Expertising a needed and growing service

I recently had the opportunity to give some thought to the matter of expertising. Most of you are probably familiar with the concept: a collector or a dealer submits a stamp or cover to a recognized organization, which then has it examined by an expert who offers a definitive opinion on the item. Typically, the opinion will address the authenticity and attribution of an item. It may also offer opinions on the condition and any evidence of tampering. As you can imagine, the result of such a review can be very important.

Quite often, a dealer and collector will agree on the price and sale of an item, subject to it getting a certificate. If the service comes back with a bad review, not only is the deal done, but the stamp may have become somewhat difficult to market. The shame for me is that such a service is even needed. It isn’t as if the expert simply has to confirm the catalogue number. The expertising service is on the front line of the war against those people who alter stamps, often seeking windfall profits as a result of some of this tampering. I’m not talking about someone who soaks a stamp to clean off grime, or even may use an eraser to eliminate a tiny pencil mark. There are people out there who intentionally alter the colour of a stamp, or remove a cancellation, or even change the back of a stamp to a different sort of paper.

The problem is, even experts can make a mistake. For that reason most services are prepared to explain the reasons behind their decision, and even agree to reconsider when a reasonable case is presented. But one big advantage of having a stamp expertised is that it can be bought and sold with a fair amount of confidence that it is the genuine item. Down the road I expect that the time will come when virtually every stamp of significant value will have a certificate. Then we will have to watch out for the efforts of a new breed of con artists: the ones who issue fake or altered certificates, or substitute a lower value stamp for the original. There are plenty of people out there looking to take advantage of a collector who may be excited by a great offer. The old saying “buyer beware” is still good advice for stamp collectors.

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