- Nicolas Barker on the forgery of printed documents
Its 40 years since I was last in this library and I might not be here now were it not for Wallace. And I'm sure I'm only the latest of many, many people who have stood at this lectern on this occasion and said thank you to Wallace for bringing them to Australia.
We've all of us gone out back home, whence we came with the warmest memories. And I shall be among their number of the, well, the welcome that they got here. And you don't need telling how important Wallace has been to not merely in the founding of this lecture but to the continued existence and prosperity of practically every library in this country.
What you don't know, of course, is how many of us guests have gone back and said what a wonderful place this is, have said thank you for all the hospitality that they got here. So that Wallace is a kind of travelling two-way ambassador of enormous cultural importance and this is just one facet of all that he has done.
The other person I wish to remember is the designer of this backdrop. He is quite clearly a typographic designer, you can tell, or she, that they are a typographic designer. You can tell typographic designers because they always end their lives early by crossing the road and reading left to right and upside-down, the words ‘look left’.
They probably look left and are slaughtered by something coming from their right, because they were supposed to be coming in the other direction. In which case, it would all would have been well. So if you are bothered by the fact that you can't read the background, don't worry, it is the wrong way around and back to front.
Now there are many reasons for the forgery of documents of other sorts. Forging printed documents other than say bank notes or stamps, where there is a straight financial incentive, more often pose the question why? Than how? Indeed, perhaps the more frequent question is whether copying, to use a more neutral word, is the very beginning of the business of printing.
The compositor, the man who sets the type, copies his copy; the words he has been asked to set. These may be manuscripts written by hand or just as likely other printed pages, something that has already been printed. If so, there are good practical reasons for following copy. Not just for accuracy, but because it makes justification easier.
I should explain that justification is the process by which the compositor adjusts the spaces between words so that they fill the measure, the length of the line. If it has been done before, it is far easier to follow the predetermined spacing. And if carefully done, this process should result in a page barely distinguishable from the original.
Nine times out of ten, the likeness will be innocent even commendable. In the tenth case, piracy will have taken place. The object will be to defraud the original publisher who bore the cost of first putting the text into print of his proper revenue.
When did piracy begin? Well, there are well known instances from the 16th century, but the issue is complicated by legitimate shared printing where two publishers would pay for different quantities of the same edition only distinguished by different names on the title page. And in England, the Privy Council required that only 1500 copies should be printed from one setting of type and if more were acquired the type must be reset.
The object of this was a form of censorship, and avoiding the demands of censorship was another reason for copying or appearing to copy something that had been set already. Both resulted in legitimate doppelgänger, doubles, barely distinguishable from each other. If commercial or other nefarious interests prompted yet another printing of the same text, who was to tell the difference?
Though, alas, no end of reasons why apparently identical impressions of printer's type should be subtly different from each other. None, however, can properly be called forgery. Deliberate facsimile, begun with the most innocent motives, can turn into forgery if it falls into the wrong hands. And what follows was prompted by seeing the wonderful exhibition of Piranesi here.
The Beach Antinario printing of the 1527 Junta Edition of Boccaccio’s's Decameron is a case in point. A wandering Italian, Pietro Paolo Rolli, 1687 to 1765, was one of the Italians who reversing the grand tour, came to England to sample a little prosperity at its source. Not surprisingly, he drifted into the service of the Earl of Burlington, writing libretti for Handel and other fashionable Italian musicians. And in 1725, anticipating the centenary by two years, he published an edition of the 1527 Boccaccio with Thomas Edlin.
Now the 1527 is particularly important, because soon after the text of Boccaccio was brutally expurgated and lots of bits which were considered off-colour were removed. So from 1527 onwards the 1527 text had a kind of special importance.
The edition printed in 1725 was in no sense a facsimile, apart from the title page which had a very good woodcut imitation of the junta device, and still less forgery but a straight forward reprint of the 1527 text, line-for-line but in Roman type not in the Juntine italic.
Its 88 subscribers headed by Prince Eugene of Savoy, included the Delicatee, the Count de Collalto and other notable and literary figures, like Hildebrand Jacob. Its success prompted a second printing of the 1527 Boccaccio two years after the centenary in 1729, sponsored by the newly-appointed British consul in Venice, Joseph Smith, who had also subscribed to Rowley's edition four years earlier.
This was no simple reprint, but a very careful facsimile, set page for page and dated 1527 on the title page, as in 1725, but the text, the text, this time in an italic type of the same size.
Was deceit then intended? Probably not. The experienced eye then and now, can, and did, distinguish the Dutch Van Dyck italic from the original Italian Juntine. How soon dishonest or simply ignorant book sellers passed it off as the original is impossible to say, but De Beer's Bibliographie en Structief printed in 1763-8, devotes 12 pages to the typographical minute that distinguished the original text from its facsimile. This care on the objurgations that go with it in De Beer's text, suggest that passing off was already a regular danger for dishonest booksellers and serious booksellers. Book collectors, rather.
A reprint of Thomas Coriate's Greeting from the Court of the Great Mogul, 1616, which was made about 1760. Following the original closely, even to the striking out, striking cut of the author on elephant back, compositorial errors to say nothing of typographical, make it unlikely that it was ever mistaken for the original. Certainly, there's no record of it being mistaken then or since.
The reprint, the reprint of Peacham's lament for Prince Henry, The Period of Mourning 1613, made in 1789, can hardly be called a facsimile, merely a response in very approximate residual terms to the original.
But, but the taste for such early reminders of early English literature already went along with the taste for the original editions themselves, which led to an equal taste for the old black-letter printing. The prices of these books, negligible hitherto, began steadily to mount. To merit an augmented price, such books had to be perfect. That is, complete.
Perfection was not always easily achieved. Such books were sent to the very first binder with leaves missing. Subsequent wear and tear accounted for other gaps or damage. A second binding would bring about more, and so on. If spare sheets were no longer available from the printer, the obvious way to make up deficiency was to cannibalise two copies to make up one perfect.
Leaves early missing and in demand, like the castrations, as they were called, of the suppressed 1577 First Edition of Holinshed’s Chronicle, could be supplemented, and they were, much later by resetting and reprinting the missing leaves. The motive for printing these and inserting them in the otherwise defective original edition, as mutilated by government order, was now scholarly. No deceit whatever was intended.
And at this point, I have to interject a confession. In 1975, not yet a member of the staff of the newly-created British Library, I was engaged by the Publications Department of the British Museum.
Still responsible for those of its parvenu colleague, to produce the catalogue of the forthcoming exhibition devoted to the life and work of William Caxton and the quincentenary of the introduction of printing to England. Rather confusingly, it was only 99 years since the quarter-centenary had been celebrated in 1877. This was because in that interval, an indulgence set and printed in Caxton's second type, with the date ‘1476’ written in by hand in the blank space left for it, had been found in 1928. This fact had now rather taken the museum by surprise and the catalogue compiled by members of the Department of Printed Books and Manuscripts was behind. And it was from my presumed ability to gather text and illustrations together and to get the whole printed in time for the opening of the exhibition that I was asked to help. What little I knew about Caxton and his printing was to be picked up as I worked, assembling proofs of the texts, with the many, many photographs that I had been handed.
One of the key illustrations in this lump of paper was Caxton's famous device, his trademark, which we see on the screen. Which became the Exhibition’s now, as well as Caxton's, device. It had now found a new significance since George Painter, the museum curator of Incurables, who had been busy writing A Life of Caxton for the occasion, had discovered that successive impressions of the block of the device, first used in 1487 when it was already damaged and became more so in use, showed the order in which the undated books of Caxton's last five years had been printed.
And if you look here, you can see that there's a sort of bad patch where the bottom line has got broken. This device I had gone with pondering when I went out to lunch, and returning to my table with the work spread out on it, I saw it from the opposite side with all the material upside down, including the famous device of which I have been provided with the Museum’s standard illustration, sold for many years on the museum bookstore as a picture postcard.
I had been unable to fit the damaged impression it showed to Painter's carefully described pattern of progressive damage. I now saw why. What I had taken to be a blurred impression of part of the line at its foot, now inverted, read in minute script facsim Jay Harris Junior. F.F. actually F.S. by Jay Harris Junior. John Harris, 1791-1873, did not invent the art of supplying missing leaves in old books, but his imitative skill carried it to a positively dangerous degree of accuracy.
The simplest, earliest used, and still most frequent method was still to take two or more copies of the same book, abstract from the rest what was missing, insert them in one, and dispose of the rest. How far back this practice goes, I cannot say. Books were often incorrectly gathered, and a binder with a new book with often indent on the printer or wholesaler for imperfections. He'd do the same with a second-hand book with less expectation of retrieving what was missing. In either case, if the missing leaves were not to be found, the text would be supplied in manuscript following the printed text or in some cases, interesting cases, an independent source.
Later purist obsession with printed pages has frequently caused such leaves to be discarded despite their potential textual-interest. The great Lord Spencer, the collector, the second Earl Spencer's correspondence with those who provided him with books, in particular Count Ravitsky, regularly refers to the need to make up copies. Marginal notes, or even illumination, was considered a disfigurement.
The making of spotless facsimile leaves with varying degrees of competence was well known by 1800. And at the fifth and sixth parts of the Heba sale in February-March 1835, Lord Lindsay buying 1512 Historia del Fid with a title page in facsimile, along with other books, noted that ‘they cost me but a third of what Heba paid for them’. This reduction was not due to a sense of imperfection but simply to the general decline of prices in the 1830s.
Harris' work however, though designed to supplement an old need, set new standards that reveal a new demand for exact facsimile. That is, a copy of what was missing by a reproduction of it that could not be distinguished from the original, if at all. Exactly when he discovered this ability is not clear. He exhibited at the Royal Academy as a painter as early as 1810. His father, also John Harris, was a professional artist. And his grandfather, Moses Harris, was famous as the author and artist of the Aurelian or Natural History of English Insects, a famous colour plate book published between 1758 and 66.
The younger John, his grandson, is credited with his father for the illumination of John Whittaker's famous gold-printed edition of Magna Carta in 1816. Whittaker was a bookbinder by trade who applied the binder's gilding technique to printing, using a contemporary black letter, or gothic type, to produce his masterpiece. It was a short step from this to facsimile work.
According to Dibdin, the chronicler of these days, this involved tracing the outline of the page to be copied on thin paper and using a point and carbon paper to convey this to paper matching that of the book. And then, and this is quoting straight from Dibdin, ‘the types are next stamped on singly, being charged with old printing ink, prepared in colour exactly to match each distinct book. For which Whitaker has caused to be engraved or cut at a great expense four fonts of Caxton's letter in the manner of book binder's tools for lettering’.
It is likely that the first commissions for his work came from Lord Spencer. Dibdin cites his copies as the Recuyell of the Histories of Troy, and of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. But the best known example of Spencer's, is Spencer's copy of Le Morte d'Arthur, bought for 320 pounds at the Lloyd's sale in January, 1816. For this, 12 facsimile leaves were made, for which he was charged a substantial price of 50 pounds. 320 pounds for the Le Morte d'Arthur, 1485, lacking 12 leaves and the 12 leaves cost 50 pounds.
In 1817, in the Bibliographie Decameron, Dibdin attributed this work to the incomparable skill of Mr Whitaker. But in 1836, in his reminiscences he attributed it to the unrivalled skill of Mr Harris.
In fact, he was probably right in both cases and the credit has to be divided. The task of copying the letters of Caxton's type four star, second typecasting, in which Le Morte d'Arthur was set, may have been given to Harris, who, as his later achievements attest, was capable of very great accuracy in representing type with pen or brush. But it's also clear from the irregularity of the letters in Le Morte d'Arthur they were indeed hand stamped. If you look at the bottom rather than the top of the screen you'll see that the letters are all up and down, which does suggest that they were applied by hand.
Harris later explained that Whitaker had two sets of tools cut of the large and small letters generally used. I suppose two times two because it was not the case of the lower case making four in all. Generally used by Caxton with which he has often been at the trouble to go over the pages after my work was done, to give the appearance of the indentation of type. That's to say the letters were applied by hand and then pressed with a tool to give the impression of printer's type.
Now, at some point between 1816 and 1820, Harris parted from Whitaker and found regular work from clients. Besides Lord Spencer, he did work for Thomas Grenville, Lord Lester and John Dangardner. For 30 years, he was employed by Antonio Panizzi, the great director of the British Museum, and by booksellers Joseph Lilly, Bernard Quaritch, and Henry Stevens of Vermont.
Harris was still at work in 1854, when William Pickering, the book seller and publisher died in the midst of making up three perfect copies of the 1535 Coverdale Bible. Lily then wrote to Lord Lindsay, the leaves deficient have been facsimiled by Harris in a most capital manner. But these three are the last, for poor Harris has lost the sight of the eye that remained to him and he's now quite blind. Lord Lindsey sent him ten pounds, which left him, as Lily wrote gratefully, ‘Well nigh overpowered at such unlooked for good fortune’.
By now, laborious hand-stamping had ceased. When Lord Spencer's Hebrew Pentateuch on vellum had two missing leaves supplied, it was done chiefly with a camel hair pencil. That means a little, fine brush. Upon vellum of corresponding colour and quality in a manner so as almost to deceive the most experienced eye.
Supplying leaves was not the only task to which his skill was applied. He was also responsible as an artist for the facsimile illustrations in Dibdin's Bibliotheca Spenceriana, his account of Lord Spencer's library in 1814-15, and for those in the Bibliotheca Sussexiana of 1827. And there the Duke of Sussex's librarian, Thomas Pettigrew, recorded that Harris's correct lithographic delineations and facsimiles of early typography, while the Duke himself, the Duke of Sussex that is, wrote a letter of recommendation of Harris to the Prince consort.
There are many testimonies to the accuracy of Harris's work. Unlike that in Le Morte d'Arthur, where modern scholarship has detected over 70 deviations from the authentic setting, and Harris' friend Robert Cowten recorded, ‘He has himself been puzzled to distinguish his own work from the original’.
Careful choice of paper and pen, brush and ink were his usual tools, and as most of the books on which he worked were washed and rebound, the absence of any signs of impression that didn't switch, they used tools to reproduce earlier, were not obvious. And Harris was not actually unique. G.I.F Tupper, who made the reproductions of Caxton's several different types for William Blades’ Life and Typography of Caxton in 1861-3. Well they were reproduced by lithography. Tupper was his equal in craftsmanship and understanding of the printed letter forms that he copied. Unlike Harris, Tupper's skill was generally restricted to reproductive drawing for lithography.
But there was another way of reproducing old typography, the oldest method of all, what were Caxton's types but carefully engraved copies of contemporary handwriting.
Whittaker's binding stamps showed it was perfectly possible to re-engrave what had already been engraved before. There were professional punch-cutters, who could copy letters with great precision, and the punches that they cut could be struck into matrices from which type could be cast, as in the 15th century, so also in the 19th.
No doubt due to his long connection with William Pickering, it was Charles Whittingham of the Chiswick Press who commissioned a copy of Caxton's small type four, from the type founder William Howard, in 1847. The same two, Pickering and Whittingham, had earlier revived the old face Roman type, and now intended to complete perfect copies of some of Caxton's books.
As Pickering had done with the Coverdale Bibles, but using in this case newly-printed pages. It was, as the typographic historian Reynold Irving has said, ‘A remarkably faithful rendering, equipped with all the many original ligatures and reproducing all Caxton's shortcomings while adding a few of his own’.
The effects of poor cutting and casting and of ink spread, the splotchy bit around the edges of the type when it's pressed into paper, were cleaned up with great, good judgment. The punch cutter was said to be French, on no good authority. It is much more likely that Howard himself, or a punch cutter employed by him, cut the punches as was certainly the case for Whittingham's earlier revival of the old-style Roman type.
The first Caxton to be thus completed was a copy of the 1482 Polychronicon, now in the British Library. Additional letter forms were added to the font in the 1850s when Henry Stevens of Vermont regularly ordered leaves from the press. Joseph Lily, too, was a frequent customer cataloguing another copy of the Polychronicon in 1860, as ‘this copy is in remarkably fine state of preservation but several leaves have been reprinted on old paper with types cut in exact imitation of the original ones used by Caxton’.
The type appeared in the great 1867 Chiswick Press type specimen and was still advertised in the press's last specimen in 1954 alongside a line block re-production of a page from Caxton's Chronicles of 1480, that is to say a photographic reproduction, with an opening initial printed in red in both cases for extra verisimilitude.
You can see that they are a pretty good imitation, and it's a photo reproduction on the right and a typographic imitation on the left.
This new venture may have prompted another. Throughout the 1850s, William Blades was at work on his great book on Caxton, in which Tupper's facsimiles were an integral part. Early on, Blades seems to have believed, no doubt due to a large number of letter forms and the irregular appearance, that Caxton's print pages were printed from single plates, and to have discussed this with a type founder, the second Vincent Figgins. Figgins had setup casting type at the end of the 18th century.
His son, also Vincent, prompted, had a good copy of Caxton's Type Two cast, this rather more florid, Gothic type, and cast it on a two line great prim, long primer body. And with this he printed a facsimile of the game of chess in 1855. Although far from complete, it is a clear reproduction of the original type without the irregularities of the Whittingham version of Type Four. Perhaps Tupper's re-drawings of the original, commissioned by Blades, were already available to Figgins when he was cutting the type. He was perhaps echoing Blades’ earlier belief when he apologised for having recourse in his re-cutting to single punches for each sign. I mean, why not have two single punches? But I think he must have been, have a lingering belief that somehow they had been printed from a plate.
The first product of Blades’ research to be printed was a facsimile of the Helmingham Hall copy of the Governale of Health, printed with types expressly cast in pewter, and provided with a lithographic type title page by Tupper. This was followed by an addition of the short, Moral Proverbs, of 1478, printed in the same way in 1859. By pewter, Blades meant an alloy with more tin than lead in it, in which he had the type for the two books cast to test whether Caxton's poor press work was due to poor quality metal. He found that it was not, but rather due to the weak ink and very low pressure then in use.
Figgins continued to use the type and The Game of Chess was printed with a type cast in conventional metal in 1860 and 1862. It was, as Irvink wrote, ‘though much regularised, otherwise reasonably faithful, partly because some 80 variants, abbreviations and ligatures were supplied’.
It was, perhaps, Blades' printing firm, Blades Easton Blades, who printed the leaves supplied to that King's Library copy of the second edition of The Game of Chess, which, I blush to recall, was reproduced as the original in the 1976 exhibition catalogue.
Later, Figgins extended the series beyond the one size of about 22 point, from down to 8 up to 48 point, and this type appeared in the Figgins catalogues and was still advertised as Ye Caxton Series in the 1920s, by R H Stevens and Co, successors to V & J Figgins.
The third and last Caxton imitation was again due to Blades. It was another copy of Caxton's Type Four, made by the Austin Wood Count Type Foundry. And cast from matrices struck by punches probably cut by Austin Wood himself. It was without the irregularities that made the Chiswick press type so apt for facsimiles. And apart from a few lines in Blades’ 1877 catalogue of the Caxton Celebration Exhibition, it doesn't seem to have been used, if at all, for facsimile work. In fact, those four lines that you see there are the only lines that I've been able to find.
By then, photolithography had come to rival the accuracy of both of Harris's and Tupper's tracings, and of the Howard Figgins or wood recuttings. If this last type was not much used for facsimile leaves, it was due to the availability of a new process, the zinco, or photo-reproduced line block, rather than photolithography.
The old and handmade papers preferred for facsimile printing, because they looked like old paper, were very unkind for lithographic printing. Lithographers find it very difficult to get a good image on it. And so photographic line-blocks were easier to print, even on damped paper, despite the risk of distortion from a double dose of ink spread.
Now, how many Caxtons were improved in any of these ways? Without a more, a new and more thorough census than Seymour DeRichie's of, I think it's 1917. Yes, now almost 100 years old it's impossible to say. DeRichie was more concerned to establish levels of imperfection than to record attempts to put it right. He normally only noted copies as ‘perf’ perfect, ‘nearly perf’, which meant only lacking blank leaves, and ‘imp’ imperfect. ‘Made perf’ usually meant made up.
But Beriah Botfield's Polychronicon, copy of the Polychronicon, was ‘made perf from two or three copies’. The King's Library Cordial, of 1479, ‘has the first eight folios mended with small portions in facsimile by Whitaker’. The Brown University copy of The Royal Book, 1487, ‘several folio's in facsim by Harris’. The Ann Mary Brown Memorial Gower Confessio a Mantis, 1483, ‘has the two first and half the last leaves in reprint’, presumably typographic reprint. And the Polychronicon described in Lilly's 1861 catalogue is, this is DeRichie again, ‘several folios reprinted in Whittingham's types’.
But such precision is rare in DeRichie's pages. The Morgan copies, the Pierpont Morgan Library copies of both editions of the Chronicles of England, 1480 and 1482, are simply recorded by DeRichie as ‘imp nine folios’ and ‘imp six folios, supplied partly in facsimile reprint’. Both were made up by Stevens with, in fact, seven and 24 leaves respectively in the Chiswick press type.
While the British Library's 25 Caxtons, 25 contained facsimile leaves and a further six contained leaves partially supplied in facsimile. Of these, eight are by Harris, two of them marked as ‘for Mr. Whittaker’. Four are by Whittaker himself, one noted as such in pencil on a flyleaf and one by Tupper. This last was of the first leaf of the 1484 Aesop, of which the only perfect copy is the royal collection, and it was a gift from Blades to the British museum.
Two more of the British museum, British library Caxtons, are made up in photostatic or photographic supplements, which were inserted in 1893 and 1911, and the remaining 10 are unascribed. But 25 is quite a large figure. And these figures that I've given can be set against those for copies made up, which is only 16, or with texts supplied in manuscript, only 11.
Both Harris' penwork on the leaves printed for Lilly & Stevens were expensive. Harris' cost four pound to 15 guineas a leaf. Whittingham's, printed in bulk, were charged out at eight shillings and six pence to 21 shillings. But such prices, by either process, were paid without argument, even with pride, by both private clients and booksellers.
Were any of them passed off as genuine? The book's perfect when they were not. You will not be surprised to hear that no evidence on this point exists. But, we may guess that it was rare for two reasons. First, such perfections of 15th century books were not regarded as more than a trifling blemish. Certainly less than the disfigurement of the annotation or decoration. And secondly, there is good evidence of such malpractice when it was applied to later books.
I won't go into this because it's too late but the two scoundrels, William Caulfield and George Smeaton, made a regular practice of dishing up play quartos for Kemble & William Ireland at a later date.
So far I have dealt with only British examples. But, the practice of facsimile making was not unknown in France. Dibdin was characteristically, and patriotically, more critical of French than English practice. Writing of Chau Chardin, the great Parisian bookseller, ‘he has a great passion for making his Alduses perfect by means of manuscript, and you can scarcely by candlelight detect the difference between what is printed and what is executed with a pen. How any scribe can be sufficiently paid for such toil, is to me inconceivable. And how it can answer the purpose of any bookseller so to complete his copies is also unaccountable. For, be it known that good Mr Chardon leaves you to discover the manuscript portion yourself, and when you have made it, he innocently subjoins ‘Qui monsieur…’
‘No doubt there were several such artists, but the names of these mute, inglorious heresies are not known, at least to me. They're made to be instances of typographic improvement of old books, for the means to do so existed.’
In his Manual Typographique, 1764-6, the great, typographic artist, Pierre Seymour Fruenye, gave specimens of three ancient types. Among those headed ‘character particulaire’…
I know of no contemporary use of these types, other than in the Manual Typographique of Fruenye. And there is no evidence that French amateurs at that time, though interested enough in old French texts, shared their English counterpart’s passion for black-letter printing as such. It was only in 1820 that the Societe des Bibliophiles Francois was founded and began to reprint such texts, not then in facsimile.
There were, however, two series of reprints that evinced greater interest in the form of the texts reprinted…which ran from 1826 to 1834. And the 21 avowed facsimiles of the collection etc…1838 to 45, printed by Crapole and published by Louis Sylvester. Many of the latter series were edited by a very equivocal figure, August Vinon, 1799 to 1859, joint author of Bibliotheca Scattalogica 1849. An editor of many old texts, including under the anagrammatic pseudonym Gustave … the in 1858 one of these editions.
One of his editions for the collection has a particular interest for us. There is the Ocean Batard I spoke of earlier. L’histoire de … was printed in facsimile in 1845, or rather in quasi-facsimile, for is not a folio as there originally is, but a modest twelve-mo …. but now attributed to Martin Huss, and circa 1480, was conflated from that …. now usually dated about 1483, which seems to have been the model for the appearance of the reprint. This is honestly described as … with woodcut title and initials, and the text set in a batard, like that you see based on one Veras, the great 15th century printer Antoin Veras, but clearly newly cut and cast on a Cicero body.
At first, this seems to be the same as the larger of two Caractère de la Renaissance advertised in … in 1839. Closer examination shows that although very similar, every character is in fact different. Why two such types should have been needed is a mystery. And to add to it, the smaller form of the general type is the same as Fournier's Lettre de Somme. There is clearly more work to be done here.
But, I end as I begin, on a personal note. I have a copy of Vernon—that by the way is … of 1839—and you can see that it is quite a good imitation.
But, I end on a personal note. I have a copy of Vernon’s Pierre de Provence. Uncut and still in its pale blue, its printed wrappers. In it is a letter in English dated January the 31st 1868, but sadly not signed. Though addressed, according to a pencil note at the end, to Lord Arthur Russell MP, 1825-1892, younger son of the Prime Minister, Lord John Rustle. It reads as follows. It's tucked into my little book, the blue book of Pierre de Provence. ‘Take this book, I gave 10 francs for it.’ A large sum. ‘10 francs for it. The complete series. 20 of 25 numbers cost 400-500 franks. I had a fancy. It is unsewn the leaves. Steep them fearlessly in coffee and dry them. Sprinkle them with strong coffee to make blotches. Remove the last modern leaf and keep it. Go to Percy Cottee, pick up on the floor of his room old filthy parchment of a book he has bound, also some old yellow paper for lining. Have the book bound in limp, underlined, old parchment. If strings or strips of narrow parchment to tie it were affixed, it would do well. But, it must not look new. You must show him the parchment. Don't let him do according to his taste. Do exactly as you tell him. Beware, that the leaves of the book be not cut. Leave them irregular as they are. Show it, as a great curiosity on your table. I have an idea that something good may be made of it. Read the story, but take care of it, for remember I gave 10 francs for it.’
I have sought, but not found, the binder Percy Cottee. He doesn't appear in any of the French directories at the time. I do not know who wrote the letter, I wish I did, the hand seems irritatingly familiar, but I have not discovered the writer. But, at least you know now how to make a 15th century book.
I was going to end there, but those of you who know something about my subject may feel short-changed by my failure to mention later practitioners of the forgery of printed books. I've not mentioned Harry Buxton Foreman or Thomas James Wise, but what they forged was not printed books as such, but editions of literary texts by the Brownings, Tennyson, George Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson and others. Genuine enough as such, there's nothing wrong with the text, but they just happen not to have been printed at the date printed on the title page. It was more back projection than forgery in my view.
Fritz Prokosch, my poor now hapless departed friend, was certainly hapless rather than criminal, and he did the same for TS Eliot, Pound, Ordin, Roy Campbell, Chuck Robinson, Jeff Hertz and other heroes of his time.
If Wise and Foreman are dead and the Mormon forger Mark Hoffman is still alive in prison, though with his right arm and his expert forging hand paralysed because he lay on them in an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide. He attempted to reconstruct the earliest piece of printing in North America, which you'll see on the screen there, of which no copy is known to exist, by enlarging pages from the facsimile of the Bay Psalm book, which is otherwise the next oldest piece of North American printing. You can see where he got the details from.
What he did was to cut the letters from the Bay Psalm book up letter-by-letter and to reassemble them, with them, the text of the oath, as you've just seen. The actual text is known from contemporary manuscripts. He photographed through salt and with it reduced it down to life size and made a line cut, which he printed on a blank sheet of genuine 17th century paper. And if he had not spent in anticipation the $1.5 million that he hoped to make from its sale and resorted to murdering his creditors, his crime might not have been discovered.
Finally, there is, as you will have probably read in the newspapers, the infamous Massimo De Caro, who has achieved international notoriety by robbing the Library of the Girolamini at Naples. But, has yet to achieve it. That's to say, he has unfortunately done it, but he has yet to achieve notoriety for the forging of first editions of Galileo, by first stealing the originals and then making digital images of them and then proceeding, like Hoffman, to make line blocks and printing them on paper made with quite plausible, though not accurate, imitations of the 17th Century original watermarks.
At the moment he's doing seven years for theft. Not in prison to my regret, but by ball and chain attached to his residence in Verona. A trial for forgery has yet to begin. I would like to think, but do not believe, that he will be the last to forge the printed records of the past.
Thankyou very much for your attention.
'Deliberate facsimilie begun with the most innocent of motives can turn into forgery if it falls into the wrong hands.'
- Nicolas Barker
About this video
All printing involves some form of copying – but when does printing cease to be reproduction and become the crime of forgery?
In this video, Nicolas Barker explores the murky yet entertaining history of fakes and frauds in book printing. He also discusses contemporary debates about originality, authenticity and copyright.
This Foxcroft Lecture was held on 14 May 2014.
Nicolas Barker has been the editor of The Book Collector since 1965, abetted by an editorial board drawn from rare-book librarianship and the antiquarian book trade.
Nicolas is the author of numerous books and articles about printing, writing and forgery. He is also a sometime publisher and first head of conservation at the British Library.
The Book Collector was founded in 1952 by Ian Fleming. Its first editor, until his death in 1965, was John Hayward, the friend and muse of TS Eliot.