Altered Genuine Stamps

Altered Genuine Stamps

Two types of genuine Japanese stamps are known altered to make a more valuable stamp.

  • Altered syllabics on Cherry Blossom stamp of 1874-1875.
  • Erased specimen overprint called sumiten (black dot) to make a mint stamp.

Altered Syllabics on Cherry Blossom stamps

There are many forgeries of the stamps of 1874 and early 1875 that have a single katakana syllabic in the design.  The most deceptive forgeries are the genuine stamps on which a forger has changed this syllabic to a different and rarer syllabic.  Forgers took a genuine stamp and changed a common syllabic to a rare syllabic by adding lines, deleting lines, or erasing an entire syllabic and drawing in a different syllabic.  These forgeries are very deceptive because only about 1% of the design has been forged.

The early stamps with syllabic were printed on Japanese paper so thin that it was difficult to alter the syllabic without leaving evidence of the alteration such as abrasions or thin spots.   But on the later printings on foreign paper, it was easier to change a common syllabic to a rare one.  Most of the known alterations were made from 1868-1926.  Their very age makes them more difficult to detect.

The skills of those altered genuine stamps varied considerably so some are more difficult to detect than others.  Often altering a syllabic changed not only the syllabic but nearby design lines.  Since each of the 40 positions in a sheet is different, expertizing often requires comparing the suspected altered stamp with  “each position”  on a photograph of a genuine sheet of the unaltered stamp.  Photographs of the more common syllabics usually exist.  But there are no photographs of the rarer plates to use for comparison.  In fact in some cases, the rarer syllabic has fewer than five genuine examples known.


  1. 1874: 6 sen violet brown altered to become syllabic  ワ (wa-13) or ヨ (yo-15)
  2. 1874: 10 sen green altered to become syllabic イ (i-1) or  ハ  (ha-3)
  3. 1875: 1 sen brown altered to become syllabic ト (to-7) or チ  (chi-8)
  4. 1875:  6 sen orange altered to become syllabic ヨ (yo-15) or ラ (RA-2
  5. 1875:  10 sen blue altered to become syllabic ホ (ho-5)
  6. 1875: 12 sen wild goose altered to become syllabic ハ (ha-3)
  7. 1875: 45 sen eagle altered to become syllabic ロ (ro-2)

Since it is more difficult to alter stamps on native paper without obvious damage, most of the altered syllabics are found on stamps printed on foreign paper.

Also all the stamps are engraved.  This means, that under magnification, the ink will appear raised from the surface of the paper. The re-drawing of the syllabic is done with ink and thus does not appear raised from the paper surface.

Endnote: This information is taken from  the following articles in Japanese Philately, Vol. 58, p 3, Vol, Vol. 33, pp 59-62, Vol. 8 pp. 1-4.


On foreign paper,  the rarest Cherry Blossom stamps with syllabics are:  (To make this particular list a stamp must have a value of over 1,000,000 in the Sakura 2020 catalog,

  1. The 6 sen violet brown syllabic ワ (wa-13) and ヨ (yo-15)  unused.
  2. The 1 sen brown syllabic ト (to-7) or チ (chi-8) unused.
  3. 6 sen orange syllabic below buckle ヨ (yo-15) unknown unused and valued at 18,000,000 yen used  in the Sakura 2020 catalog.
  4. 20 sen red syllabic リ(ri-9) unknown unused. (Note:  This syllabic was newly found in recent years and thus isn’t included in known syllabics with alterations at the right, but any new copy must be suspect.  It unknown unused and valued at 8,000,000 yen used in the Sakura 2020 catalog.  As of this writing, there is no known stamp altered to this syllabic,  but because of its value, it’s a prime candidate for alterations.


Erased Specimen Overprint called ‘Sumiten’ (Black Dot)

The “sumiten” black dot specimen was affixed by hand with a brush.  Since the ink was painted by hand with a brush, the dot seldom looks like a perfect small dot.  More often it looks like a black swash on the stamp.  There was no particular place to put the dot so it can be found most anywhere on a stamp.  Most often it is found in the top center of the stamp. Often on the Cherry Blossom stamps it is found on part of the Chrysanthemum Crest.  It can be a tiny point or a much bigger swash. These dots have been erased to create what appears to be a mint stamp.  Such erasures can usually be detected by careful scrutiny. The thin native papers are harder to erase or alter without the damage showing.  The later foreign paper can more easily be altered and the damage from the erasing harder to detect.