The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

The 1895 Chicago Counterfeit Stamps

One of the few scandals the U.S. Post Office encountered in history was the “Chicago Counterfeits” scandal. It all started in 1895 when a man named Edward Lowry responded to a Canadian newspaper ad that stated, “We have $115 U.S. two cent stamps which we cannot use here, will send them by express C.O.D. Privilege of examination for $100.”

Does something about that sound illegal to you? You wouldn’t be wrong.

Mr. Lowry contacted the Postal Inspector James Stuart with an inquiry about buying the current 2c stamps at less than their 2c value, the possibility as suggested by the advertisement.

Of course, Stuart found this suspicious and investigated the issue. A Secret Service agent named Captain Thomas Porter joined Stuart’s investigation. As it turns out, many other people had also seen the ad and ordered the stamps – which Porter and Stuart had to confiscate as a consequence.

A rogue printing operation was in the works. Porter discovered a woman named Mrs. Lacy and her daughter Tinsa McMillan who had a printing production set up in their apartment.

Guess what they found? Stacks of gummed paper, a perforation machine, a copying camera, and all the other possible tools you could need for producing (fake) stamps.

Finally they arrested Tinsa McMillan – the brains behind the whole operation. She had set up the stamp-copying production illegally to make a profit. Ms. McMillan was sentenced to 1.5 years in a reformatory.

This whole scandal was why the Post Office added watermarks to stamps, a story we will continue in another article.

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