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Subject: Forgery detection

Forgery detection

From: Walter Henry <whenry>
Date: Saturday, August 15, 1992
The following appeared on Medtextl and is reproduced here with the
consent of the author.

  Date:         Fri, 14 Aug 1992 02:15:00 EDT
  From: "Robert Mathiesen" <SL500000 [at] BROWNVM__BITNET>
  Subject:      Re: Manuscript 'Forgery'
  To: Multiple recipients of list MEDTEXTL <MEDTEXTL [at] uiucvmd__bitnet>

  As someone who spent a great deal of time a few years ago with one of
  Mark Hofmann's better forgeries (The Oath of a Freeman), I can assure
  everyone that a really good forgery may in principle never be
  demonstrated to be such beyond all possible doubt.  In the case of
  this forgery a new technique (R. McNeil in Archaeological Chemistry
  III[1985]) for telling how much time has elapsed since ink was put on
  writing material finally demonstrated that the Oath was made in the
  late 20th century rather than the 17th; also the forger eventually
  confessed as part of a plea bargaining arrangement.  However, one
  eminent bookseller, when last I heard, was still maintaining that *no
  one* could have made so good a forgery, so full of plausible
  indications of authenticity, and that the Oath was real (he quite
  rightly was unimpressed by the plea-bargained confession).  Mc Neil's
  test, which can accurately date writing to within about 30 years if
  the ink is metallic, was still conclusive when people were working on
  the Mark Hofmann forgeries because it was so new and unknown; now,
  however, a forensic specialist has devised a way to "cook" a forgery
  to pass even McNeil's test, so it's no longer safe to assume that an
  apparent old dating by this test is real; the converse is probably
  still safe, though -- an apparent young dating is trustworthy.

  Just to show what a really inspired forger is capable of: the Oath was
  on a real piece of 17th-century paper, its ink had been made in such a
  way that it probably would have yielded a C14 date in the 17th
  century, and its text fit almost perfectly into the most reasonable
  stemma of the other extant witnesses to the Oath (which stemma no one
  had bothered to work out before the forger had a go at it), but with
  just enough minor and trivial problems that no one could argue so
  perfectly fitting a text could not be authentic(!).  The apparent
  history of the Oath seemed to have been such as to have removed some
  of the easily-observed signs of age, thus going against what one might
  naively expect a forger to have done (but thereby actually saving the
  forger some time in his workshop).

  Nor is there always a profit motive.  One local restorer of antique
  furniture here, a decade or two ago, had his nose put out of joint
  once to often by some museum curator and decided to take revenge on
  the entire profession. His specialty was early American furniture, and
  in that field the "holy grail" is something called a Great Brewster
  Chair (made at Plymouth soon after the pilgrims arrived).  Two are
  known and have excellent provenances. As is common with "holy grails"
  in all fields of interest to museums, there have long been rumors of a
  third Great Brewster Chair.  Our restorer of furniture made a replica
  Chair, using 17th-century wood and old tools, invented a plausible 350
  years of history for it, put it through those 350 years by about 3
  years of intense work in his workshop, and was ready to roll.  (He
  deliberately, however, used a modern bit to drill the holes in which
  the rungs of the chair were inserted; and he carefully saved all the
  pieces which had apparently gone lost due to hard usage over 350
  years.) He then took this masterpiece out to one of the islands off
  the Massachusetts coast, where a friend owned an early 18th century
  house; and they set it out on the front porch, all battered and dirty.
  The first roving antique scout who happened to drive by screeched to a
  halt, spent the better part of the afternoon dealing for lesser
  antiques at prices way above the normal market value, and then, as the
  sun was setting and he was getting ready to depart, asked casually,
  "By the way, what about that old chair on your porch?"  The answer
  was, "Oh that? That's a piece of junk.  I had been thinking about
  burning it.  You may have it for free." [Observe, O reader, that no
  fraud has been committed in the legal sense of the term.]  Over the
  next several years the chair passed from dealer to dealer, from
  auction to auction, ever increasing in price, until it finally came to
  rest in one of the premier museums for early American furniture.  Then
  our local craftsman called a press conference, produced the missing
  pieces, stated that were one to pull out the rungs, one would find
  that the sockets in which they fitted had been made with a tool that
  had been invented only in the 20th century, and watched the fur
  fly.... He had, I am told, the satisfaction -- pretty thin, by my
  lights, but pleasing to him -- of utterly destroying at least one
  curator's career without committing any crime that could be proven in
  any court of law; which was what he had set out to do (he didn't much
  care who got hurt, so long as somebody did).  The chair, after a
  period of seclusion, is now once again on display at the museum, as
  the centerpiece in an exhibit on *forgeries* of early American
  furniture (a large and usually profitable industry, albeit criminal)!
  I do not know what the former curator is doing now, but the furniture
  restorer continues to practice his craft and prosper.

  Robert Mathiesen
  Brown University

  Date:         Fri, 14 Aug 1992 14:32:50 EDT
  From: "Robert Mathiesen" <SL500000 [at] BROWNVM__BITNET@>
  Subject:      Re: Manuscript 'Forgery'
  To: Multiple recipients of list MEDTEXTL <MEDTEXTL [at] uiucvmd__bitnet>

  I append a better bibliography for the McNeil test than I was able to
  give from memory in my last posting on this subject:

  Roderick J. McNeil.  "Scanning Auger Microscopy for Dating of
  Manuscript Inks." _Archaeological Chemistry_ III [= Advances in
  Chemistry Series, #205]: 255-69. Washington, DC: American Chemical
  Society, 1984.

  Idem.  "Scanning Auger Microscopy for Manuscript Ink Dating."
  _Literary Research_ 13(1988):137-48.

  George J. Throckmorton.  "A Forensic Analysis of Twenty-One Hofmann
  Documents," published as an appendix in Linda Sillitoe & Allen
  Roberts, _Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders_, Salt
  Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1988 (2nd ed. 1989), pp. 531-52 (2nd
  ed. pp. 547-65).

  Roderick J. McNeil.  "Scanning Auger Microscopy for Dating Two Copies
  of the 'Oath of a Freeman'."  _The Judgment of Experts: Essays and
  Documents about the Investigation of the Forging of the *Oath of a
  Freeman*_, ed. James Gilreath, Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian
  Society, 1991, pp. 115-129.

  Robert Mathiesen
  Brown University

                  Conservation DistList Instance 6:14
                 Distributed: Saturday, August 15, 1992
                        Message Id: cdl-6-14-013
Received on Saturday, 15 August, 1992

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