Experts recommend ‘refreshing’ old certificates

By Jesse Robitaille

When it comes to high-quality classic, rare or often-forged material, whether it’s a stamp, a postmark or a cover, collectors are almost always told to have an expert certify it.

But did you know depending on the material in question, experts often recommend “refreshing” certificates pre-dating the use of forensic analysis? The decision ultimately comes down to the material in question and the owner’s motivation for seeking additional certification, said Garfield Portch, the president and chair of Toronto’s Vincent Graves Greene Philatelic Research Foundation.

“With the advance in technology, I really think that any certificate done before the discovery of the VSC6000 should be re-looked at,” added Portch, who’s also a long-time member of the Greene Foundation’s expert committee, which issued nearly 990 certificates last year, even with the pandemic hampering the experts’ ability to meet in person.

The Greene Foundation has used the VSC6000 – a state-of-the-art digital-imaging system manufactured by Foster + Freeman in the United Kingdom – since 2014, when it purchased one for $100,000. Also known as the “Visual Spectral Comparator,” the machine allows experts to forensically examine a range of philatelic material and has led to analytical breakthroughs like the one covered in CSN last November (“APEX works with VGG, recalls certificate after experts deem overprint fake,” Vol. 45 #16).


Speaking as a collector in response to what he called “an awkward but extremely legitimate question,” Portch said, “Generally speaking, I do think that it’s worthwhile” to re-certify certain items.

But not everyone would agree.

“Anybody who’s interested in selling an item and they have a good certificate, they really don’t want to go out and get another certificate in case it proves to be a bad one. And the other way around, quite often, if people already have a bad certificate, they’ll just keep on sending it to different places until they get a good one,” he said, referencing the Admiral block that was the focus of last November’s report in CSN.

“It’s a very tough issue because the question is, ‘Why does someone have that original certificate in the first place?’” said Portch. “What are they certifying, and why are they certifying it? But I can definitely see some value in having some things looked at again, and I don’t think people upgrade their certificates as often as they should.”

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