Chapter 23
Stamp Expertization

This chapter covers stamp expertization. Expertization is obtaining an expert opinion as to whether a particular stamp is genuine.


Quick I.D. Program

The American Philatelic Society now offers a Quick I.D. Program.  This is available to APS members and to non-members.  The system allows you to upload one of more scanned images of stamps.  This is not a formal expertization, but it may give you lots of information about what you have.  The cost is $2.00 per batch submitted plus $4 per image submitted for APS members or $8.00 per image submitted for non-APS members.  For details, please see the APS web site:


23.1 General Information

If you have a really high-value stamp, and you’re unsure it is genuine or not, you can have it expertised. Stamp experts will examine the stamp and render an opinion as to whether it is a legitimate stamp, a reprint, a fake, has the correct Scott number, etc.

When you start looking through your collection and through the Scott catalog, you are going to run across a $2,000 stamp. Your first reaction will be of great joy. Oh, boy! Oh, boy! I can take that trip to Hawaii! Obviously, you have a high-value collection, right?

Not necessarily. You could have a fake or altered stamp. The first thing you need to ask yourself is was the stamp collector known for buying expensive stamps? If the answer is no, alarm bells should be going off. Why is there a $2,000 stamp here?

The next thing you need to check is the notes listed under the stamp in the Scott catalog. Does it say, “See number x, y, z?” If it does, check stamps x, y and z out. You may have one of them instead.

If that fails, carefully remove the stamp and look at the back. Is it marked or rubber stamped “fake,” “facsimile,” or something like that? If it is, it will have less value -- usually considerably less if any value. (There are, however, a few cases where counterfeits of some older stamps can have significant value. If you have such an older counterfeit, ask a dealer.)

If it’s not genuine, then look again at the notes in the Scott catalog. Look a few columns ahead and in back of the stamp for any notes about reprints, “counterfeits exist” and things like that. There may be a note like that along with some clues about how to tell if you have a reprint or a fake.

If that fails, double check the color of the stamp against the Scott’s description. If the color says brown, and your stamp is blue, 999.9 times out of 1,000 you have a fake.

If you are still unsure, you perhaps can get an opinion from a stamp-collector friend, a member of a stamp club or from a dealer. Some dealers are very familiar with how the real stamp should look, and they may be willing to take a quick look at your stamp. If the dealer believes it is real, he/she might even want to buy it.

If you are still unsure, have the stamp expertized. There are a couple of organizations that do expertization in the USA. Here is how to use the one at APS.

1. Please check the APS web site for details on APS expertization:

2.  Send a #10 SASE to the APS requesting some blank expertization forms.  Mail to:
American Philatelic Expertizing Service
100 Match Factory Place
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823.

3. In about a week, you’ll get your envelope back full of small, green forms. They’ll send you as many forms as can be mailed based on the postage you applied to your SASE.

4. Take one of the forms and follow the instructions. The instructions are complex, but they’re understandable. When you are finished, you will have an envelope with the green form inside; the stamp inside the green form; two return envelopes, one of which is stamped and one of which might be stamped; and a check. It took me about two hours to figure all this out the first time!

5. Mail your envelope to APS at the same address as in step 1.

6. In a month or two or three, you’ll get a registered or certified letter back with a different green form, your original stamp(s) and an enlarged photograph of your stamp.

The first time I got one back, I saw the enlarged photo and was all upset. I knew that wasn’t my stamp. After a few hours of worrying that my stamp had been switched by some crook in Pennsylvania, I turned the page over and found my stamp in a little plastic envelope. Oh, well, my stamp was a fake anyway!

The green form will tell you if the stamp is a fake or if the stamp is real. If it’s real, keep the entire thing together as one piece. The stamp with the certificate attached is now much more sellable. If it’s a fake, they enclose a note asking you to donate it back to APS. They keep a library of the things to use as references for further expertization efforts.

Stamp expertization is not cheap. The first time you try it, you’ll spend at least $20 or $30. The amount you pay is based on SCV of the stamp. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll have a much better feel as to whether to do it again.

The above discussion is primarily for those of you who have inherited a collection from someone not known for buying high-value stamps from auction houses or dealers. You may want to have a few stamps expertised just to satisfy your curiosity as to whether or not they are genuine. Unfortunately, you will probably run into more fakes than genuine stamps. On the other hand, if the collector were known to buy really high value stamps, you probably will be selling the collection through an auction house or to a dealer. Or you may be having the collection appraised by an expert. If this is the case, don’t worry about expertization at this point. Let the professional tell you if it is necessary or not.


23.2 Where do fakes come from?

High-value stamps that turn out to be worthless get in collections in many ways. Here are a few:

1. By a counterfeiter who sold it as being the real thing. Age does not protect a stamp from being a fake. Counterfeiters have been at work since the earliest days of stamp production.--sometimes to fool collectors and sometimes to outwit the post office.

2. By a government that reprinted a stamp. The original is valuable; the reprint is not necessarily. They look about the same, and there’s only one spot in the album for a stamp like that.

3. Companies print sheets showing pictures of the “world’s most valuable” stamps, then sell them or give them away to promote something else. The nice ones put “facsimile” on the back; however, most don’t. The collector, who loves to fill up all the little blank spaces in the album, quickly cuts them all out and puts them right in the album beside the real stamps. He/she knows they are fakes, but I didn’t when I inherited the collection!

Numbers 2 and 3 are the big problems for most of us.

From time to time, you may also run into a stamp that has been “repaired.” Someone might have added gum to the back of a stamp that had no gum. This is called a regummed stamp. Someone could have trimmed a stamp to improve the centering. Some enterprising people trim the stamp and then add new perforations! Stamp experts can quickly spot these problems.