"Art of Sperati".

Jean de Sperati (1884 to 1957) created with his own hands what is undoubtedly the largest collection of fake classic stamps ever seen. For many philatelists, Sperati is the best stamp imitator, while others consider his creations to be the most dangerous forgeries of classic stamps ever made. For some an artist, for others a forger.

The story of how his forgeries came to be discovered and what followed afterwards, has been well described in the auction catalogue of the auction house mentioned below:

Jean de Sperati reached such a degree of perfection in his reproductions that he decided to make it known to the whole world, and not only to his friends, few collectors and experts under a restricted circle of secrecy. It was 1942 and the war requires the opening of the correspondence by the censorship, especially that one sent abroad. Sperati intelligently conceived to send these 18 reproductions of valuable classic stamps in an envelope to a stamp dealer in Lisbon (presumably Eladio de Santos) with whom he had already commercial and friendly relationships. Sperati warned his family in advance that the police would have certainly come to “visit” him in the next future. The shipment to Portugal was indeed retained by the French customs and thereupon the police arrived to Sperati’s residence, with the first reaction of Sperati being: “Do you come for the stamps?”.

18 imitations which Sperati sent to his business partner from Portugal.

The envelope in which the imitations were sent.

On 7.4.1942 the French customs sued Jean de Sperati for exporting stamps without declaration. At the request of the investigating judge of Chambéry, the stamps were expertised by a certain Marius Gilbert, a member of the Club Philatélique de Savoie, who declared all stamps to be genuine, providing the 1942 Yvert catalogue value of Fr95,400 and a market estimation of Fr60,500 – Fr78,000, although he stated not to have the competence to give his opinion on this subject
(the validated copy of this report sent to Sperati was also included in the lot #5000 of the below mentioned auction-). In view of this report, on 30.11.1942 Jean de Sperati is accused of illicit export of capital for omitting the export declaration. Consequently, the Court of First Instance decides his referral to the Criminal Court. Sperati complained arguing that these “stamps” were reproductions and refused the report from a simple member of a philatelic club, claiming an acknowledged expert to examine the stamps.

On 9 April 1943, the Criminal Court of Chambéry requires the service of the expert Dr. Locard from Lyon, who made the same statement of Mr. Gilbert about the authenticity, and once more Sperati is accused of illicit export of capital. Then Sperati provided to the Court in person ten identical series of stamps as the ones involved in the case, with the consequence of the tribunal to declare itself incompetent in philately, and a new opinion from an expert was solicited. Dr. Locard is again involved in the examination of the proof of the “crime”, although Sperati rejected to send him via post the other reproductions for comparison, with the hope that a different expert had been appointed. Dr. Locard does not change his former statement and he even declares that “if it is an imitation, even through the most perfect process of falsification, differences would be found without seeing “une différence de l’ordre du millième de milimètre”; he could not detect any difference in light after using the Wood and Gallois lamps, or in terms of fluorescence, the most perfect forgery could not have the same paper as the genuine one, and he added that it is almost impossible to imitate the watermark in the stamps of Hong Kong and Lagos; concerning the gum, he reported all to be the characteristic of each territory and an exact imitation of the gum was unsustainable, as he also argued for the perforation, which would have required an expensive machine to execute it. After the second expertise, the Court declared Sperati guilty on 17.3.1944 and imposed a fine of Fr60,000 and the merchandise was definitively seized.

Then Jean de Sperati decided to appeal to the Appeal Court. He had to prove that the experts were not infallible and at the same time conceived the strategy to collect the money for the penalty imposed by the Court: he produced three identical reproductions of Oldenburg Yvert n. 5 displaying a cancellation of the same locality and with identical date, placed on the same area of each reproduction, and offered them separately to the expert dealers Roumet, Nitard and Isaac. The three stamps were separately summited for expertise to Mr. León-Pierre Margue, rather known by his pseudonym Miro, then president of the “Chambre Syndicale des Négociants en Timbres”, who was shocked to have received three identical stamps within the period of two days which look genuine -these facts will open a second case in Paris against Sperati which will not be resolved until 1952-. Simultaneously, on 27 July 1945, the Appeal Court in Chambéry renders a judgement which designates the experts Messrs. Brun, Flize and Dr. Locard to examine the reproductions, but the decision of the Appel Court will not give judgement until almost three years later, as the three experts declared themself incapable to issue a statement on 27.11.1947. Both processes of Paris and Chambéry were about to take place in similar periods of time, and in both cases the expert designated was Mr. Dubus, who arrived to the conclusion in February 1948 that the “stamps” sent to Lisbon were not genuine, but they could trick collectors.

In the end, on 15.4.1948, and despite the opinion of Mr. Dubus, a penalty of Fr20,000 was imposed to pay to the customs for capital evasion. Sperati promoted this case in the press and the involvement of experts of international acknowledgement made Sperati be notorious and known internationally.

In 1953 Sperati sold the archive of his works to the British Philatelic Association (BPA), which, together with Robson Low, one of Sperati's greatest admirers at the time, published 2 books in 1955 as a tool for the philatelic community to better understand how to detect his replicas. One of the most famous experts on forgeries, collector Carl Walske (1922-2009), also in collaboration with Low, is the author of "The Work of Jean de Sperati II, including Previously Unlisted Forgeries", published in 2001.

In December, a part of the Sperati archive was auctioned by David Feldman, and many of the 135 lots fetched multiples of their starting prices.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, two lots associated with the legendary Mauritius POST OFFICE stamps fetched the highest prices - lot 50078, for example, sold for €45,000.

 Excerpt from lot #5078.

The largest increase over the starting price was achieved by lots relating to stamps of old Austria. For example, lot 50008, focusing on the legendary Mercury stamp of 30 kreuzers, had a pre-auction estimate of €2,000 and achieved €17,000 plus auction fees!

A very interesting item was an original Sperati spectacle, which went for €2,800 (hammer price) with a call price of €750.

As you can see, the work of Jean de Sperati is still of interest and appreciated by many even after almost 70 years since his death.


# jeandesperati #stampforgeries #stampforgery #bluemauritius

Jean de Sperati in his office


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Email: radek@postovni-znamky.eu

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  • Radek Novák
  • radek.austria@gmail.com
  • +420 608 386 845