This profile considers online and offline forgery and
It covers -
forgery and fakes
forgery and fakes
of currency (counterfeiting),
financial instruments and accounts
forgery (sacred texts and artefacts)
forgery - 'old masters, fresh paint' and the forgery
of past and contemporary art
- the forgery of furniture and other antiques
- the forgery of militaria, toys, memorabilia and other
consumer brands such
as bags, pens and the $5 Rolex
- fake aircraft and auto parts, computer chips, pharmaceuticals
- authenticity in music and other performance
- passport, birth certificate, driver licencing and
other forgery and fraud
- forgery of academic and professional certificates
- anxiety and anecdotes about bequests
- forgery of email by spammers and others
- comments on principles
- anti-forgery technologies and practice
law - common law and special purpose legislation
law - overseas law regarding forgery
- forgery in film, the novel and poetry
- autobiographies and other memoirs by forgers
- key events in the history of forgery
supports discussion of creativity and authenticity in
the Identity crime, Electronic
& Online Trust and Security
& InfoCrime guides on this site.
emulation, appropriation and authenticity
Definitions of 'forgery' are contentious, particularly
among some literary and philosophy circles where notions
of authorial intent, authenticity or provenance are seen
as less important than reception by an audience or the
forger's creativity. Some authors and theorists have sought
to differentiate forgery from mystifications, works that
cannot be readily 'placed'.
For the purposes of this profile we regard forgery as
something that is intended for acceptance as an original
work by another author or as an approved copy/manufacture
(eg meant to be perceived as a genuine 'brand' product
rather than an unauthorised imitation).
Perceptions of authenticity and value vary significantly.
Hillel Schwartz's The Culture of the Copy: Striking
Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles (New York: Zone
Books 1997) and Nick Groom's The Forger's Shadow
(London: Picador 2003) for example note tensions in recent
western culture regarding the status of the 'perfect'
Ken Ruthven's postmodernist Faking Literature
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2001) questions the notion
of authenticity, as
production of a literary forgery is an act that reveals
the spurious nature of literature itself ... literary
forgery is the creative manifestation of cultural critique
... an antinomian phenomenon produced by creative energies
whose power is attested to by the resistance they engender
in those who feel compelled to denounce and eradicate
Alford's To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual
Property Law in Chinese Civilisation (Stanford: Stanford
Uni Press 1995) illustrates arguments in some cultures
that emulation is as important as originality: "the
highest compliment one can be paid is to be copied"
and an undetectable forgery might have a value greater
than that of the work which it replicates.
Non-Western cultures have, however, clearly accommodated
concerns about integrity or authenticity - with China
having severe sanctions for over 2,000 years against forgery
of coinage, paper currency and legal documents.
Three points of reference for artistic emulation and originality
are The Ancient Art of Emulation: Studies in Artistic
Originality & Tradition from the Present to Classical
Antiquity (Ann Arbor: Uni of Michigan Press 2002)
by Elaine Gazda, The Forger’s Art: Forgery and
the Philosophy of Art (Berkeley: University of California
Press 1983) edited by Denis Dutton and Issues of Authenticity
in Chinese Painting (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2001)
edited by JG Smith.
Questions of personal ethics and authenticity are explored
in the large 'civil society' literature, including William
Miller's Faking It (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni
Press 2003), Sisela Bok's Secrets: On the Ethics of
Concealment & Revelation (Oxford: Oxford Uni
Press 1985) and Lying: Moral Choice in Public &
Private Life (New York: Vintage 1978) and David Callahan's
The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing
Wrong To Get Ahead (New York: Harcourt 2004). Cultures
of Forgery: Making Nations, Making Selves (New York:
Routledge 2003) by Judith Ryan & Alfred Thomas considers
'legitimation' of nation-building in recent centuries.
motivations and markets
The following pages suggest that the creation of forgery
- and, just as importantly, its acceptance - involves
an interaction between the forger, gatekeepers of authenticity
(eg art critics, auction houses and registry offices)
Some forgery has been undertaken for money. Other forgery
has been undertaken for glory or a spirit of devilment,
cocking a snook at experts and purchasers.
The success of much forgery is dependent on complicity,
tacit or otherwise, by gatekeepers; one reason that we
have highlighted the role and problematical ethos of major
fine art auction houses.
The complicity of consumers is also important, whether
that is the credulity and greed of industrialists who
purchased supposed letters from Christ and Cleopatra ('originals',
written in French on modern blue notepaper) or literateurs
who thrilled to the fictions of Thomas Chatterton and
In considering many forgeries it is difficulty to go beyond
Washington Irving's tart 1815 comment about acceptance
of spurious Shakespeare relics, with consumers
willing to be deceived, where the deceit is pleasant
and costs nothing. What is it to us, whether these stories
be true or false, so long as we can persuade ourselves
into the belief of them?
that is one key to contemporary adoption of faux Hermes,
Rolex, Pfizer, Sony or Rolex consumables.
Insights into questions of value and motivation are provided
by works such as Collecting: An Unruly Passion - Psychological
Perspectives (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 1994)
by Werner Muensterberger, To Have & To Hold: An
Intimate History of Collectors & Collecting (London:
Allen Lane 2002) by Philipp Blom and A Gentle Madness:
Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes & the Eternal Passion for
Books (New York: Holt 1995) by Nicholas Basbanes.
Questions of online and offline trust are explored in
several guides on this site.
forgery and online outlets
The arrival of online trading mechanisms such as eBay
- where you can supposedly buy a slightly-used human kidney,
an autograph poem from John Lennon, an 'original' John
Singer Sargent painting,
by Mother Teresa or a letter from Richard Milhous Nixon
- offers new possibilities for the dissemination of small-scale
Although major items are likely to undergo some authentication
by leading auction houses (Worrall's account in The
Poet & the Murderer of Hofmann's experience with
Sotheby's offers a note of caution) much trade in online
fora is essentially on the basis of buyer beware, with
few pretensions to verification during the marketing process.
The 2000 US FBI 'Operation Bullpen', concerned with
online sale of forged memorabilia, concluded with warnings
the price is too good to be true, it is probably a fake
(although "a high price does not by any means suggest
of authenticity are not guarantees of authenticity,
as for example such certificates might themselves be
forged or because the authenticator is "either
a knowing or unknowing, but incompetent, participant
in the fraud"
photograph of an athlete or celebrity signing an autograph
is no guarantee the item is authentic: it is a common
practice of forged memorabilia traffickers to include
a photograph of the athlete/celebrity signing the item
and photographs of themselves with the athlete/celebrity
to lend credibility
individual or company having a paid signing session
with an athlete or celebrity does not guarantee authenticity,
as it is a common practice for forgers to 'mix-in' forged
memorabilia with items signed during an autograph session.
is an indicator, so be wary of "far-fetched or
elaborate stories which are difficult, if not impossible
statistics and impact
Estimating the extent and significance of forgery
and fraud is challenging for several reasons -
are few consolidated statistical collections across
time, jurisdiction and sector (Australian Federal Police,
US Department of Justice and Interpol reports for example
aggregate much activity under diffuse categories of
'art crime' or 'consumer fraud')
that are not detected (or are detected but then not
reported/prosecuted) do not appear in statistical compilations
coverage, academic studies and official reports concentrate
on high-profile cases (eg a forged Renoir or the Mormon
'Salamander' documents) rather than less exotic items.
Items that change hands beneath authentication/reporting
threshholds of around US$10,000 are 'off the radar'
criminal justice statistics for the past decade suggest
that forgery accounts for around 1.7% of sentences (compared
with 1.9% for embezzlement, 9% for robbery, 14.3% for
fraud and 40% for drugs). In 2001 there were 113,741 arrests
for forgery and counterfeiting (compared with 147,451
for auto theft and 343,000 for fraud and embezzlement).
In the following pages we have supplied some indication
of incidence and value but that data does not purport
to be definitive.
next page (literary
fraud and forgery)