The Moens-Torres fantasy stamps and forgeries (Part One)
by Gerhard Lang-Valchs
Readers of my feature in the December 2016 Stamp Lover will remember my reference to the Belgian journal Le Timbre- Poste [TP] and its editor, the Brussels librarian and stamp dealer Jean–Baptiste Moens, During the late 19th century this journal was probably the most widely read among philatelists worldwide and its editor could draw on a wide-spread net of correspondents in all continents, who kept him informed about all news and novelties in the field of the postal administration, mainly the new or planned stamp issues.
Beside the publication of articles about different countries and their former issued stamps, the aim of the editor was to present first of all the recent issues with their illustrations, a very useful and necessary information in a time the first, still poorly illustrated catalogues were about to be printed. Le Timbre-Poste used to show for the first time to many dealers and collectors the real design of the recently issued stamps.
But there also appeared in the review a certain number of strange items, with very little reliable information about their possibly dubious origins, often together with the nearly never fulfilled promise to keep the readers informed about further inquiries to be made in order to clarify remaining questions and doubts. The illustrations of those items, as well as nearly all of the more than 2000 stamps published during the first 15 years of the publication of the journal, were depicted on the 34 lithographic sheets of the 1877 Moens catalogue (1). On the second last of them most of those speculative specimen are put together (#2123 to 2154).
This series of articles will present a detailed analysis only of the most interesting cases of these strange products. This procedure seems to be justified by the fact, that the Moens journal and catalogue as well as nearly all other referred sources are available and downloadable on internet(2). So, I will not present a detailed analysis of each and every one of the mentioned items, because the truth content of the correspondent assertions can be easily verified. The Klaseboer catalogue and the website stampforgeriesoftheworld have served as an additional database and were useful for comparison(3).
The Tahiti/Haiti bogus
The first case of a strange stamp ever published in a philatelic journal, is that of the Pommare stamp, a fantasy product of 1863 with bizarre and confusing ingredients, that took Haiti for Tahiti. The first notice about it can be found in the July issue of the Magazin für Briefmarken-Sammler [MBS] (4). A xilographic illustration of the stamp is presented. The stamp had been offered weeks before in Brussels, where a friend of the German dealer and editor bought it. British stamp dealers had been consulted about the origins of this unknown stamp prior to the publication of the article, without any positive result.
When the Moens-review presents three months later a lithographic copy of the stamp, we can easily realize, that we are speakiing about the same item. The story told and explanations given sound bizarre, are not really explicit and the further information about the stamp, promised to the readers, would never be published (5). More surprising than those confusing facts is the result of a detailed comparison of the Moens illustration and quite a lot of originals in different colours.
Except for the different colours, the illustration coincides with all other samples even in the details. The number of background lines (65 at the left and 61 at the right) of the central oval, the white, uncovered surfaces at both sides of the oval with their form of a demilune, the number of shading lines at the neck (12), of the face from the eyes until the chin (15) are all the same. The upper inscription, inverted italics with a very particular « R,E,S» and the final dot, the two «M» of «POMMARE» and the final double dot at the lower part of the inscription, the whole design is identical and it is impossible to find significant differences among all the “original” samples and the illustration. There are, of course, some minor defects among the different “originals” due to the particularities of the printing technique.
Not existing significant differences between the illustration found in Le Timbre-Poste and the other analyzed items, there remains only one possible conclusion. The copy used by Moens to make the clichés for his journal came directly from the same original lithographic stone that had served to print the « carotte», as the Belgian used to call this type of speculative stamps, in their different colours.
An early Haiti fantasy and its forgeries
From Tahiti we switch to Haiti. The report about an Haitian stamp is the story of another fantasy stamp, although some collectors think it might have been a (officially) forgotten essay. The first information available about it comes again from J.-B. Moens and dates from September 15th 1868 (6). Two weeks later the French magazine Le Timbrophile [LTP] and another month and a half later the British Stamp Collector’s Magazine [SCM] as well cover the same subject with their articles. (7) The images used for their illustrations seem to be the same. (8)
The existence of real samples with three slightly different shades of colour, but the same motive, and three illustrations from different journals, seemingly very close one to the other, oblige us to have a sceptical look and to proceed to a comparing analysis.
Let’s look at the differences existing among the different types of real samples. The type #1 shows the most perfectly achieved version, which could indicate, that it is the original stamp, a question on which we will comment later. The central circle’s outer frame is well centered and surround by 78 points, 39 at each side, that should represent pearls, type #2 shows 38 at the left and 34 at the right and the outer frame of the central circle does not touch the rectangular frame at its lower side. So it even allows to count the background lines at this place. Type #3 presents 40 and 42 points. The tip of the Frigian cap at the top of the palm tree points to the left (#1 and 2) and shows, as well as the leaves of the tree, a clearly visible, but slightly different shading: vertical at the cap and as if it was made by the passing of a clockhand (#1) and from left to right all in the same direction (#2), whereas #3 shows almost none.
It is a fact, that about 80% of illustrations or forgeries of stamps the original looks “better” than the fake. That can be an indicator, but it does not give us certainty, because that “better”- looking may have very different reasons. Another fact is, that at the time of manual copies we are speaking of, the copied design used to show less detail, often depicted in a slightly different way, and is tending to simplify (not intentionally) somehow the design, but nearly never to “complicate” it. I think, that is what makes the difference between the type #1 and the others.
The shading lines of the flags are disrupted by three or two (“white”) lines pretending to simulate their waving (#1). The cannon balls are put in two orderly organized mounds. Something fixed at the middle of the palm tree, not really identifiable, tends to disappear
in the other samples. The short horizontal and vertical additional treats of the lateral ornamentals show the same tendency. That should be food for thought enough in this secondary question.
The first part of the analysis has demonstrated that we are really treating with three different types of the Haitian stamp. Now we have to continue with the comparison of the three illustrations and the type #3-sample. They obviously do share a not yet mentioned differential sign: the Frigian cap’s tip points to the right. The main elements of the three illustrations and the #3- sample are all the same. The number of points/pearls around the circle, the rather non-existent shading of the leaves and their identical disposition, the scarce design of the cannon, the two orderly disposed amounts of 6 nearly symbolic cannon balls, the number, disposition and form of the lines that define the ground, the number of the shading lines of the flags (10 at the front flags, 6 at the back ones). The number of
background lines of the spandrels, as far as they can be counted, don’t indicate any divergence.
The only elements up to a certain point not matching can be found at the inscriptions, the lateral ornaments and those of the corners.Theyhaveobviouslybeenretouched.Thepoints/pearls are now bigger, but we find them in the same number and disposition. You can see it best at the right side in the middle of the circle. The points/pearls #21 and 22 are decentered, but even the retouching cannot entirely camouflage their uneven position. (9)
Once finished our analysis, it is clear, that the #3 is, without any doubt, an identical copy from the same stone as the Moens- illustration (#4) and the SCM (#5) and LTP-sample (#6). At the illustrations we don’t find any trace of differences a hand-made copy would inevitably have left. On the contrary, none of them shows any relevant difference except for the lateral adornments and the inscription, due to a later retouching. We have to speak of three identical illustrations, copies taken from the same original stone.
This result might be a surprise for most readers, but we got the same result when analysing other parallel cases, some of them already published in various European journals.10 It shows that the three revues had the same engraver, the original stone had served to produce the forgeries as well as the illustrations of the #3-sample.
This Torres forgery is a copy of the original fantasy product, in my opinion most probably represented by the #1-sample. I will not insist in the discussion whether #1 is the original or not, nor whether the original is an essay or not. Both are secondary questions in this context. In presuming I would say, that the political situation on the Haitian isle in those years was of a (civil) war, not precisely a favourable moment to implant a postal administration issuing stamps. And I would like to add another argument. Taking in to account that the highest value of the series of the first official Haiti issue from 1881 is 20c, it seems most unlikely to suppose the existence of a 25c essay in 1868.
The stamps illustrated here bear little resemblance to the early issues of Haiti listed in SG Stamps of the World.
To be continued.
Editor’s Note: We hope to publish the next instalment in the June Stamp Lover, this will include Prince Edward Island, Irish Fenians, and US Confederate States.
1. Jean-Baptiste Moens: Catalogue prix-courant de timbres-poste, 5th edition, Brussels 1877.
2. See: http://www.rpsl.org.uk oder http://www.memoires.timbrologie.online.fr.
3. http://www.stampforgeriesoftheworld.com and www.klaseboer.com (complete catalogue on CD). I’ve to aknowledge my gratitude to both authors for their permission to use their images.
4. MBS, (July 1st), 1863, p. 21.
5. Le Timbre-Poste [TP], no 1-12, août 1863, p. 8.
6. TP, no 69, p. 66.
7. LTP, no 11; p. 373; SCM, oct. 1868, p. 153.
8. A parallel case is that of the supposed Moens forgeries of the 1866 Newfoundland issue. See Gerhard Lang-Valchs [GLV]: How an Old Stamp Album threw new light on 19th century forgeries, Stamp Lover, vol. 108, 2016, p. 174-176.
9. We start counting clockwise at the top with the first point/pearl at the right, below the first “I” of “HAITI”.
10. GLV: How.