colorful reading. The courage of Pony Express Riders is often touted; air mail pilots were a no less hearty lot.

Forty percent of those pilots hired to carry the mail eventually died in crashes.

During the same years that the barnstormers were amazing the citizens of the United States, dirigibles were being put into use in Germany. These quickly became a luxurious way to travel. Special flights were afforded special onboard cancellations. These zeppelin covers also sell for several hundred dollars.

Having absorbed historical perspective, we may now consider the first group of alleged counterfeits. Thirty-three pioneer, air mail and zeppelin covers dated from 1911 through 1920 were submitted along with the six genuine covers. (A thirty-fourth questioned cover dated 1933 was deemed genuine and will not be

Example of cancellation used by forger.
considered further.) From an investigative perspective, it was necessary to establish not only that the covers were fake, but also that they were uniquely connected to the subject, a Mr. Ganiff. He had wiggled out of previous investigations by asserting that fakes he had been caught selling were ones that he had purchased from other sources in good faith. The identities of these sources had always slipped his mind. Under the circumstances, such an assertion was hard to disprove. Without strong evidence that Mr. Ganiff was the actual source of the fakes, no search warrant could be obtained. A most fortunate circumstance aided in establishing such an association. Mr. Ganiff was a very fluent penman, able to impart different appearances to his writing by adopting flourished letters or a rigid vertical slant. He was, however, afflicted with very regular habits as to the formations of many of the small letters. These were sufficiently unusual to permit ready identification of his handwriting on many of the covers. Ample handwriting exemplars were available from correspondence sent to a Postal Inspector in connection with undercover purchases of fake covers.

Having crossed the hurdle of establishing that Mr. Ganiff was the source of the covers, the next step was to establish that they were fakes. It was helpful to consider the matter from Mr. Ganiff’s point of view. He was, after all, attempting to prepare documents seventy years after their purported dates. Five ingredients were needed to make his scheme work:

1) Paper
2) Ink
3) Stamps
4) Cancellation devices; and
5) Suckers.

The last, of course, presented no problem, being always in abundant supply. The other four items, however, were fruitful areas for inquiry.

The covers were on genuinely old envelopes and postcards. Such old cards are often available in estate sales and are often for sale at gatherings of stamp collectors. Mr. Ganiff’s difficulty was not finding old postcards, so much as finding appropriate ones. Why would an aviation buff at the Cuthbert, GA air show in 1912 choose a picture postcard of Ablemans, WI? A fan in Eureka, CA pick a book notice from the Santa Cruz law library? One in Santa Rosa, a Machinist’s Union ballot? Many of the picture postcards showed a very peculiar feature — stamp and “cancellation” are on the picture side. Examination of the other side shows why — they have been glued in albums and were damaged when removed.

Another historical note — cameras were bunglesome objects used mostly by professionals. Pleasure travelers wishing to commemorate a visit with pictures did not whip out their Polaroids in 1908. They purchased

Example of cancellation used by forger
picture postcards and pasted them in albums as we paste photographs today. The cards were obviously out of such an album. They were never mailed, nor were they really intended for mailing —several are decorated with pressed moss, ferns and edelweiss blossoms.

Study of the inks on the cards was only moderately successful, since only nondestructive techniques could be used. Mr. Ganiff was not so cooperative as to use a ballpoint pen. The questioned writing was in fluid ink or pencil. However, nibs have changed over the years. Early on, they were springy, so as to produce shading. Modern writers who use nibs are not accustomed to this effect. Modern nib pens (except for specialty ones) are stiff and produce a writing line very similar in appearance to fine-tip fiber pens. Mitchell on inks indicates that irongall ink was the one of choice at the time, but that nigrosine and aniline dye inks were also used. Irongall ink would have lost most of its blue dye by now and would have a brownish cast. Aniline dye inks would have faded. Nigrosine would still have a saturated black color, but it is not a true fluid ink. Nigrosine is a black, particulate dye suspended in water. It washes off with the merest hint of water. Bearing in mind what old ink should look like, it was possible to verify that the inks on some of the cards were fresh. However, as no spot tests could be done, the ink studies were of limited usefulness.

The purchase of old stamps posed no problem to a stamp dealer. However, Mr. Ganiff seemed to have trouble finding uncancelled small denominations. Many of the stamps on these covers show prior cancellations and extra glue. Where these prior cancellations end abruptly at the edge of the stamps, Mr. Ganiff had used pen and ink to make it appear that they extend onto the card.

Paper, ink and stamps are all very well, but to produce an apparently valuable card, Mr. Ganiff had to affix an appropriate round dater impression. All of the ones in question are rubber or metal stamp impressions.

Example of cancellation used by forger
Philatelists pointed to the Air Mail Society catalogue as a possible source of pictures of round dater impressions from which rubber stamps could have been made. The catalogue shows most round dater impressions in actual size, but a few are reductions. In each case where Mr. Ganiff lit on one of these reduced size round daters, his are the same size as the one in the catalogue, rather than the original. Since most commercial rubber stamp makers are leery of anything like a round dater, it seemed likely that Mr. Ganiff was preparing them himself. This is not a formidable task, given some experience with photography and a modest amount of equipment.

By considering various types of evidence, each of thirty-three covers could be deemed as phoney. Many could be tied to Mr. Ganiff through handwriting identification. Inspectors were confident that a search warrant could now be obtained. Due to the unusual materials to be sought the Laboratory assisted in drafting the warrant. A federal judge found the evidence compelling and signed the document.

Inspectors then requested further assistance from the Lab in identifying the listed items. The author offered descriptions, but the Inspectors had a better idea. After making inquiries as to appropriate attire for a lady attending a federal bust and establishing that she would follow well behind armed agents, the author assisted in executing the search warrant.

Upon serving the warrant, the agents discovered that Mr. Ganiff had a Mrs. and that the two of them kept six monkeys. The search was, therefore, conducted in a house containing eight agitated primates. The author contracted a case of psychosomatic monkey fleas, which persisted for several days.

When he came to understand the nature of the search warrant, Mr. Ganiff cooperated to some degree. A large cache of rubber stamps was found in his desk drawer. Surprisingly, they were of commercial manufacture.

Mr. Ganiff stated that he had never encountered any difficulty in securing them, though he was careful to deal with clerks, rather than the owner of his favored company. The appropriate Air Mail Catalogues were found

Example of cancellation used by forger
in his book shelves. Again, something of a surprise was noted. These are very expensive books and the presumption had been that he had made rubber stamps from photographs. Mr. Ganiff, however, was not so careful of his reference books. He sliced the desired pictures right out of the books and took them to the stamp company. A few homemade stamps were found consisting of killer bars carved by hand from champagne corks. (Mr. Ganiff may have been a crook, but he had class.) Several rather homemade-looking metal stamps were also found. These were heavily corroded, but had been used to make some of the questioned impressions.

Fourteen purported first-day covers were also taken during the search. These showed the same sort of defect~ as those examined earlier, but lacked some of the finesse of the earlier ones. Either Mr. Ganiff had held these back, realizing they were not so well done, or success had made him careless. One card was “postmarked” 1911, in Louisville, KY, but was a reminder card about a meeting to take place in Springfield, MA, on April 8, 1879. Although this card existed in 1911, its time and place are so out of synchrony with its purported cancellation that it qualifies as an anachronism. A more traditional anachronism was found on another cover. It is a picture post card featuring the family of U. S. Grant, purportedly cancelled in 1912. A legend on the card indicates that it was printed by the Ohio Historical Society. For those interested in further information, the Society’s address is provided, twice, complete with ZIP code.

Approximately a month after the search warrant was executed, the Santa Cruz Police Department notified the Inspection Service that Mr. and Mrs. Ganiff were dead, victims of apparent murder-suicide initiated by Mr. Ganiff.

Example of cancellation used by forger
It is for this reason that Mr. Ganiff has been assigned a pseudonym and is not named herein. Although evidence of his guilt is ample, he was never tried by a court of law.

The philatelists have taken a somewhat curious attitude. Those who laid out thousands of dollars for phoney documents are not dismayed. Indeed, they are proud possessors of authentic Ganiff fakes. They feel that the fakes may eventually be more valuable than the genuine covers. From a philatelic viewpoint, these are excellent fakes that will likely go down as an infamous historical case.

From a questioned document standpoint, these fakes are rather crude.

But then Mr. Ganiff was not trying to snooker document examiners. He likely never heard of us until the author darkened his door one grim day. Mr. Ganiff was careful to secure genuinely old cards (one notable exception) and stamps of the appropriate age and denominations. Until the search, no one could have known that the “cancellations” were made with rubber and metal stamps in Mr. Ganiff’s home. As for the presence of Mr. Ganiff’s handwriting, it must be noted that he was rather good at changing the general appearance of his writing. Even the Postal Inspectors, who are surely more tuned into handwriting identification than philatelists, were unaware that Mr. Ganiff had actually written most of the cards. Barring destructive ink analysis, handwriting identification, and discovery of the rubber stamps, many of the fakes are hard to condemn. Perhaps the Ganiff Fakes will one day be up there with the Vineland Map and the Emperor’s New Clothes.

One final disturbing note — thirty-three fakes were sold and recovered and fourteen confiscated. But how many did Mr. Ganiff make and sell?

He declined to comment when giving his statement and is now forever silent. How large a legacy did he leave behind?


Inks: Their Composition and Manufacture, C. Ainsworth Mitchell and T. C. Hepworthj, 2nd Ed. Charles Griffin & Company,1916.
American Air Mail Catalogue, First Edition 1940, Chief Editor, George W. Angers.
American Air Mail Catalogue, Fourth Ed. (Vol. 1.), Editor in Chief L.B. Gatchell, The American Air Mail Society, 1966.
American Air Mail Catalogue, Fifth Edition, Editor in Chief, Joseph Eisendrath, The Air Mail Society, 1974.