Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles
Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles, part of the Exhibitions at the Folger, opened August 20, 2003 and closed on January 3, 2004. The exhibition was curated by Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts, Erin Blake, Curator of Art, and Rachel Doggett, Curator of Books. Major support for Folger exhibitions comes from The Winton and Carolyn Blount Exhibition Fund.
The fabrication and reproduction of documents has a long and dubious history from antiquity to the present day. The boundary between "genuine" and "false" is murky at best, often hinging on the intention of the creator or duplicator, the historical moment in which an item is being considered, or the level of restoration it has undergone.
This exhibition showcased a wide range of fakes, forgeries, and facsimiles in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library. It explores the technology and the legitimate and illegitimate uses of these items, and illustrates the rise and fall of two of the most notorious Shakespeare forgers, William Henry Ireland and John Payne Collier.
While technology for authentication has improved, so have the techniques for forgery and other forms of reproduction. Thus, the question of "originality" will continue to intrigue, frustrate, and delight us.
Can you spot the fake?
Can you detect a faked work of art, a forged document, or a recent facsimile of a sixteenth-century printed page? Even experts able to handle the items can be fooled. Below are two examples from the exhibition.
Although this picture looks like an original drawing at first glance, it is actually an ink-covered photograph of a painting. A dishonest dealer put it in an elaborate frame and sold it as a genuine life-portrait of the actor, David Garrick. Close examination reveals a photographic emulsion under the ink, and a too-perfect resemblance to a finished painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Acquired by the Folger Library in 1938 with volumes from the collection of Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, the book on the right had previously been owned by another English book collector, Henry Huth. Its binding is signed by J. Mackenzie, who was active in the 1840s. One of the leaves shown here is a facsimile, probably produced from an etched plate at the time that Mackenzie bound the volume. Can you tell which leaf is the original?
- Sir Joshua Reynolds. David Garrick. Pen and ink wash on paper, ca. 1770.
- Joannes Boemus. The fardle of facions conteining the aunciente maner, customes, and lawes, of the people enhabiting the two partes of the earth, called Affrike and Asie. London: Jhon Kingstone and Henry Sutton, 1555. STC 3197 copy 2.
The difference between an original and a copy is sometimes only a matter of perspective...
All prints, by their nature, are reproductions of an image created on another surface. However, etchings are usually thought of as original works of art, too. Artists such as Wenceslas Hollar scratched their own compositions directly into a layer of varnish on a copper plate, using a chemical bath to cut into the plate itself. Engraving, in contrast, requires gouging lines into the plate by hand. This laborious task was generally done by copyists working from an artist's drawing.
This image was printed from the same copper plate as the 1640 print, but notice the heavy cross-hatching now added to the shadows. Etched plates wear out quickly and have to be re-touched. Even though it was printed over fifty years after Hollar's death and was re-touched by someone else, this late impression is still an original Hollar print because the plate was etched by the man himself. Early impressions have a higher market value than later ones, but all are "genuine."
Compared to this photograph, this painting looks like obvious fakery. However, Gabriel Harrison made no secret of the fact that he used photographs underneath his paintings of Edwin Forrest. There is no intent to deceive. Like the mythological origin of painting in the tracing of shadows on a wall, Harrison used a "shadow" recorded on light-sensitive paper as the basis for the painting on the right. Ironically, when Harrison published his portrait of Edwin Forrest as King Lear in a fine press limited edition book, he assured subscribers that the plates were destroyed after printing, "so that there is no possibility of duplicates."
- Wenceslaus Hollar. Ornatus muliebris Anglicanus or The severall habits of English women. [London: s.n., 1640]. STC 13599.5. LUNA Digital Image.
- Wenceslaus Hollar. Ornatus muliebris Anglicanus or The severall habits of English women. [London]: Sold by H. Overton [1734?].
- Frederick Gutekunst. [Photographs of Edwin Forrest as … King Lear … others]. Philadelphia [Pa.: s.n., mid-19th century]. ART File F728 no.43 PHOTO. LUNA Digital Image.
- Gabriel Harrison. Edwin Forrest as King Lear. Oil on photographic paper pasted on board, 1872. ART Box H319 no.2. LUNA Digital Image.
"There is a sort of witchery in his process.... At the wave of his wand, Caxton seems to take on perpetual youth."
- T.F. Dibdin, Bibliographical Decameron, London, 1817
Every book begins to deteriorate once it leaves the hands of the printer and has its pages turned by eager readers. Storage, use, the passage of time, and the quality of the paper, ink, and binding materials determine the extent of the deterioration. Enter the talented conservator who can repair damage without altering the character of the volume. But how far should the process go? Is it acceptable to practice the sort of "witchery" that Dibdin refers to, supplying missing parts in facsimile to create a volume "so perfected, that the deficiencies cannot be discovered?"
This book of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is the first substantial volume printed in England. Most surviving copies are incomplete and like this one have been "perfected." The sixteen facsimile leaves in this volume were probably supplied by the nineteenth century printer and bibliographer William Blades, who carefully studied Caxton's typefaces.
The beginning and ending leaves of a book are the ones most likely to be damaged over time. The upper right corner of this title page has been repaired, and the letters n and t in the word excellent have been supplied in pen and ink facsimile. We don't know who owned the book before Mr. Folger puchased it from Bernard Quaritch in 1911, but we have Quaritch's catalogue accurately describing the repairs. They may have been made by Riviere & Son, who bound the volume.
The final page of text in this First Folio is a pen facsimile by John Harris on old paper that closely matches that in the rest of the volume. In the first half of the nineteenth century, members of the Harris familiy, notably John Harris II, became extremely skillful at producing pen and ink facsimile leaves to complete defective books. John Harris began by tracing an original leaf. He then transferred the tracing to the paper that would become the facsimile leaf. Even though Harris signed his work ("by I. H. jun.r"), it has fooled some scholars at first glance.
- Geoffrey Chaucer. Whan that Apprill with his shouris sote and the droughte of marche hath p[er]cid þe rote …. [Westminster: William Caxton, 1477]. STC 5082. LUNA Digital Image.
- William Shakespeare. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. London: by M.P. for Laurence Hayes, 1637. STC 22298 Copy 3. LUNA Digital Image.
- William Shakespeare. Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies. London: by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blound, 1623.