The philatelist, Abed Najjar, was so convinced as to the authenticity of the stamps involved that over the years since that first rejection he had obtained opinions from forensic scientists of different disciplines, worldwide, with each and every one confirming that, from their own specialist points of view, it was impossible to detect any evidence at all of ‘fakery’.
The scientific processes involved, for example, examination by ultraviolet light, infrared, Luminescence, electron microscopy, Energy Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence and micro Raman spectroscopy, and so on.
In all, 16 specialist reports were carried out by 10 different specialists, all consistent: not a jot of evidence showing any tampering, chemical intervention or ‘fakery’ of any kind.
Meanwhile, of course, huge damage had been done to the value of the stamps by the damning publication by the RPSL that they were ‘faked’ – two authentic singles being sold recently for around £500,000 each.
Unsurprisingly, proceedings were drafted, claiming among other things that the RPSL ‘voluntarily assumed a duty to the claimant to act with reasonable care and skill in examining… the Victor Hugo Cover… and in expressing… any expert opinion in relation to it’.
The claim was for loss of opportunity to market the Victor Hugo Cover, and, of course, for ‘damages’.
Eventually and happily, settlement was achieved and the RPSL published a retraction in early February this year, the essential words being: ‘In order to settle disagreement with the owner, Mr Abed Najjar, of the above stamps… the words “we have no hesitation in confirming our 2006 opinion that all three stamps have “77” faked from stamps from Plate 73” are retracted from the article contained in the July/August 2015 edition of The London Philatelist…”’
The fascinating issue for art dealers, unresolved, is whether, in English law, an authoritative adjudicating body, by being pre-eminent in its field – such as for example authors of catalogues raisonnés – can, merely by their pre-eminence, reputation and importance in their field – bring upon themselves a legal duty of care making them liable to a claim for damages, as claimed by Mr Abed Najjar, before settlement.
We may have to wait for a dispute to go to trial before finding out. Those who have complaints against authors of catalogues raisonnés will have to bite their lip, meanwhile.
Milton Silverman is senior commercial dispute resolution partner at Streathers Solicitors LLP, London.