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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


By:- F. Aleem Sundal

Since bogus items or those that had been tampered with had come into the philately market in the midnineteeth century, collectors had to take advice from stamp dealers or experienced philatelists, regar ding the genuineness of a highly priced stamp or cover.

In the case of foreign stamps, very few people would be available for consultation. This gave rise to some self-made “experts” who charged fee in the shape of used stamps for giving their opinions and putting their initials on the gum side of the specimen as a certificate of authenticity. Differing verdicts about the same stamp often put a collector in doubt, and good stamps had to be traded at low prices.

Philatelic bodies took the initiative in the late 1860s and took to expert sing philatelic material to safeguard the hobby. Expert committees were formed to arrive an opinion on the authenticity (or otherwise) of a philatelic item; stamps, cover or stationery, enabling collectors to have some peace of mind and satisfaction about the material they possessed. Certified items get full catalogue value if sold or exchanged.

The working of expert committees is simple. A collector submits his/her item to be certified along with a fee, which varies according to the number of queries made about gum, paper, watermark, perforation, face value, postmark, colour or condition etc. Experts themselves have specialists among them and the item is forwarded to the section concerned. They employ various techniques to scrutinize a given piece. There is a comparison with originals and the use of instruments (from a magnifier to ultra violet lamps) etc. They also have reference books and actual collections containing examples of both genuine and fake items.

Philately extended its borders over the years, so the range of expanded, including subjects pertaining to whether the stamp has been ever hinged before, or if the cover has properly server its postal purpose, or, the reason behind a missing colour etc.

Expertising is necessary not only for checking doubtful items, but also for obsolete stamps reprinted by the issuing authorities with the original printing plates. Such examples are generally produced at exhibitions, as souvenirs, or for special purposes like publications. The impression of the rarities in their actual size and colour, are incorporated in the design of commemorative stamps. A cut out from that produces a striking old rarity. Stamps with similar design printed in sheet from booklets and coil strips (for selling through vending machines) need expertising too as sheet stamps are perforated all around, while coil stamps usually have trimmed sides. Thus, sheet stamps, partially imperforated by error, give the impression of coil stamps. Moreover, if sheet stamps become scarce, the straight-edged coil stamps can be perforated manually to make these appear as sheet stamps.

When expertising is done, the item is photographed and pasted on a printed certificate. After receiving an embossed seal, one or more of the experts sign on the seal to secure the document. A photograph of the completed certificate is obtained for record. Such certificates were previously forged too, but the alignment of the seal with the signatures, seldom follows the original plan.

Occasionally, skilled forgery confuses experts. To solve the problem, a questionnaire is pre-pared and sent to other specialists, sometimes even to foreign expert committees. Thus the job becomes more complex and complicated and challenging as well. There are examples of tinkers having defeated experts in old and modern time. Speratti was a notorious European forger of postage stamps. All his self-made facsimiles of the world’s rare stamps had his initials on the back. And after many years, the expert committees declared some of those homemade specimens “genuine stamps”.