Notes from the Past

Counterfeiting in Olden Days

Dealers and collectors examining old collections offered for sale have often had the experience of finding forgeries and upon pointing them out, being informed that this was impossible since the collection was put together many, many years ago and therefore the stamps "must be genuine."  Nevertheless, counterfeiting of stamps grew up with philately and started just as soon as the "craze for saving stamps" expanded and a market developed for the scarcer issues.

Here is an old publication, The Stamp Collectors' Review and Monthly Advertiser (Liverpool), covering a period from 1862 to 1864.  Throughout its columns are many articles such as, "Forged Stamps:  How to Detect Them."  Another article says in part, "It is seldom that so many forgeries have passed through our hands as during this last month; the stamp market is literally flooded with them -- from Hamburg they come, from Basle, from Brussels, from everywhere."  A writer discussing, "Postage Stamp Collecting," comes to a chapter, "Its Abuse," and speaks of "forging, the great stumbling block to the votaries of stamp collecting."

In August, 1863, Edward Pemberton, an early philatelic authority, is describing counterfeits of the postmasters' provisionals and the general issues of the Confederate States, from which it is evident these stamps were forged almost as fast as they were issued!  A little later he is detailing forgeries of the Wells Fargo Pony Express stamps of 1861, which he says are being sold at about 9d each, all values, unused.  A book on forgeries, by J. B. Moens, pioneer Brussels dealer, is reviewed and we learn that the use of acid to clean stamps or to convert them into pseudo errors of color was already an established practice of the fakers.  Definitely the age of an old collection is no guarantee as to the genuineness of its contents.

- George B. Sloane
Sloane's Column
June 28, 1952

  Posted December 13, 1999  

Index of 507 Notes from the Past

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