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Banner: Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and TrickeryBanner: Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery

Detecting Deception


Stamps are like money you can stick on envelopes. That's why it is so important to make forging stamps as hard as possible!

In the early days of stamps, postal services used steel engraving and watermarked paper to discourage dishonest people from making fake stamps. As time passed, new inventions (like the colour photocopier) made it easier for forgers to make really good-looking copies. Postal services had to stay one step ahead, so they created stamps that were harder to copy.

A recent example is our $5 moose stamp. To the naked eye, this looks like nothing more than an illustration of a moose standing in the forest. No big deal, right? Well, if you were to try making a copy of this stamp, you would soon realize that it's a counterfeiter's nightmare!

Postage stamp of moose

$5 postage stamp entitled Moose

Postage stamp of moose, under UV light

$5 postage stamp entitled Moose, under UV light

Let's start with the stuff you can see. If you look very closely at the sky, you will notice that instead of being one smooth colour, it is actually made up of hundreds of tiny moose hoofprints. Also, there are two lines of "microtype" hidden in the picture. These would be very difficult to replicate even with a top-of-the-line colour photocopier. The stamp is also engraved, which means that you can feel the raised print with your fingers.

But that's not all! For the first time in its history, Canada Post used a fluorescent picture printed with special ink that is only visible by ultraviolet light! If the stamp is a forgery, the hidden image will not be there and this will give it away. On the moose stamp the hidden image is that of a special aboriginal rock-carving. Who knew that a stamp could be so sneaky!

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Tricks of the Trade

Examine stamps under a magnifying class. Can you find the hidden dates?

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engraved: cut or carved on a hard surface such as stone or metal
microtype: printed letters that are so small that they can only be seen with a magnifying glass or microscope
steel engraving: a printing method on paper where the design is cut in a metal plate
ultraviolet light / UV light: a kind of light, invisible to the human eye, that makes certain colours shine brighter
watermarked paper: paper that has a design made in it during its production and visible when the sheet is held up to light. Once made, the watermark can never be removed.

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