A Crime Wave

A retired inspector, Howard K. Petschel spent his career investigating postal crimes, including many of the counterfeiting schemes during the 1970s. Distinct from forgeries, whose market is primarily to collectors, counterfeit stamps are printed and sold to defraud the Post Office of its revenue.

Stamp Counterfeiting, by Howard Petschel

His new book, Stamp Counterfeiting: The Evolution of an Unrecognized Crime, retells true crime stories beginning in the 1890s, when the Post Office believes this crime first occurred in theUnited States, through the 1940s. However, he does cite an 1863 letter about counterfeit stamps from the postmaster ofMason,Michiganthat apparently drew no official response from the Post Office Department. While Petschel the attributes origins of counterfeiting to the financial crash of the early 1890s, criminality and economic woes have a much longer history. I think he overlooks another significant factor. The same advances in printing technology during the 1890s that flooded the mails with cheaper and better quality illustrated envelopes as well as magazines could have provided the same benefits to a criminal enterprise.

Rather than go into the technical differences of the counterfeit stamps, Petschel has focused on the stories of the people involved – the forgers and the detectives. This book is a sequel his now out-of-print Spurious Stamps (APS, 1997). While discussing many of the same cases, it provides new details gleaned police records, newspapers, and the National Archives. However, it lacks the bibliography, index, and color illustrations of his first book. Petschel’s new book is an enjoyable read and a complement to the original. Card cover, $26 plus shipping, from your favorite literature dealer.