The Stamps of the Suez Canal Company 1868 - The Forgers
Introduction to Suez Canal 1868 Forgeries * Overview of Suez Canal 1868 Forgeries * Spiro Bros * Fournier* Fohl * Saatjian
The Forgers
In the 19th Century the practise of making copies of postage stamps that were no longer valid for postal use was not against the law and the sale of these artefacts to collectors was considered legitimate trade provided it was made clear to purchasers the nature of the material on offer. As a consequence those engaged in this trade were able to operate quite openly and advertise their wares in the philatelic journals of the time.

The problem surfaced when the collections of the original purchasers came to be sold and the provenance of the contents lost with the result that perhaps unknowingly this forged material was offered for sale as genuine.

By the time the damage being done to the hobby by the surfeit of this forged material had been realised and steps taken to discourage the practice the quantities in circulation were such that much of it is still with us today.

The Suez Canal Stamps are a prime example and without doubt upwards of 95% of the material on offer is other than genuine. If the response to offerings on online auction sites is anything to go by, these forgeries are of considerable interest to collectors in their own right and it follows that a summary of what is known of those responsible for their manufacture would not be out of place in this document.

That which follows is a précis of material included in a book on the subject by Varro E Tyler ³.

Philip Spiro was the proprietor of the well-established printing firm of Spiro Brothers of Hamburg who employed the lithographic process in the production of a wide variety of printed items such as visiting cards and labels for groceries and beer cans.

In 1864 they added facsimile postage stamps and over the next fifteen years expanded their range to include more than 400 different stamps covering a wide geographical spread of countries.

The deluge of the many millions of these counterfeit items eventually generated a backlash amongst dealers and collectors alike and the philatelic press launched a campaign to discourage the practise going as far as to include actual specimens in the philatelic journals (The Spud Papers) to aid their recognition.

The net result was a fall in demand and Spiro Brothers ceased manufacture of forgeries in 1880.

Francois Fournier
Fournier was born in 1846 in Switzerland but later took French nationality. After the Franco-Prussian war in which he saw service he moved back to Switzerland and settled in Geneva, where in 1903 he was advertising facsimile reproductions of a wide range of Swiss and other obsolete postage stamps.

In 1904 he purchased the stock of a fellow and technically more competent forger, Henri Mercier, also resident in Geneva and enhanced his reputation by claiming as his own the awards that had been accorded this material long before it had passed into his possession.

During the next ten years the range and volume of his business expanded considerably and by 1914 his catalogue offered no fewer than 3671 different forgeries. Some of these were his own work but a goodly proportion, including the Suez Canal stamps were the work of others.

Following his death in 1917, his business was carried on by Charles Hirschburger with only limited success and following his death in 1927 the whole of the remaining stock amounting to some 800 pounds weight (over 1/3 ton) of forgeries was purchased by the Union Philatelique de Genève from Hirschburger’s widow to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. A small representative portion was retained for reference purposes and the remainder destroyed.

Englehardt Fohl is now known to be the forger responsible for the Suez Canal stamps offered for sale by Fournier. Born in Dresden in 1858, he was, as early as 1871, offering as genuine his forgeries of the stamps of Moldavia, combining this activity with running the local mortuary.

He moved to Gera in 1894 where he continued his forgery activities until 1898 when the printing firm who he had employed to do the actual printing went bankrupt and a large quantity of his forgeries that were in process at the time were seized by the public prosecutor, thus bringing to light the true range and extent of his activities.

Fohl avoided prosecution because he was not selling his forgeries in Germany and after moving back to Dresden he was able to continue his activities albeit on a smaller scale than before.

In addition to the Suez Canal forgeries he is known to have been responsible for forgeries of the Danube Steam Navigation Company as well as a range of the early issues of Mexico, Serbia, Canada and the German States.

Not a lot is known about Saatjian except that he was an Armenian dealer in novelties living in Paris in the early 1900s. He had first become interested in stamps during a visit to Persia in 1903, where he acquired a large quantity of the 1894 issue of that country which, with the tacit approval of the authorities, he then proceeded to surcharge so as to produce a whole series of new stamps. A few of these saw postal use, probably with the connivance of the authorities, but the majority were offered to collectors from his Paris address.

The financial success of this venture prompted him to bid for the 40 cent printing stone of the Suez Canal stamps, which he obtained for 80 Francs at the auction of the effects of Erard Leroy d’Etiolles in 1907.

He was able to modify transfers from this stone by erasing the 40 from the value circles in each corner of the stamp replacing these by 1,5,or 20 as appropriate and so build up a new set of stones from which to print his forgeries. The 40cent stone he used as purchased. For the record he took eight impressions from each modified transfer onto an intermediate stone, which he then transferred 15 times, to build up his printing stone of 120 subjects. There are thus eight subtypes of each of the 1c, 5c and 20c forgeries but only four sub types of the 40 c value.

Following Saatjian’s death the original 40cent stone and probably those of the other values made by Saatjian passed successively through the hands of two unnamed Belgian dealers, both of whom were known to handle counterfeit material. It is not known what eventually became of them or if they were ever used to produce further quantities of counterfeit material.