Portuguese Guinea, aka the Overseas Province of Guinea and the State of Guinea, achieved independence as Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. It’s classical era stamps follow uniformly the pattern of Portuguese colonial postage, beginning with overprints on Cape Verde stamps.
Overprints abound among Portuguese colonial stamps; the asking price for some of them is quite high. A dealer once said to me, as I was considering such a stamp, that he rarely bought an overprint for more than the same stamp without the overprint would cost. Overprints, he continued, are far too easily forged and difficult to detect. In recent years, photocopied overprints have veiled the deceptions even further. Fakery is having a heyday.
That brings me to the recent dustup about artificial intelligence (AI) and the essay-writing chatbots ChatGPT and Bard. Could they fake an article about Portuguese Guinea stamps, for instance, that’s both more accurate and better reading than what I write?
I tried it. Several times. I gave them all the same prompt “Write an essay on the postage stamps of Portuguese Guinea from the year 1881 to 1940.”
All the chatbot essays began with a sweeping banality, such as: “The stamps of Portuguese Guinea are a fascinating and varied collection, reflecting the history and culture of the country.” Of course, Portuguese Guinea stamps reflect none of the history and culture of the colony for the years specified in the prompt. They’re all about what’s happening in Portugal – royalty, regime changes, currency fluctuations, Portugal’s historic notables, and the like. Moreover, the stamps are not particularly fascinating, unless you’re found of overprints.
Following the opening banalities, a series of “facts” are presented, the following two paragraphs being typical:
The first stamps of Portuguese Guinea were issued in 1855. They were simple black and white stamps with the Portuguese coat of arms and the denomination in Portuguese. These stamps were used until 1867, when they were replaced by a new series of stamps with more colorful designs….
…After the overthrow of the monarchy  a new series of stamps was issued with the portrait of President Sidónio Pais. This series was used until 1918, when Pais was assassinated. The next series of stamps, issued in 1919, featured the portrait of President António de Oliveira Salazar. This series was used until 1974, when Portugal granted independence to Guinea-Bissau.
Stamp collectors might beg to disagree with the chatbots’ “facts.” Portuguese Guinea stamps began in 1881, not 1855, as anyone with a decent catalog can easily find out. The first issues, all but one of them, are colorful Cape Verde stamps with “Guiné” overprints, not “simple black and white.” They don’t have a coat of arms. As for the bot-reported 1867 replacements, there couldn’t be any; Guinea didn’t become a colony until 1879.
No portraits of Pais appeared on stamps until 2018 when Portugal (not Guinea-Bissau) commemorated his valor in World War 1. Salazar began his de facto dictatorship in 1932, not 1919, and no stamps bore his image before 1971, a year after his death. Perhaps the chatbots confused the image of Ceres with these two former Portuguese leaders; and likely confused the colony with the mother country.
The chatbots concluded their essays with another round of banalities.
So, AI has not yet established trustworthiness on matters philatelic. The essays do, however, get high marks for grammar and readability. But stamp collectors are notoriously meticulous. Historical accuracy counts. Specialists regularly certify the credibility of stamps claimed to be genuine. Currently only a small (but growing) portion of philatelic literature can be found online, the source of AI’s “intelligence.” As a result, chatbots work at a considerable disadvantage.
In a year or two from now I’ll try the experiment again and will, no doubt, see improvements. Given AI’s rapid pace of development, I probably shouldn’t wait that long. A few hours might suffice.
Census: 146 in BB spaces, 4 tip-ins, 57 on supplement pages.
Confused about the many uses of the term Guinea? Here are three good resources:
Chatbot clip art credit: