The Controversy Surrounding the 5-Hole OHMS Official Stamps of Canada

The Controversy Surrounding the 5-Hole OHMS Official Stamps of Canada

The 5-Hole OHMS stamps have only recently, in the past 30 years been listed in the Unitrade catalogues. I can well remember a time in the 1980's, when only the overprinted official stamps were listed. Then, sometime in the 1990's listings were added for the 5-hole and 4-hole OHMS perforated stamps. 

Part of the reason for this is that until then most collectors regarded perfins as defective stamps, and so demand for them was quite low. Roy Wrigley in his 1970's book dealing with the official stamps of Canada makes this observation many times. Roy chose to specialize in this field in the 1940's or 1950's, not too long after these stamps were produced, and prior to this he had a long philatelic history, having been born when the Large Queens were still in use. He comments many times throughout his work that the 5-hole stamps are particularly rare, as so few were produced. It was his work on these stamps that did much to fuel collector demand for them. 

It seems reasonable to suppose then, that prior to the 1990's there would have been very little incentive for forgers to fake these stamps. There was a very large forgery ring that was busted in Vancouver during the 1950's, that was forging 4-hole OHMS perfins, with mint sheets being perforated. But I do not recall whether this included 5-hole stamps. It seems to me that if demand for them was limited, that there would have been less reason to forge them. But, on the other hand, even with low demand, a fake 5-hole perfin, would, usually be worth much more than a common used stamp. For this reason, I do think that the cheaper regular definitives that catalogue only pennies without the perfin would be the most suspect. But better commemoratives and higher values that have a decent catalogue value without the perfin should, all other things being equal stand a higher chance of being genuine - at least prior to the 1990's, when the catalogues began to list and price them. 

For nearly 30 years the listings in Unitrade stood, and many stamps were bought and sold by auction houses and reputable dealers. Several specialists built enviable collections of this material, investing considerable sums of money in the process. And then, in 2021 the bomb was dropped by the catalogue editors: that in the next edition of the catalogue several listings would be deleted. Why? Because the BNAPS study group had recommended that the listings be dropped because their members were not convinced that they could possibly be genuine. Now, I am assuming that these were stamps that they could not dismiss as fake because of hole patterns that did not match certified genuine stamps. After all, one would think that the very first test of authenticity would be overlaying the stamp on a template of a known genuine perfin to see if the holes line up. The reasoning of course is that it would be very difficult for a faker to perforate a stamp and obtain a hole pattern that exactly matches a genuine stamp. 

The 4-hole stamps could be easily faked, because the forgers could perforate entire sheets and could manufacture a perforating die to accomplish this. But, because the 5-hole stamps are not generally available mint (there is but one single in the auction this week), such stamps would have to be perforated individually and one stamp is just too small to put into a perforating machine. Thus, it would have to be done by hand, and therefore, it would be very difficult, if not impossible to exactly replicate the hole pattern. 

So the stamps that the study group must have examined would have appeared, in all respects genuine to them. But there was something about them that made the members doubt their authenticity. I believe, and this is just a guess, that it may have been that they had never seen the stamp on a proper cover. That may be why they ultimately decided that it could not be genuine. Or, they were looking at official records kept by the Department of Finance where the 5-hole stamps were produced and used. 

What makes the 5-hole stamps so different from the 4-hole stamps is the circumstances of their production and use. The 4-hole stamps were sold at post offices and were available to the public. The 5-hole stamps, in contrast, were not. They were produced in the government offices, from a hole punch, on an as needed basis only. Anyone who has ever worked in any kind of office environment knows that official procedures are not always followed. Indeed, there are many stories of instances where a specialist collector obtained their stamps from a relative who worked at the department, and the stamps in question are some of those now declared to have never been produced. So clearly, the findings of the study group cannot be 100% correct, if what the owners of these stamps says is true. 

I suspect that it is one of these philatelic mysteries that will never really be conclusively solved, because unless you were there at the Department of Finance between 1923 and 1938, you wouldn't really know for sure what was and what was not punched. Conceivably any current mint stamp bought from the post office could have been so punched. There is really no way of knowing for certain. Yes, official records help, but may not be complete, and while existence of covers does provide evidence of authenticity, the lack of a genuine cover does not prove that a stamp is not authentic. There are plenty of stamps that are practically impossible to find on cover, and the extreme scarcity of these stamps, and the fact that the majority of stamps from this time were cut out from covers means that it is not only possible, but highly probable that many will not exist on cover. 

So, my advice to all of you when collecting this area is to study the hole patterns very, very carefully, especially on any badly centered or heavily cancelled stamp, as these are the most likely to be faked, in an attempt to create value out of an essentially worthless stamp. But assuming that a stamp checks out next to a certified copy, then I don't think you should hesitate to add it to your collection as a genuine stamp. 

I have produced a short video below which shows the technique that I used to gain some comfort over the authenticity of specific examples by comparing the specific hole pattern with those of another stamp - ideally a certified genuine example. 

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5 comments

Detection techniques are constantly changing. In the past, the overlay test that you illustrate, as well as the cancel ink flowing into the holes was sufficient to catch most of the fakes, but that is no longer the case. These are good “flags” but not accurate 100% of the time. Other tests have to be used ie. comparing the size and structure of the holes with a certified genuine (on cover or a wrapper) has to be done in every case! To do this, just eyesight alone or a 5x-20x magnifying glass is not good enough. I use high res scans (2400 dpi) plus Photoshop to conduct my examinations. This has to be done for evert 5-hole OHMS, without exception.

Ken Pugh

Contrived stamps – What a problem. You are quite right in your comments on how they might have been given or sold to an avid collector. To be sure, this would not be the first time in BNA philatelic history. I regard these as genuine stamps perforated using an official govt. perforator and in my certs, I state “unofficial in use or distribution”. I leave it up to the buyer to decide if it is worthy of collecting, and for what value. I also am told that Unitrade may list these “unofficial” or “contrived” unused OHMS in their next catalogue. If that is indeed the case, I am in agreement with that decision.

Ken Pugh

Appeciate your comments Gentlemen. In regards to your comment Ken, I would agree that a particular stamp could be any one of the five dies. However, I still stand by my hypothesis that if all 40 or 50 stamps from this collection match one another that it seems very unlikely to me that they would all be fakes, especially if they were purchased from reputable dealers decades ago. Now, that is not to say that the possibility does not exist of course. A second question I would have is: why isn’t any of this information in Unitrade? Surely, it would make sense for a catalogue like that to make a simple suggestion to collectors to obtain a copy of a wrapper, or to reproduce the hole pattern in the catalogue so that collectors can check their stamps.

As a dealer this last point is particularly frustrating to me, as I had no time to seek out additional publications when selling this collection, so I had to work with the information at hand. I certainly did identify some fakes and where I was convinced that they were so I described them as such.

Another question I have is: how can today’s experts possibly know for sure what was contrived and what was official with any certainty? I understand that records may exist. But I have also worked in enough office environments where we are instructed to bend the rules and are specifically told NOT to document what we did. So, I am very skeptical of these kinds of findings, because the experts involved rarely seem comfortable answering questions like this that challenge their findings. I don’t personally know the members of the study group, so maybe their attitude is different from many of the experts I encounter on Facebook. But I’d love to know how the studies were done and if a truly scientific, statistical approach was used, in which you establish your null hypotheses and then seek to disprove them, rather than looking for evidence to support your hypotheses.

Christopher McFetridge

Chris, the saga of the 5-hole OHMS stamps is a fascinating one, and one which I’ve followed closely, although I am not privy to the discussions of the BNAPS perfin group that led to the recent changes in Unitrade listings. Certainly, the fakery involved in the OHMS perfins is one of the biggest scandals ever in Canadian philately, especially with the complicity of Wrigley in adding many fakes (especially faked errors) to the later additions of his catalog.
Most of these fakes came from the Vancouver area. At one point, collections from Eastern Canada could be considered safe, but so much time has passed now and collections have been broken down and sold across the country, that that assumption no longer holds.
At least one large batch of 5-hole OHMS fakes started showing up in the 1950s in the Vancouver area. In 1979 another large batch of fakes was seized from the Vancouver apartment of Roy Wrigley by the RCMP.
There are two main concerns with the perforated OHMS stamps:
1. Fakes (including errors) made from regular non-perforated stamps.
2. Issues considered “contrived” by the BNAPS perfin study group; i.e. genuine stamps with genuine perfins from the official machines, but likely not officially made but rather produced by government employees with access to the machines either for their own collections or as favors to philatelists.
Regarding the fakes, I would suggest picking up a copy of Ken Pugh’s excellent “Reference Manual of BNA Fakes, Forgeries & Counterfeits, Series II – Release 5”. As he points out, one of the best tools for checking 5-hole OHMS perfins is a copy of Webb DW10a, the 5-hole OHMS perfin on a 1938 KGVI post band used by the Meteorological Division of the Dominion Weather Bureau. This item shows all 5 of the 5-hole OHMS dies, so it’s a great reference to check if any given stamp has perfins that match one of the 5 legit dies. Comparing against a single or even a handful of certified stamps has the problem that if your subject stamp doesn’t exactly match, you might consider it fake when it actually might match one of the other 4 dies. Naturally, you could compare to a strip of five or larger block of 5-hole OHMS perfin stamps, but those are even more difficult to find than DW40a. Another factor is to check if the ink from a cancellation fills the perfin holes—a white ring around the whole is a giveaway that the perfin is a fake made from an already cancelled stamp.
Now as to the issue of contrived stamps. Certainly, there are clear examples of that practice; for example first day covers of the Royal Visit stamps with 5-hole OHMS perfins when neither the Post Office or Department of Finance were perforating stamps on the day of issue. The question becomes should these stamps be considered legitimate and worthy of a catalog listing even if there was some contrivance because the contrivance was done by government employees using official equipment. Certainly, there are a lot of error stamps listed in Unitrade that were almost certainly printers’ waste or never sold to the public at a post office but rather acquired (and assumedly paid for) by postal employees upon discovery. The existence of a cover with a genuine 5-hole OHMS perfin on a Department of Finance envelope would certainly be sufficient to prove that there are legitimately issued examples of that stamp; however, given that the preservation of complete covers was not a high priority for many collectors in the 1920s and 1930s, I am not convinced that a preserved cover should be considered a necessary condition. I’m sure that the decataloging of so many of these stamps and listing them as “contrived” will be a controversial topic of discussion in philatelic circles for years to come.

Barry Moss

The 8c is likely a fake, or at best a stolen or favored genuine(unlikely) and the video is not accurate. Each of the genuine 5 five-hole dies are different, and the stamp needs to be lined up using a genuine strip of five (ie a wrapper). Just one single is not enough.

Ken Pugh

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