A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bulgaria 1902 Battle of Shipka Pass Issue- Genuine or Forgery?

1902 Scott 71 10s blue green "Battle of Shipka Pass", Genuine
Quick History
The 1887 Battle of Shipka Pass is viewed even today as one of the seminal moments in the development of the Bulgarian nation. To commemorate the occasion on the 25th anniversary, a three stamp lithographed set depicting the battle at Eagle's Nest was issued in 1902.

Shipka Pass in the Balkan Mountains
The Battle occurred between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire for control over the important 5000 foot Shipka Pass route through the Balkan Mountains during the 1877-78 Russo- Turkish War. There were a actually four battles between July, 1877 and January, 1878, but the memorialized scene on the stamp issue is for the Second Battle on August 26th between Russian General Stoletov and his 7,500 troops (2,000 Russians, 5,500 Bulgarians), and Suleiman Pasha and his 38,000 Ottomans.

Eagle's Nest Battle Scene: Painting Alexey Popov, 1893
The most dramatic part of the fighting occurred at the Eagle's Nest on St. Nicholas. A Bulgarian bayonet charge was instrumental in repulsing the Ottoman attacks. When the Russians and Bulgarians were out of ammunition, they threw rocks and boulders and even the bodies of their dead fellow soldiers down to thwart the attack.

Shipka Monument
The Shipka Pass is now part of Bulgarka Nature Park, and a memorial monument was placed in 1934 to honor those who died there for the liberation of Bulgaria.

Bulgaria 1878
As a consequence, the Ottomans essentially lost real control of much the territory, and, by the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, 1878, the Bulgarian state was established.

The territory was further re-divided by the 1878 Congress of Berlin into the Principality of Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia (which united with the Principality of Bulgaria in 1885), and Ottoman Macedonia.

Now that we have a better understanding of the importance of the Battle of Shipka Pass on Bulgarian identity, let's take a closer look at the 1902 commemorative issue.

1902 Scott 70 5s lake, Genuine
Into the Deep Blue
The 1902 lithographed three stamp issue- 5s lake, 10s blue green, 15s blue - clearly draws its inspiration from the 1893 painting by Alexy Popov from the Eagle's Nest Battle scene. One can see the Russians and Bulgarians throwing rocks at the Ottoman Turks below. A dead comrade hangs over the rock escarpment.

The brutal nature of 19th century battle fighting is captured by the lithographic drawing- and, perhaps the heroism as well.

I was quite attracted to the issue when I first saw it, and clearly I was not the only one.

"1902 Scott 72 15s blue"
N. Imperato of Genoa, Italy Forgery
Yes, the forgers saw the attraction also. ! A lithographic stamp is much easier to forge successfully compared to an engraved one.

The most successful forgery- and quite plentiful in the packet trade- was distributed by N. Imperato of Genoa, Italy. From 1920 to 1922, he published a pamphlet "Il Fac-simile" which touted his "reprints" at one-tenth catalog. He was quite able to get his forgeries into the packet trade, as I have seen his stamps scattered in older collections for Batum, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Fiume, Haiti, and Karelia.

Although Spiro, Fournier, and De Sperati are more famous/infamous- perhaps because they produced forgeries of early expensive classical stamps- I can almost guarantee that if one has a general WW classical collection formed, in part, from the packet trade, one will have N. Imperato forgeries in the collection.

To wit: a quick review of several collections revealed the majority of examples of the 1902 Battle of Shipka Pass issue stamps to be N. Imperato forgeries. ;-)

1902 Scott 70 5s lake, Genuine
Arrows point to distinguishing features
One reason the 1902 Shipka Pass N. Imperato forgeries are ubiquitous in collections is that they are quite good! Careful examination is required to separate them out.

But there are differences.

The perforations for the genuine are 11 1/2, but measured, the forgeries are closer to 11 1/4.

Three "signs" are pointed out by Varro E. Tyler (Focus on Forgeries c2000), and I found four additional "signs". The colored arrows above locate the signs. 

* Red arrow: "a" sign
* Black arrow: "Rifle" sign
* Yellow arrow: "P" sign
* Orange arrow: "Hand" sign
* Green arrow: "2" sign
* Blue arrow: "Scrollwork" sign
* Fuchia arrow: "H" sign

For the following close-up scans, refer to the colored arrows above to find the location of the sign.

Genuine- Left Upper Section
* "a" sign (red arrow)- the upper portion of the fifth character from the left in the horizontal inscription looks like an "a". The top of the "a" is flat. (V. Tyler)

* "Rifle" sign (black arrow)- of the two soldiers seen in the gap of the mountain, the rifle carried by one solder  touches his shoulder. (V. Tyler)

Forgery- Left Upper Section
* "a" sign (red arrow)- the upper portion of the fifth character from the left in the horizontal inscription looks like an "a". The top of the "a" is curved. (V. Tyler)

* "Rifle" sign (black arrow)- of the two soldiers seen in the gap of the mountain, the rifle carried by one solder does not touch his shoulder. (V. Tyler)

Genuine- Left Central Section
* "P" sign (yellow arrow)- the character above the "O" in the vertical inscription looks like a "P".

* "Hand" sign (orange arrow)- although there are two thick internal vertical lines drawn for the right hand of the dead soldier, three distinct fingers are not obvious.

Forgery- Left Central Section
* "P" sign (yellow arrow)- the character above the "O" in the vertical inscription looks like a parallel longer line and a shorter line- definitely not like a "P".

* "Hand" sign (orange arrow)- for the right hand of the dead soldier, three distinct fingers are obvious (compare).

Genuine- Right Upper Section
* "2" sign (green arrow)- the "2" of "1902"clears the scrollwork (V. Tyler), or just barely touches the scrollwork.  Note: Tyler states the "2" does not touch the scrollwork, but the above example shows it is not always true.

*"Scrollwork" sign (blue arrow)- the scrollwork located in the four corners of the stamp is thin in width.

* "H" sign (Fuchia arrow)- the "H" character at the top end of the script has a detached vertical mark.

Forgery- Right Upper Section
* "2" sign (green arrow)- the scrollwork pushes up against the "2", making the foot of the "2" appear  blob-like. (V. Tyler)

*"Scrollwork" sign (blue arrow)- the scrollwork located in the four corners of the stamp is thicker in width.

* "H" sign (Fuchia arrow)- the "H" character at the top end of the script bends vertically at the top of the "H", but is not detached.

1902 Scott 71 10s blue green
Genuine vs Forgery
Out of the Blue
Click and enlarge the Genuine vs Forgery scan above, and see how many signs you can discern.

..And now go check your collection. ;-)

Note: Shipka Pass pics, map, and battle painting appear to be in the public domain.

Comments appreciated!


  1. This comment system makes me crazy. Do I need to log in before I comment? It's sure not obvious.

    I typed a longer comment but it went away when I hit publish. I'll check back and expand if needed but here's a summary. Thanks for showing that Bulgaria has interesting history and not just wallpaper stamps. And thanks for the high res scans. Much easier than those blurry printed catalogues.


    Ps. If my first comment magically reappears, feel free to delete this one. :)

  2. Madbaker-

    The system might require you to have a name, but it can be "anonymous" if you wish. It should be relatively straightforward, other than the comment needs to be approved by me before it appears- to protect against spam.

    But thanks for the comment, and yes, I scan @ 1200 to make sure detail will be there on the stamps. :-)

  3. Highly entertaining (as usual). I've seen few copies of these stamps over the years, but to my slight disappointment they've always been genuine, LOL. But yes, your list/illustrations makes the id even easier :)


  4. Keijo- it is interesting that some of us are a bit disappointed when the stamp is genuine. LOL

  5. Jim, Thanks for the nice write-up. Unfortunately, upon looking at the 3 copies of each I have, only one is good. I was missing only one stamp up till 1938 but now it's three. Trade anyone?
    I never knew I could post here before although I tired, guess it's a Google thing.

  6. Thanks for the comment Mitchell- nice to see you here!

    The forgeries are ubiquitous, so I am not too surprised. ;-)

  7. Two out of three Shipkas in my album are forgeries. Have any to trade Keijo?

  8. @Bud... If I've got any remaining, they are buried somewhere in my duplicates boxes (which are somewhat mission impossible to locate anything specific).... But I'll keep my eyes open and try to remember your want.


  9. Intrigued by Jim's Battle of Shipka Pass forgery detection blog, I purchased an inexpensive set of early Bulgarian stamps that included a Battle of Shipka Pass set. Interestingly, the SC 70 was genuine, but both the 71 & 72 were the N. Imperato forgeries. As a result, I am quite pleased to have examples of both genuine and forgeries for this issue.

    1. Gina - Yes, genuine/forgery stamp examples are fun to have, especially when one knows the difference. :-)

    2. Since I house most of my significant WW collection mounted in Vario Pages of Lighthouse Albums, I can label my stamps' pedigrees and details for both genuine stamps and forgeries. The vintage forgeries are certainly another interesting historical chapter of Philately.

  10. Although Imperato is mentioned as the forger...

    'Billig's grosses Handbuch der Faelschungen' describes two different forgeries of the Schipka Pass series. The story tells that the Type I forgeries were made in large quantities at the end of 1902 by a group lead by an artillery officer named Bukowsky, who got the necessary equipment from the artillery laboratory in Sofia. The forgeries were sold through regular stamp retailers, and caused great losses for the Bulgarian post.

    Type II forgeries were made a few years later in Constantinople, and have poorer quality. In contrast to Type I these forgeries were made for sale to gullible collectors.

    The 2 types certainly exist. In fact apart from being of poor quality print wise, the features resemble the genuine better than the more common type I

    1. Thanks for the information. I love how forgery stamps often have a past shrouded in uncertainty. Have you ever seen a Type 2 forgery?

    2. Yes I have 4 samples. Very uncommon. Probably 1 in 50 forgeries.
      I have an article at

    3. Wow! Really nice! You aren't Nelson Laviolette by any chance?

  11. Ron Marleau. I have collaborated with NL and many others on postal history and in particular forgeries. I may eventually publish as I get to over 200 articles. I only post a few on StampBears under SForgca. Nelson is no longer active and has sent me most of his findings.

    1. Ron- Your forgery knowledge and presentations are stunning! I hope you do publish as it would be shame if you didn't. Put me down as one that would be interested. I will keep an eye on StampBears. And feel free to comment and add your insight to my blog posts. :-)