“I am just finish as a forger. I just want to enjoy the years of my life that I have left.”
As noted below, Juan Canoura Sr. claims that his involvement with some aspects of his craft goes back at least some sixteen years, though he also asserts (April 2004) that his stock is the work of ten years. In September 2003, the business was described as established for over five years. Others have dated his eBay sales of forged overprints from late 1999, and of fake stamps and sheets from late 2001, though Canoura, as “jcsr.”, was first registered on eBay on February 23 1999, and he dates his eBay business from that point. An early feedback, from that May, mentions “unusual Brunei items”. (The current “user id history” for “atdinvest” on eBay.com seems confused and incorrect. Essentially, a number of user id’s – “jcsr.”, “cclan”, and “futete”, have been “merged” with “atdinvest”. The id “unlimitedstamps” has also been used.)
On February 24 2000, a year and a day after Canoura joined eBay, ATD Investments Inc. was filed as a Florida profit corporation, giving the principal address of 2500 W 56 St., Apt. 1416, Hialeah, FL 33016. The registered agent and sole director is Mercy Canoura, Juan’s wife, who has taken care of emails, packing, etc. Another address used is 10161 NW., 126th Terrace, Hialeah Gardens, FL 33018, while the company’s mailing address is registered as: PO Box 161060, Hialeah, FL 33016 (also 33016-0018).
In June 2001, Juan Sr. was described as 56 years of age, and Mercy as 40. The Latin American paper Money Society (LANSA) lists Juan Canoura Sr. as a member at the first address given above.
Auction descriptions claim that the business enjoys “over 6,000 regular customers … making up to $60,000 a year as part time”, and mention both a “mail order operation with monthly catalog”, and a “website with domain”. For several years Canoura has used ValueWeb (http://220.127.116.11) to host his auction images, and has reserved the domain name of atdstamps.com, though this is not an active website.
Since September 2003, the business, or major elements of it, has been offered four times on eBay, once on auction-warehouse.com, at least once on sell.com and four times on auction.com, at prices up to $69,900, though recently for very much less.
The American Philatelic Society and the De Thuin connection
Following these unsuccessful auctions, Canoura says that the American Philatelic Society (APS) has attempted to persuade him to donate his stock and equipment to them for reference, but that he has refused, confident that he will find a buyer.
Recently, he has also claimed that his perforating equipment and a large number of rubber hand stamps originally belonged to the notorous Belgian forger Raoul Ch. De Thuin, who worked in Mexico, but died in 1975 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. In 1966 many of De Thuin’s effects were bought up by the APS, following the efforts of their “Committee of Five”, led by James Mensinger Chemi, as narrated in The Yucatan Affair (1974, reprinted 1980). Despite this, De Thuin retained some material, and after moving to Guayaquil continued to produce forgeries on a lesser scale up to his death. Canoura claims that he acquired his perforator from a relative of De Thuin about sixteen years ago in Quito, Ecuador, along with the handstamps, mostly of cancellations. He still considers De Thuin to be one of the greatest, and rates his work more highly than Sperati’s.
At an earlier point, “atdinvest” presented his own productions as the work of, variously, Dr Alejandro Martinez, Antonio Jorge, Colonel Serghei Ulianovich Kerchenko or Andy Thomas. No one else has ever heard of these prolific forgers. (“Harold Bynof” was also cited as the creator of some items, even though Harold Bynof-Smith (actual name) was in fact a noted collector of forgeries.) It would be sensible to see the De Thuin story as a similar fiction, but it may have the ring of truth. Separate disposal of the De Thuin items is an option under consideration.
Details of the perforating equipment and cancellations involved are given below.
Overprints and cancellations
As already noted, the earliest period of sales involved fake overprints and cancellations on genuine stamps. Many of these have been carefully documented by others.
The auction descriptions include “rubber stamp cancellations, surcharges, overprints (worldwide), 1886 in total”. Specific areas of cancellations mentioned are French colonies, offices and expeditionary forces, “complete” German colonies, offices and feldpost, “complete” “British Colonies and the period of WWI & WWII, etc.”
Of these 1886 hand stamps, 465 were acquired from De Thuin’s stock, of which the majority are cancellations, and the minority overprints. The De Thuin cancellations include French colonies, German consulates and offices abroad before 1914, Mexico, and others not specified. The German cancellations of the two world wars are of Canoura’s making, as are the “Specimen” and “Muestra” overprints.
It is not clear whether the 1886 total includes many reproductions still laid out in vinyl sheets, ready to be cut up and mounted onto blocks.
Not mentioned in the auction descriptions, but part of the stock, are several cases of worldwide “postal history”, though it is not clear whether these involve forged cancellations on genuine stamps, on genuine covers or on reproductions.
The later period of sales involved innumerable “sheets” of “reproductions” of worldwide stamps, sometimes divided into blocks. Invariably, all positions on each “sheet” share identical characteristics, showing that a single scanned item has been multiplied digitally. Stamp sizes are often fractionally different to the originals, colours are often approximate, and detail is occasionally poor, indicating that the source is generally an illustration of some kind, perhaps black and white, rather than an actual stamp.
Included in the auctions are two stock books containing over two hundred “original proofs used to be reproduced”. These represent a tiny proportion of the wide variety of stamps produced.
In addition to the huge range of stamps already printed, some 2,000 “new designs” still await completion. These are presumably single scanned items, stored on CD, yet to be multiplied into “sheets” and given colours.
The completed “plates” are also stored on CD, from which they are printed, and are identified on the labels as “modificado”. The auctions mention variously “hundreds” or “thousands” of “proofs” and “plates”. In September 2003 there were 82 CD’s, 85 in October, and 87 by April 2004.
This process is simple enough to replicate. Using Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or similar, a high resolution scan of a suitably sharp black and white image can easily be given an even colour, flipped (if necessary) to a mirror image for printing, and then multiplied into a “sheet” by simply using a table in Word.
The auction stock includes “over 25,000 sheets (all different)”, plus “a few thousand” blocks and perforated stamps, alternatively estimated as “millions” of “classic stamps”. Anyone purchasing and selling these, claims Canoura, would have so much stock in hand that they would not need to produce any more for at least two years.
The number of rows and columns per sheet depends entirely on the size of the stamp involved. Margins are always very generous. All complete sheets are imperforate, and only blocks and singles perforated – a point discussed further below.
Paper and gum
The paper used is white and is not watermarked. All sheets are approximately, but never precisely, A4 size, which is properly 210 mm x 297 mm. This choice of size may originally have been intended to suggest a European origin, or may conceivably be tied to the printing process (see below). Though sometimes advertised as “A4”, “atdinvest’s” sheets seem to measure 214 mm by something between 299 mm and 302 mm. This clearly indicates that his paper is not bought in A4 sheets but is cut down at home, and on my example a fold is clearly visible next to the guillotined edge.
The generally rounded and crinkly appearance, highlighted here by tinkering with the contrast setting, suggests that sheets are cut from a roll.
Is this just an economy, or perhaps a necessity, given that A4 paper is not readily available in the ‘States?
A supply of gum arabic in powder form, with instructions for use, is included in the auctions. The results look convincing. Occasional faint striations in the gum suggest that it may be applied with a roller, and an accidental line of gum near one front edge of my example suggests that it has been gummed after the sheet was cut to size.
The printing process
This remains the most problematical aspect. Canoura is adamant that neither a photocopier nor a computer printer is used, but has never been willing to provide precise or credible details, always insisting on a process similar to rotogravure. This seems to make little sense, given that rotogravure is a large scale process for high print runs, involving multiple rotary intaglio plates. Whatever “atdinvest’s” exact process, it is supposedly digitally controlled, and a simple one man operation. Certainly, a single “plate” is used, no matter how many colours are involved, as there is no sign of any colour registration.
The ink appears raised and glossy, with a finely mottled surface, reminiscent of some early colour photocopiers, or of thermal transfers. It seems significant that apparently only single sheets have been made of each “plate”, when the purpose of most print methods is to provide many copies cheaply. In addition to the slightly crinkled look of some sheets, a strong line of pressure can be seen in the paper outside each edge of the print area, as shown on these heightened examples:
These clues seem to suggest some form of computer-generated thermal transfer. However, a standard home transfer, such as an iron-on t-shirt type, leaves a visible “transparent” film over the surface, and when applied to paper, the ink tends to spread slightly under pressure, filling in details. Neither of these characteristics appear in these reproductions. Some sort of thermal transfer printer is possible, perhaps involving a small heat press, which might create the pressure lines noted.
It is conceivable that the wide margins or the use of “A4” paper may have some connection with the process used.
As mentioned above, the perforator offered in the auctions was supposedly used by De Thuin, and acquired around 1988. If that is so, it is unclear why no perforated items were offered until late May 2003.
It consists of two thick sheets of glass or perspex, drilled with four short series of holes in gauges 12, 13, 14 and 15. Paper is clamped between the sheets, and the holes are punched individually with a long needle. This is laborious to use, and clearly only a short length of paper can be perforated in one operation, making it better suited to the re-perforation of damaged single stamps, which must be what it was designed for. Because of this, no perforated sheets exist, only singles and small blocks, including “errors”.
In practice, the perforator is placed on the glass of a small “Porta-Trace” lightbox, and heavy magnifying goggles are used, which are also supposed to have belonged to De Thuin.
Despite eBay policy, Canoura admits that no items have been marked “repro” or similar on the reverse. Auction images showing such a marking on backs of stamps were clearly created digitally.