In the late 1970s a fascinating series of articles written by Mr. K. Kouwenberg about the history of Stamp Collecting, appeared in the Dutch magazine Philatelie. This series has been the source of inspiration for PostBeeld owner Rob Smit to rewrite the history of stamp collecting in instalments. This is Part 29.
Apart from commercially-issued stamps, there have been many postage stamps of various designs that were not approved for official release. They are often prints from designs submitted to postal administrations for future stamp issues. From 1863 there arose a mania to collect trial stamps, or as they were then commonly called; ‘Assays’. In addition, there was a lot of interest in the stamps of private postal services, which were especially common in the USA.
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Before we begin with trickery and deceit I want to refer back to the ‘Stamp Polka’ described in The History of Stamp Collecting Part 22. Alas, up to now I have not been able to find a picture of the “Briefmarken-Polka für das Pianoforte” (The Postage Stamp Polka for the Pianoforte) sheet music front page, but I received the image below from Jan Vellekoop – the Dutch version of the Stamp Polka, published in 1864.
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Continuing the story of Giovanni (Jean) de Sperati, Italy-born master forger of postage stamps. In this second, and final, instalment we move forward to the third decade of the 20th Century.
By 1930 Jean de Sperati was earning enough to become a full-time stamp forger. He was so good that he was acting as a dealer but producing and selling copies of rare stamps to unknowing reputable dealers in Europe.
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It is an accepted fact that the more desirable and valuable collectible items become, the temptation for counterfeiting increases. And in the world of philately, the master forger was surely Jean de Sperati. Born in Pisa, Italy, in 1884, Giovanni de Sperati (later adopting the forename Jean) was part of a wealthy family thrown into poverty by the failure of their business. This forced his brothers, Massimo and Mariano, to take up a trade – one becoming a photographer, the other a stamp dealer. As a result, Giovanni developed a passion for both philately and photographic processes and techniques. As an impoverished collector of stamps, he once discovered that a particular item he had bought was a fake. In later life he claimed that his desire to avenge the selling dealer led him to create his own philatelic ‘‘works of art’, which would eventually fool stamp experts across Europe.
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I bought a fake. No, I ‘m not being ripped off, I knew that the stamps were not right, but I bought them anyway. I wanted them because I wanted to study the forgeries more closely myself. There are many different methods and types of counterfeiting. It is no exaggeration to say that the forging of stamps actually started in the same year in which they first saw the light. The purpose then was not to sell the forgeries to gullible collectors, but simply to save money on the cost of sending a letter.
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