The Earliest Forgeries

Early philatelists did not have the same aesthetics that stamp collectors have today. Little, sometimes even no, attention was paid to quality. Stamps were peeled off envelopes, and the pieces that came off were pasted into early albums. And whenever an early issue proved elusive, early dealers were pleased to print reproductions and forgeries. Many of these early forgeries made little attempt to fool anyone.




Herman Hearst, Jr., who went by the nickname “Pat”—he was born on St Patrick’s day—was the most prominent (and finest philatelic) writer of the twentieth century. He wrote several mainstream books about philately, several of which made it into mainstream society, one of which was on the New York Times Bestseller list for a time in the early 1960s. People used to send Pat all sorts of things, and pictured above is a stamp that a collector found that he sent to Hearst for his evaluation. We have placed it next to a genuine Penny Black. It is clear that the person who made this forgery was making no attempt to defraud anyone and was really producing a spacefiller for someone who couldn’t afford the real McCoy. One could even speculate that this was a cut out album illustration—it is that crude—except for the fact that a cancellation is on the stamp, and the cancellation too is a fantasy. Penny Blacks were almost always canceled with Maltese cross cancellations, not target cancels as in the forgery.




Students of philatelic history love finds like these. Where did they come from? Who made them, and when? Here’s how the investigations work: The forgery is a crude lithograph, not engraved. The cancellation was applied by a secondary printing process and appears printed, not handstamped. The stamp forgery looks like an album illustration from which someone used the woodblock cut of and produced forgeries to which he added cancellations.


When we turn over the stamp we find the most amazing thing—a Portugal forgery on the reverse. The cancellation—a ring cancel—is the kind that was used in Germany, never in Great Britain, leading to the speculation that the forger was German. The Portuguese stamp on the back of the Penny Black indicates a pretty large forgery operation that was producing a wide body of work for collectors to put in their albums instead of genuine stamps. Large forgery network, nineteenth century lithograph production methods, school construction paper quality paper, German ring cancellation—the work has all the characteristics of the Spiro Brothers—a German firm of stamp dealers and counterfeiters who operated in the latter half of the nineteenth century. And you thought the guys on CSI had all the fun!


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