The One Shilling Green and Carmine “GOVT. PARCELS” with Inverted Overprint by H. R. Harmer

This is an article written by H. R. Harmer taken from the “London Philatelist”, vol.57, no.662, p.4-9, in 1948

Away back in 1902, as nearly as I can say from memory, but I am positive that it was in late 1902 or early 1903, I first saw a used copy of this stamp. It was shown to me by the then well-known Manchester dealer, the late Dolph Ostara. Later he had another copy and I believe both of these came from Liverpool, one certainly did.

The first reference to this extreme British rarity is believed to be that found in Ewen’s Weekly Stamp News of October 24, 1903, which reads:-

“The Revd. A. Ogle and Mr. N. J. Heller point out we have not yet mentioned the 1/- Govt. Parcels with surcharge inverted.”

This is obviously no formal record of the discovery of this stamp; it reads rather as if the two gentlemen had knowledge of its existence and were reminding the Editor of Ewen’s that he had omitted it from an article, or perhaps a list he had published. A search through earlier numbers would probably give the information.

After that it appeared in Stanley Gibbons’ catalogue of 1904 and there it remained year by year until 1916. In 1917 it was deleted, and a note inserted saying:

“The inverted overprint on the 1/- green only exists as a forgery,”

and that, with its curious slip”1/- green” instead of green and carmine, remained there for many years.

The cause for its deletion was due to the fact that in 1915 the R.P.S. Expert Committee, after examining the available copies, stated to be four in number and which included the Earl of Crawford copy and one of my two copies, came to the conclusion that they were all forgeries.

I mentioned in a previous article that others beside Ostara came across this stamp, and apparently under conditions that suggested entire confidence in genuineness. Mr. P. L, Pemberton, I went on to say, had had brought into his shop in London when the stamps were still in use, 1900 to 1902, a small parcel of these Victorian “Govt. Parcels”stamps, and found among them one of these shilling inverted overprint stamps.

At that time one came across quite large parcels of the lower values of “Govt. Parcels” stamps. I have seen the 1d., 1  1/2d., 2d. and 6d. values with a sprinkling of the 9d. and one shilling by the hundred. The lower values quite often in strips and blocks; indeed, one such of these lots was sent to me for sale seven or eight years ago in Bond Street; they were part of a dealer’s stock that had laid untouched for probably thirty years.

I would ask, can one imagine that a forger of these then unknown inverted overprint shillings would be likely to put just one of them in a batch of common values and sell it for nothing? For Pemberton did not know it was there and bought the lot, as any dealer would buy a lot of common stamps, for next to nothing.

In my American article I went on to examine the probabilities of the genuineness of this stamp and mentioned that while there are quantities of forgeries of normal “Govt. Parcels” stamps, there exist, in my opinion, probably only about ten of these inverted shillings, all used. Now, what forger could resist the making of unused copies or of large quantities of the used stamp? But unused are unknown and used in just this meagre number.

Further, if the stamps were really forgeries, he must have done the same utterly ridiculous thing several times, for if these supposedly forged stamps were put on the market in any other way in 1902 or thereabout, it is practically certain I, for one, would have heard about it, and so would Morley, Ewen, Charles Nissen, H. F. Johnson, and many others of the Old Brigade who were interested in British stamps.

When I wrote this American article Charles Nissen was alive and he was of the same opinion as myself, that this variety is absolutely genuine, and wrote me to that effect after he had read my article.

Analysing the probabilities still further, one may fairly assume that, supposing the overprints were forgeries, the counterfeiter produced them by “setting-up” one single block of type, or two or four, quite possibly the first, for anything larger unless very carefully done is likely to show inaccuracies in alignment and placement of the overprint. Printing typographically one stamp at a time produces an impression very different to that obtained when a whole pane or sheet is printed. The impression of one stamp at a time will generally show on one or two sides a heavier outline than on the others, even a block of four or of six types will do the same. All these inverted overprint shillings that I have seen have a quite normal level impression.

Roughly, that was what I wrote in 1941 and published in New York in February 1942 in Harmer’s Stamp Hints. Now I am in London and have examined the two specimens which for a long tune have rested in my Reference Collection, and have been fortunate enough to obtain from Mr. Harry Nissen three more copies and also one from Mr. Houtzamer, making six copies in all.

All these copies are illustrated herewith and I suggest they show such similarity of impression, postmark and particularly of centring that one is irresistibly drawn to the conclusion that they are all genuine.
Examining these enlarged illustrations, and by the way looking at them with the overprint upside down, attention is drawn first to the centring of the design of each stamp. In every instance it will be noted that vertically it is perfectly centred between the top and the bottom, but horizontally, left and right, we find – again in every case – that each design is off centre to the right, which means that to the left of the stamp there is a wide white margin or space between the frame of the design and the perforations, and on the right side the perforations are almost touching the design.

This would mean, supposing these six stamps were really forgeries, most marvellous coincidences, but if they were genuine, and assuming only one sheet was printed, it would be just what one would expect, for these shilling stamps were printed in sheets of 120 and being perforated in one operation, the perforating is very accurate and every stamp almost exactly alike in the centring. As I write I have a large block of 108 of the one penny “Govt. Parcels” before me (nine rows of 12 with margins) and I find the centring of the perforations almost exactly the same throughout the whole of the block. So much for the centring, which I suggest makes a very strong argument for the genuineness of the six stamps.

Next, the postmarks. They all bear the same horizontal five-line “parcels” cancellation. The centre line being “LONDON” in sans-serif letters, repeated, the two top and two bottom lines are horizontal broken bars. (See illustrations.)

In case careful critics may object that one of the six obliterations here shown (the Nissen copy noted as No. 3) is not the same as the rest, I would say that a prolonged examination of the stamp itself assures me that it is a kind of accidental double strike or slurred strike, but definitely the same cancellation as the rest.

The coincidence of all the postmarks being alike seems another good argument for their genuineness.

It will be noted that one copy is still attached to a large portion of an official printed parcel post label, which shows part of the words “Majesty’s Service” and is initialled on the back “D.R.” (David Rotberg). The late Mr. Rotberg was well known as a fine judge of stamps. I knew him intimately and he would never have put his name on a stamp unless he was satisfied it was undoubtedly genuine.

Incidentally, many another fine philatelist accepted these stamps as genuine. I may mention A. B. Creeke, Jun., Charles Nissen, Stuart Anderson, who sold a copy to Dr. James, I. J. Bernstein, P. L. Pemberton, W. Houtzamer, W. T. Wilson. I have before me, as I write, a letter dictated by the last named’s son, F. E. Wilson, in 1930 in which he offers a copy of this inverted shilling to Charles Nissen on behalf of an old lady who “has been seriously ill and has in fact now died.” Mr. Wilson goes on to say: “You have already seen it. There is no doubt of its being genuine. It was given to this old lady by a friend in the post office at Bridgnorth a great many years ago.”

I have yet to find any first-class professional philatelist who has condemned these stamps as bad, and the consensus of opinion of those mentioned does make it seem strange that they can all have erred.

The finest philatelists make mistakes sooner or later, but only as the very rare exception, and to think that a bevy such as the seven mentioned above could all make the same error does seem a somewhat impossible suggestion.

There is yet another test of genuineness, in my opinion as good or better than the centring test, and that is variation of the overprints. The genuine normal stamps are set up typographically and these six “forgeries” are the same. The genuine stamps have the appearance of the type being slightly worn, some of the corners of the outside letters as “P” of “Parcels” have the square-cut ends a trifle rounded, which is usual with type that has sustained the friction by pressure of many thousands of impressions. These illustrated stamps show the same appearance.

In the genuine normal “Govt. Parcels” overprints, not only of the one shilling value but of other values, quite a large number of minute differences are seen. There are three catalogued varieties: no stop under “T”, which is rare, stop to right under “T”, and stop to left under “T” which are not so rare; then one finds uncatalogued varieties in considerable number such as large stops, very small stops, misshapen stops, the stop much below its normal position, this latter scarce, and stops just a very trifle to right or left of directly under the “T”; these two are common. Also there are varieties of the “T” where the top stroke of the “T” is slanting downwards slightly, or the “T” is somewhat thicker or thinner than normal. By the way, in the normal average overprint the level top of the “T” seems to be a trifle higher than the top of the other letters, and the circular stop is directly under the centre of the down stroke.

In comparing these stamps it is necessary to note carefully the size of the stop, which varies considerably. The normal round stop is smaller in width across than the down stroke of the “T”, perhaps about two-thirds of the width, so the large and the very small stops look very different from the normal stop.

I have examined minutely from the actual stamps the overprints of the six photographed stamps and give the detailed particulars later. I find at least four or five slight but distinct variations. If any interested reader will check with a glass of moderate magnification, say x6, I think he may note the differences fairly easily (although the enlarged illustrations are not so clear as the actual stamps); examination is best made in a strong light.

Accepting the view that the considerable variations found in the normal genuine stamps is a peculiarity and a proof of the genuine, one here finds among these six “forgeries” exactly the same kind of thing and I suggest (added to the centring test and the cancellation comparisons) an almost unquestionable proof of the genuineness of these condemned stamps.

Herewith are the particulars of variation of the overprint as I see them on the six stamps. It may be that the reproductions in this journal from the enlarged photographs will not show the detail very clearly, but the original stamps do.

The six stamps are numbered as on the plate accompanying this article, and the name of the present owner is given.

 1s green and carmine Government Parcels inverted overprint No. 1 (Houtzamer) – An about normal size stop, not directly under the vertical stroke, but slightly to right, so that the right outside edge of the stop (at three o’clock) is just under the right outside of the down-stroke of the “T”.
1s green and carmine GOVT PARCELS inverted overprint No. 2 (Nissen) – This stamp, on tiny piece which shows the printed word “SERVICE”, has the stop partially covered with the postmark, but it appears largish and exactly under the “T”, which seems rather thicker than the average.
 Government Parcels 1s Green and Carmine Inverted Overprint No. 3 (Nissen) – Has a thin blue diagonal pencil mark. The stop is normal or a trifle larger and directly under the centre of the “T”, which letter looks slightly thinner than the average. This stamp has in the right lower corner of the “S” (at about five o’clock) a minute but distinct nick, probably made by a compositor’s bodkin.
 Government Parcels 1s Green and Carmine Inverted Overprint No. 4 (Nissen) – This stamp is the gem of the lot, clean and lightly postmarked and used on a large piece of official label. The only heavy part of the postmark covers the “T” and stop, but enough can be seen to say it is a rather small stop and directly below the “T”.
 Government Parcels 1s green and carmine inverted overprint No. 5 (H. R. Harmer) – The stamp has a blue diagonal pencil mark, and shows the “T” and stop very clearly indeed. The stop is small and like No. 1, just to the right of directly under the centre of the “T”.
 Government Parcels 1s green and carmine overprint inverted No. 6 (H. R. Harmer) – Has a medium-size stop. Not quite so much to the right as No. 5, but nevertheless a little to the right of exactly under the vertical stroke.

Apparently the first real article on this stamp was written by me in late 1941 and published in my American journal, Harmer’s Stamp Hints, in February 1942. It was written in New York entirely from memory and without a view of the two stamps which I own. Later, the Stamp Lover of December 1943 published an article,”A Great Britain Mystery,” by the editors, giving valuable particulars of a copy “found” by John Harms, a member of the Brighton Philatelic Society. This copy was “found” among some stamps which were given to him; he subsequently sold the stamp to Willy Jacoby, the City dealer, for 15s. I was speaking to Mr. Harms recently. Mr. P. L. Pemberton is also another living proof that these inverted shillings were obtained in the way that many rare used genuine varieties are obtained, namely “found,” by actual discovery, with a cost price of nil or thereabouts.

All the evidence and opinions up to now in this article are given to support my faith in the genuineness of this stamp; they are what one might call the case for the plaintiff who pleads the stamps with their overprints are genuine and good, but who only wishes to elucidate the truth for the good of philatelic accuracy.

Now for the other side! It is not difficult to marshal the arguments and facts for the other side. They are so few.

The strongest evidence I can find is that in 1915, twelve years after the stamp was first noted in print and catalogued, the Expert Committee opined that all the four or five copies they saw in that year bore forged overprints. In 1930 there is evidence that they still had the same opinion about a single copy that I sent to them.

The reasons for the rejection in 1915 are given in The London Philatelist of April 1915, Vol. XXIV, page 78, and read as follows:-

“A copy of the above stamp was forwarded to the Expert Committee for examination at a recent meeting. The specimen, which bore a postmark, came from the collection formed by the late Earl of Crawford, K.T., and is the identical stamp that was reproduced on the plate of illustrations issued with A Supplement to “British Isles,” by Mr. A. B. Creeke, Jun., that was published by the Society in December 1904. After a careful examination and comparison with a number of undoubted copies with the overprint in the normal position, the specimen was declared to bear a forged overprint.”

“The stamp with inverted overprint was first mentioned in Ewen’s Weekly Stamp News of October 24, 1903, that is, ten months after the issue of the One Shilling “GOVT. PARCELS” with effigy of King Edward. Very grave suspicion is attached to the variety from this fact. Added to which, the members of the Expert Committee have recently examined three other specimens, besides that belonging to the late Earl of Crawford, and also a photograph of another specimen, and all these five stamps bear different obliterations, which again is a suspicious circumstance. The Committee have communicated with every collector they know of who is likely to have a copy of the stamp, and all the specimens they have had before them, after careful comparison, have been found to have forged overprints. In these circumstances, it is extremely doubtful whether the variety is not of an entirely bogus nature, and the Expert Committee feel that it is their duty to make these facts public.”

Commenting on these notes, it will at once be seen that there are two statements, and only two, both in the second paragraph, that have any bearing on the question.

The first says: Grave suspicion attaches to this variety from the fact that it was first mentioned in Ewen’s Weekly Stamp News of October 24, 1903, that is, ten months after the issue of the one shilling “Govt. Parcels”of King Edward.

One must protest that no suspicion whatever attaches from that fact. The inverted variety was undoubtedly first used in 1902 or, at latest, early 1903, the King Edward shilling “Govt. Parcels” stamp shortly after. The fact that a very rare newly discovered variety is not mentioned in print for even a year or two after it was first used, seems to me not a bit unlikely. Many very rare varieties are found ten to twenty years after the issue occurred. I have found such a one myself and obtained a”Royal”certificate for it.

Consider also the possibility that the two gentlemen who wrote Mr. Ewen may have known of the stamp some months earlier, the fact that two of them knew of it suggests that it was probably known for at least some little time. Mr. Pemberton and myself are two more who almost certainly knew of it long before the Ewen’s Weekly date of October 1903, so where is the suspicious circumstance? At its best, or its worst, it is, strictly speaking, merely an opinion.

The other, and a really astounding statement, refers to the 1915 examination, and reads: “All these five stamps bear different obliterations.”

If this statement was correct, it would be a strong argument against the genuineness of these five stamps, but it cannot be wholly correct, because two of the six I show formed part of the original five examined in 1915! These two are the Dr. James copy and the Earl of Crawford copy. So here is a problem that can be solved fairly easily if photographs and records still exist of the 1915 quintet.

If the writer of those notes in The London Philatelist of April 1915 made an unaccountable mistake of actual fact (not of opinion) in stating that the five stamps all bore different obliterations, practically the whole case against the genuineness of these inverted shillings falls to the ground. Perhaps the three other 1915 copies will be traced in some way or other. The “Dr. James” copy is, I believe, No. 6 (H. R. Harmer); the “Earl of Crawford”copy can be identified by the illustration in A Supplement to”British Isles” and is, I think, No. 5. Apologies are made for this lack of certainty. These final notes are being written in an Orient liner en route to Sydney, Australia, with no reference material whatever, otherwise a careful search would have been made.

In any case here is my claim, that the six copies illustrated all show the same obliteration. That is a much stronger proof than the uncorroborated London Philatelist statement of April 1915 that the five bear different cancellations and which we know is incorrect.

The writer would be glad to examine and report on any copy if sent to him in New Bond Street.

It is to be hoped that others interested in philatelic research and British stamps in particular will help to finally solve this question about a rare and interesting British stamp