A Fraud to Rival the Stock Exchange Forgery

By Dr John Horsey

Fifty Shades of Orange would have been a catchy title for the definitive book on the £5 Orange but it might have implied a colourful novel laden with sex and sadomasochism. While it does contain many sexy items such as elusive essays, proofs, trials and other gorgeous rarities, the closest it came to masochism was the painstaking analysis of over 5,500 £5 Oranges.  Instead, the book is simply entitled “The £5 Orange” but nevertheless has many exciting revelations like the massive fraud outlined below. It is 312 pages, profusely illustrated in full colour. While based around the £5, the techniques and principles used apply to almost any stamp of the era and are not even limited to the stamps of Great Britain.

It is the first comprehensive study of the £5 Orange, both Telegraphs and Postage, which has revealed much hitherto undiscovered knowledge and will necessitate changes to the catalogues.  For the first time a scientific, rather than subjective, test has been developed for blued paper.

Whether you already own a £5 Orange, or are thinking of buying one, the book guides on what to look for. The book is available from Stanley Gibbons.

Some cancels are common: others exceptionally rare. The same applies to the various specimen overprints. Knowing how scarce a particular cancel or specimen type is, can prove very rewarding. Your stamp may be worth more than you think! The same applies to the plate varieties, some of which are better than the well-known TA and JC frame breaks of the £1 value. These are fully tabulated and illustrated, as are the sections on forgeries and Cinderella.

Fig.1 - Genuine Specimen + two with obvious fake cancels

Throughout the research upon which the book is based, there have been many surprises. Often things were not what they first seemed to be. Here is just one of the surprises in the book:-

A Massive Fraud

The £5 on blued paper overprinted specimen type 9 is relatively common. Years ago, they were cheap, especially if without gum.  In contrast, a fine used £5 on blued is worth far more and there is a temptation to convert one into the other.

Figure 1. shows a typical example of specimen type 9 alongside an effort to make one ‘fine used’ by adding a crude Glasgow cancel. The cancel is an obvious fake. The letters of GLASGOW are masking the area from which the specimen overprint has been partly erased. Greater care has been taken with the adjacent Edinburgh cancel. It is more realistic but still with a specimen overprint masked by the lettering. The ‘3’ of ‘83’ has a rounded top whereas in genuine Edinburgh cancels of the period, the top of the ‘3’ is flat.

Fig.2 - Almost Perfect Erasure of a Specimen Overprint

Some examples are outstanding as in Figure 2. Believe it or not, this cancel is over an erased specimen. The book illustrates why. The erasure is almost perfect and indeed the item has a certificate stating ‘SG133 is genuine on blued paper’.

There are many examples of cancels on specimen stamps so it was not surprising to find the group shown in Figure 3. All three have a London Chief Office registered oval dated 9th December 1899 . In each case, the cancel has been heavily inked and deliberately placed to mask the specimen. The centre example has an RPS certificate stating ‘faked cancel over specimen overprint’. At the far right is a poor example with defects but the cancel shows the same characteristic over-inking where the specimen would be.

Fig.3 - Three examples, same date London Chief Office, hiding a Specimen

Even under magnification, the letters of SPECIMEN are often difficult to see, but there is sufficient to show it is there. The third stamp shows an inset with SPECIMEN extracted from another stamp and placed just below the specimen covered by the inverted DON CHIEF of the cancel. The curves of the S are apparent in the F; the N is seen as a darker shadow in the outline arc of the cancel, as is the first E of specimen buried within the H.  With careful study, the other letters can be seen sufficiently to show that the specimen overprint is there.  The book shows a further technique to identify these disguised specimens even if heavily masked.

Fig.4 - Genuine Cancel on Genuine Stamp

Now we come to the surprise: it might be thought that someone had forged a canceller dated 9 DEC 99 and applied it to a few specimens to deceive collectors. This is not the case: the cancels are genuine!

Figure 4 shows a stamp with the same cancel but this time clearly not covering a Specimen. It is normal internal accounting usage on a genuine stamp. The cancel is light and clear. The image comparison techniques discussed in the book were used to show that all four 9 DEC 99 cancels originate from the same device. If the cancel in figure 4 is genuine, then so are the other three. The only rational explanation is that they are examples of fraudulent use.

Fig.5 - Almost certainly a Specimen

We must assume that a clerk at London Chief Office had acquired some £5 Specimen stamps, and then used them instead of new ones from his stock. He could then pocket the £5 and his till would balance. If the stamps were used for internal accounting (as most were), once the dockets they were on had served their purpose, they would have been consigned to security waste and destroyed. This meant that there was little risk of discovery. These obscured specimens are difficult enough to see today, let alone in the dim gaslight of an 1899 post office. These four stamps clearly escaped destruction, but even so, it has taken 113 years to uncover the fraud. That day the clerk made £15, the equivalent of 300 Stock Exchange 1s forgeries. It was a huge sum in those days - maybe around £3,000 today.

The extent of this fraud is provably large and may be massive. A similar example dated 1st December 1899 is shown in Figure 5. This is almost certainly a further specimen fraudulently used; the deeper shade of the letters of Postage confirms it is blued paper, which had finished 10 years earlier. It is the same canceller and its different date indicates the cancel is not forged. A forger would be satisfied with one date - there would be no need to create another device with a different date. With this evidence of £20 defrauded in just over a week, there is the potential for this fraud to eclipse the revenue lost with the Stock Exchange forgeries.

Fig.5 - Almost certainly a Specimen

All of these £5 values came onto the market from ‘liberations’ of forms and dockets intended for destruction. If these five examples survived from London Chief Office, based on average survival rates, there may have been a few hundred destroyed. The proportion of Specimens among these is a matter of speculation.  There was probably a ready supply; if any post office held Specimens, it was likely to be a section within London Chief Office. We may never know the full extent of this fraud. It might be a case for the New Tricks team? This and three further potentially massive frauds are discussed in the book.

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