historic forgery and fraud
This page considers forgery and fraud regarding archival
or 'historic' documents, including the 'Hitler Diaries'.
It covers -
The preceding page of this profile noted Anthony Grafton's
discussion of the history of forgery and misrepresentation
in the pre-modern period, with perpetrators since antiquity
concocting charters, contracts, wills, memoirs, letters
and other documents to -
political pretensions or financial claims
their positions in territorial or cultural disputes
enemies and rivals.
in the archives is not restricted to mediaeval clergy
manufacturing royal charters or letters from long-defunct
dignitaries such as the Emperor Constantine. Recent years
have seen a slew of fake diaries, forged letters and bogus
memoirs that are claimed to offer remarkable insights
into history or the lives of celebrities such as Howard
Hughes and Adolf Hitler.
Those documents, often of a derisory quality, have not
stood the test of time and have usually been exposed as
fictitious once available to archivists, historians and
document forensics specialists without restrictions.
They are an echo of pre-1900 publication of fake letters
and memoirs by notables such as Voltaire, Louis XIV, Marie
Antoinette, Cardinal Richelieu, Frederick II and Catherine
the Great. Consumers continue to believe preposterous
claims - whether in descriptions of supposedly authentic
on eBay and similar sites - or in works under the auspices
of major publishers and broadcasters.
Works on classical and mediaeval forgery include Grafton's
Forgers & Critics: Creativity & Duplicity
in Western Scholarship (Princeton: Princeton Uni
Press 1990), 'Reginald Pecock and Lorenzo Valla on the
Donation of Constantine' by Joseph Levine in 20 Studies
in the Renaissance (1973) 118-43, 'Forgery and Plagiarism
in the Middle Ages' by Giles Constable in 29 Archiv
fur Diplomatik (1983) 1-41 and his Culture &
Spirituality in the Middle Ages (London: Variorum
1996), 'Forging the Past: Medieval Counterfeit Documents'
by Hitomi Tonomura in 40 Monumenta Nipponica
(1985) 69-96 and Alfred Hiatt's The Making of Medieval
Forgeries (London: British Library 2003).
Annius of Viterbo (1432-1502) obligingly discovered classical
inscriptions and manuscripts, published in works such
as his Auctores vetustissimi (1498) and Commentaria
super opera diversorum auctorum de antiquitatibus loquentium
(1498). Alas, Annius had written the manuscripts himself,
appears to have buried the inscriptions so that could
be found and confirm his other claims, and did not speak
His activity is discussed in 'Heritage and Forgery: Annio
da Viterbo and the Quest for the Authentic' by Nicholas
Temple in II(3) Public Archaeology (2002), 'When
Pope Noah Ruled the Etruscans: Annius of Viterbo and his
Forged Antiquities' by Walter Stephens in 119(1) MLN
(2004) S201-S223 and 'Inventions of Traditions and Traditions
of Invention in Renaissance Europe' by Anthony Grafton
in The Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe
(Philadelphia: Uni of Pennsylvania Press 1990) edited
by Grafton & Ann Blair, 8-38.
Sir Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944) - the 'Hermit of Peking'
- manufactured Chinese imperial memoirs such as The
Diary of His Excellency Ching-shan, correspondence
and even reference works during a career that featured
arms dealing, financial swindles and donation of 17,000
items to the Bodleian Library.
Among other exploits - which led biographer Robert Bickers
to comment "we know now that not a word he ever said
or wrote can be trusted" - Backhouse 'sold' six phantom
battleships and 650 million imaginary banknotes to the
Chinese government in 1916, having previously assembled
an imaginary flotilla of cargo ships, laden with rifles
and machine-guns, whose progress from Shanghai to Guangzhou
is minutely recorded in the UK Foreign Office archives
but in fact never existed.
Hesketh Pearson's The Whispering Gallery: Being Leaves
from a Diplomat's Diary (London: Bodley Head 1926)
and Richard Pennington's more elegaic Peterley Harvest:
The Private Diary of David Peterley (London:Secker
& Warburg 1985) edited by Michael Holroyd are two
E H Carr, one of the nastier historians of the USSR, endorsed
Notes For A Journal (London: Andre Deutsch 1955),
the supposed memoirs of Maxim Litvinov. Upton Sinclair
blessed Kurt Krueger's lurid Inside Hitler (New
York: Avalon Press 1941), supposedly a psychoanalytic
account by Hitler's doctor. Scholars now question the
authenticity of much of The Interesting Narrative
of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the
African, Written by Himself, a 1789 autobiography
by Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797) that is explored in by
Vincent Carretta's Equiano the African: Biography
of a Self-made Man (Athens: Uni of Georgia Press
For Backhouse see Hugh Trevor-Roper's Hermit of Peking:
The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse (New York:
During the late 1940s and 50s a wave of diaries, letters
and other material attributed to figures such as Mussolini
and Hitler appeared on the market.
During 1957 for example a mother and daughter produced
thirty volumes of what they claimed were Benito Mussolini's
diaries, apparently fooling the dictator's son and an
expert, who exclaimed that
volumes of manuscript cannot be the work of a forger,
but of a genius.
'Mussolini' diaries surfaced in the 1980s, 1990s and 2007.
'"Books for Idiots": False Soviet "Memoirs"'
by Paul Blackstock in 25(3) Russian Review (1966)
285-296 and Agents of Deceit: Frauds, Forgeries, and
Political Intrigue Among Nations (Chicago: Quadrangle
Books 1966) note the Cold War forgery industry, with one
write books for idiots. Do you imagine that anyone in
the West would read what you call my apocryphal works
if in quoting Kaganovitch, Zhukov, Mikoyan or Bulganin
I tried to be faithful to the manner, sense and form
of their speeches? ... But when I portray Stalin and
Molotov in pyjamas, when I tell the dirtiest possible
stories about them - never mind whether they are true
or invented - rest assured that not only all intellectuals
will read me, but also the most capitalist statesman
... will pick up my book before going to sleep.
In the 1970s author Clifford Irving, fresh from the gonzo-ish
Fake: The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art
Forger of Our Time (New York: McGraw-Hill 1969),
attributed to the reclusive Howard Hughes. Following Hughes'
death a forged Hughes Last Will & Testament surfaced,
the beginning of what became known as the 'Mormon Will
Case' depicted in the film Melvin & Howard.
A decade later it was the turn of Adolf Hitler, with a
media circus around authentication, publication and exposure
in 1983 of crude fake diaries from Konrad Kujau. Most
of the text didn't go beyond such gems as
all the leaders of the Storm troopers in Bavaria, give
Must not forget tickets for the Olympic games for Eva.
The affair severely tarnished the reputation of Backhouse
and Hitler expert Hugh Trevor-Roper ("I'm staking
my reputation on it") but boosted sales for Murdoch's
One publisher commented
sells. Nazis sell. Swastikas sell - and they sell better
and better ... I've even thought of putting one on our
vegetable cookbook because Hitler was a vegetarian.
this light the major question concerning Kujau must
be the same as that for Hitler. Not, how did he manage
to get so far? Rather, how in the end could he possibly
Sunday Times subsequently offered £75,000
for the 'ripper' diaries discovered in 1992 and promoted
in Shirley Harrison's The Diary of Jack the Ripper
(New York: Hyperion 1993).
Ironically, on his release from prison Kujau declared
that he would write his memoirs but denounced The
Originality of Forgery published under his name in
1998 as itself a forgery, declaring "I did not write
one line of this book".
In 2006 his great-niece Petra Kujau was prosecuted for
forging his signature on at least 500 'fake forgeries'.
She had reportedly acquired cheap copies of works such
as the Mona Lisa - often for as little as €10
apiece - and after adding his signature sold the "original
Kujau fakes" for around €3,500, garnering more
In 2005 it was revealed
that forged documents were "recently planted"
in the UK Public Record Office, ie Britain's national
archive. The forgeries - including supposed letterhead
from 1943 that was in fact produced using a laser printer,
documents replete with anachronistic terminology and paper
from an old book - were used to substantiate claims in
Martin Allen's Himmler's Secret War: The Covert Peace
Negotiations of Heinrich Himmler (London: Chrysalis
2005), marketed as
remarkable story with numerous explosive revelations
... startling new facts and perspectives, presents the
entire Nazi command in a totally new light.
Ben Fenton in the Financial Times in May 2008
noted Allen's conspiracist
claim that "at some time after he saw the documents
... they had been removed and replaced with exact replicas,
clumsily forged to cast doubt on his discoveries".
Historians have raised questions about the authenticity
of documents cited by Allen in his 2000 Hidden Agenda:
How the Duke of Windsor Betrayed the Allies and 2003
The Hitler/Hess Deception. When challenged about
a supposed letter from the Duke of Windsor to Hitler,
Allen responded that it had been given to his late father
by Albert Speer, later being found in the author's attic.
Other 'discoveries' were less dramatic.
In 1976 University of Arizona Press published
I Married Wyatt Earp, the supposed memoir by
the wife of US gunslinger Wyatt Earp.
In 1993 six missing Haydn sonatas were 'discovered', authenticated,
recorded and then exposed as modern, leading Haydn expert
H Robbins Landon to comment
the most brilliant fraud ... I don't mind being taken
in by music this good. It's what Haydn would have written
in this key at this time.
Veronica Buckley's Madame de Maintenon: The Secret
Wife of Louis XIV (London: Bloomsbury 2008) was withdrawn
from sale after revelation that it had relied on the 'secret
diaries' of the Sun King. They were supposedly found in
1997 as "a packet of yellowed papers, wrapped in
string and sealed with faded red wax" hidden "inside
a heavy old chest in a Loire valley manor house"
but were in fact a scholarly compilation by François
Bluche. His 1998 Le Journal secret de Louis XIV,
a thought experiment in imagining what the king's journals
might have been like, drew on information from
a large number of archival and published sources but did
not purport to be a true diary, unlike the concoction
Lawrence Cusack was convicted in 1999 for forging and
selling supposed JF Kennedy papers from 1993 onwards,
culminating in initial acceptance by journalist Seymour
Hersh - for his 1997 The Dark Side of Camelot
- that Kennedy had established a US$600,000 trust
fund for Marilyn Monroe's mother.
Journalist Robert Fisk more mundanely discovered that
Arabic booksellers were busy selling Saddam Hussein:
From Birth to Martyrdom, a biography supposedly by
Fisk but apparently authored by Magdi Chukri.
For Irving see Stephen Fay, Lewis Chester & Magnus
Linklater's Hoax: The Inside Story of the Howard
Hughes-Clifford Irving Affair (London: Deutsch 1972)
and Irving's exculpatory What Really Happened: The
Untold Story of the Hughes Affair (New York: Grove
Press 1972). The 'Mormon Will' Affair is described in
James Phelan & Lewis Chester's The Money: The
Battle for Howard Hughes's Billions (New York: Random
For the 'Hitler Diaries' see in particular Robert Harris'
sparkling Selling Hitler (London: Faber 1987),
Charles Hamilton's The Hitler Diaries: Fakes That
Fooled the World (Lexington: Uni of Kentucky Press
1991) and Philip Knightley's A Hack's Progress
(London: Cape 1997).
Everyone, it seems, wants to own a little bit of history
- whether that is a letter from Jack the Ripper, Ronald
Reagan or Cleopatra - and as we noted in the introduction
to this profile the contemporary market has been fuelled
by online marketplaces
such as eBay.
A highlight was Vrain-Denis Lucas's manufacture of around
27,000 letters - snapped up by collectors - from notables
such as Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Lazarus
(all of whom apparently wrote in French and used modern
paper). It included a letter from Saint Jerome regarding
a letter from Christ, who indicated that French was the
'mother' language created after the Flood.
A sparkling contemporary account of that industry and
credulity is provided in Henri Bordier & Emile Mabille's
Prince of Forgers (New Castle: Oak Knoll 1998)
and Joseph Rosenblum's Forging Of False Autographs,
Or, An Account Of The Affair Vrain Lucas (New Castle:
Oak Knoll Press 1998).
The credulity of his collectors echoed the zany Jesuit
(1585- 1649), famous for a denunciation of Galileo and
Curzio Inghirami's 'Scarith' fraud - and for the demonstration
in his Historia sacrae Latinitatis that the angels
conversed in Latin - published Epistolae B. Virginis
Mariae ad Messanenses veritas vindicata in 1629,
defending the authenticity of a letter the Virgin Mary
supposedly sent to the inhabitants of Messina upon hearing
of their conversion to Christianity by Saint Paul. Ingrid
Rowland somewhat romantically comments that Inchofer was
sentenced to life imprisonment
a remote Jesuit house where, like many an inconvenient
Jesuit in those troubled times, he was quietly assassinated
recently forgers of 'founding father' memorabilia have
included Joseph Cosey (1887-1950?), Robert Spring (1813-1876)
and Charles Weisberg (d1945).
The literature on the manufacture of memorabilia and autograph
mania is extensive. Highlights include Texfake : An
Account of the Theft & Forgery of Early Texas Printed
Documents (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press 1997) by Thomas
Taylor, Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters
& Documents (Tulsa: Uni of Oklahoma Press 1994)
by Kenneth Rendell, James Gilreath's The Judgement
of Experts: Essays and Documents about the Investigation
of the Forging of the Oath of a Freeman (Philadelphia:
American Antiquarian Society 1991) and Alan Munby's The
Cult of the Autograph Letter in England (London:
Athlone Press 1962).
revisionists and ripoffs
One aspect of forgery is giving people what they want,
whether that is glorious antecedents, a 'usable' national
culture or historical 'thrills, spills and spells'.
An example is Etienne Leon de Lamothe-Langon's 1829 Histoire
de l'Inquisition en France, a foundation for some
of the sillier contemporary claims that 5 million witches
(or even 9 million!) were burnt in mediaeval Europe, despite
demolition by works such as Norman Cohn's classic Europe's
Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval
Christendom (London: Paladin 1975), Lyndal Roper's
Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany
(New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2004) and Richard Kieckhefer's
European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular
& Learned Culture, 1300-1500 (Berkeley: Uni of
California Press 1976). Lamothe-Langon's grand guignol
documentation has not stood the test of time.
Of the 262 extant documents supposedly by Charlemagne
some 100 are forgeries, often from his era.
Giles Contable similarly suggests that "of 164 known
charters attributed to Edward the Confessor, 44 (27%)
are spurious, 56 (34%) are uncertain, and 64 (39%) are
He notes that
forgeries were made for altruistic, even noble, purposes,
or for obscure personal motives ... Like miracles, visions
and other works of social imagination, forgeries served
to justify profound social and personal needs and reflected
the hopes and fears, the praise and criticism of people
in the Middle Ages
concentration on writing by dead white males was more
wholesome than the swag of supposed contemporary memoirs,
diaries and collections
of correspondence from figures such as Marie Antoinette
and Cardinal Richelieu.
Those forgeries have not attracted significant modern
attention but in their time were best sellers, along with
forgettable tracts such the 1836 Awful Disclosures
autobiography of Maria
Monk and Souvenirs sur Marie-Antoinette by
'Comtesse d'Adhémar', the 'memoirs' of royal mistress
Wilhelmine Encke-Ritz-Lichtenau, Frederick Lullin de Chateauvieux's
1817 Manuscript Transmitted from St Helena, by An
Unknown Channel (a supposed memoir by the former
Emperor - specifically denounced in Napoleon's will),
1789 Memoires Justificatifs de la Comtesse de Valois
de la Motte, ecrits par elle-meme or Magdalene King-Hall's
1926 The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year
1764-1765, attributed to Cleone Knox.
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