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The Smoking tax and the forger

In the early 1900’s Great Britain applied a tax on tobacco imported from around the world at its point of entry into the UK.

Jersey and Guernsey were well situated to receive these imports, and postage stamps were used as receipts for the taxation applied. As these were large sums the highest value stamps were used and the highest denomination at this time was the Edward VII £1 value.

In many cases they were cancelled with an undated Jersey

double-ring cancel on the paper used to wrap the tobacco

in (right).


There was a stamp dealer called George Lowden,

real name John Stewart Lowden, who had a stamp

dealership under the name Ellis & Co at 34 Leicester

Square, but he also had premises in Piccadilly Arcade.

His bank account was under yet another name, H Mack & Co. In his shop he had a notice that read “All stamps sold by us are guaranteed to be genuine.”  Guaranteed by whom is the obvious question. With this background who in their right minds would buy a bulk of stamps from him? Enter Mr Jonas Lek.

Lek was a diamond merchant and stamp dealer/collector from Notting Hill, he had had dealings with Lowden.  In April 1913 he agreed to buy from the dealer 2,679 used copies of the £1 Edward VII stamp on brown wrapping paper for 7/9d (39p) each. As the use of the Edward stamp was coming to an end, being replaced by those of George V,  Lek thought the demand for them would rise and reckoned he could double his money. 


The delivery of the stamps to Lek was delayed because, according to the court notes, Lowden had not received them himself. When Lek did get his parcel, at 7.30pm on Tuesday 29th April, it was too dark to examine them closely but he was assured the stamps were genuine.

Lek handed over £810 consisting of 4 x £200 notes and

£10 cash (a reduction was made to allow for damaged

stamps). The next morning it was obvious to Lek

that the stamps were forgeries. The shade was

a different green and the watermark looked like it had

been imprinted on the face of the stamp (right).


He went back to the shop, but Lowden was not there.

Lek consulted another dealer and they agreed the stamps

were forgeries. Lek then went to Scotland Yard to report it

and several policemen, along with Lek's solicitor,

went back to see Lowden who said a Mr Lawrence

had sold him the stamps in good faith.

The police checked the address Lowden gave them and there was no such person living there, so the Police searched Lowden's premises in Piccadilly and found eight mint £1 stamps (ironically sold to Lowden by Lek in a previous transaction) and some more forgeries. They were all taken away and examined by Herbert M Pilkington, the Technical Director of Printex Co Ltd, who stated that the defects found on the eight genuine stamps: “... had been photographically and lithographically carried onto the forgeries.”

This was enough to charge Lowden with both selling and having in his possession for sale, forged £1 Edward VII stamps.


There were two trials. The first, on 21st July 1913,  ended with the jury  unable to agree a verdict. Lowden had given such a convincing story about Mr Lawrence selling him the stamps which he had bought in good faith.

A second trial opened at the Old Bailey on 7th October that year. This time not only did Pilkington give evidence connecting the forgeries to the genuine stamps found in Lowden’s possession, but the forgeries were also examined by both Ernest Hamlett, who worked for Newman & Co who made the rubber obliterator stamps for the Post Office, and A Scott Roberts, the superintendent of the Somerset House Stamping Department. All the experts said the stamps were forgeries.

With the evidence stacked up against him, Lowden could not wriggle out a second time. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years.   


At the end of the trial a Inspector Carlyn went into the witness box and said that the prisoner (as Lowden now was) had been connected with forged stamps for a long time. In 1903, a clerk in the Inland Revenue Department was charged with  overprinted stamps not being issued to the public, instead being sold to Lowden (this time under the name Mr Moore – he’s at it again). In 1907, Lowden was accused by “Ewens Weekly Stamp News” of dealing extensively on forged Transvaal stamps under the names Moore and Stewart & Co.  In 1909 he was arrested for trying to sell 1888-1892 North Borneo forgeries. He was tried but acquitted after saying he did not realise they were forgeries.

Lowden lived a long life he was born on 29th May 1877 and died on 7th Oct 1958.


Some very interesting facts came out at the trial including asking under what circumstances would a £1 stamp be used for postal purposes rather than tax purposes.

The prosecution said: “Supposing a person wished to post 240 letters at 1d each. Instead of purchasing that number of 1d stamps, and in order to save one from consuming a very large quantity of no doubt very wholesome gum, one would take the 240 letters to the Post Office, pay £1 and get a receipt, and on the receipt was pasted a £1 stamp.”

I cannot recall ever seeing a £1 on a receipt like this.

The forgeries themselves now fetch more than the genuine stamps. Illustrated below is a forgery of the forgery along with a genuine stamp with a forged postmark. Hey-Ho.








Trevor Harris – The Hendon Stamp Company 2010 booklet

Harry Dagnell - Rex v Lowden The GB Journal - Mar-Apr 1993

Transcripts from the court case published in “Stamp Collectors Fortnightly” 2nd Aug and 25 Oct 1913

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More to see and read . . . 
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