En français

Preface

The WNS (WADP Numbering System) was created by the World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP) and implemented by the Universal Postal Union (UPU). The WNS website was launched on January 1, 2002. The numbering system was supposed to be the foundation for an online database of all stamps issued worldwide lawfully, and its goal was to fight against the large-scale manufacture and sale of illegal stamps.

Introduction

A. In the workshop "How to avoid a philatelic disaster", published on the UPU site, the former FIP president, Mr. Knud Mohr , wrote as follows:

UPU
Need to immediately publicise all knowledge of fake and forged stamps to the WAD(P)P (emphasis ours)

WORST CASE SCENARIO. Collectors stop being interested in philately,because of the lost credibility and bad image of the hobby. This means a massive loss of collectors and philatelist alike, which in turn significantly reduces the number philatelic clubs in the FIP member countries, give fewer collectors for IFSDA and ASCAT, fewer readers for AIJP, and for UPU: the non-collecting citizen does not require 30 different stamp editions per year.
Conclusion WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING NOW!

Our comment: This represents a valid but so far largely unheeded call for action. One may perhaps argue that responsible collecting citizens do not require more stamps annually from their country, either, but that is a topic for another day.

B. In the UPU IB Circular # 92 of April 26, 2010 (we asked the makers of the WNS for the link but instead received the circular by e-mail, a few days ago) one could read:

The designated operator of RWANDA (REP.), Office national des postes Iposita Rwanda, wishes to again inform the designated operators of Union member countries of the existence of several illegal postage stamps issued in the name of the Republic of Rwanda. ... Adamite, 650 FRW (2009). Prehnite, 650 FRW (2009). (emphasis ours)
In this connection, we are counting on the initiatives taken by the Universal Postal Union and its bodies with a view to eradicating this phenomenon. We are also counting on the solidarity of other designated operators, who we would ask to take the necessary measures to help us identify the perpetrators of these acts and bring them to justice. ...

Our comment: Rwandan illegal stamps were still issued in 2009, in the name of a country that suffered a lot from this curse. We had no problem finding sellers of such stamps online, even as FDCs (see below - the image of the sheet is intentionally blurred).

Rwanda has counted on the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and other operators for the past ten years "to eradicat[e] this phenomenon" and "identify the perpetrators of these acts and bring them to justice." We will show in this article that Rwanda as well as many other affected countries are waiting in vain for the eradication of illegal stamps and for justice.

PWO, UPU and illegal stamps

The Philatelic Webmasters Organization (PWO), a non-profit organization located in Switzerland, that counts at this time over 350 members from the whole world, was created to promote, support, and develop philately through philatelic webmastering.

The PWO has closely collaborated from its very beginnings with the UPU in the fight against illegal stamps. For this reason, the PWO site has regularly published both information about illegal issues and UPU Circulars on this subject. The PWO, in agreement with the International Bureau of the UPU in Bern, has dedicated a subsite to the fight of illegal stamps.

Because in the middle of the year 2003, the UPU started publishing the UPU Circulars referring to illegal stamps on its own website, we did not publish them on our site anymore, and we limited ourselves to providing links to the pages where they could be found. Unfortunately, these links became broken in the middle of the year 2009 after the UPU site was redesigned. New links to Circulars appeared on the UPU site in September 2010, leaving broken all older references to them on the worldwide websites.

What strike the eye is that in the last years the Circulars that refer to illegal stamps decreased in number and are more and more drowned in a sea of Circulars covering other subjects. The explanation is not that given by the WNS (the number of illegals had decreased drastically thanks to its own activity) but it is related to two facts:
- Earlier it was the UPU that made the researches for finding the illegal stamps. It was also UPU that was asking countries to denounce them; for this reason the stamp related Circulars were mostly devoted to illegal stamps.
- Later, with the development of the WNS, the research on illegal stamps was rather pushed to the affected countries, and the criteria for denouncing the illegal stamps became also more stringent.

The most recent example of illegal stamps - Haiti Earthquake Issue of 2010

News of the new issue was widespread in the philatelic press and dealers in Europe, Asia, and North America offered the new stamps for sale.
A number of sellers had been provided with copies of a certificate of authenticity signed by Margarette Emile, Director General of the Haiti Postal Corporation, stating that the sheets were legitimate postage issues of Haiti. Unfortunately, as in the case of the infamous Haitian Audubon series of 1975, the Earthquake issue was not authorized by proper authorities within the Haitian Government and was subsequently branded by officials as an unauthorized issue without validity
. Source.

Algidras Satas of Bayart and Stamperija Ktd. of Vilnius, Lithuania, often mentioned online for being involved in the production of illegal stamps, said in an e-mail to Linn's: "Our company has signed an irrevocable contract with the Postal Administration of Haiti in December 2009 for the 4 philatelic issues". Source: Linn's Stamps News Online 2010.
After over 7 months on the market these stamps aren't reported by the UPU Circulars. As for the WNS, it is awaiting Haiti stamps for registration since 2004...

How illegal stamps have been fought

To keep our members informed, we tried to find online documents that would show the contribution of the WNS to a supposed reduction of illegal issues. Unfortunately, we could not find any such evidence, and for this reason we asked the makers of the WNS to help us in our research. Already several months ago, we tried to get the same data from the AIJP (Association Internationale des Journalistes Philatéliques, which is part of the WADP) because of our membership in that organization. We have not received an answer from any of these organizations so far, and for this reason, we decided to pursue the research by ourselves through the greatest possible use of the official UPU/WNS documents found on their sites.

We will begin by briefly reminding our members and readers how the official fight against illegal stamps started.

The first move came from the UPU, when it started by encouraging countries to denounce illegal issues in 1999. Thanks to UPU official Maria Libera, who was tasked with researching the problem, an important number of illegal issues was identified and then disclosed in the UPU Circulars. This approach made sense and represented a good start because it pointed out the offending stamps. The task was rather inexpensive, and the results were accessible to everybody on the UPU site.

Like the PWO site, many philatelic websites disseminated the content of these Circulars. The disadvantage of this approach was that one person alone, even with some help from friends (of philately), could not sufficiently deepen the research, and sometimes exposed the International Bureau of the UPU to attacks from some of the individuals suspected of producing illegal stamps, who had both lawyers behind them and money to spend.

The next step was the creation of the WADP, and the last one the creation of the WNS. As the makers of the WNS put it: "Developed by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP), a WADP Numbering System (WNS) was introduced on 1 January 2002 with the aim of creating a database of all authentic postage stamps issued by UPU member countries and territories on or after that date." Please note that while the Circulars were focused on BAD stamps, the WNS is about the opposite, i.e., listing only the GOOD ones. This can work only if ALL valid stamps are listed in the WNS, a humongous task, especially when the number of stamp issues has grown quasi-exponentially. As any such a task, the WNS has to cover its great costs, which cannot be compared to the low sums that were invested in Circulars. Let's start by adding up the costs of the WNS, because already since Cicero's times, "The sinews of war are endless money."

WNS - How much does it cost and where does the money go

The makers of the WNS proudly announced through its website that "there are 45,542 registered stamps" (as of August 2010). At the registration price of CHF 50, paid by each Postal Administration for any of its registered stamps to the UPU/WNS, this brings us so far to about:

CHF 2.3 millions, or USD 2.2 millions, or Euro 1.7 millions

After a relatively short competition among different philatelic organizations that are WADP members as to how this income should be distributed, the money brought by the WNS was used to cover not only the obvious expenses for IT specialists, located strategically somewhere in Australia, but also those for additional employees, conferences, and travel of different WADP officials. Of course, once there was commitment to this project and its specific distribution of funds, and after many years of operation, the whole endeavor became very difficult to undo because its beneficiaries perceived it as a justified task and financial entitlement.

WNS - On its presumed completeness

As of August 2010, we counted no less then 181 countries and territories that are participating in the WNS, which is very impressive at first glance. Studying the list of participating countries and the state of their registration activity, however, reveals less impressive results. Let's take a few examples and look at them more carefully.

A first surprise: Germany, a big country, with very important postal activity, is not participating in the WNS. Why? Might this have something to to with its privatization and therefore unwillingness to invest in unfruitful projects?

Another disturbing question: Why are so many stamp-issuing countries not participating, including those that are clients of IGPC, such as Aitutaki, Dominica, Gambia, Palau, Turkmenistan, and Tuvalu, to name just a few? Next question: Should we assume that all their issues are illegal stamps because none of their stamps are listed in the WNS, which is the source of all legitimate stamps? Nonsense, of course, but how can a beginning stamp collector for whose protection the WNS was actually created (!) know this?

This table and those that follow are extracted from the WNS database:

United States of America (US)
China (People's Rep) (CN)
Year
Registrations
Year
Registrations
2002
195
2002
7
2003
85
2003
14 
2004
94
2004
91
2005
129
2005
Awaiting stamps for registration
2006
196
2006
Awaiting stamps for registration
2007
162
2007
Awaiting stamps for registration
2008
115
2008
Awaiting stamps for registration
2009
101
2009
Awaiting stamps for registration

2010

19

2010

Awaiting stamps for registration

Total 1096
Total 112

The USA is an exemplary country, which participated in the WNS from the beginning and which registered its philatelic issues in due time. It is noteworthy that such a country has no need for the WNS as protection because no illegal stamps producers are imprudent enough to put the name of the U.S. on their "stamps." This is actually the case for the majority of countries that actively participate in the WNS and that pay its expenses.

How about China, another large country? It started its participation slowly, reached 91 registrations in 2004, then suddenly stopped. Why? We do not know. This was certainly not for lack of money because in the meantime, China organized some very important and expensive events. Should we assume that everything the China PA issued after 2004 was illegal? That is absurd, but then the obvious question returns: How is the WNS useful?

Burundi (BI)
Democratic Republic of Congo (CD)
Year
Registrations
Year
Registrations
2002
6
2002
2
2003
Awaiting stamps for registration
2003
Awaiting stamps for registration
2004
32
2004
Awaiting stamps for registration
2005
No stamps issued
2005
Awaiting stamps for registration
2006
No stamps issued
2006
Awaiting stamps for registration
2007
9
2007
Awaiting stamps for registration
2008
6
2008
Awaiting stamps for registration
2009
37
2009
Awaiting stamps for registration

2010

8

2010

Awaiting stamps for registration

Total 98 
Total 2

Two different but also very relevant examples follow. Burundi (BI) started with the WNS in 2002 and registered stamps that covered six years. For 2005 and 2006, the situation is clear: no stamps were issued (and hence, any stamps claiming to come from Burundi in those years are illegal). How would one figure out from these entries, however, what the status is of stamps that were issued in 2003?

The situation is much worse for the Democratic Republic of Congo (CD). For 2002, we know for sure from the WNS list that only 2 valid stamps were issued, but what is the situation for the following 7 years where everything is listed as "Awaiting stamps for registration"? This is not an unique case whatsoever because the same types of entries appear for numerous years for Cameroon, Haiti, Togo, Mauritania, Mali, and many other countries, which are by the way exactly the ones that are "endangered" and for which unsuspecting stamp collectors worldwide need protection from illegal stamps.

Instead of focusing on the manageable number of illegal stamps in existence and listing them for easy reference, the WNS provides a chronically incomplete list of legal stamps. It is unrealistic to hope that one day, every country (and especially those with the largest problem with illegal stamps) will enter every single legal stamp into the WNS and do so in a timely manner. Furthermore, it is a waste of money and energy to have countries with no such problems (e.g., the U.S.) fill out entries in a database.

This is all not even to mention the stamps issued before the WNS appeared, and there are many past years that are only partially covered by the sole other reference guide on this subject, i.e., UPU Circulars (that are not even available any more on the UPU/WNS sites). This lack of retrospective coverage has been another serious design limitation of the WNS from the very beginning.

WNS as help in identifying illegal stamps

We used randomly as a country Kyrgyzstan and we searched for its first entry on the Marlen Stamps site, which is well-known for selling illegal stamps. This is what we found: KYRGYZSTAN KIRGHIZIA (USSR) - Kyrgrzstan 2002 "The West Wing" sheet of nine stamps (NOTE: THE ORIGIN OF THESE STAMPS MAY BE QUESTIONABLE AND MAY BE LISTED AS ILLEGALS. WE THEREFORE SUGGEST THAT YOU BUY THEM ONLY BECAUSE YOU LIKE THEM. WE OFFER THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE ON THE MARKET.)


"Kyrgyzstan" 2002 "The West Wing" (blurred)

Krygizstan
Year
Registrations
2002
Awaiting stamps for registration
2003
Awaiting stamps for registration
2004
Awaiting stamps for registration
2005
Awaiting stamps for registration
2006
Awaiting stamps for registration
2007
Awaiting stamps for registration
2008
59
2009
31

2010

Awaiting stamps for registration

Total 90

We sought to confirm whether this sheet is legitimate. Because the UPU/WNS site does not provide the Circulars at this time, we went to the Kyrgyzstan entry in the UPU Circulars on the PWO site. "The West Wing" sheet is not listed as illegal in the Circulars on our site (perhaps because Ms. Libera missed it in 2002 or because she did not have enough evidence; the reason is not particularly important).
Well, let's see what the WNS site had to say. The "
Krygizstan" entry above (the typo is theirs) reads for 2002: "Awaiting stamps for registration". A direct search on WNS for the sheet provides the following result: There were no matches. The 2002 issuing programme is not available.
Conclusion: Even if this looks like an illegal issue based on its appearance, we have no way to prove it, and therefore the defendant gets the benefit of the doubt... Once again, we see that what the WNS did is best encapsulated by the phrase "huge expense, no recompense."

WNS as help for developing countries

The UPU IB Circular #92 of April 26, 2010, mentioned above, is more than clear in this respect. The postal operator working for Rwanda expects "to eradicat[e] this phenomenon" and to "identify the perpetrators of these acts and bring them to justice". WNS, in its nine (!) years of operation, has not achieved the first goal, and it is not conceived to reach the second one (and has not).

WNS as a weapon in the reduction of illegal stamps?

Has the WNS significantly contributed to the reduction of the number of illegal issues? As discussed previously, we could not get an answer to this question from the WNS staff itself or find the answer online.
Anecdotally, we have not noticed a reduction of illegal stamps offered on the market. They are easily available online, but also in bags (pochettes), etc. in commerce. There are several factors that may reduce the production of illegal stamps, such as the economic downturn, the increase and diversification of stamp production by postal administrations, and a better awareness of illegal stamps via the UPU Circulars, printed philatelic literature, and philatelic websites. None of these factors are related to the WNS. You can see here two efficient "killers" of illegal stamps - very attractive and popular sheets from Australia and Austria:

WNS as evidence in courts

We have not heard yet about any trials involving illegal stamp producers, designers, printers, or sellers, but in this respect the WNS is irrelevant anyway because by design it does not list prohibited stamps, and it is not complete enough to serve as a reference for legitimate ones.

WNS as a numbering system

Stamp collectors grew up with Scott, Stanley Gibbons, Michel, Yvert & Tellier, and other catalogues, which offer much more information than WNS does. Yes, they are not free (nothing is, even the WNS), but online editions of their magazines are not expensive, either. For just $10 a year (!), one can get online access to several US philatelic magazines (and also to many back issues) that are listing new stamp issues faster and better than WNS.

It is a fact that in the philatelic community, nobody uses the WADP Numbering System (WNS) for its numbers. While its primary purpose was not as a numbering system, it does not even serve that minimal goal.

WNS - Its site usage

In 2009, there were 104,106 visitors on the WNS site. One must not be fooled by this apparently high figure but rather compare it with the millions of visitors on the philatelic catalogues' websites cited above.

WNS - Future plans of the WADP

One can read in the document "WADP - Philately development plan for the 20092012 cycle," which is available on the UPU site, that one of the key goals of the WADP should be:

to consider ways of creating a model database for the online sale of postage stamps for developing and least developed countries. ...
It will be emphasized that the WNS, originally formed to combat illegal issues, can also be a powerful promotional and sales tool when it links an issuing postal authority to an online shopping site.

Obviously, the makers of the WNS have to deal with the future of their brain child, which has not grown up to serve its purposes, as discussed in this article. In a business with short life cycles such as the stamp trade, there is no need for such a huge database to create a shopping portal for the least developed countries. Small, focused programs and specific databases best implement what are simple web applications today.

Conclusion

Because the WNS does not cover all legal stamp issues, has not reached a useful degree of completeness in nine years, has a low site usage, is not useful for future developments, does not help developing countries, has not reduced the number of illegal stamps in commerce, has not achieved its main goal (that of helping stamp collectors sort out illegal stamps), and has high costs that are not reflected in its results:

The failed WNS should either be reconceptualized from the ground up or eliminated


See below for the conditions to reproduce this article or parts of it.

This article is a piece of philatelic journalism, written by Victor Manta, PWO President, and member of the International Association of Philatelic Journalists (AIJP). Legal notice: The sources of information used in this article are credited either by links or explicitly, and the excerpts are purposefully kept short, in conformity with the Fair Use doctrine.



Published: 08/16/2001. Revised: 09/30/2010.
No copyright. Anyone can reproduce any part of this article, without changing it.
Just mention as the source the URL of this page: http://www.pwmo.org/Illegals/what-good-wns.htm
and the name of the author: Victor Manta, PWO, AIJP