Looking through the PFSearch, one does occasionally encounter declined opinions rather than positive or negative opinions. They are comparatively few and far between, but they are out there.
It got me thinking about the piece below. I purchased this as a fake and as a discussion piece a few months back, but the more I think about it, the more I think one could debate its merits… but ultimately, in my opinion we can never know what it actually is.
When I say that I bought this as a fake, that probably is not the correct wording, rather I did not buy it as a true R53a as both the seller and I agreed that on its face it is too doubtful. I do not think it is a philatelic creation, but rather the result of an overly meticulous clerk.
I have seen closely-cut stamps on documents, and I have also seen stamps that have been lifted, trimmed, and replaced. I believe this to be the former rather than the latter.
The biggest argument against its being an actual R53a is the miniscule margins. Were this stamp not on document, there would be no discussion whatsoever. This stamp on its own absolutely screams “TRIMMED!”
There are, however, aspects of the document that run counter to that conclusion:
1. The date, color, and impression are all correct for it being an R53a.
2. The handwriting and initials match that of the document (meaning it’s not a stamp taken from elsewhere and added to the document).
3. Even though you cannot see it in this particular image, the top loop of the third initial *DOES* tie to the document, if only slightly. The ink bleeds onto the document itself.
4. I can find no evidence that the stamp has been lifted and replaced (i.e., lifted, trimmed, and replaced).
So is that enough to call it an R53a? I would speculate the answer is no. My guess is that if I submitted this for expertization it would come back with “we decline opinion”.
Thinking about the processes of the era though, I’m trying to come up with an argument as to why a clerk, presumably focused on the task at hand, would have taken the time to trim down a perforated or part perforated stamp rather than using the perforations, which would have been undoubtedly faster… I doubt that anyone would have been interested in creating philatelic fakes at the time.
So what would you call it?
(There is a link to a higher resolution image below the picture.)
UPDATE May 19, 2018: I decided to send this in to the Philatelic Foundation along with a number of other items, just to see what it would garner, and it received the results I expected: declined opinion.