Big Scandal

Philately lacks drama. Maybe that’s why stamp collectors love a good scandal in our hobby. Though philatelists tend to differ in opinion on what constitutes a good stamp scandal, most will agree that a good scandal must be international in scope, affect thousands of collectors, and defraud collectors of large amounts of money. By these standards most of today’s issues qualify as irritants or distractions. All will agree though that there have been three major philatelic frauds in the history of our hobby.
The first major stamp scandal became well known just after the turn of the twentieth century. Stamp collecting was becoming the popular hobby it is today, and prices for earlier material that had never been saved in much quantity was going up. To satisfy demand, the Swiss printer Francois Fournier began “reprinting” earlier stamps and selling them to collectors. Calling these stamps “reprints” was a lie, they were out and out forgeries. But, to Fournier’s credit, he did sell them at reprint prices (The distinction that “re-printers” use to justify their ethical precedence over forgers is this— “re-printers” charge the same per stamp no matter how rare the original that they are imitating whereas “fakers” charge based on the rarity of the stamp. We have no word from St. Peter as to whether this distinction had any real weight). In any case, the people who bought Fournier’s forgeries usually didn’t have the same scruples as did their creator, and Fournier’s forgeries were distributed throughout the philatelic world as genuine.
Fournier made tens of thousands of forgeries of hundreds of different stamps. From about 1905, collectors and dealers were well aware of his work, and he was constantly written about in the philatelic press. If you are perusing magazines of this period , you will find Fournier’s work referred to as “faux de Geneve” or Geneva forgeries. Fournier lived and worked in Geneva, and strict libel laws prevented or frightened philatelic writers of that period form labeling his work as his. When Fournier died, his business was kept on by employees, and the last of Fournier’s stock was bought out and destroyed in 1927.
Fournier occupies a weird spot in the philatelic Hall of Shame. Much like Shoeless Joe Jackson, he is pitied as much as despised. He sold his “reprints” for little and as reprints. And, as they were for stamps that most collectors never could have afforded anyway, he did provide a service. It was more the people who bought from people who had resold the stamps as genuine and the heirs of collectors who looked into their inherited albums and imagined themselves rich who suffered. Still, even by the philatelic ethics of the time (which were lower than today), Fournier was considered bad news. The philatelic world united in calling his work into question and ultimately established a fund that bought out his stocks and plates and had them destroyed. The philatelic world’s treatment of the Fournier forgery scandal became the template on how to deal with philatelic forgers. When legal action failed (he was a “re-printer” not a counterfeiter, and Swiss law was lax on this score), the stamp world united with time and money and terminated the problem by buying the forger out—lock stock and barrel. They even published a book of his work with reprints of the reprints. We will see that this played out over and over again in the other two scandals that we will look at in the next few days.
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