How to be an Expert / Covers
Stamp collectors have been talking about fakes and forgeries since the first article on collecting was published in Dec.
1861. One year later an article appeared regarding the falsification of postage stamps. The virtual flood of articles has
continued since then.
According to the International Association of Philatelic Experts, the following is what constitutes a forgery and a faked
Faked stamp: genuine stamp that has been altered to increase its philatelic value whether by changing its inscribed denomination,
watermark, color, perforations, etc.
It does not matter how it was accomplished. The simplest example is the removal of the perforations to claim that the item
Faked cover: genuine cover that has been altered to increase its philatelic value whether by having postal markings altered
or removed, false marking applied, or switch of stamps. It does not matter how it was accomplished. The simplest example is
the alteration of the postal cancellation to show a later or earlier use.
Forged stamp: a fraudulent imitation of a genuine stamp, a genuine overprint, genuine surcharge, or a genuine postal obliteration.
These were produced with the intention of deceiving the collector and/or the postal authorities. The simplest example is the
reprinting by private parties of a genuine stamp.
Facsimile stamp: many are labeled as such and are often caricatures of the originals. These are usually easy to spot, and
satisfy a certain group of collectors. There are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties of these items, labeled cinderellas,
or labels, or whatever name the artist chooses to call his product.
The steps in trying to determine what makes up a faked or forged item is very basic.
Let's start with covers.
It is important to try to fix the actual date of period of use of the cover. This can be found in several ways; such as
the cancel or any other date stamps, or markings on the cover. If this fails, then check the period of usage of the stamps,
the postal rate paid, and any other markings such as postage due, etc. By knowing the rate paid, it is possible to determine
what period of time this rate was in effect.
Once you decide on the approximate date the cover was used, then the next step is to verify that the ink, markings, paper,
stamps, are consistent with the period. If a postage due fee was levied, than the type of marking for this postal usage may
prove an aid. A ball point pen inscription does not belong on a 19th century item.
Examine the address and markings to try to determine the point of origin and arrival. If only an address is used, then
it is probable the cover originated in the same state or territory where the cover was written. Of course, any contents in
the envelope will be of help.
Letters sent from one country to another usually has the nation of receipt on the cover, while a letter from one city to
another may not mention the name of the country.
In the early adhesive stamp period, many letters did not require stamps. Mail could be prepaid with combination of stamps
and cash. These pieces may be so marked by pencil, or some other marking. Mail from U.S. territorial post offices may have
been prepaid in cash since stamps were not always available.
Many stamps had special usage and limited in the type of mail that they would prepay. Various catalogs can help you determine
Carefully check if a stamp was removed or reapplied. This can be done by carefully examining the shading on the cover,
postmarks and markings. In some cases a stamp may be added to a stampless cover to increase its value.
Try to find other examples from the same post office to verify that the postmarks on the cover in question matches other
examples. Many post offices used one color of ink for the postmark and a different color for the cancellation. If both seem
to be the same color, verify that they are exactly the same color.
If the stamp on the cover being examined is tied to the cover by a postmark, verify that it has not been altered in any
If you can determine point of origin and point of receipt of the letter, then try to verify this information with the normal
methods of handling mail between those two areas in that period of postal history.
The cover may contain a mark of some sort from a forwarding agent, route agent, class of mail, steam or ship data, etc.
Check if the period of time that this marking was in effect is consistent with the other information you have learned.
It should be noted that ship usages usually started at a point that is different from where the cover entered into the
mail system. The cover may have been put on board by various means such as a friend, independent mail service, or even the
ship captain. Therefore a date on the cover, may not be the date of origin or when it left the original city, state, or country.
Many times, a letter is from a correspondent where other covers are known to exist. The handwriting, markings and return
address may help in the verification process. Auction catalogs are a good source of this comparative information.
If the letter was forwarded, returned or simply not delivered, check for any markings to verify this.
Some covers have various date markings on the front and back. Write each one out with city and date and verify that there
is a logical progression that the missive would travel.
No, its not easy, but once you start examining your covers with this in mind, you will find it gets easier and easier to
verify whether an item has been altered in any manner. It will also make you a better collector in knowing what to look for
in future potential purchases.