How to identify a forged postmark on Stamp

by A.M.T. Cheung FRPSL

Forgery of postal markings on stamps and covers dated back hundred of years ago when the first stamp was issued. At first, it was one way to cheat the post office of its revenue but nowadays, the only motive is cheating collectors. As long as collectors are looking for elusive items for their collection, the forgers would be hard at work producing what they want. In the advent of computer technology and improved techniques, better and better fakes are being produced everyday.


How can we tell whether a postmark is a fake?


The most important single factor is knowledge:-

  • The period of usage of the postmark
  • The general appearance of the postmark e.g. a very fine example is suspect if majority of recorded examples are in poor condition.
  • What kind of stamps exist bearing such a postmark, for example it would be too obvious if an Edwardian stamp bears a Victorian postmark.
  • The condition of the stamp - damaged stamps bearing rare postmarks are always suspect. It is all too easy for a forger to put a nice marking on a damaged stamp in order to sell it to an unwary collector. This is particularly true when the damaged stamp is a rare stamp.

Let's look at an example:-


This is a rare Hong Kong Victorian stamp - the 96c Olive Bistre and it has an even rarer postmark - the Sunburst in purple colour together with a blue B62 cancel. On reverse, the is a repaired tear and what looks like an expert signature. Most Hong Kong postmark colletors may know that the Sunburst on 96c Olive Bistre is a most desirable item as on record there is only one or two recorded. All the genuine Sunburst cancels are in a pale blue shade and do not come with a B62 cancel. This example is immediately suspicious with the Sunburst on top of the genuine B62 mark. The tell-tale sign that this is a fake is confirmed by the fact that the purple ink of the postmark seeped through to the back and this can only occur when it being struck on a stamp without gum since gum acts as a barrier. No doubt, seeing that the Olive Bistre is damaged, the forger applied a fake Sunburst in order to make it a saleable item. However, he could have done better if he had used black ink instead since matching the exact shade of blue ink is almost impossible.


We can obtain our knowledge from reference books and by studying recognized examples of the postmarks in other people's collections. A powerful magnifying glass/microscope is indispensible and there are other scientific means such as the U.V. Abosorption test and spectrophotometry for the analysing of the colour and composition of the ink. Of course we can ask experienced collectors to tell us what they think. Furthermore, one can obtain expertization certificates from expert groups like the Royal Philatelic Society, the APS and the BPA etc.


The Federation Internationale de Philatelie (FIP) has a Forgery Commission dedicted to fighting against forgeries. The group produces a yearly journal containing articles written by experts in their field and new ways of identifying forgeries. These journals can be obtained by contacting the group.