Egypt: More on the Suez Canal Stamps Sept 23, 2014 19:23:24 GMT tomiseksj, Ryan, and 4 more like this
Post by 1840to1940 on Sept 23, 2014 19:23:24 GMT
I’ve not contributed much to this forum, so by way of making amends, I thought I would share something about the Suez Canal stamps of 1868. There have been a couple of posts on this already, but hopefully some of what follows will be useful.
Many collectors of Egypt, France, the world, or ship-related topicals are interested in the Suez Canal stamps but are loathe to risk money on them because of the number of forgeries. I certainly fell into this category, but a recent eBay purchase landed me 26 copies. So my task: was any of what I bought legit and how does one tell?
By way of background, the French company that built the Suez Canal initially carried mail gratis between Port Said on the Canal’s north and Suez on the south. The volume of mail, over 6000 letters a month, was sufficient to convince the Company that a profit could be made by charging for the service. To that end, four stamps in the denominations of 1, 5, 20 and 40 centimes were issued. All had the same design except for denomination and color. They were printed from four lithographic stones of ten by twelve. The stamps were imperforate (perforated stamps were too costly due to the comparatively small printing run.) The paper is watermarked but the watermark is missing on most copies.
The stamps were in use for fewer than 40 days during 1868 before the Egyptian government declared them illegitimate. Even though they were valid for such a short period, there is no shortage of these stamps in old time collections or to be had on venues such as eBay. This is in spite of unused Suez Canal stamps cataloging $35-$275 and used $575-$1150 (2014 Scott values). Note that this is one of those unusual cases where the catalog value of used is substantially more than unused.
According to the leading expert on these issues, Jean Boulad d’Humières, the number of stamps issued (not counting printer’s waste) was:
Denomination -- Manufactured -- Remaindered -- Maximum Possible Used
1 centime, black -- 6,020 -- 3,214 -- 2,806
5c, green -- 31,232 -- 28,524 -- 2,708
20c, blue -- 105,644 -- 93,867 -- 11,777
40c, red -- 10,863 -- 9,376 -- 1,487
The “Manufactured” number includes printer’s waste. The “Used” estimate is an absolute upper limit. The actual number of stamps that saw postal use according to Boulad d’Humieres was probably much lower.
Perhaps of more practical interest to collectors is the number of surviving used stamps. Not many! The number of known covers is 21 (as of 1985). In addition, only a small number of off-cover examples appear legitimate. So there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the odds are high that any cancelled stamps you come across are fakes. The good news for collectors is that the number of stamps printed suggests that a fair number of legitimate unused stamps have survived.
But how to tell the difference between real and fake? I’ll start with why the forgeries make collectors nervous: someone got hold of the original lithographic stone of the 40c value. That first someone was the Parisian stamp dealer, Erard d’Etiolles. How he acquired the stone is unknown although it is probably significant that he had an office near the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company! The stone was subsequently acquired by another stamp dealer, M Saatjian, after which it perhaps went into the hands of a known Belgian forger. Its subsequent whereabouts is unknown.
Regardless of provenance, M Saatjian made what I suppose charitably could be called unauthorized reprints from the 40c stone. Less charitably you might call these forged reprints as his intent was to defraud. Saatjian also used the 40c stone to create forgeries of the other three denominations, a comparatively simple task as he only needed to change the numbers in the four corners.
The most comprehensive work on the Suez Canal stamps is The Private Ship Letter Stamps of the World, v.3: The Suez Canal Company published by Leonard H. Hartmann. This is a translation from the French of the book by Jean Boulad d’Humières, translated by S. Ringström and H. E. Tester. In addition to historical information, the book has plating information and a detailed discussion of how to identify 20 specific forgeries. There are also chapters on faked covers and cancellations. And for your added viewing pleasure, the book includes an oversized reproduction of an entire sheet of the 40 centime value! Boulad d’Humières book is available from Hartmann’s store, the Philatelic Bibliopole.
A much more concise but still useful guide is Forgery & reprint guide ; 14. Suez Canal, published by J Barefoot c1983. The author apparently is Andrew Hall with assistance of Peter Bottrill. The pamphlet includes an abbreviated plating guide which is helpful in identifying the Saatjian forgeries from the original stone. Unfortunately, the pamphlet appears to be out-of-print. You can find excerpts from the guide though on various websites.
Finally, often cited as a reference for these stamps is The Encyclopaedia of British Empire postage stamps, 1806-1948. Vol. II. The Empire in Africa by Robson Lowe, 1949. While this is an absolutely fascinating series, the Suez Canal stamps occupy only two pages and, especially for forgery detection, are superseded by the above two titles.
(If you are an APS member, all three can be borrowed from their library.)
Some of what is in these books, especially the Barefoot guide, has been summarized on the web by:
The Stamps of the Suez Canal Company 1868, www.philatoforge.co.uk/Case%20Studies.html
THE POSTAGE STAMPS OF THE SUEZ CANAL COMPANY, www.rjbw.net/SuezCanal.html
SUEZ CANAL COMPANY, catalogue.klaseboer.com/vol1/html/suez.htm
The Stamps of the Suez Canal Company, www.maf1.com/tsandcc/Stamps_of_the_Suez_Canal_Company.pdf
Once you become familiar with the various forgeries, most of the ones other than Saatjian’s are easily spotted. The most obvious clue is that the lines between the oval and the word “Postes” are vertical on most forgeries. The real stamps have diagonal crosshatching as well as vertical lines. Unfortunately, so do the Saatjian forgeries. To identify these, you’ll need to consult the books or websites listed above.
But I do have one test to share that I don’t think has otherwise been illustrated on the web. The real stamps exhibit a distinctive “crackling” of the gum. Many of the forgeries, Saatjian or not, have smooth gum. Of course, if your copy is missing gum or is damaged from heavy hinging or other abuse, this may not be revealing. But here is what the gum should look like:
So what was the result of my eBay purchase? Alas, one hundred percent forgeries. The collector who thought most of his copies were real instead had the forgeries made from the original stones, so of course they were quite close to the originals. But if the collector had known about the gum test, he would immediately known what he had were fakes. His (and now my) copies all have smooth gum.