Genuine and Forged Overprints of France’s 1927 Air Post Issue

By Christopher J. Palermo
November 10, 2019


This paper shows examples of the 1927 “Exhibition Issue” of air post stamps of France, Scott C1 and C2. The stamps were produced by applying a typographic overprint to an earlier regular issue stamp, as a special offering in connection with an aeronautics exhibition. Because a substantial difference in value exists between the regular issue stamp and the air post overprinted stamp, several excellent counterfeits are known. This paper describes the attributes of the genuine overprints, and explores features of known forgeries and possible forgeries to assist the collector in distinguishing real from fake.

Origins of the Issue

France issued its first postage stamps in 1849 as a series of definitives featuring the head of the god Ceres. Subsequent definitive series showed President Louis Napoleon, then Emperor Napoleon III, and next a pair of allegorical figures representing peace and commerce (the “Type Sage”). By 1900, a design refresh was undertaken and new allegorical figures appeared on stamps. Values of 1 centime to 7 1/2 centimes features figures representing Liberty, Equality & Fraternity, and values of 10 centimes to 30 centimes featured The Rights of Man. All these stamps had a vertical design.

By 1920, higher valued stamps were needed to support longer-distance services and parcel services. For values of 2 francs and 5 francs, in 1920 a horizontal design depicting Liberty and Peace was adopted; it had been used for lower values as early as 1906. The 2015 Scott catalogue value of these stamps (Scott 127, 130) in mint hinged condition is $42.50 and $82.50 respectively:

Fig. 1 – France Scott 127 (1920). Source: Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions

France was a pioneer in flight, aircraft and airmail from an early time, with pioneers like Louis Bleriot, Archdeacon, Santos-Dumont, Delagrange, Voisins, Kapferer, and Farman competing with the Wright Brothers for milestones in flight. Indeed, France was so important to early aviation that the Wright Brothers showed their early aircraft in exhibitions and pursued financing in France more aggressively than in North America or Britain.

The first mail to be carried by an air vehicle was on January 7, 1785, on a hot air balloon flight from Dover to France near Calais. It was flown by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries. After experiments with balloon conveyance of mail, France introduced air post service in 1920 as a form of express delivery, with regular issue stamps paying the fees associated with the service. The earliest known date of use of an “Air Express” cachet in May 4, 1920.

The service soared in popularity, as did amateur aviation and other uses of aircraft. Large exhibitions and fairs were particularly popular. At the International Aviation Exhibition in Marseilles, in summer 1927, special air post stamps were offered. One set could be purchased by each holder of an admission ticket. The total number issued is not recorded by Scott, but likely was in the tens of thousands. Scott denotes them C1 and C2, with 2015 values in mint hinged condition of $200 each, and $225 used:

Fig. 2 – France Scott C1, C2 (1927). Source: APS Reference Collection

Both stamps were issued on June 25, 1927 on unwatermarked paper, perforated 14 by 13 ½. The overprint is seen in dark blue or black ink.

The stamps are not scarce, but high-quality examples in never hinged condition with superb centering can realize auction values of $500—obviously much more than Scott 127. Scott 127 is widely available, and the overprint used on C1, C2 appears superficially to be relatively simple to duplicate. Therefore, we have the classic conditions to provide an incentive for forgery.

To spot genuine versus forgery, only a few attributes need to be studied. The first is color. As with most early stamps, printing inks were mixed as needed according to recorded formulas, but the quality of base chemicals varied so different in printed color were commonplace. While Scott C1 uses the design and plates of Scott 127 for the basic design, its color usually is an orange that is dull in comparison to Scott 127. Thus, a key giveaway of a crude forgery is the use of a Scott 127 stamp having a brighter orange color. While digital images and color printing in this paper cannot be precise as color references, FIG. 3 is presented as an example of the “correct” color of a genuine stamp.

Fig. 3 – Correct “dull orange” color

The Scott catalog contains this representation of the genuine overprint, which is worth close comparison against any “patient” stamp. FIG. 4 is an enlargement:

Fig. 4 – Scott Representation of Genuine Overprint (enlarged)

Key spotting features for genuine and forged overprints now follow. In genuine examples, the forward wheels have an oval shape; forgeries may be circular.

The genuine overprint measures 12mm from wingtip to wingtip. In some forgeries measure between 12.5 and 13mm.

The accent over the letter “e” never touches the letter; magnification should be used to check this attribute.

The dot over the i should be square, not round. Note FIG. 5 for these errors.

Fig. 5 – Wrong accent; wrong dot over “i"; wrong fuselage

Original overprints have 8 vertical lines of shading on the fuselage; some forged examples have 7 or fewer vertical lines.

The tail wheel should be aligned over the t of Poste, or between the t and e of Poste. Most forgeries place the wheel directly above the e, or to the left of the t. See FIG. 6.

Fig. 6 – Genuine example; rear wheel over “t” in Poste

The capital P and A should measure 2.5mm high. In some forgeries they are 3mm.

Another clue is that the lettering is not all on the same line; there are letters above and below others. That is almost never true on official handstamp or printed overprints from technologically developed countries. A rounding-off of the tail rudder also is suspicious, as in FIG. 7.

Fig. 7 – Counterfeit; wrong tail, accent joins “e”, “i” misaligned

One well-known forgery was made with a rubber handstamp and is known as the Kull fake. Because of the use of a rubber stamps, the overprint often appears smudged. Additionally, the wheels on this fake appear round, whilst genuine are distinctly oval. FIG. 8 is an example.

Fig. 8 – The Kull Fake

This completes our survey of the major spotting features for genuine and fake overprints of France Scott C1 and C2. Check your collection and if you have suspicions, review them with another knowledgeable collector and this guide, or seek an expert certificate. Hopefully your collection contains genuine examples like the pair in FIG. 9, and not “album weeds”.

Fig. 9 – Genuine Examples (Source: author’s collection)

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Amos Publishing Co., Inc., “2015 Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers,” pp452-469.

D. McCullough, The Wright Brothers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Newall, Alexander F. Airmail Stamps: Fakes and Forgeries. Great Britain, 1990.

Schach den Falschungen, publ. Kurt Kayssner, Germany 1935/36, pp. 8, 71, 102

Spying Eye, Handbook on Philatelic Forgeries, Chicago, 1948. P. 31

G. Kock, World Forgery Catalog: A Reference List of Stamp Forgery Descriptions, pub. May 1998.

Fakes and Forgeries of the 20th Century French Postage Stamps, by Dr. R G Gethin, pub. 2006. France and Colonies Philatelic Society (UK)