Collectors and dealers often complain about the shortage of Experts in their specialist fields. I was reminded of the problem when I got my latest copy of Trident-Visnyk
which devotes two pages to Experts profiled by the journal Fakes Forgeries Experts
over the last dozen years.
Of the five Experts listed, two are dead (Andrew Cronin, Otto Hornung). One is retired - Zbigniew Mikulski has wisely decided to retire with an outstanding reputation for his expertise rather than continue to an age at which he might make mistakes. That leaves two, one of whom acknowledged receipt of some stamps I sent him a couple of years ago and then went silent. That leaves Dr Paul Buchsbayew who is going to be very busy ...
Lots of people have expertise which allows them to evaluate material in their specialist fields - and with a high degree of reliability. But an Expert is someone who claims to be able to evaluate with a very high degree of reliability, such that his or her written Opinions are a good enough guarantee for a buyer who does not know the seller - for example, when the seller is hidden behind an auction catalogue.
How does an Expert know and how does anyone else know that the Expert knows? (That begins to sound like Donald Rumsfeld). Because sometimes Experts don't know but have set themselves up merely to take the money and do as they are asked - sign this! They can continue doing this until people begin to realise that their expensive Opinions are of no more value - and possibly less - than the results of the toss of a coin.
To assess would-be Experts, Germany's BPP (Union of Philatelic Expertisers), asks candidate Experts some very obvious questions, for example, Can we see your collection?
The BPP wants to see stamps and cancellations and it wants to see completeness. This more or less rules out anyone from becoming a BPP Expert for "Russia". No one will have that big a collection. But someone could probably do "Mint stamps of Russia" and under that heading be able to cope with outright forgeries, re-gumming, altered perforations, chemically created shades and so on.
Cancellations pose a big problem - unless you pick a short period and a small area (like Armenia 1917 - 23) there are just too many for anyone to be able to acquire all of them. And yet many forgeries are made by using forged cancellations, either because the used stamp is scarcer than the mint or because it is more valuable on cover.
Common sense and their specialist knowledge allows many collectors and dealers to assess cancellations they haven't seen before. For example, Russian cancellations at any one historical period vary very little in terms of the inks
used. Yes, there are black and violet and red - but they are all very similar blacks, violets and reds even in geographically widely separated places. So if you see a cancellation which you haven't seen before AND struck with an ink you haven't seen before, then you worry.
Common sense and a magnifying glass can be supplemented with more powerful equipment which will - for example - detect digital forgeries. Today, a serious would - be Expert will have to acquire such equipment.
But while we are waiting for Experts, there is an awful lot which can be done using the Internet and sharing knowledge. That is one of the things I have been trying to do on this Blog.