History of Expertizing and Catalog Listings- Calvet Hahn

Nov 1 , 1999

    New Technology

With a satisfactory rate explanation in hand, it is necessary to address Ashbrook’s second point regarding possible stamp substitution by someone like Zareski.  Historically, fakers have used damaged or cleaned stamps as substitutions because they were cheaper.  However, at least one sophisticated faker operating in the 1970s was using four margin very fine stamps as source material.  Covers now bearing off cover stamps from collections such as Caspary have been observed in the market place.

Ultraviolet testing—One of the early scientific techniques adapted to detect stamp alterations is the UV lamp.  The carbon used in early black inks and mineral pigments used in early cancels may not fluoresce but the organic inks of later years often does.  Most stamp gums also fluoresce so that under UV one can see where it was applied, or smeared.  A number of repairing materials also show identifiable characteristics under UV.  Even different ink components of non-organic inks may show differences under U.S.  An example is the chrome orange found in late printings of the 5¢ 1847 issue which shows characteristics not seen in the earlier printing.

Mr. Boggs’ detailed examination of the Armitage cover under UV makes it unlikely a damaged stamp substitution was made.  However, at least one sophisticated European faker has done repair work under UV so that all that shows is a general graying of the area worked upon.  As this condition is also found on some genuine items, it is only a cautionary sign.  Fakers have also begun to make photographic cancels, photographing the items on genuine covers and bleaching out the stamp to make up photographically applied handstamps.  The late John A. Fox used this technique extensively in his forgeries.  Experts use several techniques  to detect such products.

Photocopy machines—With the introduction of photocopy machines, fakers began to use them to add markings to both stamps and covers.  One of the first six color copiers in the U.S. was misused to add fake plate numbers to the margins of stamps.  Due to the technology by which photocopiers apply inks it is possible to detect such fakery.

In the case of the Armitage cover, the use of photocopy transparencies of the killers makes it possible to overlay them and directly compare one killer to another to see if they match in the minute breaks and ink clogging that are natural when both markings are struck about the same time by the same instrument.  When this was done, it was clear that the identical circular red grid was used to kill both the 30 and 90¢ stamps and probably the 12¢ as well.  As this last strike was less bold, there were fewer distinct lines to check.  From a postal history viewpoint, the killer comparison by transparency photocopies confirmed the authenticity of the stamps on the Armitage cover.

Spectrograph or X-ray Fluorescence—In the present atomic era, spectography has been proposed as an expensive but potentially definitive means of confirming identical inks in stamps or cancels.  When a forger paints in a cancel or uses different ink from the original it should show up just as much as the use of a different printing ink.  Spectography is a non-destructive test that takes the amount of reflective x-ray fluorescence and graphs it against time.  It works for metal elements such as lead, chromium, zinc, mercury, strontium, zirconium, etc.  Each shows different peaks on such a graph.  As oxygen, carbon and sulphur don’t show, the particular chemical compound used may not be identifiable, e.g. white lead filler.

Two other problems with spectography are that only a minute portion of the stamp or cancel is normally checked and the paper below it can affect that.  The amount and character of the metals on that tiny section is all that can be known.  Further, there have been no standards established for accepted philatelic colors against which a given result can be measured.  To set up a standard base would require extensive, and expensive, spectography of many similar or identical stamps to establish a color baseline.

The Armitage cover underwent several spectrographic examinations with inconclusive results.  For example, when one of the stamps was removed and washed, there was a shift in the iron component as the result of removal of soiling that happened to contain the iron.  It is also possible to add a mineral element in soaking stamps and that may affect the results significantly.

In the latest spectrographic analysis it was concluded that the 90 and 12¢ were both struck with the same cancel ink, which was a mercuric sulfide (vermilion) based ink and the 30¢ was killed by a lead oxide or lead carbonate (red lead) based ink.  This directly contradicts the overlays, which show the 90 and 30¢ stamps were struck with the same killer while a definitive determination was unable to be made on the 12¢.  This also leaves a rate problem for $1.02 does not fit any rate, whereas there is at least some logic behind the $1.32 rate (four times the 33¢ Southampton rate).

At present, it would seem best to conclude spectrographic analysis is not generally useful as a philatelic expertizing tool due both to its expense and the limitations of the method.

At the September 10, 1983 meeting of the New York Chapter, collector/dealer Robert G. Kaufmann presented a program entitled ‘Covers and Usages to Russia, 1851 to 1900”.  Some 18 different treaty rates were in effect during the period 1848 to 1875, and Mr. Kaufmann exhibited and discussed many representative covers.

At the October 18, 1983 meeting of the new York Chapter, Mr. Frank Mandel presented a program entitled “Unusual and Fancy U.S. Handstamped Rate Markings 1790 to 1870.!  Although the program was meant to be aesthetic rather than scholarly, there was much to be learned a out these markings.

At the May 17, 1983 meeting of the New York Chapter, Mr. Harvey R. Warm presented a program entitled ‘Louisiana Postal History 1787-1876”.  Mr. Warm exhibited stamped and stampless covers; foreign mail, express, occupation, and fumigated covers; and territorial, confederate, and independent statehood covers from his award-winning collection.  A well-known collector/dealer, Mr. Warm carried off the grand award and three special awards at WESTPEX ’83, and he is eligible for the annual World Series of Philately competition at STAMPSHOW ’83.

At the June 21, 1983 meeting of the new York Chapter, Mr. William J. Duffney resented a program entitled “West Meriden, CT, ‘Devil & Pitchfork’ fancy Cancellations.”  Mr. Duffney’s program was divided into two parts: a history of the West Meriden post office; and a closer look at the ‘hauntingly elusive’ fancy cancellation.

For those Route Agents who did not attend—and as a ‘leave behind’ for those who did—attached are photocopies of some on cover examples of the ‘Devil & Pitchfork’ fancy cancellation.

For an entertaining history of the West Meriden postoffice, you are referred to Mr. Duffney’s article “The Pugnacious Postmaster’ in The American Philatelist, August 1982.  Coincidentally, another study of the ‘Devil & Pitchfork’ cancellation has recently appeared.  I refer to Mr. Russell H. Hill’s article, “One Postmaster, Three Fancy Cancels,’ in The American philatelist, June 1983.