A Forged Trinidad Bisect Rediscovered. By Edward Barrow

When I came across this cover, my heart skipped a beat. I was familiar with old Stanley Gibbons catalogues that listed a 6d Britannia green (1876) bisect, SG96a. It had been removed when the catalogue was rationalised, but so were many shades and varieties, and not always because they were dubious. Moreover, the 17 numeral cancel had all the right nuances and the cover has a look of authenticity. So buying it was a bet, but not a blind one.

Needless to say the cover came without any references or paper trails, so piecing together its history and pedigree has been quite a task.

The Background of the SG96a.

The earliest SG listing I found was 1923 so it follows that an example must have come to the attention of the catalogue editors around 1920. This example, shown in Figure 1, found its way into the famous Hodsell Hurlock collection and was submitted to the RPSL for expertising. The RPSL kindly searched their records and confirmed that;

“the RPSL Expert Committee originally considered this item at the meeting of 30 April 1947 and issued a certificate (No 30,165) stating "SG 96a - genuine bisect; used on entire". I can confirm from comparison with our photographs and the Harmers illustration that this certificate was for the Hurlock cover.” 

They also confirmed that this was the only Trinidad 6d bisect that has been submitted to the RPSL for expertising.

This cover next turned up as a lot in the Hodsell Hurlock Sale of 1958. It was listed as;

Lot 1208, 6d. deep yellow-green, bisected, S.G. 96a, well tied to a small envelope to Barbados with circular " 17 JY 25 1877 " pmk., on reverse " BARBADOS JY 30 1877 " arrival mark, extremely rare, believed to be the only recorded copy. With "Royal” certificate

After this point its fall from grace was swift. The SG96a listing was removed from the 1960 SG catalogue. The current SG catalogue editor kindly looked through their records to explain the circumstances. I quote; 

I have examined our files and find that the 6d.bisect, formerly SG 96a, was removed for the 1960 catalogue on the advice of John Marriott who said: "Have you examined the Hurlock example? I believe it is the only one – and it does not convince me at all. I have never discovered any documentary evidence for it - nor was there a need for the bisect from the point of view of postal rates". It is clear that a good deal of correspondence was going on between Mr (later, Sir John) Marriott and FW Wall at SG regarding the Trinidad listings at which time a number of reasons were made.

Interestingly, the cover was resubmitted to the RPSL for an updated opinion, but this time at a meeting on 5 April 1978, it was considered to be a "Faked Cover" and the original certificate was withdrawn. 

A Second Look at the Evidence.

The Date Stamps

The bisect is tied to the cover by a Marriott Type 7 numeral cancel from Couva, (assigned number 17). Figure 2 shows this cancel along with two reference examples copied from stamps. It seems apparent that the position of the numbers and letters were set by hand and not held rigidly fixed to the outer circle. This means that there is some relative movement of the numbers and letters. This said, some features appear constant over time, the most distinctive of which concerns the year. Here the first 8 is raised while the following 2 numerals fall away.

When the cancel is overlaid with the reference strike with nearest date, Ref. 1, (10 months later), both the position of the 17 and the day and month are excellent matches. The relative placement of the numbers in the year is well matched but the whole element is shifted upwards. The next reference strike, (Ref. 2, 15 months later), shows more shifting upwards of elements relative to both the original cancel and Ref. 1.  But again, the relative placement of the letters and numbers in the elements are constant. 

The Barbados arrival cancel is not such a good match to recorded examples, see Figure 3. The leading reference on Barbados postal markings, (Clarke et al (1982)), lists a very similar date stamp, E2, but this has a slightly smaller diameter and different letter spacing. The Parish cancel M2 is also a close fit. However, it is not impossible that an unrecorded cds used for arriving mail might have slipped under the radar. Interestingly the arrival cancel also shows the paper indentation found with genuine steel cancels.

The Route and Dates

In 1877 mail was carried to and from Couva on the Cedros Steamer, as the railway did not reach Couva until 1880. The original notice of 1851 has the service operating from Port of Spain to Couva on Monday’s Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday [i] . Assuming that this timetable was still in effect, the mail would have been picked up either on the 25th, which fell on a Wednesday, or on the 26th, a Thursday. Mails for the UK closed on the 27th and the RMS Eider is recorded leaving Port of Spain at 5pm on the 27th for Southampton [ii]

At the time, Barbados was served as part of the northbound UK route, which took a circuitous route via St. Lucia [iii] .On the Barbados end both the West Indian and the Barbados Globe newspapers have the RMS Eider arriving on the 30th from St. Lucia. This would explain the arrival cancel of the same date.

The Addressee

The Barbados branch of the Colonial Bank operated as an effective head branch for the Caribbean region and this role generated considerable inter-island correspondence and staff movement around the region [iv] . This suggests that the cover could be of a commercial nature and not out of the ordinary. Also, the Barbados Business Directory for 1887 lists a T.J. Howell as an accountant at the Colonial Bank [v] ; again an important positive piece of evidence .

The Need for a Bisect

The need for bisects arose because of the absence of a particular value. In the main, this was caused either by stocks running out, or the introduction of a new rate and a delay in receiving new suitable denominations. With regard to stocks running out, clearly this can happen on an island wide basis or temporarily at smaller offices. In the latter case the bisect would be much rarer, being applied on a small number quantity of mail and for a short period of time. In Trinidad, this is not without precedent. Marriott himself brought a unique bisect to light; this being a 4d Postage Due bisected and surcharged 2d, see Figure 4 [vi] . There is no indication that Trinidad had run out of 2d Postage Dues, but more likely there was a local shortage at the Poole post office and they took matters into their own hands.

In our case a bisect would only be necessary if the Couva Post Office ran out of 1d stamps. There is no way to know if actually happened but it is possible to present some circumstantial evidence in the form of demand for 1d stamps. The implication being that a sharp increase in demand would increase the likelihood of running out. The table below estimates demand of 1d stamps from the orders placed [vii]

Date of Order

Quantity

Approx. time to next order

Approximate usage

29/4/76

128480

9 months

14,000 per month

17/1/77

55000

½ month

110,000 per month

8/2/77

110000

2 months

55,000 per month

18/4/77

155760

8 months (31/12/77)

20,000 per month

These estimates suggest that around the time of the introduction of UPU rates the demand for 1d stamps did spike, making the possibility of a small office running out more likely.

The Rate

This is perhaps the most quizzical aspect of the cover and the perhaps the one which caused Marriott the most unease. The first thing to note is that this cover was sent during a time when postal rates were in flux. Trinidad joined the UPU on the 1st of April 1877, but not as a full member, this came later in 1884 [viii] . In this transitional period, rates were gradually brought into line with UPU norms. The case is further complicated because Barbados was not a UPU member, it joined later in 1881, so rates to it would not have normally been affected.

The table of postage rates printed in the Trinidad Chronicle on the 3rd of April 1877 indicates that the normal ½ oz rate to British West Indies was 6d. However, the table also notes that the Book Packet Rate is 3d, and in the footnotes dealing with this rate it stipulates that;

“In addition to all kinds of Printed Engraved or Lithographed matter, Legal and Commercial Documents and Music in manuscript may be sent Book Packet…. Inscription in Manuscript and Printed or Lithographed Stocks or Share Lists, Prices Current, and Market Reports may have the Prices added in writing” (see Figure 5).

It is not unreasonable to believe that some legal or commercial documents could be sent to an employee of the leading regional bank.  Such a letter would command the 3d book rate.

The Penny Drops

Admittedly, the circumstance in which this bisect would be needed, are remote. It requires the Couva Post Office to have run out of 1d stamps at the same time as someone demanding a somewhat obscure rate. However, improbability is not sufficient grounds to dismiss an item, to do this would rid the world of many rarities.

Up to this point there were some good grounds for being optimistic, until that is, I followed up a reference to a series of articles by Robson Lowe from 1960 and 1961, titled George’s Work. (George is a pseudonym for an unnamed forger to whom Robson Lowe attributed a number of dangerous forgeries including the Trinidad 6d bisect). I quote:

“The Trinidad 1877 bisect is a joy in some ways-only the original stamp is genuine. There is an additional touch because some pencil writing and the price “8/-“ has been partly erased. One cannot over stress the point that George’s work may look obvious when one sees several pieces at one time but when one piece is on its own then it can easily pass muster.”

Strong words from such an authority should not be taken lightly. The article also showed a number of covers from other British Colonies with the same handwriting style. One 1881 cover from St. Vincent is addressed to T.J. Howell, this time in Trinidad, and again in the same handwriting. However, the most interesting cover is a second Trinidad 6d bisect identical in most aspects to the previous one, except it has a Trinidad transit cancel on the front, (see Figure 6).

This provided the final nail in the coffin because when the two bisects are lined up it is abundantly clear that they are two halves of the same used stamp. The original stamp was a real 6d Britannia with a clear strike of a 17 numeral cancel. This was bisected and tied to both covers with a forged partial cancel based on the other half of the stamp (see Figure 7). This explains why the cancel is such a good match to genuine ones.

Conclusion

What is clear from the attention to detail, is that George was a first rate forger. To get the transit dates consistent with established dates and select a real verifiable person as the addressee, he must have also done his homework. As far as I could ascertain, the identity of George is still unknown, (despite Robson Lowe’s offer of a reward anyone who could unmask George).

I would be interested to hear from other BCPSG members who have other covers addressed to TJ Howell or have suspicions that they have one of George’s creations. Please e-mail me at e.barrow@tradewinds-co.com

The author would like to thank the following for generously providing help, guidance and information; Edmund Bayley, David Druett, Peter C. Elias, Charles Freeland, Taitt Glenroy (UWI, Trinidad), Michael Hamilton, Hugh Jefferies (Stanley Gibbons), Mike Nethersole, Ellen Peachey (American Philatelic Research Library), Fitz Roett, John Shaw  (RPSL), The Barbados Museum & Historical Society.

_____

References;

Chin Aleong, Joe & Proud, Edward (1997)

The Postal History of Trinidad & Tobago

Heathfield, Proud Bailey

Clarke, George L.W., Radford, Reynold and Cave, Stephen (1982).

Barbados Post Office Markings to 1981

The British West Indies Study Circle, 1982

Easton, John (1961)

The De La Rue Printings

London Philatelist Vol 70, No 819 (March 1961)

The Chairman of the Expert Committee (Robson Lowe)

Cover Traps

Philately (BPA Journal), March/April 1961 pg 116-117.

The Chairman of the Expert Committee (Robson Lowe)

George’s Work

Philately (BPA Journal), July/August 1961 pg 148-149, continued in September/October 1961 pg 164-165, and November/December 1961.

Manes, Dr. Rene P. (1999)

A Survey of British Caribbean Bisects, 

British Caribbean Philatelic Journal, Whole No. 192, Volume 39, No.3, Pg99-105

Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogues of 1923 and 1960

Stanley Gibbons, London.

“The Sir John Marriott Collection of Trinidad Stamps and Covers” Auction Catalogue

Spink and Son (London). 19th September 2001

"The Major Portions of the Gold Medal  Collections of Barbados and Trinidad," Auction Catalogue  

H.R. Harmer Ltd., London Sale of 24 June 1958

Trinidad Chronicle (Port of Spain, Trinidad), issues of April 3 1877 and July 28 1877

Barbados Globe (Bridgetown, Barbados) issue of July 30 1877

West Indian (Bridgetown, Barbados), issue of July 31 1877



[i] See Chin Aleong, Joe & Proud, Edward (1997), Pg 61

[ii] The Trinidad Chronicle of 21st July 1877 printed a notice to that effect.

[iii] In a letter, one Trinidad Chronicle reader complained of the time added to the journey to England by going via St. Lucia, showing a disdain for the smaller islands that is still found today.

[iv] Trinidad’s Colonial Bank correspondence at UWI in Trinidad contains frequent references to staff traveling to and from Barbados to Trinidad and other British Caribbean colonies. 

[v] Information provided by the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, St. Ann's Garrison, St. Michael, Barbados.

[vi] Lot 645 in the Sir John Marriott Collection of Trinidad Stamps and Covers, Spink, London. 19th September 2001. See also Trinidad Philatelic Society Bulletin Pg 4, #48, 11/12 of 1967. In this article Marriott states, “There is no question that the date stamps are genuine. Presumably the Poole P.O. ran out of 2d postage dues”.

[vii] The assumption being that orders for fresh stocks would be placed when supplies fell to a certain constant level.

[viii] See Chin Aleong, Joe & Proud, Edward (1997), Pg 77.