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Sperati 28a
Diena flaw 28a


Expert services provide opinions regarding authenticity and condition of stamps and covers. Whether you need a certificate to avoid buying a forgery or altered item probably depends upon your personal expertise. The same is true for condition. Whether you need an expert service to tell you the condition of your stamp depends on your access to necessary equipment and skill to detect creases, repaired tears, thins, filled thins, holes, filled holes, painted-in portions, erased postal markings, cleaned stains, hinge marks, regumming, added or missing stamps or any of a host of condition issues affecting the value of a philatelic item, sometimes drastically. At a minimum, you need skill at using "watermark" fluid and access to a stereoscopic microscope and an ultraviolet light.

At the end of the day, an opinion is just that. It is an opinion. Experts can be wrong. When an expert opinion is wrong, there are losers and winners. Picking an expert committee with the skill, talent and equipment to make the right call is of the utmost importance to be a winner.

Here are a couple of examples of what an incorrect certificate can cause:

Buyer loses, seller wins: An expert committee declared one of the stamps below is a genuine Scott number 53a, the missing "3" in "1893" variety. Only 75 examples were printed with this error so the low catalogue price ($575 unused, unpriced used) reflects the prevalence of forgeries in the marketplace. Proven genuine examples should be worth considerably more. Below are images of two stamps. Both are genuine Scott No. 30 stamps ($11.00 unused, $8.00 used) but they both have overprints which, if genuine, make them Scott 53a. One, the one declared genuine by the expert committee, is forged. Which is the forgery and which is the genuine? If you look at the stamp on the right, it is canceled with a genuine postmark used at Honolulu at the time Scott 53 stamps were issued. A good clue to say the stamp on the right is genuine but a false clue. The same postmark was being used when Scott 30 was in general circulation so the genuine postmark is of no assistance, but it lead the expert committee to say it is a genuine used Scott 53a.

53a - 1

53a - 1 - detail

53a - 1 - i detail
53 Fake msg 3

53 Fake msg 3 detail

53 Fake msg 3 i

The missing "3" error is from position 48 on the overprint frame, and probably happened because something was dropped onto the plate by accident, dislodging the "3" and "9". Genuine examples of Scott 53a have a raised "9" and missing "3". Both of these stamps have a raised "9" and missing "3". However, genuine examples are missing the top of the "9" where the loosened type failed to print. The "9" in the stamp on the right has a full top. Another "damning" fact is the first "i" of "Provisional". In addition to dislodging the "9" and "3", the accident to position 48 put a gouge in the shaft of the first "i" in "Provisional", as seen in the left stamp. Lastly, the old trademark of the Kenyon forgeries, a full serif on the foot of the first "i" in "Provisional" escaped notice, as did the odd red color Kenyon used. The overprint on the left is genuine. The stamp on the right is a used Scott 30 with a forged overprint.

Flip-side, buyer wins, seller loses: Below is an example of Scott number 61B, the 10 brown Kalakaua with a red overprint in error (catalogue value $14,000 for a genuine stamp). It came to my collection in a large collection of forgeries (average cost per item was $7.50). Is it a forgery?


In the early 1950's, the stamp was declared a forgery by a leading philatelic expertising service. Afterward, it went from forgery collection to forgery collection, each successive owner accepting the verdict without question or receiving "off-the-cuff" confirmations. Thirty years later, I bought a large forgery collection because I recognized some genuine Numeral stamps mixed among the forgeries. Included was the 61B. For several years, it sat among its neighbors in the forgery collection without further thought. Two examples of 61B appeared at auction in the late 1980's, prompting me to examine my forgery more closely. Using position dots at the right of the stamp, I could determine the stamp was from plate position 15 (row three, column five). Using the "V/9" convention, the overprint surprisingly also plated to position 15 of the overprint frame so I consulted Wallace Beardsley's scholarly article in the Philatelic Foundation's "Opinions IV" where photographs illustrate numerous examples. Only one sheet of the error overprints was made, so only one example can exist from position 15, but the centering of my position 15 stamp matched examples shown from other positions in row three and column five. With this evidence, I telephoned Wally, who was still living, and asked the whereabouts of the position 15 stamp. He said the position 15 stamp received a bad certificate thirty years earlier and its whereabouts since then was unknown. I asked him to describe the stamp as photographed on the certificate and he said it had the right selvage intact. My 61B "forgery" was resubmitted and a clean certificate was issued stating it is genuine.

What about the two examples of Scott 28a shown at the top of the page? Scott 28a is a reddish color, lithographed stamp printed on vertical laid paper (Scott 2009 value $300 unused, $375 used). Laid paper is produced by arranging the "laid wires" in close parallel lines. Against the light, wire impressions left in the paper make a pattern of alternating light and dark parallel lines. (See Williams, L. N., Fundamentals of Philately, revised edition 1990, p. 48.) Vertical "laid lines" are visible in both images above, particularly in the grillwork to the left of the face. Both of these stamps are lithographed - take my word on this point because there is no way to tell whether a stamp is lithographed based on observing an electronic image. To make things even more interesting, both of these stamps "plate" to position UR23 position twenty-three in the upper right pane on the printer's stone. That fact is proven by the small break in the vertical frame line at the left end of the "UKU LETA" panel, the famous "Diena flaw". So both are genuine? No, the stamp on the left is printed on wove paper by a photolithographic process. The "laid lines" were captured in the photographic negative and printed onto the paper. On turning the stamp over, the "laid lines" disappear and the paper is revealed to be wove paper, not laid. It helped to know the famous forger, Sperati, photographed position UR23 although forgeries produced from that negative were unrecorded before this example surfaced. It also helps to know Sperati signed the back of the stamp on the left. The left stamp, then, is a Sperati forgery and received a certificate from a leading expert service confirming it to be a "genuine Sperati forgery".

When deciding what expert service should be used, keep in mind why you do it. An expert certificate gives you peace of mind. Also, an expert certificate will add credibility to the authenticity and condition of an item when you offer it for sale. With those points in mind, it is important the expert service you select has a high credibility in the philatelic marketplace. Their reputation for expertise (in other words "credibility") might be greater in some areas than in others. Three expert services routinely examine Hawaii material. Mailing addresses, application forms and fee schedules can be obtained by clicking on the links below.

The Philatelic Foundation: The PF has a full-time staff of experts well familiar with Hawaiian material and an excellent reference collection of Hawaiian stamps. Opinions generally are reached on site. Panels of consultants assist the staff in many areas, including Hawaiian philately. I believe any stamp or cover of significant value (upwards of $1,000) should have an opinion from the PF.

The American Philatelic Society: The APS relies primarily on panels of experts for different areas. In the area of Hawaii, the APS relies on experienced dealers and collectors and its accuracy is high. Material normally is sent by mail to members of the panels in order to obtain a consensus opinion. The APS fees tend to be lower and service tends to be faster than the PF. For Hawaii material with moderate values, the APS is an excellent choice, in my opinion. The APS provides a limited five year guarantee up to $5,000 for misidentified items purchased with an APS certificate (but not for condition opinions), as described in its literature.

The Hawaiian Philatelic Society: The HPS relies primarily on the experience of one dealer to generate an opinion. I believe an insular examination process brings greater risk of error and thus is a weakness, but that said, the dealer on whom the HPS relies enjoys an excellent reputation for honesty and has extensive experience with Hawaiian philatelic material. Submissions to the HPS tend primarily to be Numeral stamps and Provisional Government overprint stamps.

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