The 'Stock Exchange' forgery of 1872-3

Forgers have at many times attempted to defraud the collector, but only once has a forger successfully defrauded our own Post Office. In 1872 a person, or a number of persons, produced a forgery of SG 117 PL 5 and 6 1/- GREEN. These stamps were used in quantity at the LONDON STOCK EXCHANGE. They were applied (sometimes with other values) to telegraph forms. One would hand in the completed form together with payment. A forgery would then be taken from a box under the counter, applied and cancelled and the shilling pocketed. The forgeries themselves are of a very high standard. The design and engraving being extremely good and it is no surprise that the forger, or forgers, were never caught and their names never known. It is not known how much money was stolen from the post office by this means but the figure must surely be high and could well have run to many thousands of pounds. The forgeries were not noticed until twenty six years had passed. Charles Nisson, a well known dealer of that time acquired a large number of telegraph forms and realised what they were. Limited information exists on how the stamps were produced, no printing plates have been found and as no one was ever charged we only have the stamps to look at.

Firstly we can see that no WMK exists. The paper is of a relatively poor quality and today many copies that exist are in some cases rather fragile because of this. No tone shades exist and pairs or blocks have never been found. A little later, PL 6 was also forged, the engraver taking more care with his work and the stamp looks even more like the real thing. Both plates when compared to the genuine SG 117, look fractionally darker in shade and are slightly rougher in finish. Under a glass is seems that every line has been produced in the correct position on the forgery, however there are differences and these give clues as to how they were printed. As no multiples exist it can be assumed that each stamps was printed individually. Possibly on a press that was easy to carry around and hide. Centring is usually good but some perf tips show a line at the extreme edge, telling us that each stamp had a surrounding border in green just outside the perforation edges. So it seems that a single plate measuring a few inches on each side was produced. The paper looks hand made, but its origin is unknown. Another factor is the perforations. They are fractionally irregular and the holes do not precisely match with the adjacent sides, so it seem they were hand perforated, individually one copy at a time. The time involved would have been rather excessive so it is almost certain that possibly as many as five or more people were involved in the forging, no doubt in the evenings after work, at a suitable meeting place.

Then there are the letter squares, as you know all stamps on the sheet are different, having differently matching letters in the corners and this is the same with the forgeries. On plate 5, there are 63 different letter combinations so far found. On plate 6 35 are noted. Medville, the famous collector of the late 19th century, suggested that they were printed in half or complete sheets but it is now believed that the production was one at a time and that the corner letters were REMOVABLE and in fact were SWITCHED AROUND in order to confuse. This seems clear now as being correct for it can be found that the letters can be followed around their position in the stamp if one looks at a number of differently lettered examples. The one mistake the printer made however was that in some cases stamps were printed with letters in positions that were impossible on the genuine sheet.

Still further evidence that they were printed singly and the letters changed around, lies in the fact that certain dates (seen by the postmark) only certain letter combinations are seen. For instance, letter P at bottom left corner is only known dated 7th June 1872. Letters B, D and F at bottom left hand corner are known only on 15th July 1872. The counter clerks were very clever, only on certain dates did they use the forgeries, eight days in June, four in July for plate 5 and two days in October. Three in November and June 13th 1873 for plate 6. Whey was this? Perhaps on these days a higher number of staff was not present or maybe these days were particularly busy ones and the forgeries easier to use. Whatever the case, after June 13th 1873, the stamps were never used again. The clerks had made their money and it was time to stop before they were found out.

It is not known if the forgeries were gummed before printing or after, or actually at the Stock Exchange before use. I think possibly after printing and perforation with a gum similar to the 1d black, but applied in the centre of stamp rather than at the edges. As copies on piece that I have seen are in many cases lifted at the edges and almost coming away from the paper.

So, to summarise, they were engraved on a single plate, printed individually, perforated individually and used only at certain times. The letters in the corners were interchanged at regular intervals and they were gummed after printing, possibly with a brush stroke in the centre. SG 117 PL 5 and 6 are worth only a few pounds, however the forgery of PL 5 can be worth as much as 400 and PL 6 up to 1200. Imperfect copies can be had well below this sum and one should acquire a copy if funds allow, as this is without doubt a forgery of extreme interest and daring background.