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Forgery: Modus operandi (British History)
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Hatty
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In: Berkshire
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We’ve started this new topic because it is becoming overwhelmingly clear that forgers (and faking and deliberate misattribution) reveal patterns of behaviour which are fairly easy to spot though it can take time to sort out. The obvious question is How did they get away with it?

This is quite a popular subject, and we’re not going to rehash well-documented cases, but no-one seems to take an interest in the overall modus operandi of forgeries. Certainly not academics, except again for well documented cases, who treat forgery as of marginal concern, or at best a niche area for study. Identifying suspect sources on a wider scale has ramifications that might affect whole academic subjects, even nation states. So it is little wonder that, on the whole, they’d rather not know.
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Mick Harper
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It’s often assumed that forgery is a criminal enterprise and not a particularly important criminal enterprise at that. Sort of on a par with safe-cracking or insider trading. But not always. If, for example, enough antiquities are being faked, whole periods of history can get warped.

When the state get involved with forgery, this can be viewed as a good thing (say, planting bogus documents on a corpse knowing it will be discovered by the enemy) or as a bad thing (say, airbrushing people out of historical photographs) depending on your point of view, but again not that important in the wider scheme of things. Except sometimes.

We only deal with the sometimes here at the AEL but what may come as a surprise is that no matter who is doing it, no matter what the purpose is, no matter how high up the chain of command the nefariousness goes, the principles remain the same. Which means, if this thread lives up to its name, we’ll be on to them.
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Ishmael


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Hatty wrote:
...it is becoming overwhelmingly clear that forgers (and faking and deliberate misattribution) reveal patterns of behaviour which are fairly easy to spot though it can take time to sort out. The obvious question is How did they get away with it?

This is quite a popular subject, and we’re not going to rehash well-documented cases, but no-one seems to take an interest in the overall modus operandi of forgeries. Certainly not academics, except again for well documented cases, who treat forgery as of marginal concern, or at best a niche area for study. Identifying suspect sources on a wider scale has ramifications that might affect whole academic subjects, even nation states. So it is little wonder that, on the whole, they’d rather not know.


Wow! Great opening paragraph for your next book!
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Ishmael


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Mick Harper wrote:
It’s often assumed that forgery is a criminal enterprise and not a particularly important criminal enterprise at that. Sort of on a par with safe-cracking or insider trading. But not always. If, for example, enough antiquities are being faked, whole periods of history can get warped.

When the state get involved with forgery, this can be viewed as a good thing (say, planting bogus documents on a corpse knowing it will be discovered by the enemy) or as a bad thing (say, airbrushing people out of historical photographs) depending on your point of view, but again not that important in the wider scheme of things. Except sometimes.

We only deal with the sometimes here at the AEL but what may come as a surprise is that no matter who is doing it, no matter what the purpose is, no matter how high up the chain of command the nefariousness goes, the principles remain the same. Which means, if this BOOK lives up to its name, we’ll be on to them.


Wow! It just keeps on going!! This is a perfect opening! I'm already excited and cant wait to read more!!!
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Mick Harper
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What about me? I'm fed up being Hatty's poodle. Especially when she's being a fin-de-siècle French prostitute. (No casual callers please.)
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Ishmael


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I quickly followed up!
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Hatty
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We could start with Sir Augustus Franks as we already know he was involved in forgery, having discussed the Franks Casket (Inventing History thread]. The give-away is uniqueness, using whale bone instead of ivory for starters (it even tells us 'whale made me'), so why give yourself away?

Actually if the casket was the only artefact associated with Franks it would've been recognised as something he'd made for fun but it was one of the many thousands of objects bought, sold and donated by him to prestigious people and institutions. Ironically or, rather, as a tradecraft requirement, Franks did provide a provenance, of sorts, for the Franks Casket. A century and a half ago no-one really checked provenance and stating that something had been kept in, say, a French church for endless centuries was a standard formula. It still is, apparently. But where there's one fake, others are bound to follow, and forgeries have a tendency to create their own demand so another give-away is quantity.
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Mick Harper
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Point of clarification, your honour. Franks only gave as its provenance 'an antique shop in Paris'. It was only after it had been accepted and displayed for some time in the BM that anyone thought to investigate it further. Until that point, a 'connoisseur's appraisal' was thought sufficient. This is still the situation today though it is is usually the case that people require an appraisal from a connoisseur other than the bloke who's just brought it in.
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Mick Harper
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By the way, the term 'connoisseur' needs to be clarified. Nowadays this has a mildly risible ring to it and is normally only applied, and even then not self-applied, to wine buffs. Originally there were only connoisseurs i.e. gentlemen amateurs who collected discrete categories of objects on the basis of their quality and/or took an interest in other people's collections.

But they relied on non-gentlemen both to seek out the objects and to assure them they were 'of quality'. These people were never considered, by themselves or by others, to be connoisseurs. They were 'experts' though again this word was not applied to them. The term instead became attached to 'professionals' i.e. academics, curators, librarians, archivists etc who specialised in discrete categories of objects. It proved an explosive cocktail.
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Hatty
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Yes, the casket's trajectory was from street traders' off the back of a lorry to academics' dusty church syndrome. Talking of academics, the first essential in forgery is to establish credentials.

One or two oddities in Augustus Franks' biography are apparent on closer inspection. His father was a naval captain, his mother came from a respectable family of landowners and politicians, but he claimed his godfather was William Hyde Wollaston, an eminent scientist and polymath who was showered with honours for discovering the chemical elements palladium and rhodium and developing a way to process platinum ore into malleable ingots, as valuable as gold, which made his fortune.

Augustus, whose middle name was Wollaston presumably after his godfather (or possibly biological father), announced he wished to be called 'Wollaston'. It's reasonable to want to be associated with such a famous godfather except there's no evidence that Wollaston was anything of the sort. He died when Augustus was a baby and his papers never got sorted or even went missing and his biography only got published in 2015. The disappearance of the legacy of an important scientist is fairly bizarre and academics never managed to find a convincing explanation

perhaps more importantly for his modern legacy, privately held papers of his were inaccessible, and that his notebooks went missing shortly after his death and remained so for over a century

Augustus Franks wasn't a scientist but may well have had a personal interest in Wollaston affairs.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Mick Harper wrote:
Point of clarification, your honour. Franks only gave as its provenance 'an antique shop in Paris'. It was only after it had been accepted and displayed for some time in the BM that anyone thought to investigate it further. Until that point, a 'connoisseur's appraisal' was thought sufficient. This is still the situation today though it is is usually the case that people require an appraisal from a connoisseur other than the bloke who's just brought it in.


The verification process is in part dependent on the expert brought in. Clearly they must be trusted, have qualifications and a track record of exposing forgeries?

Such was the thinking when the Times sought to authenticate Hitler's diaries and sent out Hugh Trevor Roper.

Trevor-Roper was a trusted director of the Times, a former MI6 officer, an expert on Hitler, and had previously exposed famous sinologist Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse as a forger



Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse, 2nd Baronet (20 October 1873 – 8 January 1944) was a British oriental scholar, Sinologist, and linguist whose books exerted a powerful influence on the Western view of the last decades of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Since his death, however, it has been established that the major source of his China Under the Empress Dowager is a forgery, most likely by Backhouse himself. [1] His biographer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, unmasked Backhouse as "a confidence man with few equals," who had also duped the British government, Oxford University, the American Bank Note Company and John Brown & Company. Derek Sandhaus, the editor of Backhouse's memoirs Décadence Mandchoue, argues that they are also an undoubted confabulation but contain plausible recollections of scenes and details.


Did Trevor get his appraisal of the diaries right?
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Mick Harper
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A reminder of technique, and an interesting coda

He spends his days learning to make endpapers, tool leather, gilding – the delicate physical labour of making beautiful books. But he soon realises that the true work of binding is magical, manifested in the way that lives are turned into stories.

Guardian review of The Binding by Bridget Collins.
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Mick Harper
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The verification process is in part dependent on the expert brought in.

It is often the case that both parties have an interest in establishing the authenticity of the object. Not only should the expert be independent of both parties but he must not have been selected by 'shopping' i.e. going through the experts until you arrive at one who thinks it's genuine. But always remember 99% of stuff is just not worth 'sending out'.

Clearly they must be trusted to have qualifications and a track record of exposing forgeries

Well, if you could find such a person...

Such was the thinking when the Times sought to authenticate Hitler's diaries and sent out Hugh Trevor Roper. Trevor-Roper was a trusted director of the Times, a former MI6 officer, an expert on Hitler, and had previously exposed famous sinologist Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse as a forger

But it was a palaeographer that was required. And maybe someone more 'street'. Still, an example of how dim academics (even the great ones) often are. I must re-read the Backhouse book knowing what I know now.
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Wile E. Coyote


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It was David Irving who, in part, blew the whistle. Davids career has gone downwards, whereas Trevor who got it wrong was subsequently elected as master of Peterhouse.
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Mick Harper
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Well, I suppose a spell in chokey qualifies as a downward trajectory. But I wasn't aware of Irving's part. In Backhouse or in Hitler? Presumably the latter but do elaborate.

PS Trevor-Roper had a spell in chokey too. Wormwood Scrubs was his MI6 hang-out in the war.
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