3. Jean de Sperati's career as a forger in France


In Paris on 1 August 1914 - Sperati was almost 30 years old - he married Marie-Louise Corne from Normandy; he had changed his own first name "Giovanni" to the French form "Jean". Jean de Sperati simply sounded more familiar in his surroundings, working in a factory during the day, but every night he was already busy with his forgery experiments. At times, he also probably studied chemistry in Germany, and continued to educate himself.

On 4 September 1924 his daughter Yvonne was born. Years before he had moved to Lyon with his wife after a stopover near Grenoble. There he worked, among other things, as a sales representative and travelling salesman for the chemical company Serre de Loriol. In 1924 he had also opened his own papermaking factory, which he soon had to close again, however, due to a lack of a water supply. Working day and night had become a habit for the man obsessed with his art. It is considered certain that from 1920 Jean de Sperati's works were already quite well known among dealers in Europe. At that time, however, he was still very much fixated on secrecy. He did not want to attract attention and to step into the glare of publicity.

Die Villa „Clair de Lune“ wird zum Refugium der Sperati-Familie. Bildvorlage: Michael Burzan
Die Villa „Clair de Lune“ wird zum Refugium der Sperati-Familie. Bildvorlage: Michael Burzan

In 1930 he moved with his family to Aix-les-Bains (Place du Revard) and opened his first workshop, his artist-studio. A year later (but according to other information not until five years later) he moved within this town to a larger villa "Clair de Lune" (Moonlight Villa) at No. 30 Boulevard de la Roche du Roi (his mother, Maria Arnulfi, died on 13 July 1933 and left her sons a handsome fortune). In his new studio, he also spent 14 to 16 hours a day manufacturing forgeries. According to French law at the time, as long as they were marked as imitations, they were not forgeries but imitations. And during this phase of his life, Jean de Sperati also marked his products, mostly with a personal signature in soft pencil. Of course he was aware that these signatures could easily be erased. He suspected that this would happen, but he did not see this as his problem, rather as his sales opportunity.

To Lucette Blanc-Girardet, who knew Sperati's daughter, Yvonne, and was related to her, we also owe her memories of the daily routine in the "Master's" house. His day usually began quite early, at 6 o'clock in the morning. And that was with gymnastics on the terrace, during which he allegedly liked to recite Goethe (in German!). He also loved fishing, which gave him relaxation and peace, even time for philosophising. On the lower floors of "Moonlight Villa" he had his office and his study, as well as a laboratory and a darkroom, so that he could be busy manufacturing material day and night. Working hours were interrupted by his travels during which he visited exhibitions, dealers and good customers. He did not shy away from the public at all.

It was not until decades later that the world's public learned that in 1932 (with the exception of his early youthful sins in Pisa [1]) the artist's works, which had meanwhile been executed in a masterly manner, had been identified in public for the first time. At a London auction, a Dutch consignor was offering a large number of valuable classic stamps, which seemed suspicious to the London professional philatelist William Houtzamer, also of Dutch origin, and which he regarded as forgeries. The stamps were then submitted to the expert committee of the BPA (British Philatelic Association), which after careful examination came to the same conclusion. The consignor then looked at the addresses of all the dealers from whom he had purchased the stamps, and these dealers in different countries all had a common source of supply: Jean de Sperati!

Jean de Sperati in his office at Moonlight Villa. From: WM Archive
Jean de Sperati in his office at "Moonlight Villa". From: WM Archive

However, Michael Burzan, who for several years from 2011 published a series of articles about the stamps forged by Jean de Sperati in the magazine "philatelie", wrote that the Sperati himself had sent a test shipment to the British Philatelic Association under his own name in 1932. The selection contained, on many pages, a variety of his replicas of valuable stamps from all over the world, used and unused. At first, the stamps were considered genuine, and Jean de Sperati was allegedly even sent an invoice for £15 for the expert opinions. After that, there were supposed to have been doubts and the stamps were sent back to Jean de Sperati without comment, after they had been documented photographically. Now they were considered to be forged, as one may read in the expertising report of W. R. Mansfield to Sir John Wilson 1934, to which the photographs were also attached.

Individual prints of his replicas signed by Jean de Sperati
Individual prints of his replicas signed by Jean de Sperati

At that time, Jean de Sperati had already forged 234 stamps, the majority of which had previously been stated as genuine by expertisers in Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain. Only here in London had he now attracted attention. But instead of informing the press and publishing identifying features to prevent further damage, the then chairman of the BPA committee, F. Stanley Phillips[2], insisted that the whole matter be kept under wraps. He was afraid of uncertainty of enormous dimensions in the philatelic market. From today's point of view, this was certainly a very questionable decision, because it meant that Jean de Sperati could continue to "make mischief" for another 10-20 years! And his sales increased year on year, as did also the number of stamps he repeatedly forged.

Individual prints of his replicas signed by Jean de Sperati
Individual prints of his replicas signed by Jean de Sperati


[1] These, however, probably also continued in 1909, because in the same year, months after the arrest, the DBZ reported a woman Constantina Verti in Pisa, who offered interesting selections at high discounts. The address was 3 Via S. Paolo Ripa d'Arno. It was Jean de Sperati's business address! (DBZ 1909, P. 171).

[2] Phillips was Managing Director of the world-famous Stanley Gibbons company in London. The BPA Expert Committee was composed of both collector and dealer experts.