The theft of the McCoy block in 1955 and it’s separation into singles for sale is a good lesson on why that will not work as easily today.
In 1955, there was no Internet. Computers were a thing in the back room of large companies. The reason someone could steal the block of #C3a and sell it is because information was very limited in 1955. Not every position on the error pane had a documented past with photographs from other auction sales. In 1955, it was easier for a thief to steal the stamps and sell them to other collectors, telling them, “Oh, this is, uh, position 55. Yeah, that’s it, position 55.” Of course, they had to sell it to collectors that were not going to submit the item for expertization. They must have presented a convincing front to the buyers that they were reputable sellers of a legitimate copy of #C3a. Or they had to find buyers who didn’t mind a “no questions asked” transaction.
It wasn’t like a buyer could easily go off to the Internet or even prior auction catalogs and look up a photograph of position 55 and say, “Uh, this copy doesn’t look like position 55 to me. Position 55 is centered to the upper left according to previous photographs and this copy is obviously centered to the lower right. This stamp cannot possibly be position 55.”
Thanks to the Internet, computers, and all of the books that have been written about Scott #C3a and other rarities, it is much more difficult for a thief to move a stolen item today.
As a dealer, I get theft alert emails from the APS and the ASDA on a regular basis. As soon as something is reported stolen, the email goes out. If the collection has any unique characteristics (such as the type of album used, rare stamps, etc.), and that collection came across my desk – I would know it instantly.
Because of past thefts such as the McCoy block in 1955 in Norfolk, VA, I would like to think that better security is in place for items of great philatelic value that are on display, whether it is alarm systems or security guards. Today, there are more deterrents to theft than ever before, but it can still happen.
Trying to sell stolen items though is harder. You have to find someone who is interested in a “no questions asked” transaction. Information moves at the speed of light. There is just too much information available to the average collector. Stealing an item in Virginia and selling it to someone in Idaho just isn’t that easy.
Unfortunately, there will always be a small group of unethical individuals that are willing to buy items like this on the black market. This is true of the stamp market, the coin market, rare wines, artwork, or any other items that have substantial value.