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::: BOSTON ENGRAVED ISSUE - Forgeries :::

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Taylor printing
Taylor 2nd printing

One of these stamps is genuine, one is a forgery. Which is which and how can you tell the difference?

In the 1860s, after stamp collecting moved from a schoolboy hobby to mature collectors with money, a furious world-wide hunt began for stamps that had disappeared from use before the hobby started. For many collectors, the old stamps were simply unavailable – too few existed and those were too pricey. Postal officials were inundated with requests for old stamps. Supplies of Hawaii’s Boston Engraved stamps (Scott Nos. 5 and 6) were exhausted in the 1850s and the post office had none left when “stamp fiends” came asking for them.

To profit on the so-called “stamp craze,” countries still in possession of the dies, plates or other printing forms ordered new printings of old stamps. The dies and plates for the Boston Engraved stamps still existed so we have the 1868 re-issues (Scott Nos. 10 and 11), printed from the original plate by Nathaniel Dearborn, the original printer. Two decades later, a surge in demand prompted a decision to order more stamps but the plates had been destroyed and the dies were defaced so we have the 1889 “Official Reproductions” of the Boston Engraved issue (Scott Nos. 10r and 11r) printed by the American Bank Note Company from plates made with a repaired 5¢ die and a new 13¢ die. See Boston Engraved Issue – Reprints and Official Reproductions.

Scarce supply and high demand made a fertile ground for makers of “reproductions” sold as imitations to collectors who wanted others to think they owned a complete set. These forgeries show up regularly in old-time collections now owned by unsuspecting collectors who sometimes think they have genuine stamps.

Enter also fraudsters who created imitations and passed them off as genuine stamps to defraud collectors. When it comes to the Boson Engraved Issue, we are fortunate that only one truly dangerous 13¢ forgery exists, shown in one of the two images above. The problem is that this forgery is common. It is often seen in old-time collections and even in current stocks of unsuspecting dealers. A dangerous lithograph forgery of the 5¢ value also exists, but is rare (see the note following the “Keys”). Apart from those forgeries the rest ought to be recognized as “funny” by all but beginners. The aim of this page is to show the keys for telling a genuine stamp from the others and to illustrate various known forgeries.


Two keys to identify a genuine 5¢ stamp from the original plate:

Pos 4 - 5

A genuine Hawaii Scott No. 5, plate position 4, issued in 1853

Engraved on thick white wove paper (No. 5), medium white wove paper (No. 10), thin white wove paper (No. 8) or thin bluish paper (No. 9).

A genuine 5¢ Boston Engraved stamp printed from the original die (Scott Nos. 5, 8, 9 and 10) must have the marks seen below. Having these marks is no guarantee of authenticity. The note beneath the “key” features of a genuine 13¢ stamp illustrates a forgery that possesses these key marks. However, the absence of these marks is a guarantee that the item is a forgery

  • Two dots must protrude down into the bottom panel from the bottom of the portrait panel, as shown below. These marks were placed in the master die to position the vertical lines that separate the bottom panel of the 13¢ stamp into three boxes.
Pos 4 - 5 B panel

A small dot must be near the left frame line of the upper right value box, about level with the middle of the vertical stroke in the “5.” This dot was placed in the master die to mark where the flag of the “1” in the 13¢ stamp would stop. Note: this mark also is missing in the 1889 official reproduction (Scott No. 10r).

Pos 8-5 OFF dot in UR 5 detail

A detail of the upper right “5” from plate position 8, showing the dot place marker alongside the left frame of the box, level with the middle of the vertical stroke on the “5.” This dot is present in every 5¢ Boston Engraved stamp printed on the original plate.

Keys to identify a genuine 13¢ stamp from the original plate:

Pos 4 - 5

A genuine Hawaii Scott No. 6, issued in 1853.

Engraved on thick, white wove paper; dark carmine red (No. 6) or medium wove paper, dull rose or salmon (No. 11).

A genuine 13¢ Boston Engraved stamp (Scott Nos 6 and 11) must have each of the following characteristics:

  • A double right frame line. The right frame line of a genuine 13¢ Boston Engraved stamp (Scott Nos. 6 or 11) must be doubled. The double lines are more defined at the bottom of the frame line (see the right end of the image below). In some positions the two lines may appear as an extra thick single line; magnification will reveal a double line on all genuine stamps.

Pos 20 - 6 R frame line

  • The two vertical lines dividing the three boxes of the bottom panel must connect with the bottom of the portrait panel. The left line makes a weak connection, but it does connect. On most reproductions and forgeries, the lines do not connect.

Pos 4 - 6 - bottom panel - close detail

Note that in genuine stamps, the vertical lines dividing the boxes of the bottom panel connect to the portrait panel.

  • The numeral “3” in the lower left value box must have a “tail” extending off the back from the intersection of the upper and lower bodies. The figure "13" in that box was entered manually on the plate due to some flaw in the die. The result is twenty unique variations in the figures "1" and "3." These variations are the key to plating the 13¢ value. See Plating the 13¢. The “tail” perhaps was left by the tool used to enter the figures. The “tail” is missing in all forgeries (but it also is missing in the 1889 “Official Reproduction,” Scott 11r).

Golden Sale, lot 211 - OFF pos 1 - 13 detail Golden Sale, lot 211 - OFF pos 2 - 13 detail Golden Sale, lot 211 - 1200 OFF pos 17 - 13 detail Golden Sale, lot 211 - 1200 OFF pos 4 - 13 detail

Above are images of the bottom left value box rom four positions of stamps from the original plate. The left image from position 1 shows a distinct tail, positions 2 and 17 in the middle have barely visible “ghost” tails, and position 4, on the right, has a particularly large and strong tail. Forgeries have no tail at all.

Note: Having the “key” marks or features of a genuine 5¢ or 13¢ Boston Engraved stamp from the original plate is no guarantee of authenticity. It remains necessary to consider how the stamp was printed, the quality of paper, the ink color and whether the stamp “plates” (see Boston Engraved Issue – Plating the 5¢ Value and Boston Engraved Issue – Plating the 13¢ Value). If a stamp does not “plate,” or was printed by lithography, or if the colors are off or the paper color or quality is wrong, it is highly suspect. Both values have dangerous forgeries.

To get your attention:

5c UK 1

This dangerous forgery has the key marks of a genuine 5¢ stamp but it isn’t real. First, it doesn’t plate to any of the 20 positions. Next, there is one solid dash on the top of the left epaulette, instead of two. There is more: the color is an odd shade of blue, not used on genuine stamps; this forgery was made by lithography, not engraving; the paper is a modern light weight bone-white paper; some lines in the king’s face are too strong. The matrix behind the king is made up of sharp lozenge shaped marks instead of the saucer shaped matrix marks in genuine stamps. The face, the lettering and numerals are surprisingly (and worryingly) accurate. Strengthen-ing lines on the borders suggest the model for this “gem” was drawn by hand with help from a computer and then photolithography was used for making the final product. The forger is unknown. This forgery is rare, fortunately.

The Dangerous Taylor 13¢ Forgery

One forgery of the 13¢ Boston Engraved Issue, made to defraud collectors, is dangerously “good.” Of the two 13¢ images shown at the top of this page, this forgery is on the right. A quick way to tell it is the cockeyed “3” in the upper right value box. The color is also a clue. Its creator was the notorious S. Allen Taylor, a member of the “Boston Gang” of stamp forgers. W.J. Eckhardt, "The Boston Forgery," Stamps, February 21, 1948, p. 319-323. To summarize Eckhardt:

In 1867 Taylor visited Holland Printing Co. and hoodwinked the engraver of the die used for printing the genuine stamp, Nathaniel Dearborn, into printing a new batch from the original plate. Dearborn offered to alter the die by 1) erasing the doubled right frame line, 2) removing the stop in the right side panel between the last “S” of “States” and the “8,” and removing the two vestiges of lines protruding into the bottom panel from the central portrait frame line. Taylor agreed, apparently believing his “error free” stamps would thus be superior to the genuine stamps. The printing went on at night for several weeks. Dearborn also agreed to print a batch of 5¢ stamps for Taylor. However, so the story goes, Dearborn overheard some members of the Boston Gang boasting about their trick and tried to seize the plate, the die and all the stamps, but Taylor got away with them – and Dearborn refused to print the 5¢ stamp.

Eckhardt gives no sources. However, other sources, including from Taylor himself, confirm the essence of the story that Taylor used trickery to get Dearborn to produce this forgery from the original die, corrected to remove Dearborn’s mistakes. In 1867, when the forgery is supposed to have been made, Dearborn was at the same location on School Street that he occupied when he made the genuine stamps and was still in possession of the original dies and plates so the tale has a ring of plausibility. For more than a century, this forgery has been attributed to Dearborn and called the “Dearborn forgery.”

The story that Taylor duped Dearborn to print more stamps using the original die doesn’t hold water. The following illustrations prove that the forgery is too unlike the genuine stamp to have been printed from the original die. Probably Dearborn had nothing to do with this forgery. It is more likely that Taylor had a die engraved by a skilled engraver who succeeded in producing a particularly dangerous fraud that is relatively common to find in collections and dealer stocks. Whether any of the story Eckhardt recounted is to be believed is doubtful. Certainly, Eckhardt’s description of how the 5¢ die was made by altering the 13¢ die is fanciful. A hardened steel die could not be altered. Rather, for making the original stamps a master die with the central panel was used to produce separate 5¢ and 13¢ dies. Giffard, W.M., “Notes on the Early Issues of Hawaii,” Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal, Nov. 30, 1895, p. 76.

Taylor made a second printing after adding a period in the right side panel between the last “S” of “STATES” and the “8.” What size plate he made is unknown, but some examples show “guide marks” in the selvage, suggesting there were multiple positions; or guide marks were made to embellish the illusion of authenticity. He also created a lithograph version, so a stone of at least one subject was laid down.

Taylor added a fake Honolulu postmark to some of his forgeries. The fake postmark is a fairly well executed imitation of a recognizable Honolulu postmark (either MH#243.03 or MH#242.03; see Honolulu Foreign Mail Postmarks to 1886). However, Taylor used black ink instead of the red ink always used at Honolulu during the period of time when the genuine Scott No. 6 was in use.

Taylor 1st printing
Taylor 2nd printing
Taylor 13c litho cropped
Taylor 2nd printing bogus cancel

First printing, no period between the last “S” of “STATES” and the “8.”

Engraved on medium thick, yellowish-white wove paper; dark vermilion red

Second printing, the period is added.

Engraved on very thick, hard, yellowish toned white wove paper; bright vermilion, bright orange-vermilion

Taylor lithograph from the second die

Lithographed on medium white wove paper

Fake postmark

Taylor 2nd printing brown

Taylor’s reddish-brown forgery, 2nd printing.

Taylor 13c litho OFF

A “die proof” of Taylor’s forgery, 2nd printing.

Distinguishing the Taylor 13¢ forgery from a genuine stamp.

The right frame line is a single line. Also, there are obvious differences inside the right side panel, as seen in the next two images. The genuine stamp has a dot between “States” and “8.” Taylor omitted the dot (but added it for the second printing). The lettering of “United States” shows many differences: the shapes of the “s” in “States” are different, the “D” is different and so on; no letter or figure is the same on close inspection. The single frame line is easy to spot when you know it is supposed to be doubled.

Pos 20 - 6 R frame line
Taylor R frame line

Above, the genuine stamp with the doubled right frame line is on top and Taylor’s single lined frame line is below.

The genuine right side panel is on top and Taylor’s right side panel (2nd printing) is beneath it in the images below.

left side panel
Taylor 2nd printing right panel

The central portrait panel has numerous differences:

OFF-1 central panel
Taylor 13c bust and top panel

Central panel design; the genuine stamp is at left, a Taylor forgery at right. Taylor’s face bears a smirk instead of the unsmiling mouth of the genuine; the face is fuller in the forgery and the eyes seem more focused. The letters of “POSTAGE” are different, particularly the “O,” “S” and “A.” Taylor’s impression is fuzzier.

Among the differences, the lines of dots in the matrix to the left of the king’s head bend to drop vertically as they pass the head. In Taylor’s matrix, the dots are set in straight, unbending, diagonal lines.

The upper right value box – the tilted “3” is easy to spot:

UR 13 Taylor 1st printing UR 13l detail 11r UR 13

The three images above show the upper right value box. The left image is from the genuine stamp (Scott No. 6). The middle image is the Taylor forgery with a cock-eyed “3.” The right image is from the 1889 “official reproduction” (Scott No. 11r), also with a cock-eyed “3” (but less angled than Taylor’s “3”). Any 13¢ with a cock-eyed “3” in the upper right value box was not printed from the original plate. Lest one jump to the conclusion that Taylor had access to the reproduction die, his forgeries reportedly were done in 1867, two decades before the reproduction was made – plus there are many differences between Taylor’s forgery and the “official reproduction.” For example, the “official reproduction” has the doubled right frame line.

The lower left value box – the missing “tail”:

In the lower left box, the tell-tale "tail" is missing in Taylor’s forgery and the figures "1" and "3" are uniform in his forgeries whereas in the originals there are twenty varieties, each one belonging to a specific plate position. Taylor’s forgery fails to replicate any of the genuine “13s” found in the genuine. The “Official Imitation” (Scott No. 11r) also lacks the “tail” on the “3,” so be careful not to toss a genuine 11r into the forgery pile. In the images below, the left image is from the original die, the middle image is the Taylor forgery and the right image is the “Official Imitation.” Note that the “tail” looks different for each plate position in the genuine stamp (see the “Keys,” above)

Golden Sale, lot 211 - pos 4 - 13 detail
Taylor 2nd printing LL 13
11r - LL 13

These three images are the lower left “13.” From left to right, they are 1) the genuine stamp, 2) Taylor’s forgery and 3) the “official imitation.” Only the stamp from the original plate has a “tail” on the “3.”

The unconnected vertical lines:

The genuine stamp is on top in the images below, Taylor’s forgery is on the bottom. In the genuine stamp, the vertical lines separating the boxes of the bottom panel touch the frame line running across the bottom of the portrait. Taylor didn’t connect either line. Note also that Taylor omitted a period after “Cts."

Pos 2 - 6 - bottom panel
Taylor 1st printing bottom panel detail

Given the numerous differences between genuine stamps and the Taylor forgeries, we can be certain that Taylor’s forgeries were made from a different die. In that light, Taylor’s entire story, as recounted by Eckhardt, collapses. It is inconceivable that Dearborn created a new die for Taylor. More likely, Taylor either made an imitation die for his concoctions or he got someone, not Dearborn, to do it for him.

Taylor’s engraved forgeries are dangerous but, once armed with the keys to identifying them, they should pose no problem.

Peter Winter’s ProPhil Forum 13¢ forgery.

Around 1985, Peter Winter, operating as a Swiss firm named ProPhil Forum produced a photolithographed “reproduction” of the 13¢ stamp. This process theoretically starts with a photograph of a genuine stamp and the product should replicate a genuine 13¢ stamp.

13c forgery 5c ms on 13c Pos 2 - 7 Clark

Winter’s 13¢ forgery is on the left. In the middle is his crude attempt to copy the “5” manuscript surcharge (Scott No. 7), with a forged postmark. The right image is a genuine Scott No. 7 with the surcharge written on an 1853 Scott No. 6.

Winter’s forgery exhibits the doubled right frame line, but the “3” in the bottom left corner has no tail and the king’s mouth looks re-touched. My guess is that Winter retouched the photograph. I have examined four of Winter’s forgeries and all have the same design characteristics, but I am unable to match them to a position on the original frame, something I should be able to do with a photolithographed image. Regardless, the colors of the paper and ink give it away as a forgery. The ink is too dull, more like the 1868 reprint from the original plate (Scott No. 11), and the paper is a pinkish buff. The lithographic process Winter used produces a flat image where line engraving, used for the genuine stamps, creates ridges seen under magnification.

Spiro Brothers Forgeries of Both Values

During the 1860's and 1870's Philip Spiro, who headed the lithography printing firm Spiro Brothers, was forging stamps of many nations at the company's print shop in Germany. Supposedly, these products were promoted as facsimiles and sold as such to collectors as space fillers. Among the "stamps" they made were both values of the Boston Engraved Issue. Spiro created bogus cancels and at least one bogus postmark to embellish their aura of authenticity. His work was careless and many details give away his products as imitations. Nonetheless, Spiro fakes are sometimes found masquerading as genuine stamps in dealer stocks and old time collections. See Tyler, Varro A., Philatelic Forgers: Their Lives and Works, 1991 revised edition, for more about Spiro.

Spiro 5c ring cancel 1200 OFF face detail Spiro 13c lozenge cancel - 1 face detail 1200 OFF 6- 1200 OFF face detail

In the images above, the king’s face in Spiro’s 5¢ and 13¢ forgeries are on the left and the king’s face in a genuine 13¢ stamp is shown on the right. Spiro gave the king a villainous, wild look compared to the serene, regal face in the genuine stamp. Spiro also made the king’s upper lip the shape of a flying bat. These distinctive features make Spiro forgeries of both values easy to detect. Numerous other design mistakes are seen below.

The 5¢ Spiro Bros. forgery

Spiro 5c waffles 1200 OFF Spiro 5c ring-1 1200 OFF


Spiro 5c bogus cds 1200 OFF


Lithographed on medium thick white wove paper

Spiro’s misshapen “5s” are easy to spot.

Spiro 5c UL 5 detail 1200 OFF Pos 20 - 5 UL 5 detail

The upper left value box. On the left is Spiro’s misshapen “5,” a genuine “5” is on the right.

Spiro 5c UR 5 detail 1200 OFF Pos 8-5 1200 OFF dot in UR 5 detail

The upper right value box. On the left is Spiro’s “5.” The flag is shorter and fatter and tilts down instead of flat.

Spiro’s small letters in the top panel.

Spiro 5c bogus cds 1200 OFF-1 top panel detail Pos 4 - 5 1200 top panel

The letters in Spiro’s top panel, on the left, are smaller, extend too far to the right side and don’t match the genuine.

Spiro’s exaggerated curve in the tunic center line.

Spiro 5c ring 1200 OFF breast detail Pos 4 - 5 1200 breast

Spiro’s tunic is on the left. The curve in the tunic center line is exaggerated, compared to the genuine, on the right.

Spiro’s single dash in the left epaulette.

Spiro 5c bogus cds 1200 OFF- L epaulette detail Pos 4 - 5 1200 L epauleette

Spiro’s left shoulder epaulette, on the left, has a single dash. The genuine, on the right, has two dashes. The shape and size of the dashes in the genuine stamps vary from one position to another.

The 13¢ Spiro Bros. forgery

Spiro 13c lozenge cancel 1200 OFF Spiro 13c lozenge cancel - 1 1200 OFF Spiro 13c 9 cancel 1200 OFF

Three Spiro Bros. 13¢ forgeries, one pale salmon and the others red, sporting examples of Spiro’s bogus cancels and the king’s villainous face.

The king’s 13¢ tunic has the same exaggerated center line as the 5¢, the right frame line is single instead of double, and the “3” in the Lower Left value box has no “tail.” Spiro’s vertical lines of the bottom panel do touch the bottom frame line of the center panel. Also:

Spiro’s deformed numeral “1s” are easy to spot.

Spiro 13c 9 cancel UL 13 detail 1200 OFF UL 13 1200 OFF

Spiro’s “13” from the upper left value box is on the left; the genuine from the same place is on the right. The flag of Spiro’s “1” slants down at a sharp angle; the figure “3” is skinnier.

Spiro 13c 9 cancel UR 13 detail 1200 OFF 1200 OFF-1 UR 13

Spiro made the same mistakes in the upper right value box. The angle of Spiro’s flag, seen on the left, is wider than in his upper left value box.

Spiro’s jumbo “Honolulu”

Spiro 13c-btm panel

Pos 2 - 6 - 1200 bottom panel

Spiro’s bottom panel is on top, the genuine bottom panel is below. Note that Spiro’s “HONOLULU” is jumbo size, the left box is too large and the right box is too small, among other problems.

Spiro’s forgeries should fool nobody. Yet they seem to do that, judging by the frequency with which they are encountered in collections and dealer stocks. The grotesque face and the deformed numeral “1s” are easy to spot so an informed collector should have no trouble with Spiro’s forgeries.

Revisiting the Dangerous 5¢ Forgery

A dangerous 5¢ forgery was illustrated above below the “Keys” section. Here is a closer look:

5c UK 1 - 1200 OFF 5 - pos 1 1200 ON

The dangerous 5¢ forgery is on the left, a genuine 1853 stamp (Scott 5) is on the right. The ink color of the forgery is a different shade, darker than the genuine stamp and with less saturation. The paper color of the forgery is too white. Significantly, the forgery does not plate to any position of a genuine stamp.

In the following images, the genuine stamp details are on the right; the forgery details are on the left.

5c UK 1  face detail - 1200 OFF WIN_20200429_13_08_22_-2

Lines in the face are too strong in the forgery; highlighting in the hair is different; the eyes look straight, in the forgery, but the king looks to his right (our left) in the genuine. The king’s left eye (our right) has a pupil, but the eye is blank in the forgery.

5c UK 1  L panel detail - 1200 OFF Pos 4 - 5 1200 L panel

The letters of “Honolulu” are too large in the forgery.

WIN_20200429_13_08_22_R panel Pos 4 - 5 1200 R panel
5c UK 1  B panel detail - 1200 OFF Pos 4 - 5 1200 B panel
5c UK 1  UR 5 detail - 1200 OFF Pos 8-5 1200 OFF dot in UR 5 detail

The flag of the genuine “5” is flat, but the forgery is curved slightly; the forgery has the “key” dot near the left border.

WIN_20200429_13_08_22_Pro 5 - pos 1 1200 ON central panel

The central panel of a genuine Scott No. 5 is on the right, the forgery is on the left. A flaw in the forgery is seen on the king’s right breast (our left), but whether it is constant in all examples is unknown. The matrix behind the king’s head is alarmingly accurate except there are diagonal lines to the right of the king’s head. The forgery has the “key” dots beneath the frame line.

Other forgeries of the Boston Engraved Issue exist, but they stand out as different to anyone familiar with the genuine stamps.

A common forgery of this issue is the facsimile 5¢ made by J. Walter Scott. It is unlikely Scott ever intended the stamp to pass as genuine and, indeed, it was produced in a strip with facsimiles of the Missionary stamps (this strip is held in the Philatelic Foundation reference collection). This forgery served as the image in the Scott Catalogue until about 1990. In it, the king’s face looks swollen. In addition to Scott's facsimile, other equally unconvincing forgeries were produced.

Below are the Scott forgery along with one thought to be made by Bully Hayes, a notorious pirate and blackbirder and two crude products of unknown forgers. The “pucker face” forgery comes with a spurious red 5¢ and might be from two forgers because the mouths are a bit different. “Smiley” is seen on a spurious blue paper. The king in “HAWANIIAN” has a wry smile, similar to “Smiley,” as if he knows the forger messed up the left side panel.

These images do not exhaust the known forgeries of this issue. Send me feedback (see the Q & A) if you have images to add to this gallery.

Scott's 5¢ Forgery

Pale 5¢ Forgery

5c UK 2 1200 OFF
5c forgery-300

5¢ Bar Fight – Bully Hayes?

Unknown - maybe Hayes

5¢ Pucker Face

5c pucker face blue 1200 OFF
Spurious red 5c puckerface - 1200 OFF
Unknown - maybe Hayes face detail
5c pucker face blue 1200 OFF face detail
Spurious red 5c puckerface- 1200  face detail OFF

13¢ Smiley

Spiro 13c bluish paper 1200 OFF
Spiro 13c bluish paper face detail 1200 OFF

Blue paper


13c uncanceled 1200 OFF
13c uncanceled 1200 OFF face detail
13c uncanceled 1200 OFF left panel detail

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