One of the most challenging aspects of collecting Korean stamps is that there are many forgeries/counterfeits/fakes of both the stamps as well as the overprints and cancellations of the early “Empire” issues from 1884 to 1900. Very often, the stamps, overprints and the cancellations can all be forgeries. Fortunately, there are few or none known forgeries of the 1900-01 Plum Blossom issues. However, forgeries became known again for the 1902 Emperor’s Crown commemorative, and for the 1902 surcharge issues.
Because many of these fake stamps were sold in souvenir “albums” to tourists, even some of the common Korean Empire stamps have been counterfeited. Fortunately, most of these forgeries are crude and are easy to identify, even by the casual collector. There is an excellent booklet to help identify many of these fake stamps, “Handbook of Philatelic Forgeries – Korean Empire” written by Lynn R. Brady and Varro E. Tyler Jr.
According to David Phillips: “The late Varro Tyler, a gentleman of the first order, was recognized internationally for his work in exposing bogus stamps and covers. He brought a scientific approach to the subject as in ‘real life’ he was a nationally recognized professor of pharmacy and this led him to head the department of pharmacy of Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, one of the nations largest, and incidentally also my alma mater tho my specialty was engineering rather than pills. His work and others in the field of bogus early Korean stamps deserves much wider circulation as those “album weeds” are freely offered on e-bay and elsewhere.”
Hard copies of the original booklet can often be found on eBay for sale. With the help of this booklet and a bit of experience, most fakes can be identified and not clutter ones’ stamp album; unless, of course, one is a collector of forgeries. The most difficult Empire fakes to identify are the overprints of the 1897-1900 issues on legitimate stamps. For these, even experts have disagreed over the years on what is a fake and what is a legitimate stamp, and it is very difficult to obtain “expert” certification on some of these rare overprinted issues.
Here are a few pages as examples of what the Handbook looked like:
Using the Handbook
Many KSS members (and others of course) used the Handbook to discover fakes and forgeries amongst the many stamps offered on the market at the time. Some examples from the album pages of David Phillips:
Korean Philately texts on the handbook
The following two texts about this publication are from Korean Philately Vol. XII No. 1 (February 1963):
This observer has long been puzzled as to the motivation behind the devotion of the great effort which was expended on the counterfeiting of the Korean Kingdom and Empire stamps, surcharges, and overprints. To this day, many decades after most of these forgeries were produced, the genuine basic stamps seldom sell for as much as a dollar, and usually much less. There is no doubt that the ubiquitous counterfeits have caused many would be collectors to steer away from the early Korean issues, and consequently the price levels commensurate with the scarcity of some of these stamps have never been reached.
The present handbook will go far toward acquainting the collector with the identifying features of many of the counterfeits of Scott #1-9. By means of excellent enlarged photographs of the genuine and bogus examples, and a brief description of the points which should be checked, the collector can quickly weed the phonies from his pages. And, make no mistake about it, those early Korean phonies range from the absurd to the superb. It has been said that the experienced collector has a sort of sixth sense which quickly detects a bogus specimen — but we would venture a guess that his sixth sense could easily be fooled by some of the clever examples which are exposed by this handbook.
An excellent research job has gone into this publication, and a comprehensive list of references is presented for the reader who wishes to delve deeper. Since the present work is so far superior to anything yet published on the subject, the reviewer is reluctant to criticize, yet he would take issue with the author’s intentional omission of color as a means of identifying many of the counterfeits. It is a fact that many of the fakes can be spotted instantly by color.
While the Handbook Of Philatelic Forgeries – Korean Empire, is not, and does not purport to be definitive, it will occupy a very useful spot in the working library of every serious collector of early Korean material. It is highly recommended.
Classic Korean stamps are now collectible! Long neglected by the average collector because of the existence of large numbers of clever forgeries, these interesting and very much underpriced issues can now be added with confidence to any stamp collection. The newly published ‘Handbook of Philatelic Forgeries – Korean Empire’ by Lynn R. Brady and Varro E. Tyler, Jr. contains king-sized photographic reproductions (the work of Harry L. Steinberg) of genuine stamps and all the known forgeries of them. Brief listings of the major check points are keyed to the photographs by a simple grid system. A discussion of such technical matters as printings, perforations, color varieties, overprints, and surcharges includes a bibliography of all important previous studies of these stamps and their forgeries.
According to the information supplied to KOREAN PHILATELY, nothing comparable to this detailed, yet easy to use, 20 page handbook has ever before been available to stamp collectors. It is printed on heavy quality paper (8-1/2″ x 11″) and punched to fit standard three-ring binders. The very limited printing won’t last long when collectors of the popular oriental countries and of forgeries hear about it.
Lynn. R. Brady himself answered in Korean Philately Vol. XII No. 2 (May 1963):
Details of Tyler/Brady 1962 handbook:
Brady, Lynn R. / Tyler Jr., Varro E.:
Handbook of Philatelic Forgeries – Korean Empire
Conk-Singleton Company, 1962. b+w 20 pp.
three-hole punching unbound
The complete Handbook can be downloaded as one PDF through this link:
Note that only KSS members can actually download the file but becoming a member is for free and applying can be done online in a matter of minutes. By becoming a member you get access to all the pages/articles on the KSS website including all (scanned) publications already online. And even more is coming soon!