On January 24 in Melbourne, Prestige Philately sold a "used" Sperati forgery of
the £2 Kangaroo for over $4,000.
This is a very high price for a stamp that only a few short years back would
have been auctioned for about one third that value.
Most stamp forgeries are worth LESS than the genuine stamps they copy. Jean
Sperati is the main exception to this general rule.
As far as I am aware there were only four Sperati reproductions that came from
this part of world. They all sell for MORE than the genuine stamps, and indeed
in the cases of 3 of the 4 stamps - about TEN times the cost of the genuine
This £2 Kangaroo is by far the most "common" of the four as several dozen exist
- mostly "used". The other three forgeries are all howling Pacific rarities as
it seems only 1 or 2 of each have been recorded.
I have been privileged to have handled 2 of these 3 in recent times, and given
the renewed interest in Sperati at Auction thought I'd outline for a wider
readership a little more about this amazing man and his fakes.
Jean de Sperati is universally regarded as the finest and most dangerous stamp
forger ever to have lived. He was born in Italy in 1884 and died in 1957, living
most of his life in France.
Sperati holding purchased for a fortune by BPA.
His material was so dangerous the late Robson ("Robbie") Lowe - on behalf of the
British Philatelic Association decided to protect philately and purchased his
“stock” and printing blocks etc in 1953. They paid a sum said to be $US40,000 -
an absolute fortune more than half a century ago.
As a valid comparison of what $US40,000 would buy in that era, Harmers London
sold the entire ‘T.E Field’ collection of Australian Commonwealth in 1948 for
£7,500. This amazing collection contained masses of proofs, essay, and £1 and £2
Kangaroos by the bucketload - block after block after block - pages of them, and
dozens of used.
I am proud to have a copy of that "Field" sale catalogue - kindly given to be by
veteran Sydney dealer Ken Baker. The finest collection of the Commonwealth ever
offered to that time. I predict it would readily sell for literally MILLIONS of
dollars today if offered for the first time.
Baker purchased it on behalf of wealthy Australian grazier J.A. (Jack) Kilfoyle.
Ken told me he showed the auction sale catalogue to Kilfoyle when it arrived.
Kilfoyle said: "buy them all for me Ken - I want the lot - there are some lovely
stamps in there". Baker explained it was an auction, and there doubtless would
be spirited bidding from others. Kilfoyle would hear nothing of this and
instructed Baker to pay Harmers whatever they wanted for the entire sale. Price
I also have the letter from Harmers to other bidders dated 5 November 1948
advising the whole collection had been sold to Baker for £7,500. "We hope that
clients will appreciate in such instances we are acting as agents for the
vendor, and the decision to accept a private treaty offer rests with the owner
of the collection." The other bidders were of course furious.
Sold in 1961 for £250this sold last year for $217,898
Needless to say the 1961 Harmers Auction dispersal of the Kilfoyle collection -
which had this "Field" collection and many other major collections integrated
into it - had a vast mass of other rarities involved. It was an Australian sale
the like of which will never be seen again.
Ken Baker also gave me that sale
catalogue, and the material is mind boggling. It was offered for private treaty
for £35,000. Not one person was interested at that price, so it went to Auction.
Just ONE of the pieces in there (sold for £240) was the unique 1930 King George
V 2d golden scarlet tête-bêche pair which realised a record £82,800 ($US130,028)
at Spink auction in London in 2003 against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000 -
There were high value roos there by the THOUSANDS. There were no less than 500
of the £2 Roos 1st and 3rd watermarks alone - many mint, monograms, imprints
etc. There were 27 albums purely of Kangaroo stamps! Proofs, essays, Monograms,
sheets, and major printing errors etc.
Interest in Sperati continues unabated. The Royal Philatelic Society London has
published two excellent books on this man's masterpieces, authored by Robson
Lowe and Carl Walske. The last volume of 218 pages published in very recent
times. New discoveries were reported in these volumes after examining the
holdings of the Musee de la Poste in Paris who held material hitherto not seen
Sperati fools the authorities.
Sperati was so good, a mailing of 18 forgeries addressed to Spain was seized in
1943 by French Customs who has them assessed as being all genuine. He was
arrested on a charge of 'exporting capital' estimated at being worth 300,000
Francs without a permit, and was summonsed to appear in court. Exporting
forgeries was at the time legal if sold and identified as such, and free of duty
or taxes. Sperati would “sign” each very lightly on the reverse “facsimile” with
easily erasable pencil, thus complying with the law!
Sperati made fools of the Authorities in the long court trial by forging three
more identical sets of the same 18 stamps in question, and tendered them to the
court! The Judges were impressed, dismissed the capital export change, and
levied a token fine for “disturbing the normal routine of the French customs
service.” (100% true!)
Jean Sperati was a master craftsman, and produced very small numbers of
meticulous masterpieces, rather than the masses of low quality JUNK quality
material manufactured by Panelli, Spiro Brothers and Fournier etc. He had an
intense interest and background in chemistry and associated areas, so he was
able to make his fakes from GENUINE stamps. This is a very dangerous technique,
as the paper, size, cancel, perforations and indeed some of the design were all
then 100% genuine.
Sperati is best known in Australia for his excellent 1913 £2 Kangaroo forgeries
of which dozens are in collector hands. Despite the relatively large number of
this particular fake, they still sell for many $A1000s each and are highly
sought whenever they are offered.
They are catalogued in the now HOPELESSLY out of date ACSC "Kangaroos"volume at
$2,500 “used” which is MORE than a genuine
1913 £2 Roo is catalogued at - and that is of course Australian’s most valuable
regular issued postage stamp. (‘Mint’ Sperati Roos are in ACSC at $4,000 and
also would now sell for well over this sum. $7,000-$10,000 for the next one to
be offered would not surprise me one bit.)
Prestige Auctions in Melbourne realised over $4,000 for an ordinary used example
in their 24 January 2004 Auction. Illustrating perfectly just how strong Sperati
prices are right now. Along with ALL high end Kangaroo stamps of course. As you
can see this copy has a machine cancel - a clear impossibility for a heavy
This was originally a ½d Green Kangaroo which had the green colour
bleached right out - but he left the postmark intact. And of course the
perforations, paper and watermark are also all genuine.
This £2 Kangaroo was the ONLY stamp of the Australian Commonwealth ever forged
This forgery sold for over $4,000
BNG 1901 2/6d Lakatoi forgery.
The other Sperati “find” I handled recently (now sold to a dealer) was the “Holy
Grail” to all serious Papua collectors. This is the Sperati forgery of the
British New Guinea 1901 2/6d Lakatoi. Known to exist, but I doubt a copy had
previously been offered on the market in Australia. When I first bought it well
known dealers like Rod Perry and Charles Leski told me they had never seen this
Perversely, the stamp has an old 1939 Royal Philatelic Society London
Certificate (signed by the keeper of the Royal Collection, Sir John Wilson!)
saying it is a genuine SG #14b (today this has been re-numbered by Gibbons as SG
#16 - Cat. £2,500). That Certificate and opinion is wrong, and again shows
slavish obedience to Certificates can be costly, as the fake is worth MORE than
a genuine SG #16! It is a Sperati forgery, and is quite possibly the only one
now existing. Interestingly the Certificate is dated well BEFORE Sperati’s
activities became widely known.
In the definitive book, “Postal History Of British New Guinea and Papua” by
Roger Lee, on page 99, Lee states that only 2 examples are known, and shows (as
does the BPA book) the small flaw in the left value tablet that distinguishes
the fakes from the ”genuine” article via the minute differences that exist. The
stamp is comb perforation (genuine SG #16 should be line perf) and the frame
size is 30 x 25 mm and should be 29.5 x 25.5 mm.
Sperati has taken a genuine 1d black and red Lakatoi stamp, and carefully
(somehow!) bleached away only the outer red design, leaving the central Lakatoi,
and printed his fake brown vignette in the same place by lithography. This is
the ONLY time Sperati ever used this technique on any forgery, i.e. bleaching
out PART only of a design.
The differences from the genuine, as in all Sperati forgeries, are microscopic.
The forgery is just so good it would be accepted by 99.9999% of dealers and
collectors without comment as the genuine article. It was indeed so good it
fooled the RPSL and Sir John Wilson!
Jean de Sperati was very incredibly clever in
that he faded or bleached all of the design (or in this unique example, part
of the design) of a genuine but low value stamp, and then printed his new
design over the top. This way he ended up with the correct paper, size,
perforations, watermark, and cancel (Although on this copy, the barred
numerical cancel is understood to be a superb fake as well!)This stamp was
sold with the RPS Certificate verifying (wrongly) that this is a genuine
Possibly unique Tasmania £1 "Tablet" Sperati.
The only copy of this
forgery I have seen.
As a shameless plug, I'll mention that I have in stock the Sperati forgery of
the Tasmania £1 1892 green and gold Queen Victoria "Tablet" issue. It is “used”
with a genuine circular cancel "Hobart Tasmania APR - 1901", and is the ONLY
example of this stamp ever seen by myself or most large dealers I have mentioned
This exact stamp I have in stock is illustrated in the BPA superb book on the
Sperati forgeries, and the Harold Bynoff-Smith Forgeries volume. It is believed
to have been a “one-off" attempt and Sperati it seems abandoned the idea of
making more copies, after this absolute perfectionist decided he could not 100%
accurately colour match the “real thing”.
The stamp is back-stamped with the violet BPA horseshoe: "Sperati -
Reproduction" and is reference stamp numbered "169" also on reverse. The stamp
is also signed/autographed in pencil diagonally on reverse - "Jean Sperati." The
appearance and centering is most attractive.
I bought it years ago when Bynoff-Smith dispersed his collection, and had "lost"
it for years in my 3 stories of junk here. It only surfaced this week - almost
got tossed into a junk box along with some 1980s FDC actually! Some things are
better misplaced, especially things in the high end of Australian stamps, as the
market is red hot for these now, as recent magazines have outlined.
I had no real idea on how to price it. Gary Watson's Prestige Philately in
Melbourne auctioned a normal used £2 Sperati Kangaroo for over $4,000 on 24
January 2004 as mentioned above. Dozens of those exist. The possibly unique
Tasmania £1 might well be a $10,000 hammer item the way Prestige Philately is
setting records lately, but I almost never auction anything.
I settled on the same price the Sperati £2 Roo just sold for, and for a possibly
unique Sperati, think that is a pretty sensible level. I have an extra large
scan of this stamp on my website:
www.glenstephens.com/sperati.html for anyone
who wants to admire the superb attention to detail of the fine reproduction work
this master produced.
Western Australia £1 Orange Sperati
The only other known Sperati forgery from this part of the world is the Western
Australia £1 Orange Queen Victoria, 1902-1911 V over Crown watermark.
This is a stamp I have never seen offered, even at auction. Rodney Perry told me
years ago it would readily sell for TEN times a genuine £1 Western Australia -
itself a fairly scarce and expensive stamp. Today I would not be surprised to
see it get 15 or 20 times a normal £1 if one were offered.
The Western Australia Sperati is SO good there is one way to tell it from the
genuine - it is BETTER printed!
The superb WASG handbook "Western Australia - The Stamp and Postal History"
covers this forgery on page 296.
Sperati was such an perfectionist he took a clear image off a genuine £1 stamp
and then RETOUCHED out minute colour spots found on all genuine £1 Queen
Therefore the GENUINE show six specific little solid colour pinpoint dots that
were meticulously retouched out by Sperati!
If anyone knows of an example selling in recent times please let me know, as I'd
be curious as to the current price level on this.
Happy Golden Anniversary - Stamp News!
A truly wonderful and impressive record - and hats off to Bill Hornadge for
conceiving the idea, and Kevin Morgan and staff for continuing the fine
I have advertised heavily here for nearly half that period, starting when Bill
was at the helm, and providing us with massive magazines running to 100s of
pages a month. All in glorious black and white and printed on yellowish
newsprint pulp paper!
I have written this "Tipster" column for many years as well, and have seen the
finial finish and appearance improve markedly over the years.
I've just turned
50, so hope I am around to celebrate "Stamp News" Birthday 100 !
Contact Glen Stephens:
Box 7, Castlecrag. NSW. 2068. Australia.
Phone - (02) 9958 1333
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