The Truth about the Stamps of the Somali Coast with Inverted Centers

From being very rare, the Somali Coast stamps with inverted centers have become common, and let us see who will throw a stone at them; since the law has busied itself with these stamps no one wishes to see or possess them! Their too-rapid appearance was the despair of collectors and certain among them talked of giving up collecting! In truth there has been much talk about these stamps, everybody has seen thousands of them and, finally, no one has them.

I think that it is right to inform amateurs what has been done and what these stamps are.

The postage stamps of the French Colonies are sold in Paris, at the Agency of the Colonies, 6 rue du Mont-Thabor. There a commission is charged with receiving them, verifying them and destroying the defective ones and the errors. Now, from the establishment of the Agency until 1904, this commission amounted to nothing; the stamps often reached them at two o’clock and the commission closed its session above five o’clock. It is easily understood that all errors would escape their scrutiny, as they could not verify 60,000 sheets in three hours.

It is thus that the following errors have appeared:

0.75 Indo China, inverted center

0.01 Martinique, name in blue

0.02 Congo, red, etc.

The dealers who obtained their supplies at the rue du Mont-Thabor did not hesitate to ask M. Evrard, an employee, if he did not find errors. He set himself to look for them and gave them out freely; I will point out these:

0.05 Djibouti, green and yellow-green, inverted center

1fr Congo, inverted center

0.01 Congo inverted center

But M. Evrard at that time received practically nothing for his trouble; he quickly ascertained that the said stamps were sold for 20 francs, indeed for 200 francs, apiece and, instead of giving up the errors he put them aside and kept them.

In May 1903, M. Evrard proposed to me to sell me these inverted centers; he showed me what he had found up to that time:

1 sheet of 100 stamps of 0.04

2 sheets of 100 stamps of 0.20

15 sheets of 100 stamps of 0.25

3 sheets of 100 of 0.30

He asked me for my estimate and I replied to him that I estimated the lot to be worth something like ten thousand francs. Upon his proposition that I should take them at that price I agreed, then I sold them, sometime after, to M. Dorsan Astruc.

But in proportion as the new deliveries were made at the rue du Mont-Thabor, M. Evrard found new errors and below is the exact list of all the values which came from the rue du Mont-Thabor:

 Colored CenterBlack Center
0.01100 examples
0.04100 examples
0.30300 (1st printing)

All stamps really purchased at the rue du Mont-Thabor as proved by the receipts presented by M. Evrard. (Since 1904 we see no more errors coming from the rue du Mont-Thabor. This is because the active members of the commission on verification are taking their duties seriously, throwing out all errors from the deliveries as made to them and carefully destroying them.)

In 1904 we have seen inverted centers of the Somali Coast come from everywhere. Where do they come from? An inquiry has actually been started. M. Le Poitevin being entrusted with the investigation.

An order of arrest is issued against the principal culprit; a workingman is already locked up! Because, if these stamps do not come from a theft, properly speaking, they come from a clandestine printing executed at night in the workrooms of the printer, which should be called a theft.

The values printed are the following:

With colored center 0.04; 0.40; 0.50; 1fr; 2fr and 5fr

With black center 0.40; 0.50; 2fr and 5fr

And more than all this, the following freaks have appeared:

1st. The frame of the 0.25 blue with the central mosque in blue

2nd. The 0.40 with black ground having the central design of a camel turned to the right instead of to the left.

I shall not take upon myself the role of the investigating judge; I sincerely hope that these elusive and clandestine impressions, which equally concern certain values with proper centers, certain values of Madagascar and Congo, all good for postage, I sincerely hope, I say, that this way of doing things will cease. The collectors are not the only ones who suffer by it, but, what is worse, the budgets of our Colonies also.

But I wish to show collectors that there is a difference between these clandestinely printed stamps and the stamps coming from Evrard.

In the first place the values are not the same, excepting the 0.40 and 0.50.

Then the colors of these two stamps are not the same, notably the rose, which is too bright, almost always the color of the frame runs and the paper is tinted by it.

Finally the paper of the clandestinely printed stamps is very much thicker, which is easily recognized by the touch, but it becomes evident when one separates two stamps. The Evrard stamps come apart evenly like all stamps coming from the Colonial Agency; the stolen stamps are upon a paper which is almost cardboard.

I will add that the paper of the two printings comes from the same house, Blanchet & Kléber, and bears the same marks. The persons who have executed these clandestine printings have, indeed, bought the paper from the same house, but they did not take it of the same weight.

To sum up, and I am not alone in my opinion, the Evrard stamps are good, recognized as having come from the rue du Mont-Thabor by the judge charged with the investigation; they are worthy, according to this decision, of figuring the catalogues and certain varieties are very rare.

The stolen stamps are not worth much, and, a capital thing, it is extremely easy to distinguish the two printings; one is a stamp, the other is comparable to the fraudulently perforated essays upon cardboard.

Dr.H. Voison

* * *

So this is the truth? Well, there is an old adage that “murder will out” and its terse probity is certainly well illustrated in this case!

To start with we are shown a commission, who were appointed for the express purpose of doing certain things, whose members are, or have been, so lax in performing the special duties entrusted to them that one of the principal causes of its creation has been completely nullified and rendered inoperative, for, as Dr. Voisin says, it would be a physical impossibility for them to count, let alone examine, twenty thousand sheets of stamps an hour, for this would mean an average of a little over five and one-half sheets per second.

We are not told whether the errors which are said to be due to this criminal carelessness made their appearance from the various colonies for which the stamps were printed or directly from the Colonial Agency in Paris, but we are strongly inclined to the belief that the errors in question never saw the colonies whose names they bear. The pernicious habit of selling any and all colonial stamps in Paris has many sins to answer for and, though we freely admit that these stamps would have been perfectly good for postage had they ever reached the colonies wherein they were valid, we greatly doubt that they ever were used in that way, although, so far as these three cases are concerned, there is, at least, a possibility that some of them may have reached the colonies in question.
We now come to the statement that “dealers who obtained their supplies at the rue du Mont-Thabor did not hesitate to ask M. Evrard, an employee, if he did not find errors,” etc. What, may we ask, is the name which Frenchmen would apply to transactions of this kind? Here in the United States the most lenient term which would be used would be bribery on the part of the dealers in question, and malfeasance in office on the part of M. Evrard. The fact that the latter gentleman found out early in the game that he was not receiving his full share of the profits accruing from the sale of his stolen goods is of no consequence in considering the ethics of the case.

He was a government official whose special duty it was, after duly verifying the account of the number of sheets of stamp delivered to the Agency, to destroy all spoiled sheets and all errors of whatsoever kind. Instead of doing this he carefully laid aside all errors which he found and sold them at enhanced prices for his individual account.

The ingenuousness of Dr. Voisin’s description of his own part in the disposition of the twenty-one sheets with inverted centers is so apparent as to make its truth unquestionable. M. Evrard, having become tired of acting as the cat’s paw for the more avaricious dealers who first approached him, simply reversed things, himself played the part of the monkey and induced the worthy doctor to become the cat whose paws were to pull the chestnuts (francs, in this case) from the fire for his delectation.

Finally we are given a list of 6,624 of these stamps with inverted centers which came from the Colonial Agency but the doctor is silent as whether or not he was the accomplice in marketing the extra 4,524 stamps over and above the twenty-one sheets already spoken of. It is, however, plain that none of these 6,624 stamps ever reached the Somali Coast; therefore the case is of a very similar nature to that of our own four-cent value of the series of 1901, which stamp has already been expunged from our catalogue upon the ground that, although it was a bona-fide error, it never was on sale at any post office.

Now, our conspirators are suddenly startled out of their tranquil dreams of ever-increasing wealth and worldly prosperity by the appearance upon the market of a flood of these self-same errors for which they cannot account. Prices fall rapidly; their castles in Spain totter upon their foundations; something must be done. Then an official investigation is instituted, whether at the instance of the conspirators themselves or through the fact of so many errors (?) being upon the market reaching the ears of the officials we know not, but, at all, events, the results are attained, for, we are told, “Since 1904 we see no more errors coming from the rue du Mont-Thabor,” and that the commissioners “are taking their duties seriously, throwing out all errors from the deliveries as made to them and carefully destroying them.” Thus is the source of supply closed to the arch conspirator, M. Evrard.

We are then told that “an order of arrest is issued against the principal culprit;” we are left in ignorance as to the name of this unfortunate individual but, if justice has been done, we think that we might safely hazard a guess that his name began with the fifth letter of the alphabet. “A working man has been locked up!” Yes, probably upon the principle of Justice which says that a man who steals a loaf of bread for his starving family is a thief while the “man higher up” who robs the government or some large institution of hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars is an exponent of high financiering – a smart, able man. But, of course, something had to be done and someone must be made the scapegoat!

We must confess to being unable to understand certain fine distinctions which are drawn by the worthy doctor. For instance, if the “secret printing executed at night in the workrooms of the printer” is theft, and we do not dispute this point for a moment, what shall we call the method employed by Mr. Evrard in obtaining his stock of the same stamps?

It is doubtless true that the secret printings can be easily recognized from those emanating from the Colonial Agency, but we cannot see how this fact improves the standing of the latter class. Neither were ever really issued for use and if the Colonial budgets suffered by reason of the secret printings they were most certainly not swollen to plethoric proportions by the stolen, but regularly printed, stamps.

It is not until we reach the final paragraph of the doctor’s “True story” that the real reason for its being is brought to light. In speaking of the Colonial Agency stamps, he says: “the Evrard stamps are good, recognized as having come from the rue du Mont-Thabor by the judge charged with the investigation, they are worthy, according to this decision, of figuring in the catalogues and certain varieties are very rare. The stolen stamps are not worth much.”

Interesting and ingenious logic, is it not? My stamps, although stolen and never issued are good! The other fellow’s, stolen also, are no good. In other words: the fact that I bought stamps, knowing them to be stolen and that they never were issued, is not reason why I should not be protected and allowed to reap my expected profits from them, because they were stolen by an official. But the poor workman, who adopted what was probably the only way in which he could follow the official’s lead, is to be imprisoned and not allowed to realize upon his stamps.

So far as any opinion rendered by the investigating judge is concerned, we fail to see how it can in any way affect the status of the stamps in question. Of course he recognized that the stamps came from the Colonial Agency; if he had before him one-half the evidence that is presented in the paper under consideration, he could do nothing else. That, however, is not the question; we freely admit that fact to be true. The real point at issue so far as philatelists are concerned, is: Were these stamps ever regularly issued through the post offices of the Colony? To this we answer most emphatically: No.

This fact having been fully established there remains but one course for cataloguers to pursue, and that is to completely ignore their existence. – G.L.T.

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