Madame Joseph Forged More than Just Cancels?

I am on a short trip to British Columbia to attend a funeral. But I decided to bring my album of Northern and Southern Nigeria with me in order to begin the process of looking for plate flaws in the De La Rue Keyplate stamps of both colonies.

While examining the Queen Victoria keyplate issues of Northern Nigeria, I came across something very interesting that is also very mysterious.

Many philatelists who collect British Commonwealth have heard of Madame Joseph. She was a British Stamp dealer in London, who was famous for forging cancellations on many stamps that are worth much more used than mint. She was known to operate between the First World War and the end of the Second World War, and the period covered by her work is the late Victorian period through to the early Elizabethan period. She is also known to have offered a service in repairing stamps. However, no mention has been made in the literature of her altering the stamps themselves to create more collectible varieties.

I found potential evidence that suggests that either:

1. De La Rue recycled poorly inked sheets of stamps from one colony and used them to prepare the stamps of other colonies, or

2. That Madame Joseph, in addition to forging cancellations on stamps, was also faking them.

The title of this post ends with a question mark because I could not reach a conclusion about what I saw, and I am very much interested to hear what you readers think. I do not have access to a scanner out here, so I will have to post the pictures after I return from my trip. But for now, I will describe what I found.

I have two stamps from this series that I purchased with the well known Madame Joseph forged cancellations dated August 14, 1900. One is the 2d lilac and yellow orange, and the other is the 5d lilac and orange brown. Both stamps catalogue in the 60-65 pound range, against mint values of 16-28 pounds. It is not that large a difference, and it would seem to be too much trouble to bother ruining perfectly good mint stamps that are reasonably valuable in their own right.

But what if she didn't start with those mint stamps? What if she started with some cheaper keyplate of the same design like a 1/2d value from this colony, or another colony like Leeward Islands and altered them to produce these 2d and 5d scarcer stamps. What if she was starting with stamps that had a value under 5 pounds and was turning them into stamps worth 60 pounds and doing this in quantity? Well this would certainly seem a profitable venture.

While examining the 2d stamp closely, I noticed traces of green ink underneath the orange yellow inscription, and then again underneath the value tablet. This suggested that a 1/2d lilac and green stamp had been altered to produce the scarcer and more valuable 2d stamp. The only 1/2d stamps that I am aware of that were printed in these colours, in this design come from either (1) the Cayman Islands, (2) The Leeward Islands or (3) Northern Nigeria. Looking closely at the green ink traces, I could see very clearly that the last letter underneath the yellow orange ink is an "s", while the first letter is not a "c". This means that this stamp started life out as a Leeward Islands stamp. The 5d stamp also had some slight traces of green ink underneath the orange brown inscriptions well. The fact that both stamps came from the same source, both have the same fake cancels, suggests that Madame Joseph altered these stamps.

But the question is how? To do this, she would have to have produced, accurately, the lettering for the inscription, and the value tablets - not an impossible task for an experienced forger. However she would have to have had a way to remove the green ink inscriptions and value tablets from the stamps without altering or otherwise affecting the lilac portion of the designs.

There are essentially three ways that this could be accomplished:

1. By painting over the green ink using China white and then re-printing over the top of the white. Doing this successfully would require complete coverage within the top panel of the stamp and the value tablet, so that the areas where the white ends would not be visible.

2. By using a mineral solvent to dissolve the green ink or fade it out sufficiently to allow the yellow-orange or orange-brown ink to be printed over top of the green ink. A mineral solvent would be required, as the green ink is a singly fugitive ink, and is not water soluble. This would have to be done with the utmost care so as not to remove the lilac ink, which is doubly fugitive, and would be removed, were it to come into contact with the solvent. This would require extremely light and controlled applications with a very fine brush. I find it hard to imagine how this could be successfully done with the value tablet, given how close the green ink is to the lilac ink. Even if one could apply the solvent, it would be necessary to find a way to wipe or otherwise remove the ink, again without smearing it over the lilac ink.

3. By using an eraser or a scraper to remove the ink. This would damage the surface of the paper and it is likely that the ink printed over top would bleed into the paper fibres and diffuse, resulting in unclean lines.

A close examination of these two stamps does not show any trace of painting in white. There are no evidence of erasures, or paper damage, and the re-printed ink is smooth and solid, with clean outlines. There is no evidence of any smearing or other evidence of attempted removal of the green ink. So it remains a very big mystery how the removal of the green ink could have been accomplished by Madame Joseph.

The only other possibility that I can think of, that seems rather far-fetched, is that maybe De La Rue found itself at the end of a large print run of 1/2d Leeward Islands stamps with some sheets that had very poor inking of the green colour, due to the ink running out. It is possible, that rather than throw these sheets out, that maybe they decided to recycle them and simply print the new inscriptions and value tablets over top of the old ink.

I'd be interested to her your comments. I will add the scans of the two stamps when I return from my trip.


  1. Fascinating! I find myself wondering if more of these exist! Great post.

    1. Thanks. I'm sure there probably are more of them around. What do you think though? Do you think it is possible that De La Rue actually reused the sheets and that these could actually be some kind of substituted cliche?

    2. It is possible but, I would need to examine them for myself. Thanks again for another riveting post.

  2. Interesting theory, have you discovered anything more?

    1. Well actually yes. The August 14, 1900 date is the one that is known on the genuine cancels. So the possibility does exist that the cancels are not actually Mademme Joseph fakes, but are genuine. I will have to examine them more closely with the aid of a reference source that can give me the exact characteristics of the fakes versus the genuine. I assumed they were fake because they both had the same date, and this is the date that Madamme Joseph used.

    2. So, did you discover if it was a true fake?

    3. No, not yet. I've been rather busy these past few months. I am hoping to get to the bottom of this mystery eventually.

  3. Hi Nigeria Afficianado,
    Great blog. I lived in Nigeria when I was a kid. I still have my stamp collection from that time. Do you have an email address? Would love to chat.

  4. The Madame Joseph canceller is unique to the fakes - there are no genuine postmarks in that style.
    I've looked closely at my ½d, 1s, 2s6d, 10s . None of mine have traces of any other colour or suggestion of other form of fakery. Do put some good scans up when you have time.


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