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.

Exhibition material

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?

items included

  • 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.

Original copies

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."

items included

  • 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.

Facsimile "witchery"

"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.

items included

  • 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.

Famous owners?

"A volume of the very slightest consequence may be transformed into an object of precious regard just by a bit of writing on one of its leaves."

William Harris Arnold, Ventures in Book Collecting, New York, 1923

Any volume may become a treasured object if it contains the autograph of a famous person. Imagine the appeal of an early edition of Shakespeare signed by another seventeenth-century poet, the thrill of reading President John Adams's own copy of Shakespeare, discovering a Shakespeare play signed by William Penn, or, most thrilling of all, owning a Bible signed by the Bard himself. Profit certainly motivates many forgers, but so too does the desire to fool unsuspecting collectors. Henry Clay Folger was fooled on some occasions and on others knowingly took a chance on inscriptions or annotations that might, or might not, be what they seemed.

Signatures present us with some intriguing puzzles. The signatures on this fragment of a Shakespeare Second Folio are probably forgeries. "W Davenant" was a poet and playwright who was a contemporary of John Dryden, and with whom Dryden adapted Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1667. In 1651, D'Avenant was a prisoner in The Tower awaiting possible execution for treason against the Commonwealth. It is unclear why he would have signed his name on the last leaf of Henry VI, Part 1, or why Dryden would have signed the leaf twelve years later. Was Augustine D'Avenant Sir William's son? If so, he was about ten years old in 1675. Why would someone forge his name?

In 1926, a book dealer in New York sent Mr. Folger an eight-volume set of Shakespeare, writing, "Although you may have this set now I thought my set would appeal to you on account of its association interest. It was in the Library of President John Adams, each volume bearing his bookplate." In fact, the bookplates were altered. The perpetrator missed volume 3, where the apostrophe in "Adam's" remains. Someone named John Adam once owned these books, not President John Adams.

items included

False imprints

Profit and self-protection are the two most common reasons a printer, publisher, or author might provide false information about when, where, or by whom a book was printed. One sixteenth-century printer created "Italian" books in his London shop in order to profit from their popularity. During the reign of Protestant Queen Elizabeth, Catholic tracts printed in England often appeared with false Continental imprints. And at the end of the nineteenth century, an enterprising scholar created previously unknown editions of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Swinburne, Tennyson and others and then enjoyed renown for "discovering" them.

items included

  • Giambattista della Porta. De furtiuis literarum notis vulgo. [London:] Cum priuilegio Neapoli, apud Ioa. Mariam Scotum [i.e. John Wolfe], 1563. STC 20118a. LUNA Digital Image.

"The Headless Horseman"

Pierre Lombart's late 17th-century print of a man on horseback, based on a painting by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, has become known as "The Headless Horseman" thanks to the changing identity of the sitter.

The Folger owns two states of the print. The older one shows Charles I looking very much as he does in Van Dyck's original painting. Burnishing the plate to erase the head, collar, and medal allowed Lombart to re-engrave those areas, transforming it into a portrait of Cromwell.

The slight disturbance around Charles I's head reveals that the plate had already been burnished and re-engraved at least once before the Charles I version was made. In fact, seven different states of this engraving are known, including two with the head of Louis XIV of France, and one with no head at all.

items included

William Henry Ireland

At the age of seventeen, William Henry Ireland claimed to have discovered a cache of Shakespearean manuscripts in the house of a country gentleman. One by one, he presented them to his Shakespeare-worshipping father, Samuel Ireland, who promptly published an expensive facsimile edition of the "Shakespeare Papers" and allowed visitors to view them in his house.

Responding to the public's desire for more Shakespeare manuscripts, William Henry Ireland became increasingly fanciful in his inventions. He presented his father with a love letter from Shakespeare to his future wife "Anna Hatherreway" in February 1795. Attached was a silk-entwined lock of Shakespeare's hair and five stanzas of verse. The lock of hair, according to Ireland's Confessions, had been given to Ireland as a gage d'amour in his "boyish days."

Encouraged by the success of his first series of forgeries, William Henry Ireland forged a play by Shakespeare called Vortigern. His father arranged to have it performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. As opening night approached, suspicion about the authenticity of the "Shakespeare Papers" continued to grow and certain cast members, including John Philip Kemble, treated the play as a farce. The jeers of the riotous opening night audience ensured that the play's first performance was its last.

Edmund Malone, a lawyer turned Shakespeare scholar, delayed the publication of his book, An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, so that it coincided with the opening of Vortigern. Five hundred copies of his exhaustive critique of the "Shakespeare Papers" sold in the first two days. Malone, who never saw Ireland's forgeries in person, dedicated this copy to the lead actor of Vortigern, John Philip Kemble. The uproarious reaction to Kemble's "sepulchral" intonation of his line, "And when this solemn mockery is o'er" was the final blow to the play's legitimacy.

The Confessions of William-Henry Ireland Containing the Particulars of his Fabrication of the Shakespeare Manuscripts is an expanded version of William Henry Ireland's pamphlet, An Authentic Account. In this copy, interleaved with engravings and forgery specimens, he has written "So help me God" underneath the oath "THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH." Despite his claims to truthfulness, William Henry confuses and omits many events in Confessions, and provides a romanticized account of others.

A hand-colored caricature depicts the Ireland family hard at work on the forgeries in their living room at Norfolk Street (William Henry, Anna Maria, Samuel, Mrs. Freeman, and Jane). Among the manuscript bundles strewn across the room is one labeled "Leaves from old Books to Write Plays Upon with Various Water Marks." On another copy of the print at the Folger, William Henry notes that "This Caricature is of the greatest rarity as very few were disposed of prior to the plate being bought up & destroyed."

items included

  • William Henry Ireland. Forgeries of documents pretended to be in Shakespeare’s hand including letter from Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway. Manuscript, ca. 1800. S.b.157.
  • Edmund Malone. An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments. London: H. Baldwin, for T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, 1796. PR2950.M32 Cage. LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Henry Ireland. The Confessions of William-Henry Ireland Containing the Particulars of his Fabrication of the Shakespeare Manuscripts. London: Printed by Ellerton and Byworth, 1805. W.a.209-210. LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Nixon. The Oaken Chest or the Gold Mines of Ireland, a Farce. London, [1797]. ART File S527.6 no.2. LUNA Digital Image.

John Payne Collier

Shakespeare's Mulberry Tree