Just as the buyer who paid $1,175,000.00 for the Inverted Jenny position 58 had to be sure the stamp was genuine, so did the dealer to whom the Irish lad submitted the Jenny he found in April among his late grandfather’s things. Stamp counterfeiting would be very profitable if there weren’t ways to definitively ascertain legitimacy. For that, both dealers, Siegel Auctions and Spink and Sons, turned to The Philatelic Foundation.
Since 1945, the PF has served as the primary hi-tech resource for stamp collectors determined to avoid buying forgeries or stamps or covers (stamped envelopes) that have been altered to improve their value. The process known as expertizing assigns persons with special knowledge to the examination of stamps as to correct identification and condition. If a stamp has been used, the experts also determine if the cancellation is genuine and contemporary. If unused, expertizing includes ascertaining whether the gum is original and whether the stamp has ever had a hinge attached to stick it in an album.
Since the whereabouts of position 58 have long been known, the stamp that popped up in Northern Ireland presented the tougher case. Executive director Larry Lyons and curator Lewis Kaufman led the investigation. They began by “plating” the stamp, matching the new copy against a reconstructed image of the entire sheet of 100. To their surprise, the stamp matched position 76, part of a block of four that had been stolen from Ethel McCoy’s display at the American Philatelic Society convention in 1955.
Because McCoy’s block had included the red vertical registration line up the middle and there was no evidence of that line, the PF experts looked for evidence of mutilation. Sure enough, the left side had been reperforated to hide its identity. With the identification, the FBI was brought in.
Had it been necessary, the PF has a number of sophisticated forensic tools with which they can detect repairs and alterations. A variable spectral comparator (VSC6000) applies hi-def and side-light magnification, variable wavelengths of light, and multiple light modes to detect faults, repairs, and cleaning. X-ray spectroscopy examines ink constituents.
It was the job of the FBI to decide if the stolen stamp’s journey to the hands of a twenty-six-year-old Irishman implicated its young custodian, and apparently it didn’t. June 1st the FBI hands the stamp over to the American Philatelic Research Library to which Ethel McCoy had eventually assigned the rights to her block, should it be found. Keelin O’Neill, whose good timing gets him just under the wire for receiving the reward, gets to be the hero of the day. And the PF gets to add another notch to their trusty microscopes.