Note: This column was published in The American Philatelist in the April 2019 issue.
The American Philatelic Society’s Expert Service (APEX) has been in existence since its first certificate was issued in 1903. In fact, the idea to offer the service was one of the original reasons for establishing the APS in 1886. Then as now, keeping “weeds” out of the album was the best way to allow collectors to get the full enjoyment of the king of hobbies.
But 116 years of service does not mean APEX is resting on past laurels. Our present certificates are the results of having a committee of more than 160 experts in nearly every area of collecting where identification problems may exist. Five generations on, today’s experts are as committed as their predecessors to helping members today keep the chaff out of the wheat, protecting the interests of philately along with the philatelists.
Batum 1919 blk 25-ruble on 5-kopeck claret Russia Coat of Arms, Scott 33.
While writing more than 6,000 APEX certificates, I have seen a significant number of opinions worded to indicate that further research and reflection has gone into examining the items submitted. Our experts have their own reference collections of stamps, covers and literature, as well as years of experience in their collecting interests that add solid support to their opinions. Additionally, the Expert Service has access to the APS Reference Collection of about 550 albums of genuine material and 50 binders of spurious items, offering us great comparison material when needed. And bear in mind that just down the hall is the American Philatelic Research Library, a world center for philatelic research and one that we frequently visit for additional information to support our conclusions.
We asked APRL Library Technical Services Specialist Betsy Gamble for a thumbnail assessment of its resources. It took her three whole minutes to consult the Philatelic Union Catalog and reply, “We have 1,727 instances of ‘Forgeries’ as a subject heading in books, catalogs, exhibits, etc., and 5,506 instances of ‘Forgeries’ as a subject heading in the article citation database.”
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily include “counterfeits,” “facsimiles,” “postal forgeries,” “fakes” and other categories of bogus material that come to our attention from time to time. I ran the numbers for those four categories and came up with totals of more than 1,133 books, catalogs and exhibits, and over 2,531 articles. Shown here, in alphabetical order, is a partial list of countries and collecting areas for which we issued APEX certificates in 2018 — the top 42 of the 217 countries and areas from which material was submitted to us for certification. Bushire, Batum, Heligoland and Samoa are just four of the 175 other stamp-issuing entities covered by our experts within the last year.
Italy is on the list, and we can refer to our reference collection to make a determination on stamp identity. However, Italy is one area for which we have had a difficult time finding someone to serve as an expert, as is the French Colonies area. If we have the stamps in the reference collection, we may be able to certify them. If someone steps up to expertize these two areas, we will note that online and in future columns.
| Cape of Good Hope
| Confederate States
|| Netherlands Indies
|| United States
Of course we also have file cabinets with additional literature in the form of clippings of articles noting the details for identifying counterfeits, fakes, forgeries and reprints.
APS departments refer to the Reference Collection. StampStore has buyer questions about posted items on the site and they offer to have an item certified before finalizing a purchase, if requested by the buyer. Our Editorial Department is regularly borrowing stamps to scan for article illustrations in The American Philatelist. Circuit Sales and Education have an occasional need to check items as well. Additionally, visiting experts and collectors of all levels have browsed through albums doing their own research.
We do not send albums out to members, but are happy to open our doors and our albums when they visit Bellefonte. Experts, in particular, have helped us with some tricky identification issues in their expert areas. Our turnaround time from submitting an item to APEX to receiving it back with our results averages about 45 to 55 days. However, we ask that you allow for 90 days, especially when an item is particularly difficult to authenticate and must be sent to one or more other experts. When a stamp has returned from the expert review, it might have to wait as other, earlier items are processed.
APEX has the experts, the reference collection and the historical documentation. APEX has one thing more, as well: the APEX Guarantee. The short version is that the APS will compensate the owner of a philatelic item that has been wrongly certified as genuine or misidentified by an APEX certificate. We expertize your stamps, and we stand behind our opinions. APEX does not offer an express service or a quantity discount, but we do offer you the World — and our guarantee.
More detailed information may be found at stamps.org/services/stamp-authentication.
Editor's Note: The “Expertizing” column was originally published in the April 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. We are bringing the archives of The American Philatelist to the Newsroom - to read back issues of The American Philatelist, click here and scroll down to the Back Issues section.