A team of scientists in Italy have developed a new and simpler technique for detecting counterfeit postage stamps.Current means of identifying fakes generally rely on taking a tiny sample for laboratory analysis – which in the case of very rare items could have an impact on value if the sample is subsequently found to be genuine.The researchers – led by Ludovico Valli of Universita del Salento – decided instead to use a technique known as Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy to create a spectral database of 150 years of stamps issued since the unification of Italy.
The database allowed the researchers to look at the constituents of stamps – including the adhesive used to attach them to envelopes, the paper composition and make-up of inks – and chart the changes in stamp production over the decades.
With the database in hand the team were also able to identify counterfeits of two very rare stamps, including the 1961 Gronchi Rosa (pictured), which was determined to be a forgery because the ink used in its manufacture did not use kaolin, and a re-gummed 2 cent red stamp issued in 1865. The work is published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.
Counterfeiting is clearly a big problem for philatelists collecting rarities, but assumes mammoth proportions when bulk copying of current postage stamps is involved.
Earlier this year, Turkish police seized four million fake UK postage stamps and detained 11 people linked to a forgery operation in Istanbul, while the Luxembourg-based Fédération Internationale de Philatélie (FIP) said recently that the Canada Post may be losing as much as C$10m a year from the activity.