Clara Rothe Stamps – Genuine or Bogus?
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The Danish West Indies (now US Virgin Islands) had postal service organized using a number of small ships and schooners. The most famous was the Clara Rothe.
Stories say she was originally a pirate ship named the “Vigilant” (shown below).
The story of the Clara Rothe being a pirate vessel is probably pure fantasy especially considering she was a steamer not a schooner..
Records indicate that the S. S. Clara Rothe” was built by C. A. Day & Co., Southampton. The price was said to be 45,000-50,000 Dollars. Her length was 150 feet, beam 19 feet, weight 266 tons, nominal horsepower 75 (which could be worked up to 260).
The steamer left Southampton on the 8th March, 1865, and so it took her only 20 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
On Saturday the 1st April, 1865, at 7 a.m. “Clara Rothe” left St. Thomas for St. Croix for the first time. Twice a week she called at Bassin (the local name for Christiansted), and once a week she called at West End (the local name for Frederiksted).
Several shipping companies of the time issued stamps like the La Guaira – Puerto Cabello, Hapag and The Royal Mail Steam Company so the possibility of such stamps exists.
Although several prominent authors have categorized these as nothing more than Bogus issues as the company did not exist.
The most complete publication can be found in the book “The Private Ship Letter Stamps of the World, part 1, written by S. Ringström and H.E. Tester, Isleworth, UK, 1976.
Investigations carried out in the archives’ Historic Stories demonstrate beyond all doubt that the steamship Clara Rothe existed.
It is also confirmed that this steamship was traveling regularly between San Tomas and several ports of Puerto Rico.
The Danish Government asked Nunez to operate a line to Puerto Rico as well and they closed a 7-year contract and he started May 6th, 1865.
In March 1866 the contract was terminated by Nunez after collision and hurricane damages and the last sailing took place on April 1st, 1866. He sold his ship to Haiti where it served as a warship/gunboat until it sank some years later.
Nunez had wanted to attach his own stamps to the mail he transported and ordered the printing of stamps from M. Stern in Paris, France. However, these stamps were only delivered in 1869, long after Nunez had ceased operating. Since he could not pay to the printer, they apparently were taken back to Paris and possibly to prevent a loss, sold to collectors who bought them all.
It seems that the printers sold only as many sheets as w as necessary to cover the cost of printing, and not the plates, otherwise the stamps would have been more common, and forgeries would have been unprofitable.
The originals were apparently perfed 10 ½ x 10 ¼ with imperforates also (very rare – remainders?)
Magazines of the period list nine values.
1/2 centavo, black
1 centavo black
2 centavos black
3 centavos black
4 centavos black
1/2 real, blue
1 real orange
2 reales mauve
4 reales green
Some other values/colors have been debated.
There is note of a 4 reales red imperforate that is unique.
Also a 2 reales orange that was on one line of the same cliche as the 1 real.
All the stamps have transfer flaws
Comparison of Original & Spiro forgery
The originals seem to have attracted the attention of the Spiro Brothers who produced a wide range of counterfeits of the originals and possibly some bogus issues.
1. No cross on top of the crown and it touches the banner
2. The left leg of the M is equal to the right one in the forgery
3. The top flag is very large and the mast touches the sword
4. The bottom left flag is not as clear as the forgery.
5. The top letters tend to be thicker
6. The first S is not inclined
7. The letters in CLARA are equal but uneven in the original
8. The O of ROTHE is smaller and the HE is inclined in the wrong direction
9. The scepter is different and larger
10. The smokestack is shorter
11. The horizontal background lines are coarser
12. Many Spiro’s are cancelled which is most unlikely
Spiro’s with fake cancels.
Spiro cancels come in a wide variety but the dot matrix is most common
The imperforate stamps are more common than the perforated. The perforated stamps are mainly uncancelled while the imperforate ones are mainlycancelled, normally in black with a circular single lined cancel with illegible wording.
2nd Series of Forgeries
These require no comparison.
They are very crude and almost unrecognizable.
Some of the colors are wrong.
T.B. Morton & Co.
T.B. Morton & Co. was a British company active in Romania but established in Constantinople that was founded in 1855 to carry mail from Constantinople to Romanian and Black Sea ports.
From 1869 Morton issued their first rudimentary stamps followed by a second and a third issue. The second issue of 1870 featured a steamer flying the Red Ensign with D. & B.S.L.S. below for the Danube and Black Sea Line of Steamers.
Initially the second issue so closely resembled the Clara Rothe stamp that it was labelled a bogus issue. However an official of the company negated this comment. Considering the time period, there was probably some inspiration from the Clara Rothe stamp.