7, 1941--the date that will live in infamy--is perhaps the one of the
most significant dates in history. The Japanese surprise attack on the
United States military installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii brought
the U.S. into World War II, changing the course of the war and
everything that followed.
Philatelists, especially cover collectors, are keen to remember such
important dates through their collections. Production of event covers
was widespread during the war, particularly after Pearl Harbor. But
actual event covers postmarked on the day of the attack are scarce,
mostly because cover producers were just as much caught off-guard by the attack as the military was, and because December 7, 1941 was a Sunday, when most post
offices across the country were closed.
Sunner's fake Pearl Harbor cover: still fooling people today.
scarcity of genuine Pearl Harbor day covers led to the inevitable
creation of fake covers. Bogus covers dated 12/7/41 are known
from Victory, Vermont and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, among other
locations. One of the more audacious fakes is at left. The cover
purports to note the 154th anniversary of Delaware statehood,
conveniently postmarked at Aiea, Hawaii (the post office closest to
Pearl Harbor) on December 7, 1941 at 8 a.m.--shortly after the
bombs began to fall.
The incredible coincidence is no coincidence at all. The cover is a
post-war creation of one William Sunner of Brooklyn, New York. Sunner
was a printer by trade who faked several event covers, including a German
military fieldpost cover dated September 1, 1939, the date of Germany's
invasion of Poland. Sunner even attempted to re-write philatelic
history by pushing the date of cacheted event covers back to 1917 with
a fake cover noting the U.S. declaration of war against Germany during the first World War. (That
cover made a 2004 appearance in FIRST
which wondered if the cover was genuine.) Sunner died in the late 1980s.
Sunner's nefarious work continues to fool people today, including some
that should know better. The above Pearl Harbor cover is currently
being offered in Greg Manning's May 21, 2005 auction, lot
. The Manning firm presents
the cover as genuine, with an estimated value of $100-$150. I sent an
email to the Manning firm telling them the cover was a fake, and
offered to provide documentation of its bogus status. I've received no
reply as yet, and the lot remains in the auction.
My source for this information is the definitive book for World War
II cover collectors, Dr. Lawrence Sherman's United States Patriotic
Covers of World War II
published by the Collectors Club of Chicago in 1999. Dr. Sherman
devotes a section of his book to phony covers under the heading "Weeds
in the Victory Garden." His discussion of Pearl Harbor covers carries a
blunt warning: "A hand cancel dated December 7, 1941, and found on a
patriotic cover represents unauthorized and back-dated use of the
device, or back-dating of the cachet, or both." It's advice all
collectors of this material should heed.
May 26, 2005:
I never heard
from the Manning firm before or after the auction. However, it does
seem they were paying attention, since lot 5144 does not appear on the prices
. That suggests the
lot was withdrawn before the sale.