If you have studied philately in any detail, you will know that various nefarious individuals over the years have attempted to fake stamps. Many of these fakes are for rare and valuable genuine items.
Varro Tyler was a famous philatelist. He was very interested in forgeries and studied them profusely. He wrote a 1976 book, “Philatelic Forgers: Their Lives and Works”, which documented many individuals who faked US and other worldwide stamps. I have this book in my philatelic library. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t. There are names in there that will surprise you!
In the US, Raoul Ch. de Thuin and Jean de Sperati are perhaps two of the most gifted and most dangerous forgers of all time. Their forgeries are very dangerous and often times very difficult to detect. They were masters of their craft, engraving. Both of these forgers mainly operated in the first half of the 1900s.
My question is: Could someone like de Thuin or Sperati operate today and pull off these same kinds of forgeries? My answer is, no. Why?
Stamps have been studied inside and out for the last 165 years since the first postage stamp (the Penny Black) was issued by Great Britain in 1840. Philatelists have learned a lot of information about stamps and stamp production.
Technologies have advanced too. When expertizing committees such as the Philatelic Foundation were examining stamps, say, in the 1940s, they had very limited tools. Mostly it was powerful magnifiers, watermark fluid, and a few other tools. However, the tools were very elementary by today’s standards. Early certificates of authenticity were based a lot on one thing: the opinions of the philatelists expertizing the submitted item. While I believe they did the best they could at the time, mistakes were made too. Sometimes a forgery could slip through as genuine. Tools help expertizers in their evaluation. But in the end, it was the expertizers combined opinions that weighed the most in determining whether something was genuine or not.
Fast forward to today. Things are infinitely more sophisticated. We have electron microscopes and other tools at our disposal. Many of these tools cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. However, when you’re expertizing very valuable stamps, the cost can pay for itself over time. Today, we can almost split atoms in looking at a stamp to determine if it’s genuine or not.
Many of the most valuable stamps are issues from 1900 or before. Try and find paper today that looks like it came from 1862. When de Thuin and Sperati were plying their craft, yes, it was possible to find paper that looked authentic to the issue. It would be much more difficult today to find paper with the same characteristics that were used to print stamps over 100 years ago.
The forgers of yesteryear had an easier time. Many times they were successful. Sometimes they were not.
I am not suggesting that such forgeries cannot be produced today. I am saying that the amount of effort needed to create convincing forgeries today is far greater than the effort needed in the past. It would be difficult for someone today to master the art of engraving and pull off some of the things earlier forgers did.
Today’s forgeries are mostly made by altering otherwise genuine stamps. Take a sheet stamp and trim off some perforations to make it appear to be a rare coil. Take an imperforate stamp and add perforations to it. Certain kinds of ink and certain colors are easier to remove, creating what appears to be a missing color error.
Forgers like de Thuin and Sperati would find themselves in the unemployment line if they were alive today. Or they would have to find some other talent of trickery.