'Selling a possible fake on eBay?' article

Selling a possible fake on eBay?

Sheryll Oswald

Released  11 August, 2001        Last updated:   6 May, 2004

Strategies for eBay stamp and postal history sellers to list honestly and clearly items outside their area of expertise or which may be possible forgeries, fakes or "doctored" items. As a result, the eventual transaction with the buyer should be as pleasant and satisfying as possible for both parties, and with no nasty surprises in store. The case histories used to illustrate these strategies are taken from the listings of various sellers.

Related articles

Spotted a misdescribed fake on eBay?
eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly
U.S. Classics on eBay - as is
Altered U.S. stamps on eBay - exposed!
Fraud on eBay - exposed!
eBay buying tips

Related websites

Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers (SCADS)
Alterations, Fakes and Forgeries
eBay - forgeries, fakes, dodgy sellers, scams: the tip of the iceberg (TOTI)
Other websites
Feedback comments

Article subsections


1. Write accurate and detailed descriptions

2. Avoid catalogue values, superlatives and the phrase "as is"

3. Have a good returns policy

4. Include detailed scans

5. Choose a low starting price

6. Answer questions from buyers promptly

7. Be amenable to changing or amending listings or ending auctions early


Appendix 1

Examples of well-written descriptions of genuine items

Appendix 2

Examples of possible fakes, pointing out poor or good selling practices


One day you may decide to try your hand at selling on eBay. It may be that you want to get rid of items outside your collecting interests, and which are taking up valuable space in cupboards or on shelves (or on floors!), so that you can afford to buy more for your own collections. Or you may have bought collections from public auctions with the intention of breaking them up for resale to collectors. Whatever the reasons, you cannot be expected to have a detailed knowledge of all the items you list. And some of these may be forgeries, fakes or items that have been "tampered" with in some way.

Here are some suggestions to consider when listing items that may not (or may!) be the genuine article.

1. Write accurate and detailed descriptions

This is the most important aspect of listing items on eBay. It will enhance your reputation as a seller, and cut down on questions and returns from buyers.

Try to.....

a) describe accurately and fully

Describe the item as accurately and fully as you can. Just saying "see scan" is not giving your item its best chance. Writing up what you do know helps potential bidders, and you may even be listing information of which they were not previously aware for that particular item.

Aspects you may consider listing for stamps include catalogue numbers and descriptions, the reason for issue, whether a set is complete, grading, condition, varieties and printing quantities. For covers, include relevant additonal comments on the franking, rate, route taken, destination, addressee, words of a particular cancel or marking, dates of usage of cancels, and even historical aspects.

b) describe grading and condition correctly

Grade your item correctly. For example, do not call a stamp "XF" if it is not really "extra fine for issue" (i.e. in the top, say, 5% of stamps for that issue). Centring and margins should also be realistically described, especially as these can be seen from the scan.

Do not say that a stamp is "MNH" if there is a hinge mark. "MLH" does not apply to a stamp with a large hinge remainder. Any faults or marks on the item, as well as the condition of the back of the stamp or cover should be mentioned so that bidders are made aware of them. These include gum characteristics and disturbances, the type of hinging, short or missing perforations, paper adhesions, paper thins, repaired tears, water stains, rust spots and other marks.

c) include postmark dates

Writing up the date on any covers, cards or stamps with a legible date in the postmark will widen your audience significantly, as many people search for specific dates.

Appendix 1 contains examples of genuine items with well-written descriptions, which illustrate the above guidelines.

2. What to avoid in descriptions

Try not to.....

a) use catalogue values

Giving a catalogue value for the item implies to buyers that it is genuine. If there is some doubt, it is best left out. Bidders can look up the catalogue value themselves if interested, and they often refer to catalogues while bidding anyway. Bidders in different parts of the world are likely to use different catalogues for the same stamp, though Scott is generally used for US issues.

b) use superlatives

Buyers who see words or phrases such as "outstanding", "rare", or "superb gem" in descriptions of rather ordinary stamps are unlikely to have much faith in future glowing descriptions by the same seller. Try to describe grading, condition and rarity as faithfully and objectively as you can, as outlined above.

c) use the phrase "as is"

Although this phrase is used as a standard disclaimer, it has a bad reputation in philately, as less ethical sellers have been known to use it to intentionally misidentify stamps, as explained in this definition of "as is".

Using this phrase for a single stamp is a sure-fire way of indicating to buyers that you believe your item to be a fake or a forgery, but are saying, "It may be the more expensive variety, and if it's not, it's not my fault - good luck!". It implies that the item cannot be returned for any reason, even if found to be misidentified, have significant faults or be a forgery or fake. If this is not your intention and you want to offer a money-back guarantee, I suggest you don't use it.

If you think the item is genuine and therefore valuable, you may want bear the burden of the cost of having it expertised. Should it be certified as genuine, then you can sell it with the certificate and obtain a better price. If you choose not to send it out for expertising, then try listing it with a detailed description and a large scan, instead of using this phrase.

For large lots of 10 or greater items, you may be tempted to consider using it to protect yourself against buyers who "switch and return" (see the "Cat Bytes: Scam Auctions" article for information on this deceit by buyers), but an accurate description should obviate the need for its use.

Some, but not all, sellers who use this phrase have developed bad reputations because of it. See "eBay - the good, the bad and the downright ugly" article for details of these sellers.

3. Have a good returns policy

Offer a refund of the full purchase price including all shipping charges paid for items incorrectly described or identified. You can even offer an auction extension should a buyer want to have an item expertised, and absorb costs of the certificate and postage should the item be deemed not "as described". Consider offering returns for longer than 7 days. Many sellers offer a 30-day return policy, and some choose an indefinite time period so that customers are not stuck with unwanted purchases.

4. Detailed scans

Include a scan that is usefully large and easy to study, so that possible bidders can see enough detail to determine for themselves if the item could be genuine. Single stamps are ideally scanned at 300 dpi. For covers or cards, somewhere around 108-126 dpi works best. An extra 300 dpi closeup scan of the stamp and cancel in a cover lot could be included if it is important. Sometimes the back of a stamp or cover is of interest and should be scanned.

Apply the general principles of keeping file sizes down below, say, 110K by saving files as JPEGs with appropriate compression rather than as bitmaps or GIFs.

5. Low starting price

A low reserve makes sense for items you are not sure of. Bidders who know their material well and can see a decent scan will be prepared to pay a good price for genuine items.

6. Promptly answer questions from buyers

Potential buyers who want more information on an item will send you an email. Don't let the auction end without replying, as it could give them the feeling that you know you're selling a dodgy item. Better to try to answer the question quickly, even if your answer is, "Sorry, I don't know". At least you have built up a little trust, should the buyer visit your auctions in the future.

7. Change or amend listings or end auctions early

In spite of your best intentions, sometimes you will get it wrong. If you are lucky, someone with the right knowledge will write and tell you of the error in your description. This is not the time to get annoyed, but you should rather be thankful that your error can be corrected before auction end.

Take the time to change or make additions to the description. If you prefer, you can end the auction early after writing to any bidders, and relist with the new description and possibly an altered price. More information and many examples of sellers who have taken such actions can be found in the companion article for buyers, "Spotted a misdescribed fake on eBay?".

Appendix 2 shows sample listings of possible fakes, pointing out poor or good selling practices as appropriate.


The idea of selling on eBay without detailed knowledge of all the items you list can be daunting and even discouraging. However, by following the above suggestions, you should have a much better chance of a worry-free transaction, a happy buyer and positive feedback at the end.

Appendix 1. Examples of well-written descriptions

The following examples are not possible fakes but genuine items. I have randomly selected them from eBay listings to illustrate the above guidelines concerning descriptions.

a) single stamp

In the description of this mint 90c Washington stamp, the seller "fabio@frontiernet.net" mentioned a repaired tear, as well as other aspects of condition. The last line is a general feature of this seller's lots.

Post office Fresh with beautiful brilliant color and sharp impression, original gum, hinge remnant, very difficult to detect expertly repaired corner perf tip, a pretty and very scarce stamp

No reserve. No faults to be expected unless mentioned in description.

b) set of stamps

This listing of this North Borneo 1922 Exhibition set from the seller "gregioannou@home.com" shows how his use of more than one catalogue to identify varieties helped bidders in their decision. This item started at $1 but reached $51 after 16 bids.

"The complete 1922 exhibition set, lightly hinged. No overprint varieties (drat!), but the 1c is perf 15 (Gibbons 253f). 2000 Gibbons 253f-275, cat 112 pounds. 2000 Scott 136a -153c, cat $94.40. Scott doesn't list the perf 15 variety."

c) used picture postcard

Here is an example of a well-written and detailed description of an 1945 Army Censored Morocco PPC from Algeria from the listings of the seller "tomloweculturalanthropology":

"10, 5 and 2F Algeria stamps tied on June 24, 1945 airmail PPC to San Francisco. Censored with circle handstamp Passed by Base Army Examiner 1167 and mailing location and most year dates obliterated with black marker. Year date '45' visible in upper left cds. Gloss finish real photo postcard published by Etablissements Photo-Albert, #2: "Meknes - Rue Rouamzine". Size: 5.5" x 3.5". Condition: Fair-Fine. 5F stamp nibbed on front and very mild corner wear for mailed. Stamps tied by cancels to very interesting card."

d) stampless letter

Finally, here is an example of the difference a great description can make to the sale of your item. The seller "pavos" listed this 1826 Vitoria de Durango to Santa Fe stampless letter after using the resources of the Southwest Research Center of the University of New Mexico. I present his description in full:

"This stampless folded letter is without contents and is franked with Yag Bash D3 cancel in red. It is pencil dated on the face "1826" but with no support inside for the date. Nevertheless, it is a very easy cover to date as it was sent to Sr. Don Juan Bautista Vigil, the Administrator of Deeds and of the Postal System for Mexico Norte based in Santa Fe. Research shows Sr Vigil held this position from 1821 to 1826 so the 1826 date would be the latest possible date for the letter. Sr Vigil later became Lieutenant Governor of Mexico Norte and was in that position in 1846 when Col Kearney took Santa Fe with Vigil's surrender and proclaimed "New Mexico" as a territory of the United States. A few days later Vigil was made interim Governor of the New Mexico Territory.

The Vitorio de Durango marking was known in Yag Bash as used only in 1830 but Mark Banchik shows earlier usages as early as 1827, making this 1826 use the earliest known use of this marking.

Contrary to my usual policy, I won't send this without the appropriate insurance or registry at actual cost at the buyers expense for the safety of the item.

Should the buyer wish to have it, I will include a four page synopsis of the life of Sr. Vigil as obtained from the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico.

Please feel free to email any questions.

I'm starting it with my usual low price and we'll let the bidding determine the value."

This cover started at $10. Now, how much do you think this cover sold for? One said it was a $75 cover, but with its history clearly explained, it reached a total of $770 after 27 bids! The effort that the seller put into reseaching the cover paid off, and the eventual buyer was pleased to acquire such a cover for his collection.

Appendix 2. Sample listings - bad and good

The following listings of possible fakes have been discussed on the eBay Stamps chat board, and they serve to illustrate both bad and good selling practices.

a) bad - Nova Scotia specimen forgeries

The seller "tilphila@hotmail.com" described these stamps as "Nova Scotia 4 stamps (3 specimen)" with no further description and no returns policy. After 11 bids, they sold for $25.26 . These were pointed out as forgeries publicly on the chat board while the auction was running. I have since received information that Nova Scotia items with SPECIMEN in arc are all forgeries produced by the Senf brothers and sold by Fournier (Pugh Type V). On the good side, the scan provided was of a reasonable size and the starting price was low at $2.

b) bad - 1861 Cape of Good Hope 4p stamp

The seller "apfelbauminc.com" listed this 1861 Cape of Good Hope 4p stamp with the description "1861 4p Milky Blue (9), VERY FINE...Catalog Value...1,750.00". Chat board members discussed the item, and found the following shortcomings:

  • the description of 'very fine' was not relevant with this issue, as the paper was of dramatically bad quality and the stamps are always almost faulty, repaired or simply forged,
  • the poor scan showed little detail of the stamps and its probable imperfections,
  • a detailed scan of the back would also be needed to show up any repairs or tampering,
  • with a starting price of $600, it should come with a certificate,
  • the seller did not have a good track record of responding to emails.

On the good side, the returns policy appears to cover the buyer, should the item prove not to be genuine.

c) good - Mexico reprint with Lagos overprint

The user "pavos" had trouble with the seller who listed a Mexico #9 pair overprinted Lagos. He guaranteed a full refund if it was found to be other than genuine. When it was found to be a reprint, the seller refused to answer emails. "pavos" later listed the item, detailing these circumstances and adding the following to his description:

"I'm giving my own guarantee. If you submit this pair for a certificate and it comes back genuine I'll gladly refund your money! In any case this a beautiful pair even if not genuine and would be great for a forgery and fake collection."

It received 6 bids and sold for $25. Also on the positive side, the item was started low at $5.99 and the scan shown was quite detailed.

2001, Sheryll Oswald, All Rights Reserved.
Material from this article may be reproduced only with the written consent of Sheryll Oswald.

Any further comments, corrections and questions may be emailed to sheryll at sheryll dot net

Top of page       eBay - forgeries, fakes, dodgy sellers, scams: the tip of the iceberg

Free counters provided by Honesty.com.