New Orleans, La was the Confederacy's largest city and the center of commerce. As such, New Orleans had an immediate need for postage stamps to carry on business. The New Orleans Confederate postmaster, John L. Riddell, immediately issued New Orleans Provisional stamps beginning in June 1861 in 2c and 5c denominations. These New Orleans Provisionals were woodcuts and went through a number of printings as they were in use from June 1861 until early 1862 (rare to see a usage past February 1862). The New Orleans 5c Provisionals are the most common of the CSA provisional stamps and the ones most likely to be acquired by the average collector. But there are a great many very dangerous reproductions of these stamps.
Below are illustrated three New Orleans 2c Blue Provisional stamps Scott #62x1. One is genuine with an approximate value of $150.00. The other two are worthless fakes. Can you tell which is which?
The genuine stamp is the one in the middle. The stamp on the right is a Taylor Reproduction, and the one on the left is an Upham Reproduction. There should be no problem in identifying the fake on the right because of its cruder printing quality and darker blue color. But the reproduction on the left is very deceptive. It is easy to see the difference in printing quality when the stamps are side by side, but it can be very difficult when the stamps stand alone. The key to identifying the reproductions from the genuine 2c Blue New Orleans is to look at the position of the central "2" in relation to the circular frame around the "2." As seen in the illustration below, the lower left point of the "2" in the genuine (center) stamp actually breaks the circular frame line. Whereas in the reproductions, the circular frame line is entirely intact with no break. Incidentally, the 2c New Orleans Provisional is scarce in used condition. The majority of the ones still in existence are unused.
The 2c Blue New Orleans was actually the second printing and was issued on 3 July 1861. The first printing was in Red (Scott #62x2). A genuine 2c red New Orleans is illustrated below. But the 2c red was put aside and was not made available to the public until early 1862 not long before the fall of the city. The printing characteristics of the genuine vs fake 2c red and the 2c blue stamps are exactly the same. Look for the position of the "2" and the break in the circular frame.
We now come to the 5c Brown New Orleans Provisional. This was the most extensively used of the CSA Provisional stamps and the one most likely to be acquired by the general collector. There are three major varieties 1) Brown on White Paper (#62x3), 2) Red-Brown on Bluish Paper (#62x4), 3) Yellow Brown on Off-White paper (#62x5). In addition, there are a number of sub-varieties the most distinctive being a rare Ocher color on White Paper (#62x3b) as well as a number of different printings. The genuine stamps were actually engraved but the printing was done using wood blocks, so the printing quality varies from one printing to the next. There are numerous fakes and reproductions. Illustrated below are the three genuine major varieties.
The Taylor fake on the left can be very deceptive. But when seen against the original, the differences in printing quality, the off-color appearance, and the differences in the designs of the corner ornaments especially become obvious. The Upham fake on the right is seen very commonly and should really fool no-one. It is the notorious "Waving Hand" fake so named because of the appearance of the ornament at the lower left corner. Look closely at the lower left. If it looks like a hand waving at you, it is unquestionably a fake. I see this fake frequently listed on E-Bay Auctions as the real thing with serious bids to match. These fakes are worthless. There are also fakes in various colors particularly red and green. Any 5c New Orleans Provisional not in the brown color shades shown above is a fake. The catalogs do list a 5c Red New Orleans Provisional stamp. These are incredibly rare with only one genuine unused stamp and four used stamps known to exist. It is believed that these rare red stamps were caused by a one time mistake in the mixing of the printing inks. It is unlikely that one of these rare genuine red stamps will ever be encountered by the average collector.
Memphis, Tenn was also a center of river commerce and issued 2c and 5c Provisional Stamps. The Memphis Provisionals are probably second only to New Orleans in availability and can readily be acquired by the general collector. But there are some extremely deceptive fakes. Fortunately, when you know exactly what to look for, the fakes can be easily spotted.
The 2c Blue Memphis Provisional Fake is very easy to detect. The key is the loop of the "D" in "PAID." The genuine stamp has a dark prominent diamond contained within the loop. The fake does not have the dark diamond. This is universal. Look at the loop of the "D" and you will not make a mistake.
The 5c Red Memphis Provisional also has a very deceptive fake. But again it has a uniform characteristic which can easily immediately distinguish the fake from the original even though the genuine stamp does exist in a variety of red color shades. Just below the numeral "5" are two dark prominent diamonds as part of the background. In the genuine stamp, these diamonds are complete. In the fakes, the "5" cuts off 1/3 to 1/2 of the diamonds. You may need a magnifier to see this characteristic, so be very careful when buying a 5c Red Memphis Provisional.
Mobile, Ala, a major seaport on the Gulf of Mexico, issued 2c and 5c Provisionals. The Mobile Provisionals are somewhat more scarce than the New Orleans and Memphis Provisionals above, but they can still be acquired by the average collector. The Mobile Provisional fakes, fortunately, are quite easy to detect from the genuine issues. Below are illustrated the 2c and 5c Fake Mobile Provisionals as well as the Genuine Stamps. The 2c and 5c have exactly the same design except for the central numeral and the color. The appearance of the fakes of the two denominations are also very similar. When the fake and the genuine are seen side by side, the differences become obvious.
The fakes are rather crudely printed woodcuts and generally lack detail. The genuine stamps which are lithographs are of much better quality and are highly detailed. This can best be seen in the corner ornaments on the 2c and also in the facial details of the the two figures flanking the top of the star in both denominations. In the fakes, the faces lack detail; whereas in the original, the faces have distinct facial features. In the 5c Blue, the lower right figure is holding a sickle in the genuine. In the fake, the sickle is missing. In both denominations, the genuine stamps have a plow under the central star. The plow is missing in the fakes.
Nashville, Tenn issued 5c and 10c Provisionals. The 5c Nashville is seen somewhat frequently as provisionals go, but the 10c Nashville is quite scarce. The fakes of the 5c Nashville are particularly well executed and can very easily be mistaken for the genuine stamp. The genuine 5c Nashville exists in various shades of red and can also be found in a violet brown and a gray. The reproductions are also found in these same colors. Below are illustrated the two major fakes along with the genuine stamp in red.
Study these illustrations carefully because differences can be detected. The main differences between the fakes and the genuine are: 1) the shape of the numeral "5" particularly the top crossbar, and 2) the ornamentation in the corners in the fakes lacks the detail seen in the original. The Upham fake has one other distinguishing characteristic. The crossbar of the "A" in "NASHVILLE" is doubled in the fake whereas it is a normal single crossbar in the genuine. (The Taylor fake also has a single crossbar, but fortunately this fake is not seen too often. You have to rely on the other less specific characteristics to distinguish the Taylor fake from the original.)
The genuine 10c Nashville Provisional is an extremely scarce item and is listed only in green. It has the same general design as the 5c Nashville. Below is illustrated a genuine 10c Nashville Provisional and the crude reproduction. Notice in the genuine stamp that there are curved ornaments above the word "PAID" and below the numeral "10." In the reproductions, these curved lines are missing.
Just because the provisional stamps appear to be genuinely used is no gaurantee that they are genuine. Below are illustrated two Taylor 5c Nashville Fake Reproductions in brown affixed to a small piece and cancelled with what appears to be a genuine Nashville postmark. On close inspection, it is obvious that these stamps are the Taylor Reproductions (look at the pattern of the ornamentation in the four corners). The Nashvile postmark while closely resembling the genuine postmark has differences in the lettering style, size, and spacing. This is in fact a well known fake Nashville postmark that is also sometimes seen on the 3c McNish Provisional (see below).
The Nashville Postmaster, William McNish, also prepared provisional stamps in the 3c USA rate. The 3c Nashville Provisional was printed but never issued and never used. It was a relatively simple stamp and widely reproduced. Genuine ones are scarce while fakes are somewhat plentiful. Illustrated below are the genuine and the fake 3c Nashville Provisionals. Note the thick outer red frame. In the original, there are various breaks in this frame with the two most prominent being at the left center and the right center. The fake is usually somewhat off-color, a little more crudely printed, and the thick red outer frame is solid and has no breaks. To futher muddy the waters, there are examples of the genuine stamp with a fake Nashville postmark. Since these stamps were never issued and never used, there are no legitimately used examples.
But just looking for a broken frame vs a solid frame in the 3c Red Nashville Provisional is not enough. The presence of the solid frame immediately and unmistakenly identifies the stamp as a fake. But in 2005, another very dangerous forgery of this provisional was described in the Oct - Dec 2005 issue of the Confederate Philatelist. This forgery is attributed to the infamous 19th Century philatelic forger James A. Petrie. The illustration below is taken from the cited article. The Petrie forgery does indeed have breaks in the outer frame similar to the genuine, but the easiest way to identify this forgery is to look at the "S" of "CENTS." In the genuine, the bottom loop of the "S" has a constant easily identified break. The Petrie forgery has a complete "S" with no break. There are other subtle differences in the typeface and settings and alignments, but the difference in the "S" is the characteristic most easily seen.
The 5c Baton Rouge, La Provisional is an extremely scarce stamp with a high catalog value. It is unlikely that the average collector would come across a genuine example outside of a major philatelic auction. I include the 5c Baton Rouge in this discussion as there exists an extremely good reproduction of this stamp which is actually seen fairly frequently. Just recently I have seen on E-Bay Auctions two examples of the 5c Baton Rouge Provisional for sale. The description generally goes something like this -- "Rare 5c Baton Rouge CSA Provisional Cat Value $4500.00. I do not know if it is genuine or not. But if it is, it is a great rarity. No returns accepted." Chances are this "Great Rarity" is a worthless fake, and the seller knows it which is why the "No Returns Accepted" clause in the Terms of Sale. But some foolish collector paid $100.00 for it thinking that he might get an incredible bargain. It does not work that way. The problem is that the reproduction is so good that it is not distinguishable from the original based solely on a picture or a scan. Below are illustrated both a fake and a genuine 5c Baton Rouge.
Fake = 3.75mm
The defining characteristic in distinguishing the genuine from the fake 5c Baton Rouge has to do with the circles in the background pattern. Using a magnifier, measure the horizontal distance between the center of the adjacent circles. In the genuine stamp, the distance measures out to 4.5mm; while the fake measures only 3.75mm. This is tough to do on a photo or a scan and can only really be accurately done on the stamp itself.
The genuine Athens, Ga Provisional Stamps are scarce with a high catalog value. The fakes are not seen very often but can be easily spotted. The Athens Postmaster, Thomas Crawford, issued a provisional stamp in a 5c denomination only. There were no 10c Athens Provisionals issued. Any Athens Provisional stamps in a 10c denomination are FAKES. The genuine Athens stamp was issued in two types and in two colors -- purple and red. The difference between the two types can best be seen in the scroll work particularly at the upper right corner. The purple stamp is the one that is usually seen and exists in a variety of purple shades. The red stamp is extremely scarce. Illustrated below is a genuine purple Athens, Ga 5c Provisional Type I. Note the white bar between "PAID" and "5." In the vast majority of the fake 5c Athens Provisional Stamps that are seen, this white bar is absent.
Fake = No White Bar
In the July-August 2004 issue of the Confederate Philatelist, Frank Crown describes and illustrates a newly discovered fake Type II Athens 5c Provisional Stamp. Even though this particular fake has been around since at least the 1870's, it was not recognized as a fake until now. The illustration below is taken from Frank Crown's article, and the distinguishing charateristics of the fake vs genuine are described.
The genuine stamp is on the LEFT (Type II) with the newly discovered Type II fake on the RIGHT. This fake has the white bar. Note that the white bar is horizontal in the genuine stamp but droops downward at the right on the fake stamp. On closer examination, there are numerous small differences between the two such as differences in the lettering, the drooping white bar and the smaller stars found on the fake, and the overall much coarser appearance of the genuine when compared to the smoothness of the fake. The arrows above illustrate three main differences which can quickly distinguish the Type II genuine from the fake.
Since this is a newly described fake that has been around for a long time, it is unknown at this time how prevalent the fake is or how many may currently be residing in collections as the genuine stamp. Click the title A Dangerous Athens Fake if you wish to read Frank Crown's entire detailed article on this new discovery (opens in a new window).
There is an excellent fake of the 5c red Petersburg, Va in existence. This fake is almost indistinguishable from the genuine stamp. One of the differences is in the appearance of the numeral "5." Compare the "5's" in the genuine and the fake stamp below. The "5" in the fake stamp on the right is italicized. But an easier way to tell the difference is to look at "PETERSBURG" and "VIRGINIA." In the fake, the lettering of both words is the same size. In the genuine, "PETERSBURG" is about 30% larger than "VIRGINIA."
The genuine 5c Knoxville, Ten provisional stamps are listed in the brick red and the carmine color shades. Both stamps are very scarce with a high catalog value. It is unlikely that a genuine one would be encountered outside of a major auction. But there are a great many reproductions available in the correct color shades which are often mistaken for the genuine stamp. Below are illustrated both a genuine and a fake 5c Knoxville Provisional in the Brick Red Color Shade. The genuine stamp is very detailed and has quite elaborate scroll ornamentation in the four corners compared to the rather simple and crude scrollwork in the fakes. But the universal characteristic is the fact that the fake has two easily seen white dots resembling a colon on the left between the postmaster's initials and "KNOXVILLE." These dots are not present on the original. It is also known that private printings were also made later from the original Knoxville plates. But these later private printings are easy to identify as they show a very poor printing quality, and none are in the proper brick red or carmine colors.
The 5c Knoxville reproductions are also seen quite often as mini sheetlets of four in tete-beche format. Below is illustrated such an item that was taken from an old collection.
Knoxville was also known to have issued a 10c Provisional Stamp in Green with the same design as the 5c. At the current time, there is only one known recorded genuine example of the 10c Green Knoxville Provisional, and it is on a cover. It is considered to be a unique item. But there are reproductions of this stamp available in the green color. The genuine Knoxville 10c Provisional cover was sold in the 1997 Siegels Rarities of the World Auction. The illustration of the genuine stamp below is cropped from the full cover illustration that appears in the 1997 Siegel Rarities Catalog. Again, like the 5c Knoxville Provisional, the genuine 10c stamp shows detailed printing and very elaborate ornamentation at the four corners. The fakes are more crudely printed and show scant and incomplete scrollwork in the corners. Also the "1" on the reprint is upside down and backwards. Any 10c Knoxville Provisional Stamp that the average collector may run across will almost assuredly be a reproduction. But there may be other genuine ones just waiting to be discovered.
The Livingston, Ala 5c Blue Provisional is a well-designed and well-executed lithographed stamp. There has been some speculation that the same printer who printed the Mobile stamp also printed the Livingston stamp since the printing technique is similar and these are the only two CSA provisional stamps that actually show a pictorial type of design. This stamp is very scarce with only a handful of known genuine examples and a catalog value in the thousands of dollars. It is unlikely that the average collector would ever come across this stamp. But it is presented here nevertheless because fakes do abound.
The rare genuine stamp is on the left. The one on the right is the common fake. There are many differences between the two which are obvious when the stamps are side by side. But the most obvious difference that can be seen in a stand alone fake stamp is the white space (absence of rays) between the 6-pointed star at the top center and the inner frame (blue arrow). The genuine stamp has the whole area filled with rays. Also note the figures in the four corners. On the genuine stamp, these figures are well executed and quit detailed. Whereas on the fake, the figures are not nearly so well done and look almost crude compared to the original.
The 5c Blue Lynchburg, Va Provisional Stamp is scarce and is unlikely to be acquired by the average collector. The stamp is basically a fairly simple woodcut which does lend itself to fakery. And there are a number of different fakes of this stamp known. The genuine stamp is only known in various shades of blue. So right away any stamps in red or green or any other color besides blue are fakes. The blue fakes can sometimes be difficult to tell from the original when they stand alone.
There are numerous small differences between the fakes and the genuine. But the quickest way to tell the difference between a fake and a genuine is to use a magnifier and check the background between the top loop and the cap of the "5" (see below red arrows). In the genuine, there is a distinct well-formed paralellogram while in the various fakes this geometric figure is either trapezoidal or triangular. Also examine the ornamentation in the four corners. The corner ornamentation is more elaborate and more detailed on the original than on the fakes.
We now come to the current end of my discussion on fake CSA provisional stamps. I have shown only a few of the more commonly seen examples. There are many more including reprints of the very rare issues. I plan to add more examples later as I obtain good material for illustration. I hope that this section has been of some assistance. If anyone has any questions about fake CSA stamps, do not hesitate to send me an E-mail. I will attempt to supply an answer if at all possible.
Illustrations of the rare genuine Livingston and Lynchburg Provisional Stamps are courtesy of Robert A . Siegel Auction Galleries. Information on the fake Lynchburg and Livingston stamps is courtesy of Peter Powell and Kevin Baker.