Are Forgeries Still a Problem?

Almost from the very day that Philately began as a serious hobby, stamp collectors were plagued by forgeries. Forgeries exist in two types; those made for philatelic consumption and those produced to defraud the postal service of revenue (called postal forgeries). These postal forgeries are in nearly all cases not only very rare but highly collectible and desired as examples of postal history. But philatelic forgeries are rarely scarce, and seldom desired by stamp collectors. But they do turn up unwanted in many stamp albums and though detailed counterfeit detection is work for experts, there are many things even a casual stamp collector can know that can help spot a forgery or at least arouse suspicion.
Most philatelic forgeries were not produced to defraud collectors. A century ago, stamp collecting was not the detailed discipline that it is today. Catalogs were not comprehensive and new finds of previously unknown stamps issued many years before happened frequently. There was no Postal Service Public Relations Bureau- new issues went unheralded. Stamps were withdrawn without notice and unless a collector had a friend in a foreign nation, getting newly issued mint stamps of that country was quite a task.
Image result for philatelic forgeryStamp collectors generally collected casually, not avidly as many do today. They wanted examples of stamps that the catalogs told them existed but where a genuine specimen was unavailable most collectors did not mind adding a well made reproduction to their albums. Like today’s art lovers who have reproductions, even posters, of Van Gogh or Cezanne on their walls, early collectors saw nothing wrong with a reproduction. It looked the same and certainly was cheaper.
The early philatelic forgery trade grew up to satisfy this desire for stamps where there was no international market that could make foreign stamps available at fair prices (that is prices close to what was charged in the home market). The forgers often published lists, sent out approval books (a penny a stamp), and even sold packets. This is what accounts for the majority of forgeries currently around and this was mainly a pre-1930 phenomenon.
Despite the prevalence of counterfeits (and most collections, especially those made since 1930 and purchased from reputable dealer’s, have none) the good news is that most philatelic forgeries are pretty mediocre. Except for the work of Sperati (and his forgeries often sell for as much as the genuine stamp) forgeries usually were made quickly and cheaply and lack many of the fine points of the originals. A fine philatelic library, like the thousands of volumes at Apfelbaum’s and representative reference material such as the tens of thousands of items in the Apfelbaum reference collections are indispensable for exact detection. But attention to several rules and acute observation will eliminate a large percentage of counterfeits from a collector’s holdings.
The way that a collector can become suspicious about a forgery is by paying attention to detail, small points that most forgers could be bothered with in their rush to put out aImage result for philatelic forgery low cost product. First, check your Scott catalog. Should the stamp in question be watermarked? Matching watermarked paper is very difficult and most forgers never bothered. Is the stamp printed in the method that the catalog says it should? Most forgeries are printed by some form of lithography and many early stamps are engraved. Does the paper that the stamp is printed on match in quality and texture of the paper of any other values of the same set that you may have? And lastly a few references are quite a lot of help. “Album Weeds” by Rev. R.B. Earee should be a part of every one’s library.
Though forgeries are hardly the problem today they were 50 years ago, collectors should still watch the sources from which they buy their stamps and be aware that the “genuine bargain” from an unknown or unscrupulous seller might be neither a bargain nor genuine. And when in doubt, there is always the American Philatelic Expertization Service, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803 or the Philatelic Foundation, 270 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016, both of whom, for a fee, issues certificates as to the genuineness of stamps. Our favorite for foreign stamps right now is the expert Sergio Sismondo, 10035 Carousal Center Dr, Syracuse NY email
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