The Expertizing of Typographed Overprints

The Expertizing of Typographed Overprints
By Hans Stolz

Overprints have always been of great concern to philatelists. After all, they seem so easily made. Indeed they are easy to imitate. Duplicate however is fortunately impossible.

Most overprints are of course not printed on the original issue, but rather on a second printing of that issue. There are two reasons for this. First, no sufficient stock may be available since the issue has been distributed to the post offices, and secondly sheets of stamps are considerably weakened by the perforation holes and can not easily be fed into a printing press. The usual process of producing an overprinted issue is that the original design is reprinted on the pre-gummed paper, then the overprint is applied, and last the sheets are perforated.

But conditions are not always ideal. Sometimes the overprints had to be made on the original issue. Some examples:

In 1941 the French Colonies, under the leadership of General Charles ~ Gaulle, decided to overprint their stamps with “France Libre” (Free France) in order to stimulate the war effort.

In St. Pierre & Miquelon, a small island group off the coast of Newfoundland, the Free French administration overprinted their available stock of stamps with “FRANCE LIBRE” and “F.N.F.L.” (Forces Navales Francaises Libres) in two lines (figure 1). A setting of 25 (5x5) was made The setting was typeset with slightly worn letters and periods, resulting in 25 slightly differing overprints. The quantities of the different denominations on hand were quite irregular. Some values were in short supply, especially the 3fr gray brown. The overprinted 3fr is a great rarity. This was of course a tantalizing invitation to a forger.

To expertize these stamps the overprints have to be plated.

This plating is done by first separating the overprints into seven basic types, according to the relative positions of the letters “B” and “L”. By extending an imaginary vertical line from the left side of the main body of the “L” of “F.N.F .L.” toward the “B” of I.’LIBRE” we find the seven types (figure 2). Next an imaginary horizontal line is drawn at the base of “F.N.F .L.”. The normal periods are cut by this line, but some periods are raised just above this line. Finally there are differences in spacing and tiny irregularities that are characteristic for each position.

For example pos.5 is type 5 with a wide spacing between “F’ and “L” and the third period small and raised; pos. 8 is type 5 with the period after the first “F” raised and the upper serif of the “N” in “F.N.F .L.” slanted; pos. 11 is type 7 with a nick in the “N” and three raised period, and so on.

Position 16 is of particular interest because the counterfeits were made by photographically reproducing this overprint. All other positions are always genuine. Position 16 needs further examination by checking the ink that was used, the relative transparency of the ink, the strength of the impression, the resulting framelining, etc.

In the summer of 1933 General Italo Balbo led a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti flying boats on a goodwill flight from Rome to the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Several intermediate stops were scheduled. Following the example of the Zeppelins, the Italian authorities encouraged people to mail letters and cards, which would be embellished with commemorative cachets. Additional rates were charged. It was hoped that some money would be recovered to abate the expense of the undertaking. Special stamps were issued by Italy, the Aegean Islands, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Iceland with different values for different legs of the flight.

Newfoundland decided to participate and to issue a special stamp for use on the return trip. The rate agreed to with the Italian authorities was $ 4.50 for a half ounce letter to Europe.

Since there was not enough time to prepare a special stamp, it was decided to instead apply a commemorative overprint on available perforated stamps. The firm of Robinson & Co. in St. John’s was chosen to produce 8,000 overprinted stamps. The overprint was typeset in a setting of four positions and was applied to blocks of four of the 75-cent air mail stamps. Again the type used was somewhat worn and each of the four is slightly different (figure 3).

In position 1, the vertical left leg of the “H” is shorter than the right one, in position 2 the first “B” of “BALBO” is damaged forming a tail, in position 3 the horizontal bar of the “L” is slightly curved and broken at right, in position 4 the period after “GEN” is almost perpendicular to the “I” in “FLIGHT”, and so on.

Two blocks of four received an inverted overprint. One was discovered at the time and torn up. Fortunately the fragments survived and were later expertly rejoined and appeared on the market.

Of course, forgeries were made. Some of the characteristics of these forgeries are:

The ball of the “5” is much wider in the forgeries than in any of the genuine stamps. The “G” of “FLIGHT” has a break in the top, which does not occur in any of the genuine stamps. The two rectangles that obliterate the “75c” are closer together than in the genuine stamps. The second “3” of “1933” is further to the right of the” A” of “BALBO” than in any of the genuine types. The bar under “1933” is thicker at the left than at the right, whereas in the genuine stamps they are of almost equal thickness.

Two years earlier, in 1931, the Dornier twelve-engine flying boat, the DO-X, made its first (and last) Trans-Atlantic flight, from Germany to Brazil, to the United States, and back home with a total of 32 stops in between. Six of these stops lasted from several weeks to several months because of needed repairs. The Dornier company also promoted the mailing of letters and cards They furnished an abundance of different cachets for every conceivable leg of the flight.

Newfoundland prepared a stamp for the occasion by applying a red overprint to the $1.00 airmail stamp (figure 4).

The overprinting was done in a setting of four cliches. The sheets were broken up into blocks of four. A few blocks were fed in carelessly and show a slanting overprint. After the overprinting,which was done by the firm of D.D. Thistle in St. John’s, was finished and the ink was discarded. A total of 8,000 stamps were printed. They were put on sale on May 19, 1932, one day before the DO-X was to arrive. They sold out that same day.

Because the setting consisted of cliches the four positions are identical and therefore can not be plated. Well-executed forgeries exist, but they differ in a few details. In the genuine stamp the “e” of “Per” is dead center under the “W” of “WEST”. In the forgery it is under the bottom right point of the “W”. The “E” of “WEST” and the “0” of “TO” are in the forgeries further to the left in relation to the letters above them then in the genuine stamps. The “I” of “DORNIER” is in the genuine stamp to the left of the top right hand serif of the “T” in “TWO”, in the forgery it is to the right.

It is believed that a few days later with the unofficial connivance of some official a few inverted overprints were made. Nicolas Sanabria, the authority on airmail stamps, stated that 20 were made. Other authorities have suggested that the number is 32. Either way it is a great rarity.

The crucial point in expertizing is that a new batch of printing ink had to be prepared. Instead of the intense carmine, the new ink was more orange vermilion and of a slightly different viscosity, making the overprint seem a tiny bit heavier. However there is no doubt that the overprint was made from the genuine setting, and therefore the stamp is accepted as a legitimate item.

In the early 1960s I worked at the auction house of Edgar Mohrmann in Hamburg,
Germany as an auction describer. Edgar Mohrmann was a towering figure among German philatelists. His firm was the premier auction house in Germany at that time.

Like any other auctioneer he was always on the lookout for rare items to put in his sales. One day he got the Newfoundland inverted DO-X stamp for auction. It fell to Otto Krumhaar, whose desk was next to mine, to write it up. Otto Krumhaar was a well respected authority on German States. He compared the stamp with the normal one, noted the difference in the overprint color and authoritatively proclaimed it to be a fake, whereupon Margarete Reuner, the head of the department, took it to Mr. Mohrmann’s office. Two seconds later Edgar Mohrmann, who was not known for subtlety, burst from his office and bellowed loud and clear across the room: “Mr. Krumhaar, you are an idiot. My misfortune, I have only idiots working for me.” Mrs. Reuner then suggested that maybe the stamp should get an expertizing certificate because some of the buyers may be idiots, too. Mohrmann’s answer was: “Good idea, send it to Diena.” Of course it came back with a good certificate.

Poor Mr. Krumhaar. He went outside his field of expertise and fell into a trap (unfortunately all too common). He jumped to a conclusion without knowing the history and origin of the stamp and without having reference material.