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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

August 2009




GB cover with 3 x Plate “77’s” discovered?


As I often write: "The last word in Philately will NEVER be written"


This month I highlight a rather tatty looking 1865 part cover discovery, that may well be a $500,000 type item – indeed possibly even more valuable than that.


Probably the rarest face different GB stamp ever issued is the 1d Red “Plate 77” from the 1858/1879 series.


As all readers will know the 1d stamps issued for about 15 years all had a plate number neatly engraved into the engine turning at each side.


These issued "Plates" covered near all numbers from Plate 71 to Plate 225.  The latter is very scarce of course, even used.


The scarcest of all these “issued” Plate Numbers is number "77".  Which it turns out – may never have been issued at all!


Ten copies recorded so far.


Only about 10 copies believed genuine have been documented in the past 150 years, and the whereabouts of several of those are not known today, and at least one, the Crocker copy, was believed destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco fire.


Of the others, several are in institutions, such as the copy in the Royal Collection, and the “Tapling” Collection in the British Library - which also owns another example – the “Fletcher” copy. 


The first two copies are mint.  No copies on cover have been recorded until now.


Most of the other copies recorded seem to have vanished off the radar screen.

SG Price now vanishes?

The last Stanley Gibbons catalogue value given on this stamp was £160,000 for a used copy (no mint priced), clearly a very desirable and valuable stamp.


Oddly and inexplicably, Gibbons have stopped quoting ANY figure for this stamp in the past 2 years.  Anyone know WHY?


Only a few years back they listed and showed both mint AND used prices – at very similar figures to each other.  It was £100K mint and £80K used in 2004 “Part 1” for example.


Generations of dealers and collectors have peered at countless millions of these common 1d reds looking and hoping to find an example.


As some 13.4 BILLION of this 1d red stamp were sold, there are plenty still surviving to peer at!


One “77” copy was supposedly found among an examination of a million stamps in 1944, and it sold soon after for £220.


An Interesting Part cover


Enter a London area collector named Abed Najjar, who in recent years discovered in Europe, an 1865 part cover from Guernsey to Brussels, Belgium.


The cover was pre-paid with 3 x 1d red stamps,  all dreadfully centred, with the Guernsey "324" barred numeral obliterator.


That numeral sub type with pointed “4” was used in a short period 1862-67 so the period of use is correct.


It has a France transit cancel and Brussels arrival cds, and the PD mark from Guernsey, SG Type 342.  Franked with horribly centred stamps, and one of those is very badly scuffed, and one is creased.


Value in normal circumstances - a few dollars on a good day. 


A little known USA specialist journal - "The Collectors Club Philatelist" of September-October 2008 published a long article on these stamps – debate members commenced a 150 post debate on the matter from that point on, that has continued to this day - – please feel free to add your thoughts to it!


The plate numbers on all 3 stamps on this cover are "77" - no doubt whatever about it.


They all show perfectly clearly as you can see in the photos nearby.  A potential $500,000 or higher cover in my view. 


However nothing is so simple in the stamp world!


There is no imprimatur or trial sheet of plate “77” on file in the British Postal Museum and archives to compare these 3 stamps against – indeed to compare any of the other 10 recorded and alleged “Plate 77” stamps against.


The stamp establishment is never terribly keen to accept on face value, something clearly valuable, they did not know existed before.  Especially in the very conservative British stamp world.





 A tantalising trio!


Most especially a $500,000 type item, that would instantly be one of the rarest pieces in British Philately if certified as genuine.


Right now two certificates have been issued saying these plate numbers are faked, the latter Cert saying another plate has allegedly changed to read 77.


I feel fairly sure those "expert" views are both totally wrong – admittedly without viewing the cover myself.


Ridiculous “expert” opinion.


The first view was plainly absurd, arguing essentially that someone had cut the number “7” out of other stamps, and pasted it over the second “7” on each stamp on cover. 


A basic $20 UV lamp would detect that if it were true!  As would 20/20 eyesight I’d guess, or a human fingernail.


The other view in essence imputed the second original number had been hand-painted out in red, and a new 7 in white painted in on every stamp.  Again the most rudimentary checking would reveal this, if it were the case.


Massive blow-ups of the paper fibres of this region have been taken, and they are illustrated in the article above, and show no such manipulation or alteration.


This huge thing was used


As you will see in the highly detailed reports here – - senior forensic Scientists and technical labs, using electron microscopes as above, and a million dollars of analytical equipment, see nothing of the sort.


Najjar spent several £1,000’s, and a great deal of time, and went out and got highly technical forensic reports on this cover.


The detailed forensic evidence appears to show those "Expert" views above are simply wrong.


The Forensic Institute, 10th August 2006 -  "... there is no evidence of alteration.  In summary, using these techniques we did not find evidence that could be established as tampering."


Reading Scientific Services Limited (RSSL),  1st February 2008 - "No evidence was found of fibre disruption (e.g. through deliberate tamper by scraping, cutting or adding fibres) during topographical examination of the second ‘7 diamond’ regions."


The Forensic Science Service,  31st October 2006 - "I find no evidence that the plate numbers have been altered by cutting out portions of other stamps and pasting them onto the stamps examined here."


Rutgers University USA, 19th September , 2008, Gene S. Hall, Ph.D., Professor of Analytical Chemistry - "The identical nature of the inks of the three samples effectively rules out the finding that the ink had been painted in."


"Raman examination also confirmed that the pigment was the same in both the basic stamp and the second “7” area. There was no difference in the ink composition in the diamond areas surrounding the first and second “7” in the plate numbers."


As I have often written in my columns - the last word will NEVER be written in philately, and very major finds occur each year.


Keep an OPEN mind.


I am a great believer that closed or blinkered minds are often the biggest impediment to important new stamp discoveries being recognised for what they are.


Richard Debney, one of the members of the second “Expert” Committee involved, divulged his committee knew of the “forged” finding of the other, before making theirs, and sticks to his guns here –


Najjar need not be disheartened that a few "experts" have declared that the 3 stamps on his cover are "faked" - despite the clear written high tech forensic evidence he now has, that they are not tampered with in any way.


Sadly Committees are not always correct, even when the matter before them to rule upon is very simple.  All major philatelic discoveries have come from philatelists with open minds.


A Monty Python Certificate


My dealer friend, the late Simon Dunkerley found a 1913 ½d green Kangaroo (SG#1) with sideways watermark while sorting some used Roos for stock in 1989.


This stamp had never been recorded before with a sideways watermark, despite being very common, and issued 76 years earlier.


Dunkerley sent it to the Royal Philatelic Society in Victoria for a Certificate.  Their "Expert Committee" charged him good money in October 1989 to brilliantly declare it was: "it has been treated and faked".


I still have a copy of that Certificate that Simon sent me in absolute disbelief, and it is shown nearby.


Seeing is believing



Now anyone in stamps with half a brain - indeed with 10% of a philatelic brain, should know a SIDEWAYS watermark on a rectangular perforated stamp with lumpy perfs can't be "faked" and pass muster even visually.


Much less the simplest of tests in watermark fluid or via UV, or via any more extensive checking.  Child’s play. It simply CANNOT be done on a rectangular perforated stamp, and fool anyone. 


All Committees now and again make errors on very technical things like shades, dies, and other often subjective things, but to declare an obvious sideways watermark was "faked" is totally beyond belief. 


A two minute soak in hot water would have cleared that one up beyond any doubt.


BUT, one leading and well known Roo collector, well entrenched at RPSV, apparently decided as he did not own one, and he had never heard of one, clearly meant this one must be a "fake".


Sold for a pittance.


Simon Dunkerley showed it afterwards to fellow dealer, Rod Perry, who of course saw it was genuine in his view, and bought it off him for far less than it would be worth with an "is genuine" Certificate.  For a VERY modest sum of money.


I discussed it with Simon at the time, and he was crest-fallen his discovery had been so roundly de-bunked, as in: "it has been treated and faked" and felt it reflected poorly on his observation and knowledge skills.


Rod Perry had the good sense to mail it to the BPA in London later in 1989, who of course were not prejudiced, as certain members of the RPSV Expert Committee back then apparently were, and they gave it the only Certificate possible - "Sideways watermark - is genuine."


Stanley Gibbons and other major catalogues listed and priced it soon afterwards.


I have a copy of that certificate too, dated December 18 1989 … only two months after the infamous "It is treated and faked" total nonsense "expert" view from the RPSV. 



More copies soon found.


When this was publicised by me in "Stamp News" and overseas magazines around the time, at least two other examples were found in very short order, as collectors and dealers now checked their copies.


Both had the sideways watermark pointing the other way, proving at LEAST 2 sheets of 480 were sold. One of those stamps was also sold at Gray.


Simon's "discovery copy" was also sold at the Arthur Gray auction in New York in 2007 - for $A56,250.


I was at the sale, and the buyer was NYC dealer Robert Seigel, acting on behalf of a client, so the client would clearly have paid way over $A60,000 for it.


A $56,250 stamp. "Treated and Faked"


Quite a step up from the relative pittance Simon Dunkerley sold it for, based on that absurdly wrong RPSV "Expert Certificate".  He was in the Auction room in New York, and must have winced to see it get $A56,250.


At the time, Simon sent me photocopies of the both the Certificates from which the illustration nearby above is taken, and apologies in advance for the blurry quality, but it was a fax from 20 years back! 


But it does show that even after 76 years, a major new discovery CAN be made on a VERY common stamp, that had been studied intensively by collectors.  IF we have open minds!


 Back to the GB Plate “77s”


Anyway, back to the part cover with the 3 x Plate "77" stamps, that is also getting the predictable "Faked" response from a few disbelievers.


There now appears to be no forensic support for any tampering of the 3 x 1d stamps on cover.


All Gibbons have to say re "77" in the “Part 1” cat is a common sense short warning, not to be caught out by altered copies from plates 177 via added postmark ink etc on the "1". 


Their ONLY other comments about plate 77s and the other early rejected plates is that -


"No stamps exist, except for a very few from plate 77 that somehow reached the public."


Their wording, not mine -  "somehow reached the public."


The cover is clearly dated 1865 -  which negates the Gibbons warning that this might be a misreading of the plate number as 77 when really 177 - since plate 177 didn't exist then.


Both clearly Plate 77



For around 150 years it has been believed some stamps were indeed printed from this plate “77”


The practice was for a few sheets (possibly as many as six) to be printed from any new plate, and these were submitted to Somerset House for approval before putting that plate to press. 


When approved, one sheet was retained there as the registration or "imprimatur" sheet.  The rest were returned to the printer and put into stock.


If the plate was not approved, all the sheets were returned to be placed in the pile of items to be first accounted for, then destroyed.



Two plates rejected


This is exactly what happened to plate 77.  We know the plate must have reached this point because there still exists a letter from Ormond Hill to Perkins Bacon, telling them that he was rejecting two plates as they were not aligned plumb enough to allow proper perforating.


Hill seems to have seen from the registration sheet pulls, that the laying down of impressions for plate “77” was slightly out of plumb, meaning the lower rows would all be poorly centred.


Although this letter does not mention the two plates by number, it can only have been plates 75 and 77 since the date of the letter is the same as the date on which the other plates submitted at the same time (76 and 78 to 81) were registered - namely 7 February, 1863.


In short, Ormond Hill must have been examining at least one printed and perforated sheet from plate 77 (and for that matter from plate 75) to have made this decision - and possibly as many as six sheets of each.


It is from this/these sheets that it has been, till now, been assumed the existing plate 77 stamps came from.  It was assumed they escaped the furnace, and to use the Gibbons phrase - "somehow reached the public."


The three plate 77s on cover show corner letter characteristics of plate 73, though they clearly say 77.  Does that necessarily mean that they are from plate 73?


Detailed research has shown the corner letter of these 3 stamps on cover very closely if not exactly match the corner letters of stamps from plate 73.


Looking carefully at photos of the plate 73 corner letters I can only agree with this point of view.  HOWEVER it is clear the plate number on these stamps shows as "77".


Clearly a “77”


One of the intellectual challenges of collecting Australian Kangaroos and KGV heads is spotting substituted clichés -- images that were transferred and soldered in from an early plate to a later one - to quickly correct a technical problem or damage to the later plate.


Only this week a constant flaw was shown on of a vertical pair of 2d Grey Roos, one with the substituted cliché, and the stamp above it with the continuation of the plate crack that required the substitution.


Major new finds ARE made every day in the stamp world.  This has never been recorded before.



Error in hand re-cutting?



Could something similar have occurred here?  A small section of the "73" plate, from before the plate numbers were added, or altered by an engraver (an easy task) used to repair plate 77 – or another plate, and the engraved new plate numbers were 77 in error? 


UK dealer Graham Mann who specialises in this stamp issue, made the following suggestion on -


"One possibility could be, that to repair some illegible numbers the wrong "7" was recut.  Bear in mind that the plate is in mirror image - perhaps the engraver mistakenly recut the 3 to a 7 on some impressions on the plate 73 thinking he was actually recutting the 7.


After printing a small number of sheets the error was spotted and corrected. This would give rise to a small quantity of ‘77s’ being in existence."


Most of the 10 previously reported “77” copies are not sourceable, to check if they too have plate 73 corner check letter similarities.  Some very conceivably might also have them.


In which case the venerable expertising bodies have a large potential headache on their hands!



Another ‘77’ cover might exist?


Graham Mann also posted that he found what he felt sure was a "77" on cover in a box lot he bought from Philips in the early 1990s.


"The second 7 had a distinct flat top. I sent it to the RPS for certification and got the reply "not plate 77".  Not convinced, I sent it to the BPA.  I got the reply not 77 but 73!


I assume this was given because the letter positions matched that of plate 73.  I later sold the cover at Stampex for a princely £1.50.  OH, HOW I WISH I HAD NOT!!"


One thing that is clear is that the “77” MINT copies are NOT both from Plate 73, as the corner check letters do not match 73, so more than one plate might be involved with possible re-cutting? 


However seeing only 10 or so examples have surfaced in ~150 years, despite millions of copies being squinted at, it is safe to assume few if any more will turn up even if this cover is eventually declared genuine.


SG cannot list two categories of Plate ‘77’ - -  "those found before 2008, and those found afterwards."


If a stamp shows "77" clearly, and is not a treated "177", and if neither "77s" are altered or tampered with, it clearly is collectible as a "Plate 77".  HOW it came about - we will likely never know.


The scissor cut “Tapling” Copy.


All we DO know is that stamps were printed and distributed with "77" engraved upon them -- at least 3 of them ..  and maybe many or all of the other known 10 as well.


My theory is simple.  We know 5 mint copies are recorded, and one of those, owned by H.J. Crocker was lost in the San Francisco fire of 1906. 


Another Mint copy was allegedly sold to Ferrary from the Hughes-Hughes collection, and it is strongly doubted this exists (or is genuine), and the corner letters of it are not known.


The 3 mint copies that exist - one in the Royal Collection and one in the “Tapling” collection are quite well centred and are cut apart with scissors.


The corner lettering of the 3 we know to exist are AB, AC and BA.  It seems highly probable to me someone "souvenired" a top left corner block of 6 of a trial perforated sheet, and 3 at least have survived - all with the same curious scissor cut perfs.


Another alleged “Fake”



I have written in the past detailed research articles on the Sweden 1857 'Tre Skilling Yellow Banco' – one is here –


Again highly controversial, and again no-one has a clue as to EXACTLY how this stamp came to be.  Or if it is genuine – or not.


In 1974 it was exhibited at the stand of Frimarkshuset A.B. the well known Swedish dealers, at 'Stockholmia 74'.


The stamp was then offered to the Swedish Postal Museum for purchase at $US1,000,000.


The curator Gilbert Svensson had always suspected it to be a forgery, and arranged for it to be handed over to a group of nine Swedish stamp “experts” to examine.



NINE experts say “FAKE”



These “experts” concluded it was a fake - possibly a fake of the original stamp that some of them also thought was a fake anyway! 


They stated that one third of the stamp was of a different paper type than the rest.  And it differed in exterior appearance from early photographs. 


  A “fake” worth Millions?!




One of the experts Friedrich Schaffer pointed the finger at original dealer owner Lichtenstein as the forger/creator of this 'fake'.  The experts publicly claimed the story of the original Backman sale in 1885 was a lie.


In "Stamp Collecting" May 1975 it was stated that photo-micrographic tests had shown that the forger bleached a genuine lightly used 8 Skilling Banco to rid it of colour, and then printed a fake 3 Skilling stamp image on top. (i.e. the technique always used cleverly by Jean Sperati.)


After all these damning reports, owner Berlingen and Frimarkshuset A.B. then paid for a very detailed scientific and X-Ray report in 1975, by a Professor of Medial Biophysics, on the paper and ink etc, which pointed they claim, to the stamp being a genuine colour error.


So who really knows?  The 'Tre Skilling Banco' allegedly sold in 1996 for a world record Swiss Francs 2.87 million ($US2.3 million) to Hans Lernestål, a Swedish dealer.


The stamp was not offered with a Expert Certificate of any kind in the 1990 or 1996 Auctions - indeed I do not believe any Expertising Committee at any time has ever given it a Certificate as being a genuine error of colour. 


The stamp has been crudely re-perforated along the top, and has a sizeable slit at the side .. neither mentioned at all in the 1990 David Feldman auction - which had a deluxe catalogue issued for just this one stamp!


So Abed Najjar might take heart from that story.


Nine “experts” all decreed the Sweden “Tre Skilling Yellow Banco” to be a fake, yet science apparently proved it otherwise, and even with no Certificate it still sells for millions at auction!


A Faker’s Check List -


I have a logical brain I believe, and think to myself that if someone was determined to fake a plate ‘77’ on cover, there are 3 things they would do.


1.      Stick to a SINGLE stamp on cover to alter ... FAR less work, and far less chance of getting caught out, or messing it up.

2.      Select a NICE looking well centred stamp to fake, to maximise the return if accepted as genuine.

3.      Pick a nice clean complete cover to work on, for the same reasons as #2.


These 3 totally obvious features are all missing here.  A tatty looking part cover, with 3 woefully centred stamps, one badly scuffed and damaged, and one badly creased.


And the obvious fact it turned up unheralded in Europe points further to no large profit gain being involved here.


This is EXACTLY why, given the compelling scientific evidence supporting my view, I believe all 3 stamps to be perfectly genuine and unaltered, and all are showing plate number “77”.  







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