How to be an Expert / Stamps

Stamp collectors have been talking about fakes and forgeries since the first article on stamp collecting was published in Dec. 1861. One year later, an article appeared regarding the falsification of postage stamps. The virtual flood of articles has continued since then.

According to the International Association of Philatelic Experts, the following is what constitutes a forgery and a faked stamp.

Faked stamp: genuine stamp that has been altered to increase its philatelic value whether by changing its inscribed denomination, watermark, color, perforations, etc. It does not matter how it was accomplished. The simplest example is the removal of the perforations to claim that the item is imperforate.

Faked cover: genuine cover that has been altered to increase its philatelic value whether by having postal markings altered or removed, false marking applied, or switch of stamps. It does not matter how it was accomplished. The simplest example is the alteration of the postal cancellation to show a later or earlier use.

Forged stamp: a fraudulent imitation of a genuine stamp, a genuine overprint, genuine surcharge, or a genuine postal obliteration. These were produced with the intention of deceiving the collector and/or the postal authorities. The simplest example is the reprinting by private parties of a genuine stamp.

Facsimile stamp: many are labeled as such and are often caricatures of the originals. These are usually easy to spot, and satisfy a certain group of collectors. There are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties of these items, labeled cinderellas, or labels, or whatever name the artist chooses to call his product.

The steps in trying to determine what makes up a faked or forged item is very basic.

This article deals with stamps.

The words may vary, but the intent is the same. The item has been changed. It can be called "repaired", "skillfully restored", improved", "lightly corrected" but the meaning is still there, no matter how flowery the description reads. The piece is no longer in its original condition.

As methods of "repair" get better with new techniques, the danger of buying the repaired items, which are offered as perfect condition, is on the increase. In many cases, some flaws have been removed with the intent to offer the item as "flawless."

Many alterations are not visibly defined, such as the availability of illustrations taken before and after the "repair." In some cases, auction catalogs can be found where an item is illustrated years ago before any repairs were made, and again later after the repair process.

However, alterations on the reverse side of the stamp required physical examination of the item in order to see a regumming, a covered thin spot or an enclosed tear. Some auction descriptions may state the nature of the repair.

Here is a good example of why previous auction catalogs are important. In 1980, a block of four of the 5-cent stamp of the first issue of the Netherlands was offered for sale with an abrasion between the bottom two stamps. A sale in 1982 offered the same block with an ink spot between the two stamps. By 1992, an auction offered the same block as "a very fine block" without the ink spot or the abrasion.

Postal forgeries abound throughout the world. Some are outstanding cases of the work of an artist. One of the earliest known "forged" stamps are the 1889-92 5 kopeck, 7 kopeck and 3.50 ruble stamps. Technically, these stamps are not forgeries since they never existed but were created and accepted in the philatelic community.

Another common stamp forgery is false or enhanced overprinting. An overprint may be very light, or possible non-existent, and the skilled artisan can fill it in so that there is no question of the nature of the overprint. Some of the early overprint forgeries were crudely done using type similar to the original. While others are fairly obvious.

Many collectors save the varieties in watermarks. In order to producer a variety, skilled forgers split the paper on two stamps, use the front half of the desirable item and the back half of a cheap stamp, glued on upside down. The faked stamp appears thicker than the normal, and may be regummed if it is being offered as a mint stamp.

The craze for forgeries has even spread to modern first day postmarks. Two Hong Kong pictorial cancels, from June 30, 1997 the "Morrison Hong Kong" and the July 1, 1997 "St. Andrew's Fair" are known to exist in abundance. Expert Andrew M. T. Chueng, stated that "Even the official FDC issued by the Hong Kong Post Office was reprinted privately without permission."

If you are going to spend what you consider "big money" for a stamp, it is necessary today to get it expertised by a professional service where the experts in the field can examine the item in person, compare it with other items in their collection, and offer an opinion.

Unfortunately, even certificates have been forged recently utilizing modern technology.

Much of the information came from "Fakes Forgeries Experts" by the International Association of Philatelic Experts. There are experts in almost every nation in the world. The cost is minimal compared to the value and your piece of mind.