1. Jean de Sperati – "caught in his own trap"!

Wolfgang Maassen, AIJP

Imagine a scenario in which the forger has to defend himself against accusations that his artistically created products are all genuine? An upside-down world? Not at all, because it happened, in 1943 in a sensational trial that was to keep the philatelic public on tenterhooks for years.

Jean de Sperati cannot be compared with any other kind of forger. He saw himself - similar to François Fournier or Peter Winter - not as a forger, but as an artist who in later years proudly signed his works as facsimiles. He even created proofs of them, showing the beauty, brilliance and accuracy of his creations, as individual prints without postmarks, for which he himself claimed copyright and prohibited any reproduction. Unlike Fournier, however, he was a highly gifted and capable artist, both in regard to the techniques of printing and production and also in the philatelic sense.

Jean de Sperati during the careful quality control of a replica. From: WM archive
Jean de Sperati during the careful quality control of a replica. From: WM archive

He was not interested in the quantity, only the quality of his creations, for which he demanded considerable sums of money. He proudly maintained a "Livre d'Or" or "Golden Book" by preserving all those copies that had been submitted to reputable expertisers in various countries and that had received certificates of genuineness from them. He was pleased to see how he could demonstrate his skill to the experts, to such an extent that he found sufficient material for a book which he published under the title "La Philatélie sans Experts?".

Jean de Sperati: La Philatélie sans experts? Imprimerie Nouvelle, Paris 1946
Jean de Sperati: La Philatélie sans experts? Imprimerie Nouvelle, Paris 1946

He was so taken by his own achievements and so proud of his work that by September 1946 he even offered subscribers a catalogue of works entitled "Philatélie d'Art Les Jean-de-Sperati". However this was in a luxury leather edition at prices of 185,000 francs (Volume 1) and 135,000 francs (Volume 2) at that time. Even the ordinary versions evidently cost 5,800 francs and 4,500 francs respectively, but did not contain any "originals", only descriptions of the replicas.[1] Such prices deterred interested buyers; only three are said to have purchased this luxury edition. Two of them were later broken up by their owners; a third was offered in 2011 by the auction house Christoph Gärtner at 65,000 euros.[2] It contained 225 so-called proofs (single prints) of all countries from Argentina to Württemberg and originally belonged to Victor Sylvestre, to whom Sperati wrote a dedication in the book.

Sperati's facsimiles and replicas were made to order; they were not printed sheet by sheet in quantities. He worked meticulously with highly complicated combinations of reproduction methods, a combination of contact photography with heliography, whose chemically precise results enabled him to achieve such a high quality of reproduction that it was hardly possible to detect his forgeries. This earned him praise from all those who bought and re-sold his products. Similar to Fournier, the sale of his forgeries flourished for decades, especially in the European stamp trade, which thus often became a "fence". However, today's owners of Sperati forgeries may take comfort in the fact that the market value of his creations is often comparable to that of the originals; in some cases it is even higher.

Jean de Sperati_Buch_Lowe_Walske2001Jean de Sperati_Buch_Lucette_Blanc_Girardet2003
Two of the books published in 2001/2003 document Jean de Sperati's life and his then newly discovered "productions".

Jean de Sperati may certainly be described as an artist who, also thanks to his calligraphic skills, created complete items that can hardly be distinguished from the original. Jean de Sperati also stands out clearly from all other well-known forgers of some renown in another respect: he is the only one for whom there is still extensive specialist literature - especially in the English-speaking world - to which the Royal Philatelic Society London added another work just 20 years ago.[3] If you take a closer look at Jean de Sperati, you will get to know the "Sperati fascination" phenomenon better!


[1] This information is taken from the biography by Lucette Blanc-Girardet, which was published in 2003 under the title "Jean de Sperati. L'homme qui copiait les timbres". The author is also indebted to Michael Burzan, whose series of articles on Jean de Sperati and his Old Germany forgeries, published over several years (2011-2014) in the magazine "philatelie", provided interesting details.

[2] C. Gärtner auction, June 2011, Lot 13724.

[3] From the abundant literature on Jean de Sperati, the following sources in particular have been used for study:
Ernst Müller: Jean de Sperati, a series of articles in: Die Basler Taube, from No. 12/1947 to No. 5/1948
Chapman, Kenneth F.: Sperati. Master Craftsman, in: Stamps, January 1990, pp. 53-58; February pp. 82-86; March pp. 44-49. The text was published in 2002 as a supplement to THE LONDON PHILATELIST in an almost unchanged form as a reprint.
Deutsche Briefmarken-Zeitung (DBZ) Vol. 1909, p. 62, p. 171.
Lowe, Robson: The Work of Jean de Sperati, published by the British Philatelic Association, London in 1955
Lowe, Robson/Walske, Carl: The Work of Jean de Sperati II, published by the Royal Philatelic Society London in 2002
Walske, Carl: New Sperati Discoveries, a Display at the Royal Philatelic Society, 3 May 2001; Reprint/Release from the antiquarian bookshop of Burkhard Schneider, Gelnhausen 2002.