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Thursday 21 October 2010

British Society of Russian Philately

I am down to present a display at the annual meeting of the British Society of Russian Phlately in London on 23 - 24 October.

It's a display largely made up of material you would find in dealers' boxes rather than in serious auctions: 1917 - 1919 Russian covers and cards franked with Imperial Arms stamps in the IMPERFORATE versions issued by the Provisional (Kerensky) government in 1917 and later by the Soviets.

I am looking only at the period in which these stamps are used at face value. Some of them, like the 4 kopeck, are more common used at the later period (1920 - 22)when they were revalued into roubles.

Most of the exhibit comes from other dealers' boxes, a few have been pulled from large auction lots of mixed covers and cards, and just one item was bought as a single lot in an auction - a cover which shows imperforate stamps locally perforated. I got this from Cherrystone.

Anyone reading this with stuff to sell in this category, then I am interested :) The exhibit is only the beginning of what I hope will be a larger project.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

How (Some) Modern Forgers Work

There are different kinds of forgers.

There used to be things called "Packet Maker Forgeries" which, as the name suggests, were forgeries (often of basic stamps, not just overprints)designed to fill sixpenny packets in Woolworths. Sometimes these forgeries were printed in very large quantities and the quality could be really very good. Such forgeries are normally encountered as single stamps, since sheets were separated for the packets. Occasionally, one comes across packet makers' remainders which allow one to see, for example, how sheet format is sometimes wrong.

I doubt many forgeries of this kind are now produced, since the packet market hardly exists any more and there are plenty of stamps otherwise available to fill packets.

Then there are bespoke forgers, who make forgeries to serve specific markets. The advent of the Internet has made it easier for such forgers to target very specific markets and even single individuals. They can respond swiftly to changing demand.

There are plenty of well-off but gullible collectors, sometimes elderly, and I have seen whole collections put together from "made to order" fakes, bought on ebay or offered directly on scans attached to personal emails.

This does little harm (except to the collector's bank balance) until such forgeries are presented in serious collector journals as new discoveries or find their way into catalogues. It is especially easy to be fooled when the material is from an exotic or under-researched collecting area. So in recent years I have seen articles, profusely illustrated with fakes, announcing new discoveries of Armenian revenues, Zemstvo usages, and Ukrainian overprints. And I can think of one catalogue whose well-intentioned editor had fakes or fantasy issues slipped past him and given catalogue status.

If it is happening in the areas with which I am reasonably familiar, it is presumably happening in many other areas. It just adds to the work serious collectors and dealers have to undertake.

The work is generally not that difficult; I call it "elementary forensics". You start by looking at the stuff, comparing it to other material you have, setting it in context (dates, places), assessing it for probability. You don't need microscopes or carbon dating equipment. A pair of spectacles is much more useful. When it comes to covers or documents, you jeed to ask the question: how could a basic item worth X dollars get transformed into one worth X + Y dollars for a lot less than the difference between X and Y.

I will give one example. Postcard markets are full of picture postcards which at some point have had the adhesive peeled off. Collectors sometimes stick an adhesive back on - but that's easy enough to spot UNLESS a larger adhesive is chosen and you tinker around with the cancellation (or entirely refresh it). Of course, you are then making a fake.

In Russian philately, old postacrds which once had ordinary 3 kopeck stamps on them now come with larger 3 kopeck Romanov stamps in their place - or even Zemstvo stamps. It's amazing what this permits, especially if the forger is knowledgeable enough to find a card with a roughly appropriate date and address. It's so convincing that you can fill pages of collector journals with such stuff.