Thematics: Jeffryes, Benjamin and Sarpy

Forgeries might be regarded as the bane of the philatelist. Many are difficult to spot and are perceived as a threat to the integrity and value of a collection. However, in some cases the history and events associated with a forgery can actually add to a stamp’s value. The operations of a trio of forgers that operated in the late 19th century – Jeffryes, Benjamin and Sarpy – has been recorded and provides an interesting insight into a group known as the ‘London Gang’.

George Kirke Jeffryes lived in Bow, London and it is believed that his career as a forger started as young as 15. In the early 1880’s he began forging surcharges to Colombian issues. His overprint of a 2½ centavos stamp with the surcharge ‘DOS Y MEDIO’ earned him a nickname of the same title. Meanwhile, in 1888, Alfred Benjamin and Julian Hippolite Sarpy established the partnership of Benjamin & Sarpy, trading from 1 Callum Street in east London. Their blatant forging activities were boldly advertised on their business cards which proudly announced ‘BENJAMIN & SARPY – dealers in all kinds of facsimiles, faked surcharges and fiscal postals … Fakes of all descriptions supplied on the shortest notice’. On the walls of the shop, a poster declared that the business would not guarantee the genuineness of a stamp unless a written confirmation had been provided.

New South Wales 'Sydney View' 1d stamp forgery
New South Wales ‘Sydney View’ 1d Jeffryes forgery

Jeffryes was employed as the Benjamin & Sarpy engraver and his techniques and quality of the forgeries steadily improved. The New South Wales (Australia) 1850 issue known as the ‘Sydney View’ 1d sold so well that Benjamin named his house Sydney View Villa. In 1891 police arrested all three perpetrators following a backlash from the legitimate stamp trade including the Philatelic Protection Association. Jeffryes was arrested at his home on Christmas Eve. The gang were found to be in possession of machinery including a press and a perforator. The London Gang were charged on 26 counts of forging foreign stamps (‘unlawfully forging and uttering a Sandwich Islands postage-stamp, and other counts for forging and uttering other foreign stamps‘) and of conspiracy to defraud.

Grenada Jeffryes stamp forgery
Grenada Jeffryes forgery

The trial at the Old Bailey in London on 7th of March 1892, received media attention and is recorded in the Central Criminal Court Archives. The evidence of a postman, George Frederik Clayton, was particularly damning, claiming that he had seen Jeffryes ‘gum and perforate’ Sandwich Island (Hawaiian Islands) stamps and had seen him ‘put a surcharge on some Costa Rica stamps with a small printers press and type’. Albert Felsenthaal, a dealer in foreign stamps, claimed he had been at Jeffreys’ house and saw him ‘surcharge some stamps of the Argentine Republic—he stamped them with the word “official”’. Citations were predominantly from stamp dealers and collectors but also included a cabdriver who had found a large envelope bearing Jeffryes’ address and containing a lot of stamps, in his cab. The envelope was discovered after the cab had been used to convey Jeffryes and a police Detective Sergeant to the police station following the arrest. By a quirk of law, 23 of the counts relating to forgery were dismissed because stamps were not considered to be documents in writing and therefore could not be forged. However, the remaining three counts for conspiracy to defraud were upheld and all three were found guilty.

Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) Jeffryes stamp forgery
Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) Jeffryes forgery

The London Gang were sentenced on 14th March 1892. Benjamin and Sarpy received a sentence of 6 month imprisonment and hard labour and Jeffryes got 4 months. Following their release, Benjamin and Sarpy resumed their postal services business in Callum Street although the records suggest that their activities were legitimate. The full extent of the forgeries is difficult to assess but certainly stamp issues of Ceylon, Colombia, Ecuador, Grenada, New South Wales, New Zealand, North Borneo, Sarawak, St Vincent, Sung Ujong, Tasmania, Victoria, Zululand and, of course, Hawaii are known to exist. Each forgery has its distinctive marks. For example, the Ceylon stamp in the feature image shows the lower part of the ampersand and the ‘O’ in ‘CEYLON’ are both larger than on the original stamp. Many of the forged stamps are now considered to be desirable items in their own right.

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Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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