Peter Winter and the modern German forgeries on eBay
1. Peter Winter and his replicas
2. The Gehringer printing firm
3. The characteristics of these forgeries and how they differ from the genuine stamps, with sample comparisons
4. Countries whose stamps have been forged
6. Heiner Faber and his scam
7. eBay sellers who have listed them as forgeries, genuine or "as is"
8. The effects of these forgeries on the collecting community
|12 Mar 05||Sellers "heftfisch" and "wikingstamp" suspended by eBay in December 2004.|
|15 Oct 04||Seller "herma07" returns as "wikingstamps", listing House of Stamps forgeries as genuine.|
|14 Sep 04||Sellers "heftfisch" and "herma07" listed many House of Stamps forgeries as genuine.|
|14 Sep 04||Link to Marken-Meyer website added. This site contains comparisons of the most common modern Swiss forgeries with their genuine counterparts (see under Fälschungen).|
Since June 2001, the sellers "mohle", "wosnitza" and others at eBay Germany have listed many German, Swiss and other mainly European forgeries. They were offered as forgeries, with low starting prices, nearly all were sold, and some realised quite high prices. The scans of these appear to very closely resemble the genuine items and are deceptive to collectors.
Various concerned eBay Stamps chat board members have tried to determine the origins of these forgeries, with some success. The information below on Peter Winter has been taken mainly from Varro Tyler's book (see references). That on Gehringer, Heiner Faber and some details of the forgeries was kindly provided in 2001 by Dr. Reinhard Fischer, the principal of the Bonn auction house reinhardfischerauktionen.de. Thanks also to Roland Klinger for his efforts with interpreting and additional comments.
Some of the forgeries, but probably not all, can be attributed to Dr Peter Winter, an opera singer from Bremen in Germany. He is most famous for "discovering" a possible second British Guiana 1c Magenta, which was eventually declared an altered example of a damaged 4c magenta following expert examination by the Royal Philatelic Society of London (see Linn's article 26 April 1999 and related articles).
He founded the company ProPhilForum POC GmbH which in 1986, operating from a post office box address in Bremen, began to produce and sell replicas of more than 180 of the world's most valuable stamps, both on and off cover, for modest prices. Examples of these (Wurttemberg cover and France tęte-bęche block and single) can be seen in the "eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly" article.
Some of the reproductions were determined to have been made not from the stamps themselves but from copyright photographs which Winter had obtained from the British Library in London by means of a false declaration of intended use. In 1987, an out-of-court settlement was reached between the British Library and ProPhilForum, in which:
As only about 60 of the forgeries produced were from the British Library's photographs, this left around 120 forgeries which could still be marketed by the company. In mid-1988, a large number of forgeries of worldwide rarities was added to its stock. These and the company's other deceptive products were offered as "replicas" by certain German auction houses. Some were even marked "Replik" on the reverse. However, this mark could be removed easily. Here is an example of early Spanish forgeries and the two associated "Replik" marks, printed on the reverse of the 1850 stamps and the later stamp respectively.
The complaints of collectors forced the Regional Directorate of Posts in Bremen to investigate Winter's operation, and on 6th February 1989, Winter informed them that he would no longer deal in any way with the imitations. Apparently, he had simply disposed of his entire stock to House of Stamps, a Division of Technodif SA in Corsier-Port, Switzerland. It is unclear to me what connection, if any, there was between Peter Winter and House of Stamps.
This firm produced a full-colour catalogue (see this example of the 1985/1988 edition) of replicas made from photos of genuine items. The catalogue listed not only the Winter forgeries, but many new replicas of more modern stamps, some of which carry the French word "FAUX" as part of the printed stamp. It is these new creations of mainly German, Swiss and French stamps, combined with some of the replicas of the pre-1870 classic stamps, which are now to be found on eBay. The sample catalogue above shows only a small percentage of the replicas seen to date.
The forgeries were printed in the late 1980s in Kaiserslautern, a medium-sized town located south-west of Frankfurt, by a printing house named Gehringer (full name Graphische Kunstanstalt Gehringer GmbH). This company was in the auction catalogue business then, producing the high quality Kruschel and Boker catalogues. It may also have printed stamps. The then owner was a Dr. Niedermeyer, a well-known philatelist. It is not known if he is still alive today.
The forgeries show the following characteristics:
Some are harder to detect than others. For example, the 1951 Marienkirche Lübeck is a very good forgery (as the 1951 Marienkirche Lübeck genuine were line perforated), on cover with special cancel one day after day of first issue, as is the Swiss Lunaba sheet. Others, such as the Kontrollrat sheet 12 are easy to detect, but only by somebody who has previously seen an original.
Many genuine stamps were comb or harrow perforated, and thus inspection of the perforations can easily reveal the forgeries. Ensure that the perforations meet in a single hole at the corners of the stamps. Compare these scans of line-perfed forgeries with their comb or harrow-perfed genuine counterparts:
|Swiss NABA block forgery - cancelled||Swiss NABA block genuine - cancelled|
|Germany_Nothilfe forgery||Germany_Nothilfe genuine|
|Saar Hochwasserhilfe sheet forgery||Saar Hochwasserhilfe sheet genuine|
|Andorra Europa forgery on piece||Andorra Europa genuine|
Here, you can just see the word "FAUX" printed in the lower left hand corner of the forgery, almost obscured by the cancel.
|French 1925 Exhibition sheet forgery||French 1925 Exhibition sheet genuine|
The word "FAUX" can also be found on these forgeries.
The difference between the forged Swiss Pax stamps and the genuine should be easily detectable, as the genuine are engraved.
The Marken-Meyer website contains comparisons of the most common modern Swiss forgeries with their genuine counterparts (see under Fälschungen) and includes detailed descriptions of the differences between them.
The Comparative Philatelic Forgery Identification Site lists many of these forgeries, explaining the differences in greater detail than shown here.
The modern forgeries found on eBay are mainly of German stamps (including East, West and German states), but other countries seen include Switzerland, France, Andorra, Austria, Romania, Russia and Liechenstein. Examples of the classic replicas include those of Mauritius, British Guiana, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italian States, Norway, Finland, USA, Hawaii and Bermuda.
All the modern forgeries were marked as such either on the front or the reverse. The markings on the front were printed during the same print run as the stamps, and you may see "FAUX" or "Stecherzeichen" below the stamp, where you would expect to find the name of the printing firm. Marks on the reverse range from "Falsch", "Faux", "Facsimile", "Faksimili", "Copy" to "Nachdrucke" and "Replik". They can easily be removed with an eraser or by brushing over the gum with saliva and wiping off the gum in the immediate area. This will leave a tiny bare patch, a warning sign of tampering.
In the late 1980s, a German named Heiner Faber ran a scam operation where he removed the "faux" marks on the back and exchanged the resultant unmarked forgeries in return for shipments of stamps from customers. A fake-fighter sent a special shipment and caught him. Police raided his premises and confiscated stamps, the backs of which had had the "faux" marks removed, and which would have been worth about 30 millions of Michel Marks if genuine. As a result, very few have since come onto the market. It is said that all the stamps were hidden in stamp books between genuine stamps to enhance the collections.
In spite of his previous convictions (including fraud, in Bonn in 1985), Faber did not serve a jail term. Later on, he was sentenced to about 2 years, part of which he served. It seems that he was prohibited from returning to the stamp trade.
The House of Stamps forgeries can readily be found on the German eBay site (eBay.de), mostly described as forgeries, but often listed as genuine with the suggestion that they might be forgeries. They also found in bulk lots. In this example, a lot of common stamps was "salted" with a Thuringia block, which is one of the more difficult forgeries to detect, as the genuine is line-perfed and unwatermarked.
The classic Winter forgeries are also often found on eBay, usually listed as forgeries. The seller "riny218" (now NARU'd) was known to sell them as genuine (see "eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly" article for further details).
Sellers listing them as forgeries (Fälschungen) include "mohle", "wosnitza", "kaufnichtalles" (now NARU'd) "briefmarkenherbert", "cartman1268" and "katdro" (now NARU'd). Auction titles often do not contain the word "Fälschung", but the stamps are described as such in the description. Many of these sellers use the private auction format ("mohle", "wosnitza" and "katdro"). The sellers "briefmarkenherbert" and "katdro" have also offered them in bulk lots.
As a measure of how these forgeries are permeating the market, they were in late September 2001 found listed without the reference to "forgery" on both eBay.de and its US counterpart. Chat board members contacted the US seller "firstname.lastname@example.org" (see "Spotted a misdescribed fake on eBay?" article), who then changed the description to mention the word "forgery".
Around the same time, the German seller "bm-hier" listed auctions of these forgeries as genuine. After the auctions had terminated, board members contacted the high bidders of the Marienkirche issue and the NBA issue, and they in turn contacted the seller who told them that he suddenly saw that the stamps in both lots "were damaged" or something similar, and could not be sold at this price. This even with the "FAUX" marks visible in the scans. The seller was contacted before being reported to eBay and BDPH ("Bund Deutscher Philatelisten", the German Philatelic Association), who then informed BPP ("Bund Philatelistischer Prüfer", translated as "Association of Philatelic Examiners") and DPHJ ("Deutsche Philatelisten Jugend", the German Philatelic Association for the Youth), the latter of which the seller was an active member at the time.
In mid-2004, the sellers "heftfisch" and "herma07" offered them on eBay.com, with the caveat "i don´t know if the stamps are original." The inclusion of catalogue numbers and catalogue values in the auction titles gave the presumption that the stamps were genuine, and buyers were unlikely to discover the stamps were forgeries until they received and examined them. Even then, many novice collectors are not aware of the differences and so are being duped.
Concerned collectors contacted buyers, and some returned the stamps and received refunds. Some left negative feedback stating that the stamps sold were fakes. Collectors who reported auctions of forgeries met with success, as many of the reported listings were subsequently cancelled.
In mid-August, after listing forgeries in three-day auctions, the sellers took a break. However, in mid-October, the new ID "wikingstamp" (formerly "herma07") offered them as genuine in three-day auctions. In December, "heftfisch" and "wikingstamp" were suspended by eBay.
The seller "arthur91" (now NARU'ed) is documented in the "eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly " article as a reincarnation of the seller "arnoldpwc". At the end of June 2002, "arthur91", with a feedback rating of only two, began listing items similar to those of "arnoldpwc" in reserve price private auctions, and using the same descriptions. An example related to this article is a listing titled German States-Saxony-#1 on cover part!!!. This is almost identical to the sample Peter Winter replica Saxony #1 cover illustrated in the 1985/1988 House of Stamps catalogue. The cancels are different and the stamps are in a slightly different position because they were hand applied, but the handwriting on the cover is identical.
The seller "arnoldpwc", who was briefly suspended in early July, returned to eBay and almost immediatedly began listing the same type of items as his alternate ID "arthur91", using reserve price private auctions as before. For example, this Switzerland Cantonial - Basel Dove on Cover! is another Peter winter forgery. See similar Basel Dove "pieces" in the House of Stamps catalogue mentioned above. If you inspect the names of the pictures, you will find "arthur91" in the filenames, even more proof of the link between these sellers!
An inspection of "arnoldpwc"'s feedback shows, among other sellers of dubious items, many items bought from "danastamps", the now NARU'd high-feedback seller who was known for his prolific sales of Peter Winter "fantasy covers", as he advertised them, in the first half of 2001.
In January 2003, "arnoldpwc" began listing more private auctions, as well as normal auctions of items listed as Fournier forgeries. For example, this France 40c tęte-bęche block does not even exist as a tęte-bęche block, either as genuine or as a Fournier forgery. This and similar items were almost certainly purchased from "danastamps" with the other Peter Winter forgeries mentioned above.
Collectors have been disappointed when preparing to sell their collections, upon hearing that they are riddled with forgeries. Many have also been put off collecting German stamps, or at least the expensive items, because of the proliferation of these forgeries, which have been and are still found in "untouched" collections sold through auction houses, such as Götz, with a less solid reputation concerning the material they offer.
Those who want to be sure that their stamps are genuine will use one of the many expertising services available in Germany, such as BPP. Stamps not expertised are highly suspect. However, if you have only a few stamps, expertisation can be expensive.
Soon after this article was published in late 2001, the following two stories were passed onto me from chat board members in Europe and Australia:
"Today on my lunch break I trotted round to a nearby stamp store and sure enough they had a pair of those very same Swiss NABA mini-sheets under the counter, a "mint" one priced at around $200 and a "used" one priced at around $160. The little "FAUX" very clearly visible on each stamp and the perfs not quite straight. I pointed it out to the gentlemen who got out their magnifiers and their reference copy from the back room, muttered something about an accumulation from Germany and promptly removed the price tags - leaving the sheets displayed for now. I have no other reason to impugn these men's personal integrity, except I have a sinking feeling those fakes will be in the marketplace for many years to come. And a non-specialist who has heard of their existence will put off buying the sheets indefinitely, or in the worst-case scenario, discover he/she has been burned when it is far too late to do anything - and be disenchanted with the whole hobby."
eBay has in the past taken the stance that it is only a venue, and that it cannot be held responsible for the sale of forgeries as their sale is not breaking any laws. However, since May 2003, eBay has worked in partnership with the APS to tighten its stamp selling policy and adopt a code of ethics developed jointly with the APS.
Forgeries, fakes, facsimiles and reproductions can now be sold only if described as such. Furthermore, they must be marked as such on the front or back and an image of the marking must be shown.
The use of the terms "as is" (or "ohne Obligo", also called "o .O.", meaning "without guarantee") is permitted only to describe condition. Using these terms in regards to authenticity or to excuse misdescribed items is no longer acceptable.
Collectors who see listings that violate this code may report them eBay using the Report link at the bottom of the Selling Stamps page. The stamps community has been informed by eBay that it is more effective to report multiple listings than to report the same listing many times.
In spite of these improvements, these forgeries are still being sold and added to collections, and may possibly unwittingly be sold down the track as genuine items. There is also the danger that less ethical dealers will remove the markings on the back and knowingly pass them off as genuine, either on eBay or at stamp shows. Novice collectors are easy prey for such dealers.
Collectors should take steps to to educate themselves about the characteristics of these forgeries, using the references in this article and elsewhere. It is not that difficult to recognise the forgeries if you know what to look for.
Before you bid, request larger scans of both the front and back of items to more closely examine the perforations, printing characteristics, evidence of "FAUX" markings and other details.
Also, check before you bid that the seller has a sound return policy, where you can ask for an extension for the return of a stamp for certification purposes, and will receive a refund should the certificate come back as "not as described".
© 2001, Sheryll Oswald, All Rights Reserved.
Material from this article may be reproduced only with the written consent of Sheryll Oswald.
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