Never mark a stamp as ‘fake,’ says Canada’s top forgery expert

By Jesse Robitaille

There is a debate raging between philatelists and the online marketplace eBay regarding marking stamps and other philatelic material as “fake.”

“The message is clear and simple,” wrote Canada’s pre-eminent philatelic fake and forgery expert Ken Pugh in a post published on the “Canadian Philately and Canada Stamp Collecting” Facebook page on Feb. 8.

“NEVER mark on the back of a stamp ‘FAKE’. This is a requirement by eBay for sellers that even ‘might’ believe their item is a fake. Problem is that sellers very often cannot tell if their item is a fake or not. They often do not have the specialized knowledge that would make them 100% sure,” reads Pugh’s post, which can be found at at

Pugh, who has been researching fakes and forgeries since the 1970s, has nearly 40 books in his series on British North America and Canada alone (that’s in addition to other books on Buenos Aires, Uruguay, Serbia and the Belgian Congo). Ranging from 50 to 150 pages each, his books constitute nearly 4,000 pages of reference material on philatelic fakes and forgeries from around the world.

He said when it comes to forgeries – or completely bogus stamps – it’s easier to determine their true nature; however, with fakes – or genuine stamps that have been altered – it’s a difficult call, even for experts.

“Certificates are changed when new information is found,” wrote Pugh. “And if the experts disagree, what chance does a non-expert have – yet eBay still requires them to make that crucial decision, and in ink! Yikes!”


Pugh recently purchased from eBay four On His Majesty’s Service (OHMS) perfins with a catalogue value of $350. They were all marked “FAKE” on the back.

“I bought them for $20. An expert described them as fakes. Now, I know the expert, and he is a good friend. He has researched these OHMS perfins for years, and has published key information on the genuine OHMS and fakes,” wrote Pugh.

“So have I, and my Reference 5 on OHMS and G fakes is used as a guide by expert committees around the world. I describe in 21 ways how to tell the difference between a genuine and fake OHMS perfin.”

He goes on to explain these examples meet all of his criteria of a genuine OHMS perfin, adding if he was asked to write a certification on these – “and I have written many” – he would give them a “clean cert.”

Something he never does – and he recommends everyone, experts included, follow suit – is mark his personal opinion on the back of a stamp.

“If you are right, good for you, but if you are wrong? Once an item is marked there is no going back,” he wrote, adding eBay asks for the marking to be made in ink.


During a three-evening series of talks on fakes and forgeries at the West Toronto Stamp Club in October 2016, Pugh said he advises against marking “fake” or “forgery” on the back of stamps “because it never goes away.” He warned that future philatelists might think a genuine stamp, marked “fake” on its backside in decades past, is worthless.

“The Oh-My- God-Machine will pull that ‘fake’ up for the next 100 years,” said Pugh, of the Video Spectral Comparator (VSC)-6000 owned by the Toronto-based Vincent Graves Greene Philatelic Research Foundation, which hosted two of Pugh’s three presentations in October 2016.

The VSC-6000 is a digital imaging system that can forensically examine a range of items, including stamps and other philatelic material. It allows the Greene Foundation’s expertization committee to identify items suspected of having cleaned cancellations; altered or enhanced postmarks; counterfeit overprints; repairs or sealed tears; and removed or altered colours.


In what Pugh described as a “non-sensical” move to counteract an influx of poorly made laser-printed fakes and forgeries about 30 years ago, a “leading philatelic society” advised dealers to write “fake” or “forgery” on the back of any suspect stamps.

“They asked everyone one of us to know too much about fakes from around the world. But even to me – even if they look funny – if I don’t have all the research, I can’t tell.”

In his Facebook post, Pugh added the American Philatelic Society (APS) was “dealing with the computer, laser-printed Adtinvest forgeries at the time on eBay” but – in regards to suggesting marking stamps as “fake” – failed to consider the “consequences of the seller being wrong.”

“They have since determined that the idea was a bad one, but can even they change eBay’s rules?” wrote Pugh. “Apparently not.”


Greene Foundation Vice-President Garfield Portch said the Greene Foundation “disagrees with the APS on this matter.”

“The Greene Foundation’s expertizing committee doesn’t believe what’s written on the back of stamps; we start from scratch,” said Portch, who added the committee would write “marked fake but genuine” on a certificate for a genuine stamp that was marked “fake”.

Pugh said the APS should follow the Greene Foundation’s example and invest in a similar digital-imaging system for its American Philatelic Expertizing Service, which uses the Crimescope CS-16, a forensic light source released 23 years ago.

The Greene Foundation replaced its Crimescope with the VSC-6000 in 2012.


Pugh is slated to published a related article in The American Philatelist, the monthly journal of the American Philatelic Society; Fakes Forgeries Experts, an annual journal published by Postiljonen on behalf of the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie and the International Association of Philatelic Experts; and the new British North America Philatelic Society (BNAPS) Fakes and Forgeries study group newsletter.

“Until then, put the pen away.”

Pugh, who can be contacted via email at or by phone at 604-858-0544, said the study group is seeking members.

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