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Stamp forgeries were very popular pre-WW1, especially to fill in ugly album gaps with stamps that would otherwise be unaffordable to many collectors. The problem arises when unscrupulous dealers and collectors passed on the forgeries as real specimens, especially as with some stamps and some forgeries, it could/can be very hard to tell the difference.
Many classical forgers, however, became very famous for their 'art' work and are today chosen to be collected by many on their own right. Some facsimiles are actually sold for more than a couple of bucks, and used now not to complete the regular albums, but special ones, to contain the special collections made by famous counterfeiters.
A François Fournier forgery of Brazilian 1850s issues. On the left, the visible difference of paper and printing between the real and the fake stamp. On the right, the real issues are above their very obvious replicas - rounder, lighter and dotted background. The issues (RHM nos. 14 and 15/ Scott nos.24 and 25) are very common, especially when cancelled.
After having 'invested' on some fake stamps on my own, to be collected on their own right (and satisfy my curiosity, while also studying them a bit), I have here listed some details on the world's most famous philatelic counterfeiters. Some are quite popular names, and some of you who have more information of their work, please share and allow me to add to this post!
The Swiss-born stamp forger François Fournier (1946-1917) is known to many philatelists. Differently from other common forgers, he never intended to deceive collectors, but rather to offer copies of famous stamps that could otherwise not be afforded by many collectors. He saw his Geneva-based facsimile business as art.
He maintained a stable relationship with the philatelic community until many dealers and collectors started selling Fournier forgeries as the real deal. His 'Philatelic Clinic' (where stamps were repaired or modified) also became a motive for suspicion.
Apart from the criticism, Fournier still refused to add an imprint on his work to identify it as 'facsimile', enabling fraud.
After his death and a failed attempt of an employee to continue the business, the stock and materials were sold to the Geneva Philatelic Union - who then donated the materials to the city's history museum and organized and sold the stock in Fournier albums (of course, after overprinting them with "faux” ) . Both pictures in this post are from his collection.
Other famous forgers are also worth mentioning, such as Jean de Sperati (1884-1957). Although also convinced he was an artist who merely helped collectors unable to afford the real stamps, he was charged with fraud in 1948 in France, when an export of his items to a Portuguese dealer was intercepted. He never served his jail sentence due to his age, but later sold his stock to the British Philatelic Association. He was one of the best counterfeiters of the time, having copied famous stamps to near perfection, and his work still goes unnoticed in many collectors' albums.
His forgeries are still today collected and quite valuable.
Philip Spiro, who had his business in Germany, is also worth mentioning. Again, it us believe these forgeries were not meant to deceive collectors, although none contained imprints indicating otherwise.
The Italian Erasmo Oneglia (1853-1934) is known for his engraved forgeries and believed to have worked with other forgers of his time, such as Angelo Paneli (1887-1967), which makes it hard today to establish with certainty who was behind certain forgeries. Oneglia is known for his engraved and photo-lithographed forgeries.
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