An 1860 curiosity

Trawling through some old philatelic publications I came across an odd item about the first Liberia issues 1860.

A letter in the Stamp Collector's Magazine in 1865 referred to an incident where a French ship carrying (amongst other things) gunpowder blew up in Liverpool (UK) harbour. Liverpool was the port from which much of the commercial shipping heading to West Africa set out at this time. Retrieved from the wreckage was a package that was found to contain a "large" quantity of Liberia postage stamps. These were judged to be forgeries by the Liberian consul in London of the time.

Has anyone heard of this story before?
IF this is true why would forgeries of the first issues be sent TO Liberia? All I can think of would be to get them cancelled and then re-sell. Mint forgeries produced in Europe at this time would simply be sold to collectors of dealers. Any other ideas?


  • I had not heard this. But I think there were mountains of forgeries around in 1865. There are so many still today!

    It does make no sense to send to Liberia. Makes more sense that the ship was going to drop them off in Europe on its way to Africa. I'm sure the ship likely stopped off in Germany, Amsterdam, France, or Spain on the way down south.

    I do not know of any valid cancels on forgeries of the first issue stamps. Lots of fake cancellations though.
  • A classic example of the "telephone game". I came across this a few years ago when I did research on the Spiro forgeries. The first version of this story was told by Arthur Maury in the September 1864 issue of his Le Collectionneur de Timbres-Poste:
    Not long ago, in an English port, a ship loaded with gunpowder, bound for Liberia, exploded. Collecting the wreckage, a huge bundle of postage stamps from that country was found, which was sent to the consul. One of the principal collectors in England, being present, recognized that these stamps were none other than the fakes made in Hamburg.
    No doubt these stamps were intended to deceive the government; it is in fact likely that for a long time the negroes of Liberia had not realized this swindle.
    The case continues. A. M.
    The first note in The Stamp-Collector's Magazine appeared more than a year later, in the November 1865 issue:
    — Strange, if true. A French paper not long since stated that a vessel laden with powder, and on the point of starting for Liberia, blew up, and amongst the debris was a packet of unobliterated Liberian stamps, pronounced by a collector present at the time [we hope he was not too near when the explosion took place], to be forged. They were directed to the English consul. Inquiry into the circumstance was directed, but the result has not yet been made public.
    However, the December 1865 issue of TSCM contained a report from an actual witness clarifying a few things:
    To the Editor of the 'Stamp-Collector's Magazine.' Sir,— With reference to the paragraph headed 'strange if true,' at page 174 of your magazine, I have not seen the French paper referred to ; but the facts on which the paragraph is founded are as follows : — A day or two after the great explosion on board a powder ship in the Mersey, which took place about two years ago, the Liverpool water police picked up a floating packet which they opened. It had no address, much less (as an Irishman might say) that of the English consul at Liberia ; but it proved to consist of a large quantity of Liberian postage stamps. The Liverpool police sent these up to the consul-general of that republic in London, who examined them in my presence, and at once found that all were spurious. As the ship which blew up was about to sail for the west coast of Africa, it was conjectured that these stamps might have formed part of her freight, and so this story arose. I hope you will insert these few lines in justice to the aforesaid English consul. [...] Yours faithfully, London. W. H. H.
    This last report is probably the most reliable. So, we know that a packet of 'spurious' Liberian stamps was found floating in the Mersey at Liverpool. At the time when that happened - end of 1863 or early 1864 - the only forgeries known / reported were the Spiro facsimiles, hence Maury's statement about 'fakes made in Hamburg'.
    We do not know, however, where the packet was addressed to and we don't even know for sure if it came from the exploded ship.
  • Bryant/Manfred

    thanks for both comments
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