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Honesty in the Stamp World


It may be hard to face, but stamp collecting like any other area of life has its share of dishonesty.

At the most innocent level this can be seen in the collector who shows a collection to friends unfamiliar with the vagaries of stamp collecting and quotes a dollar value based on catalog value rather than that based on what it is really worth in consideration of that major price setting, condition.

At another level there is the individual who will do seemingly anything to gain that philatelic item that he must have. Popular literature and entertainment is filled with such stories, like Ellery Queen's The Mandarin Mystery, and the recent play about a rare stamp that tears a family apart, Mauritius.

In the real world, some mighty have fallen, one of the most recent being John Sununu, former New Hampshire governor and, chief of staff for George H.W. Bush, currently co-chairman of the Romney campaign. In trouble with Bush for using the government jet for private trips, figured a limo and private driver would be more economical and maybe not even noticed: so that's how he got to a rare stamp auction at Christies in New York city. It may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, as he was soon out of a job. But on the positive side he added about $5,000 in rare stamps to his collection. Never mind that you, the taxpayer might have footed the bill.

A Stamp Forgery or Not

There are stamps that in their actual form are worth less than the forgeries. Among these are French colonial issues, faked by Fournier who offered them to his clientele as a service. Over time, the outrage (if in fact there ever was any -- fakes were put in packets by the biggest stamp companies, without the collector's knowledge and perhaps little concern, for years). Among these are the Seebecks, stamps from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador and El Salvador. The enterprising Nicholas Seebeck bought an interest in a printing company, which had contracts to print stamps for various countries. But Seebeck took things a step further, printing stamps in denominations that would never be used and also stipulating that any stamps that weren't sold by the counties' postal service after a year would be returned to him. These stamps, of course found their way into collector's hands. The source? Seebeck!

One has to admire how he avoided the question of printing fakes, as he did send the stamps to the various postal administrations, although their lack of use on postage is a tip-off that something fishy was going on. Unfortunately for Seebeck the collecting community didn't admire his methods, and he was condemned from every corner of the philatelic world. As one might deduce though, actual used examples of Seebecks (as the stamps are known) are prized by collectors. Those looking for a bargain in postal history might search out postal history from the Seebeck countries, within the last decade of the 1800's.

Death By Air Mail

Robbin Hayes tried to fake airmail covers, especially the early pioneer flights, which required getting the cancels right. Of course if one wanted to do this, it would be best to go to the source -- the American Air Mail Catalog, the flagship publication of the American Airmail Society. Using illustrations from the catalog he had rubber stamps made. (Cut up pages from the catalog were found in his home when he was finally busted).

One big tip off that gave Hayes away was that he used some of the pictures as they were to make his fake rubber stamp cancels. Perhaps he forgot that many of the illustrations in the AAMS catalog are reduced in size. In any event, an airmail collector looking at a cover with a reduced size cancel would know that the item in from of him is bogus.

Hayes couldn't face the music and committed suicide when his doings were exposed. Even the most passionate stamp collector must admit that that is much too far to go for a little piece of paper.

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