Small Scandals

Philatelic scandals come in three sizes—small, medium, and large. The work of Francois Fournier, prolific forger from Switzerland, ranks as a major philatelic scandal. He made hundreds of thousands of reproductions of many of the most popular and collected stamps in the hobby and defrauded, either directly or indirectly, tens of thousands of collectors out of millions of dollars. That is a large scandal. Jean de Sperati was a far finer artisan in his forgery work than any other who ever lived. He made detailed engraved plates by hand and was careful in his use of paper and duplicated watermarks. A man with his artistic skill set could have made far more money (and certainly had legitimate fame) in fine arts restoration, even if he were not creative enough to be an artist himself. But Sperati played small ball. His production was limited in numbers of stamp types forged and quantities produced. And, though he never had admitted it, he was pleased to have his work known, and once known, the stamps he forged were so expensive and for such a limited audience that in the end very few people were defrauded. His was a medium scandal.
The smallest of all the major forgery scandals that have affected our hobby was that of Raoul de Thuin (pronounced “de tween”). De Thuin was a Belgian stamp dealer who emigrated to Mexico about 1930, and it was there that he began his most prolific philatelic forging work (De Thuin was not only a prolific stamp forger, he claimed to have had over twenty children with four hundred mistresses, though if his skill in this area was comparable to his philatelic expertise it is easy to understand why so few of them stuck around). De Thuin was a hack. With the exception of a few Mexican stamps, he never counterfeited an original stamp, only surcharges and overprints. And his work for the most part was primitive—he often made his overprint handstamps from photographs of stamps from catalogs and not from stamps themselves. He was even known to have produced forgeries that were made from incorrectly hand drawn illustrations of local stamps, creating not forgeries, but  philatelic and semantic monstrosities that can be only called “forgery of an incorrect replica of a provisional issue.” When De Thuin was put out of business, the English language sighed in relief.
De Thuin was never a menace to philately. His work was so crude that it was known long before he was (unlike Sperati who was only exposed when he was sued in court for claiming that a stamp that had received a certificate of genuineness was a forgery and one of his creations. Sperati won the case when he produced in court more copies of the”genuine” stamp in question along with the plate he had made). And de Thuin only existed as long as he did because he largely forged stamps that very few collectors cared about. Scarcer nineteenth and twentieth century overprints on Latin American stamps have never been popular; so not only was De Thuin’s work crude, it was for stamps that make little difference to most collectors. The reason De Thuin has received as much press as he has was the American Philatelic Society had felt a bit left out when the Swiss Federation had put Fournier out of business and when the Royal Philatelic Society had bought our Sperati. So the ASPS went to Yucatan in Mexico, where De Thuin lived, and squelched a minor nuisance. A large book was published (1974) and with a great deal of fanfare. The APS was very self congratulatory about how it handled the De Thuin Affair, as they called it. But in the history of our hobby, De Thuin was an unimportant scandal, and little is heard of him today.


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