The Hawaiian Footprints of a European Stamp Forger (Published in AJP No. 153; Sep. 2020)

by Gerhard Lang-Valchs


Three years ago, when I started researching for the first time on Hawaiian forgeries, I wrote what will now be a kind of first part of this article, published in July 2018 in this magazine, I had discovered through years of research about the activities of the Spanish lithographer and forger Plácido Ramón de Torres (1847-1918) some dozens of his forgeries of stamps of different countries and I was convinced, that Hawaii could not be the exception to the rule. Trying to discover his Hawaiian implication I found something different of what I had been looking for: the so-called Scott-strip described and analysed in the referred article.

But, after a recent revision of this article, it turned out to be a failed approach. I’ll try to make it better this time refocusing towards the end of the present article the line of arguments.   

Fig. 1: Torres´Album front page

Fig. 2: genuine

Fig. 3: Illustration Torres´Album

Fig. 4: actual “minor forgery”

The “minor forgeries”

I call now “minor forgeries” the by-products of the production of Torres’ illustrations. Before delivering the illustrations ordered by his and his patron’s clients, the editors of the early European stamp magazines like Le Timbre Poste or Stamp Collectors Magazine, for their current publications on recently published issues, he made some black and white proofs and some “private copies” in colour.

They were later put into stamp packages, an act that converted them into actual forgeries. They may be detected with the aid of his 1879 stamp album, the different editions of the Stanley Gibbons or the Moens catalogues can serve as well as a kind of handbook.[1] But, being low, single and cheap values, nobody cared about them, they were trashed and most of them got lost.

[1] The old Stanley-Gibbons Catalogues – Handbooks to Detect Forgeries? Stamp Lover, vol. 112, nº 1, p. 12-15, Febr. 2020.

The knowledge acquired

The research on traces Torres had left, led first to the discovery of some strange but revealing details of his very particular way of understanding his forging activities. When forgers normally use to copy the original to imitate it the best way they are able, not so Torres, who included deliberately “errors” in some of his productions, not only in the illustrations, but as well in their copies converted into forgeries.

Fig. 6: “V” instead of “Y”

The Spaniard created as well some pure fantasy stamps.[1] And he produced a lot of items, difficult to classify, “hybrids” between “error”- or “joke”-stamps, forgeries or fantasy stamps.[2]

[1] The Moens-Torres Fantasy Stamps and Forgeries, Stamp Lover, vol. 109, n. 2, April 2017, p. 52-53 (part I); n. 3, June 2017, p. 77-79 (part II); n. 4, August, p. 109-111 (part III).

[2] GLV: The Stamp Fun Factory – Poking Fun on Editors and Collectors, Stamp Lover, vol. 109, nº 6, Dec. 2017, p. 173-175.

Fig. 7: Torres-forgery

Fig. 8: Torres bogus

His “major forgeries”

His production was, however, not limited to stamps, he also produced fake cancels, partly collaborating with the Swiss forger François Fournier. Those cancels  show as well the same extravagances and other similar practise as changing inscriptions, creating “jokes”, incomplete or part-cancels”…[1]

[1] Las „bromas españolas“ de Plácido Ramón de Torres, Eco Filatélico, febrero 2019, p. 28-30.  Fehlerhafte Inschriften. Ein Künstler und ein Fälscher als Geschäftspartner. François Fournier und Plácido Ramón de Torres, Deutsche Briefmarken Zeitung [DBZ], 7/2019, p. 22-24, 8/2019, 20-22.

Fig. 9: phantasy hand-stamp (middle) with “error” “SS”

Being this strange behaviour unique in the world of forgeries, it was of decisive help to discover the “major forgeries” he had produced, imitations of high values or whole series of classic stamps of nearly all stamp issuing countries and territories world-wide.

The above mentioned knowledge, acquired during the research, opened the door to detect his forgeries, “error-jokes” and fantasies of the first Buenos Aires issue, the so-called “barquitos” (steamships). Through the cancels applied on those fakes, obviously as well his work, most of his Italian and South American forgeries could be detected, his “major forgeries”. The results are being published little by little in the affected countries. Finally, further comparison of different cancels that appeared on his forgeries allowed to add some important cancels to that never ending list.

Fig. 10: PARAGUAY instead of URUGUAY

Fig. 11: Partial cancel (C)ARACAS

Some Torres fake cancels

Fig. 16: Different Torres-cancels on the same forgery

(courtesy Kenneth Pugh)


Fig. 17: Torres-phantasy: Undecipherable

signs, meaningless word

The Spaniard was very creative “re-designing” or re-inventing some of his objects to copy. A similar creativity can be found in the production and application of his fake-cancels.

A comparing look at different cancels applied to the same types of forgeries of other countries shows, that we can identify various of those cancellations, some known from forged Hawaiian stamps as well. One is the circular “VF”-cancel. It consists of two “words” placed on the upper part of the circle. The first one shows various cryptic characters or signs, the second a meaningless “DOCIWL”. Between this inscription and a fat dot on the opposite side of the circle we see a centred “VF” [possibly “V(SIGLI) F(IRENZE)” as a kind of trademark of Torres’ patron].

The „K. K. ZEITUNGS – EXPEDITION“- cancel is another of the typical handstamps Plácido applied to stamps of whatsoever country, although its “correct” use would have been limited to German or Austrian newspaper-stamps. A lot of forgeries from Spain and the Philippines that bear this strange cancellation have been recently identified as Torres-products.[1] Those last two mentioned cancels can be found, as we will see later, on his Hawaiian “major forgeries” as well.

[1] Plácido Ramón de Torres and His Cuban Forgeries. Plácido Ramón de Torres y sus falsos de Cuba. Journal of Cuban Philately. Revista de Filatelia Cubana. Vol. 10, no. 4, issue 38, October – December 2019, p. 3 -14.

Fig. 18: Torres-fake-cancel:


Torres and the Spiros

The so-called Spud-Papers are a series of articles about the stamp forgeries available on the European philatelic market during the 1870’s, published by British experts in the stamp magazine The Philatelist. Recompiled in the early 1880’s, their authors pretended to name and shame the forgeries or facsimiles, produced or simply sold by the Hamburg sited firm H. & P. Spiro brothers. The particularity of those magazine-articles and their first recompilation was, that they had originals of one or various of the presented fake-values affixed to their pages. A recent revision and critical comparison has shown, however, that at least up to 20% of those forgeries are not the work of the Spiros, but of Torres.

As the study has shown as well, not few of the Torres-forgeries seem to be directly copied from the Spiro-facsimiles. Of course, it could as well be the other way round. Anyway. As (very) close copies they are sometimes quite difficult to distinguish one from another. The cancellations are not ever helpful, because some of the mute cancels used by the Hamburg brothers had been obviously copied as well. As far as the Hawaiian forgeries are concerned, we can only rely in the most of the cases on the most typical of the Spiro-cancels in order to describe the particularities in comparison with other imitations. So we will present, whenever available, the Spiro-facsimiles, identified by their most emblematic cancel, side by side with the Torres-fakes and the Spud-papers’-samples describing their differences, if existing. So, the comparison can be easily verified by the reader.

The Boston engraved issue

The 5 cts-value

Fig. 19: genuine sample

Fig. 20: Spiro-facsimile

Fig. 21: Spud Papers sample

Fig. 22: Torres-forgery

The big even on most used fakes clearly visible dot at the chin of King Kamehameha is in my opinion the easiest way to identify the “Spiro-facsimiles” among the forgeries of this issue, if the “typical” Spiro-cancel does not delate it at first sight. The figure #14 shows a Torres-forgery that we can identify as well by its typical VF-cancel.

The Spud-papers’-sample (fig. 13) bears a cancels that can’t be identified, but it does not show the particular dot at the chin. It coincides with the Torres-sample in its defects as the right line of the inner frame that only reaches from above until the level of the lower right peak of the inscription-banderole. If continued, it would cut off a small part of the central background that has no clear limits in that area. At the left of the central image the vertical frame line continues all the image long being in its lower part twice as big. A lower frame line does not exist. We can see instead of it a wide white space that ends at the value label. Those coincidences make clear, that the Spud-papers’-sample is by no means a Spiro-product, but a Torres-forgery showing both all those distinctive signs that distinguish them from the facsimile.  

The 13 cts-value

Fig. 23: Genuine sample

Fig. 24: Irregular “mini-tiling”

Fig. 25: background = diagonally crossed lines

The dot at the chin and the typical cancel are again evidence enough to identify the first sample (fig. 16) as a “Spiro-facsimile”.

The defects of the frame lines that had clearly identified the 5c-Torres and Spud-Papers-sample have disappeared in this value. Although it shows basically the same central part as before, it has been slightly retouched. However, the king’s physiognomy shows a lot of discriminating features. The whole face and the noose are, mainly at their right side, smaller than at the Spiro. The eyes have a different form, the pupils as well. The lines marking the shoulders are twice as big.

Although the clearly detectable differences let no space for doubts, that figure 18 is not a Spiro-fake, they are by themselves not 100% conclusive what the attribution to Torres is concerned, because there was no Torres-cancel on any of the samples I could see. As 30-40 non-Spiro-items out of the 150 forgeries presented in the Spud-Papers could be clearly identified as Torres-products, the probability that I’m right is very high.

The Torres forgeries of the Numeral-issue

Fig. 27: Torres´VF-cancel

Fig. 28: Torres´VF-cancel

Fig. 29: two values, same cancel:


In the left lateral labels of the presented samples appear a changed inscription. What should spell “HAWAIIAN” reads and spells in reality “HAWAHAN”. The two letters were converted into one [“H”] joining them with a central horizontal stroke. And that gives us the hint. This “error” points to Torres, but it is by itself not yet conclusive. The two different typical Torres-cancels I can present on various forged items, however, eliminate all doubts.

One of the forged values of the numeral-issue, the 2c, reveals on two different levels the authorship of our forger. It is the “K. K. ZEITUNGSEXPEDITION”-one-ring-cancel that has been identified and recently documented on Torres-forgeries of Spain and Cuba.[1] The second sample I’ll present not only shows the same “printing error”, but as well a 8-grid rhomboid cancel, never in use in Hawaii either.

[1] Plácido Ramón de Torres and His Cuban Forgeries. Plácido Ramón de Torres y sus falsos de Cuba. Journal of Cuban Philately. Revista de Filatelia Cubana. Vol. 10, no. 4, issue 38, October – December 2019, p. 3 -14.

Fig. 30: Two values, same cancel:


The 5c-sample presented here shows the same “errors” and defects as its previously presented fellow samples, even in black and blue. With the rhomboid grid-cancel another of Torres’ phantasy-stamp samples appears again. The two first samples present as well a second “error-joke”, this time in the right lateral inscription, where the final “A” of “LETA” has disappeared. And the three samples could be qualified as well as bogus, because the 5c-sample was not issued for inter-land-mail, as Torres’ upper inscriptions reads, but for foreign mail.

Fig. 31: Another Torres-cancel

Fig. 32: Different Torres cancels

on error/joke-stamps

Fig. 33 & 34: Different Torres cancels on error/joke-stamps

Fig. 35: Bogus, probably Torres-made

Among the samples of the pool of existing forgeries of this issue remains a strange 13c bogus-value to attribute to a forger. Actual existing bogus values within a classic series of a forged issue usually point to our forger. The multitude of additional final dots, one after each part of the inscription, is a rare fact that seems to confirm again his authorship. That completes the presentation of the Torres’ numeral-issue-forgeries.


Fig. 36: Genuine sample

Fig. 37: Spiro-facsimile

Fig. 38: Torres-forgery

The different forgeries of this issue are rather difficult to distinguish one from another. A great deal of them bear moreover cancels that kill the design and the possibilities to detect really distinguishing signs. So, in most cases the only chance not to fail is a clearly identificable Torres-cancel, very scarce on this stamp. The very small number of items I could see, was not enough to establish the minute existing differences.

The Bank-note-issue

Fig. 39: Different forgeries (Post-office in Paradise)

The Hawaiian web-site “Postoffice in Paradise” dedicates a lot of space to presentation of the early Hawaiian issues and their forgeries.[1] The paragraph Frame lines on a Spiro forgery lists all values of the Bank-note-issues putting them side by side with the genuine.[2] In two cases (5c and 6c) we find as well other forgeries that “may have emanated from someone other than Spiro”, as the text reads.

[1] and [04.07.2020; 8.40].

[2] I don’t agree with the author what his Sc #33 and 34 (6c and 18c) concerns. In my opinion both samples he presents are made by Torres, as their cancellations reveal. I could not find, however, samples with one of the two typical Sprio-cancels applied on other samples presented here for the 6c.

Fig. 40: Genuine samples Bank-note-issue

Fig. 41: Spiro-facsimile

Fig. 42: Torres-forgery

Fig. 43: Spiro-facsimile

Fig. 44: Different Torres-cancels,

same value

Fig. 45: Different Torres-cancels, same value

Fig. 46: Spiro-facsimile

Fig. 47: Different Torres-cancels

on the same value

Fig. 48 & 49: Different Torres-cancels on the same value

Fig. 50: Torres-forgery

Fig. 51: Spiro-forgery

Fig. 52: Torres-forgery

Indeed, three of the four samples are Torres-forgeries we can identify because of their different and particular cancels. Like in the case of the previously presented stamp, I’ll not analyse the minute differences in details between the Spiro- and the Torres-forgeries. The presentation of samples with the typical cancels that reveal their origins should be enough. 

A short sideglance at a kindred spirit

Fig. 53: Kamigata-cancel

Fig. 54: Maeda/Kamigata forgeries

Fig. 55: Maeda/Kamigata forgeries

To most collectors the names of the Japanese forger Kishei Maeda and the seller and distributor of his products, Kamigata, are not really familiar. The work of this Japanese duo shows some particularities very similar to those known from Torres. Both were up to a certain point using or applying the same strange forging practises.[1] Although a lot of their “error”-fakes are documented and described, nobody suspected up to now, that their errors were deliberately introduced as well. To avoid their misidentification with Torres, I’ll mention some of them I could detect. 

However, there’s no evidence of the said practise, in the here presented samples, no errors are included. Taking in account the telling cancellation applied on our sample (fig. 45), there can’t be any doubt that the first fake was made in the Japanese workshop. The “self-confessing” fake-cancel, a way to avoid legal prosecution for forgery, was mostly applied on non-Asian-forgeries.[2] The second sample seems to show another of their forgeries of the same issue. I’ve to admit that there may remain some doubts because of the only partly visible cancel. Maybe some collectors dispose of samples with a neater cancel and possibly as well of samples of other values.

The supposed Scott-strip (2nd round)

I can’t finish the present article without a very critical comment on my first, initially mentioned contribution to the Hawaiian philatelic history, although, astonishingly, anything negative about my presentation reached my ears and the article was even republished in England. When I read that article again some weeks ago, I could not but shake my head in astonishment about the way I had tried to evidence Torres’ implication in the production of the counterfeit. The reasoning was by no means convincing and partly erroneous. Despite those errors I have to admit, I still keep sustaining that Torres and not Scott was the author of the so-called “Scott-strip”. But his opinion has to be evidenced now by different arguments. Let me shortly explain them.

Illustrations of three of the stamps of the strip had been first presented in Moens’ review Le Timbre-Poste. So, they were obviously Torres’ products.[3] About a year later, Scott republished the article in his American Journal of Philately [AJPh], but he used different illustrations.[4] These show an identical design as those of the strip. The question is: Who really made the strip? What points to the Spaniard?

With the current experience of some more years of treating with Torres forgeries, some things get another quality. A look at the design of the 2cts and 5cts-value shows the lack of the dot above the first “I” of Hawaii. More telling than this omission is the changed inscription of the lower label. Instead of letters [FIVE] we see a numeral [5]. Both facts point to Torres and fit perfectly the meanwhile repeatedly demonstrated very particular “technique of forging” practised by him.

But there’s another, much stronger argument that contains in my opinion an 100% evidence. Except for the illustrations of the American Locals & Carriers, all other illustrations Scott’s magazine used during the 10 years of publication, are from Torres.[5] So are as well all his catalogue-illustrations up to the early 1880’s.

Up to the Scott-catalogues of the 1890’s, before they replaced the whole-size illustrations by ¾-sized, we find in all editions Torres’ illustration-“errors”. Three examples should be enough: The 1888 catalogue even shows in its illustrated appendix one of the Torres’ joke-illustration discovered and denounced by the British Stamp Collector’s Magazine

[1] A recently published study demonstrated, that the produce of the Japanese forger(s) Kamigata/Maeda show sometimes a similar strange behaviour. He/They, certainly, forged some Hawaiian stamps as well. Kishei Maeda, Plácido Ramón de Torres und ihre Eigenarten. Eingebaute Fehler. Die Einzigartigkeit zweier Fälscher, Teil II, DBZ 2020, SE 7, S. 12-14; Teil II, SE 9, S. 28-30.

[2] Varro E. Tyler(+): Japanese Forgeries of non-Japanese Stamps, Fakes, Forgeries, Experts, #5, May 2005.

[3] Die Lithographen des Jean-Baptiste Moens, Schweizer Briefmarken Zeitung [SBZ], 1-2, Januar/Februar 2020, 3/März 2020. (Revised version of the article with the same title published in Spanish and French [ECO FILATELICO, Sept. 2017; SBZ, 4, 7-8, 2019].

[4] American Journal of Philately, vol. 8, May 20, 1874, p. 75.

[5] The Early Scott Catalogues and Their Illustrations. Discovering a Spanish Forger’s Footprints, Collectors Club Philatelist, nº 96, Nov.-Dec. 2017, p. 205-210.