- The art of the Con
Jean de Sperati- King of
the Stamp Forgers
Of all the stamp forgers that have ever lived, there
is little question that Jean de Sperati is regarded as the most famous. He was
born in Italy in 1884 and throughout his life; he bedeviled collectors and government
officials alike with his fabulous copies. Many of the copies made by Sperati
are more valuable than the originals themselves. When Sperati was 70-years old
and in ill-health he accepted an offer from the British Philatelic Association
of $40,000 to sell all his materials, his stock and printing presses and agree
never to return to his life-long profession of forgery of postage stamps.
The agreement was probably made only because Sperati was losing
his eyesight and knew that he would be unable to stay on top of his game much
longer. However, when he died several years after the deal had been struck;
it was found that he was still hard at work at his first love, the forgery of
great stamps. During his lifetime, it has been said that he was able to make
superb copies of almost 600 different valuable postage stamps from over 100
countries, a particularly prodigious feat.
Sperati gravitated into the business of stamp forgery in Pisa
Italy at an early age. He had become a self-trained expert at the paper used
to make stamps and was well versed in the chemistry behind it as well. When
he was counterfeiting a stamp, he would often remove the color and art from
a stamp of lessor value thus being left with a blank copy of the same stock.
He would then print his version of the stamp on the now denuded paper. He would
then run off several copies of the stamps and send them to expertization services
for their opinion. Whenever the experts were willing to certify to the authenticity
of the stamp, he would put it into an auction with the certificate of authenticity
attached. Although hauled into court many times, Sperati was always able to
beat the case against him and remained the scourge of the stamp world until
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.”