Some years ago I started my research into the Spanish lithographer and stamp dealer Plácido Ramón de Torres (1847-c1919), who was little known even in his own country. To my surprise it emerged that I had come across not only the world’s most prolific reproducer of postage stamps for catalogues, albums and philatelic magazines, but probably one of the world’s most prolific forgers.
After studying and comparing most early European catalogues and magazines, it turned out that Torres was the supplier of engravings for the majority of editors. Then it became clear that the Spaniard had supplied most American catalogue editors as well. As the first Australian catalogues and magazines were published relatively late, I did not take them in account. However, when I first examined copies of some early 20th century Australian catalogue pages, I soon realized they had also used the Torres illustrations.
The certainly surprising world-wide commercial activity of the Spaniard in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries is undoubtedly of a certain historical interest, but its philatelic implications appeared to be quite limited. However, further information has emerged that changes this impression. After, or maybe even before, delivering the stamp images to his clients, he used to make “private copies” and put them into stamp packages, so converting them into forgeries.
This practise started in the early 1860’s, when Elia
Carlo Usigli, editor and one of the first Italian stamp dealers, discovered the
talent of the lithograph apprentice and built up a Europe-wide distribution net
for the stamp illustrations the young Spaniard produced for him. Moens, the
European Father of Philately, was from 1864 on his client and Torres until the end
of his business in 1899 his engraver. After the separation from his patron in
1874 he left Italy and continued from Barcelona on his own. The
actual existence of forgeries made with the stones of his illustrations has
been discovered for a lot of countries. Articles about the Torres-forgeries of some
issues of Spain,
various West-Indies’ countries (Antigua, Nevis, Montserrat, Virgin Islands, St.
and the Russian local stamps (Zemstvo) have recently been published. Others about
the Hamburg Boten (private post), Philippines, US Confederate States, the
so-called Senf-forgeries or the Hawaii Missionaries are about to be published.
Discovered, but not yet documented are e.g. forgeries of Falkland, US Locals
and Carriers, Italy (Modena, Roman State) and others. So, I think, we are
allowed to extrapolate that he made “private copies” from almost all of the 1242
stamps depicted in his own 1879 Álbum,
at the time effectively a catalogue. Where a lot of identical copies of those aforementioned
forgeries could be found.
|Front-page Torres stamp album|
For the American market Torres created a second “product-line” of values. These were different from those supplied to the European catalogues and magazines, and it is not yet clear, if and to what extent he used his stones to produce counterfeits of these new specimens as well. Unpublished studies of the CSA stamps, and the US Locals and Carriers, seem to confirm the suspicion that he could also have made a substantial number of fake copies of those stamps.
Torres illustrations in the Australian catalogues
Said this, it is not really surprising that some Australian stamps are affected as well by the forgeries. But the astonishing thing is the discovery, that the early Australian catalogues depict the same Torres illustrations we already know from their American brethren.
Let us now examine some examples that establish the Hagen and Smyth-Nicolle catalogues in reality did use his illustrations as well. The design of the chosen examples should be clear enough to confirm my assertion, and I think no further analysis is needed to show that we are dealing with identical copies.
|First and third, illustrtion Hagen catalogue; second and fourth, illustration Torres album|
The Victoria forgeries
As far as the forgeries are concerned, a detailed comparison and analysis will, however, be necessary to prove their origins without leaving any room for doubt. I shall compare the genuine with both the forgery and the Torres illustration. Differences from the original should be common to both.
The left value tablet of the copies is set higher than that on the right. It also depicts a perfect oval, whereas on the original it is “flattened” on the right hand side. The letters in the value tablet of the original are taller. All characters of the inscription show clearly longer serifs than on the copies.
The unshaded area at the neck has a small longish, almost vertical form; on the copies it is nearly rhomboid-shaped and inclined to the right. The line marking the bottom part of the Queens neck emerges from the middle, then turning to the right. It is a bit thicker than the others, and seems to contain an extra shading line. On the original it reaches from side to side, and very short vertical lines below mark the base.
|Genuine, forgery and illustration Torres album|
A look at the network of interwoven lines forming the background of this stamp reveals a basic difference between the various examples. On the original the lines of the network are surrounding the central oval, whereas on the others the lines end at the frame of their spandrels. Some characters of the inscription show a clearly different form on the copies. The lower ending of the “C” is too short and extends only to half the width of the character; on the copies we see the usual form. On the original the vertical stroke of the “T” is larger at the right, but on the copies it is the other way round. The “A” has no bar on the original, whereas it is present on the copies. The “Y” has a very short stem on the original and could nearly be a “V”, whereas the copies show a stem half the height of the upper case letters.
|Genuine, forgery and illustration Torres album|
The coronet of the Queen on the copies shows at the right an additional (sixth) adornment, not visible on the original. The shaded areas between the ear, chin and neck are differently distributed. The original shows a broad area without shading lines at the right side of the neck, whereas the others show the same at the opposite side.
The 2d …
The ellipse-shaped line surrounding the oval inscription label touches the upper and lower frame tangentially, at one point, at the left and the right side. However, it leaves a clearly visible space, unlike the other examples, where the same line touches tangentially at the left and right side and merges with the upper and lower frame between the “T/O” and the “H/I” of the inscription.
|Geniine, illustration Hagen catalogue, forgery and Torres-illustration (Stanley-Gibbons)|
The value letters are differently styled. The prolongation of the diagonal line of the upper right value (downwards) would intersect the left stroke of the “A” between the serif and the bar, whereas on the forgery it would almost merge with the right stroke of the “A”. On the illustration and the forgery, the ear of the Queen shows a poorly drawn shape. The shading lines of the face and the neck are nearly horizontal with a slight downward curving in the middle. On the genuine the curving is more visible and the other way round.
The differences from the original are once again all coincidences between the fake and the illustration. We find identical ones in various catalogues of different European editors, all clients of Torres.
Despite the very inky impression of one of the fakes, there was no problem determining which were the genuine examples. All pairs of illustrations and their corresponding forgeries exhibit the same differences. They are not due to accidental defects of the engravings or the clichés like flaws, broken, faint or fading lines. The number, form and distribution of the shading lines at the face, chin and neck coincide on each pair. As we are referring to lithographic engravings such coincidences even in details referred to above, can only be explained by their common origin from the same original stone.
A hand-made imitation can never produce a 100% true copy. It would inevitably contain differences we can’t appreciate on our pairs. Taking in account the late edition of the Australian catalogues, photographic techniques could certainly have been used to produce the clichés for the catalogue illustrations. Even so, this has no influence on the conclusion, because such photos would obviously have been taken from the Torres-illustrations and not from genuine stamps.
That means all those specimens were made by Torres; both the illustrations and the forgeries have the same origin.
The Torres-“jokes” and possibilities for future research
Can we extrapolate the results to later issues and to other states of Australia? The experience gained from other catalogues, and an initial examination of the other illustrations, suggest we can. The knowledge about Torres’ practises will certainty facilitate future research and studies of this question, and other related subjects. One Victoria-related particularity of Torres, that could be helpful for future research is shown in the above depicted figure. It does certainly not appear in the Australian catalogues, but although one of the few discovered and publicly denounced “errors” it ironically can be found in the Scott’s even up to their 50th edition.
Torres introduced in some of his copies, such as the one illustrated above, deliberate changes. If he were able or fortunate enough to discover them, an inexperienced collector, unfamiliar with Torres and the stamps, would assume these were accidental errors probably due to careless engraving or handling of the stone, or to defects of the printing process. The most easily detectable “defects” are those of the inscriptions or values, but I can draw your attention as well to others.
|First, genuine; second Torres-"joke"; third, genuine stamp, lower part; fourth, changed form of tablets; fifth "LATE" = "LATI"|
On the first example, only the design is altered (compare fig. 17/18); the stylized perforation and the all-including frame of the original are totally omitted, and instead of one, we can see two lines below the curved lower label. Figure (19/20) shows an alteration of the inscription, adding a final dot to “DUTY”. The STAMP DUTY tablet, bounded on the original by the lower portion of the central circle, is extended to the whole width of the tablet on the copies and the originally trapezoid-shaped value tablet is now rectangular. And finally (figure 23) the “E” of “LATE” is converted into an oversized handwritten lowercase “I”.
Cross-checking existing and recorded forgeries with the illustrations of the different early catalogues, will possibly throw new light on other unrecorded “jokes”, lead to the detection of more counterfeits and the correct attribution to their real creator.
My thanks are due to Brian R Peace FRPSL APR without whose library, assistance and editing this research would have remained incomplete and unpublished.
 Gerhard Lang-Valchs [GLV]: Los grabadores de Jean-Baptiste Moens, Eco Filatélico, sept. 2017, p. 30-32 (1st part), oct. 2017, p. 25-27 (2nd part).
 GLV: The Early Scott Catalogues and Their Illustrations. Discovering a Spanish Forger’s Footprints, Collectors Club Philatelist, nº 96, Nov.-Dec. 2017, p. 205-210.
 GLV: Il conte Cesare Bonasi accusato di frode, sett. 2016, p. 5-9.
 I’m not referring to the 12 or 13 stamps of classic Spain forged by Torres, confiscated in Bremen by German (1886) and in Saint Louis (1892) by American authorities, described by John K. Tiffany: Spanish Counterfeits, Philatelic Journal of America, vol. 8, p. 199-202; p. 246-250; p. 288-291; p. 309-312; p. 384-35; p. 427-428 and F. Graus in his Manual de falsos de España, 6 vol., Barcelona 1981-87 as his work.
 GLV: Die falschen Fuffziger des Dr. Moschkau. Das kommt mir Spanish vor, Deutsche Briefmarken-Zeitung 2017, Nr. 3, p. 20-23 (Teil 1); Nr. 4, p. 26-27 (Teil 2). GLV: Early British Stamp Experts and Spanish forgeries, The London Philatelist, April 2017, vol. 126, 1444, p. 132-138. GLV: Moens, Torres y los primeros catálogos españoles, Eco Filatélico, Abril 2018, p. 24-29.
 GLV: Newfoundland Discovery: 1866 Torres forgeries that correct those misidentified Moens fakes, Newfoundland Standard Stamp Catalogue, 10th edition, 2016, p. 675-679. GLV: How an Old Album Threw New Light on 19th century Forgeries, Stamp Lover, vol. 108, n. 6, Dec. 2016, p. 174-176.
 Some West Indies’- forgeries and Fantasy Stamps, Stamp Lover, April 2018, p. 45-48.
 T. H. Smyth, Nicolle: Illustrated priced catalogue of the Australasian Stamps, Sydney 1900; Frederick Hagen: Illustrated Priced Catalogue of the Stamps of Australasia and adjacent Islands, Sydney 1902.
 Jean-Baptiste Moens: Catalogue prix-courant…, Bruxelles, 1892; Maurice Bélin: Catalogue descriptif illustré…, Bruxelles 1899, G. Gelli & R. Tani: Catalogue Illustré de Timbres-poste, 2nd edition, Bruxelles 1898; The Lincoln Stamp Album and Catalogue, London 1900. See as well GLV: Early British Stamp Experts and Spanish Forgeries, The London Philatelist, April 2017, vol. 106, n. 1444, p. 132-138.
 Supposing those “jokes” were not detected because of the lack of knowledge of the Cyrillic characters, Torres exaggerated this practise in his illustrations of the Russian local stamps (Zemstvo) that show an incredible number of such “errors”. A first study of this phenomenon, published in Germany and Russia, could document the facts and demonstrate the deliberate character of the “errors”: Olga Frey, GLV: Olga Frey, GLV: Moens, Torres und die Zemstvo-Marken, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Russland-Philatelie, Nr. 105, Jan. 2017, p. 19-26. Russian version: Моэнс, Торрэс и Земство, Philatelia, Moscow, Sept. 2017, p. 28-31 (1st part), Dec. 2017, p. 29-31, (2nd part).
PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY IN THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHILATELY
No. 147, MARCH 2019. WITH AUTHORIZATION OF THE AUTOR