Notes On Ian Haywood’s Faking It: Art and the Politics of Forgery

Haywood, Ian. Faking It: Art and the Politics of Forgery. First Edition, St. Martin’s Press, 1987.

Aside from the information on forgeries, my favorite part of this book was the vocabulary. A lot of the pages had words which compelled me to gain a greater understanding by consulting the dictionaries.

Chapter 1 – Pages 1-18 (18)
2 – 21-69 (48)
3 – 71-88 (18)
4 – 91-103 (13)
5 – 105-129 (25)
6 – 131-143 (13)

Chapter 2 makes up about a third of the book.


Chapter 1

The Concept of Forgery

The book opens by talking about the fraudulent Hitler Diaries and then it moves onto the broader realm of forgery by diving into a review of some definitions of forgery throughout time. On page 7, he lists these “three qualifications for something to be a forgery”:
1 – “the fabrication must be of an authentic document (which includes the alteration of a document rather than the wholesale reproduction”
2 – “the authentic document must have legal or commercial significance”
3 – “the intention must be to defraud”

This limits forgery to documents and I don’t see a reason for imposing such a limit. He gives some examples of what’s forgery and not on page 7 which I don’t agree with. However, I do agree with the part where he says “Without a forger’s confession … [their intent to defraud] is very difficult to prove”.

The definitions he provides from other sources are useful. I do like the comparative analysis of the definitions he uses throughout this part of the book.

The definition which I favor the most for forgery is “something created with the intent to have it indefinitely deceive a person or a group of people”. Haywood has me questioning the utility of this definition because of the idea that an artist could make a work intended to deceive all who look at it. The first type of art that comes to mind for me is hyper-realistic art. Would it be appropriate to call their work a forgery? If it looked so much like its model that you could not tell the “real” from the “fake”, and that’s what the artist wanted? I’m not so sure it would be appropriate. At what point does the deception become criminal?

There is a decent section on the status of the Apocryphal Biblical texts and their history. It uses them as the focus point for discussing issues of authenticity.

Chapter 2

The Eighteenth Century: A Prolific Age of Literary Forgery

Chapter 2 opened by listing some famous forgeries and a couple I wasn’t as familiar with, namely Fingal and Temora. Here are the forgeries he names in the opening paragraph:

(1704) – George Psalmanazar’s An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa

(1750) – Lady Elizabeth Wardlaw’s ‘Hardyknute’

(1750) – William Lauder’s An Essay on Milton’s Use and Imitation of the Moderns

(1763) – James Macpherson’s Fragments of Ancient Poetry

(1762) – Fingal

(1763) – Temora

(1777) – Thomas Chatterton’s forgeries

(1790’s) – William Henry Ireland’s Shakespeare forgeries

The chapter then continues into the specifics of some 18th century cases, starting with Psalmanazar’s activity.

“…the early eighteenth century lauded imitation, distrusted fictional pretense, and was rife with piracy and misattribution.”[p.21]

On page 24, Richetti is cited as saying, “many narratives of the period, presented as fact and accepted as such by many, were sheer fabrications”.

The idea of novels being fictitious histories was mentioned on page 27, citing the Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at Edinburgh, Hugh Blair (1783).

“The value of a forgery is that it forces one to consider the conventions one is judging by.”[p.29]

Next, it focused on Alexander Pope’s shady business practices. This section of the chapter briefly illuminates some of the early 18th century copyright laws and concepts of authenticity.

William Lauder’s forgery is the focus of the next part.

“The late seventeenth and early eighteenth century is often called the Augustan or neo-classical period, implying a great reverence for Greek and Latin authors… All educated people were expected to turn to the Ancients for models.”[p.39]

The “manuscript and history” is discussed in the next part. It is reiterated that manuscripts gained tremendous authority in the 18th century. The closer to the time a MS was allegedly created, the better and more authoritative it was considered. I haven’t seen any mention of Jean Mabillon (1632-1707) in this book yet, but if my memory serves correctly, Jean was the one who really spearheaded the importance of having sources that witnessed the events they were reporting, and popularizing the notion of “the earlier the source the better”. Hence a MS from the C4th talking about C4th events would be considered more authoritative than a C6th MS talking about C4th events.

Moving on, the chapter delves into James Macpherson’s Ossianic forgeries, which were forged poems. He forged Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Fingal, and Temora. These forged poems became popular and resulted in scholars reevaluating their methods of authentication. All of this secured Macpherson’s place as one of the most prominent forgers of the 18th century.

One thing that sticks out to me when reading through these accounts is that otherwise competent scholars are brought in by these forgeries. Macpherson was persuasive to Edward Gibbon and Chatterton won the favor of Dr. Johnson.

The account of Macpherson is followed in this chapter by an account of Thomas Chatterton, the teenage forger.

“Chatterson’s historical vision comprised over a hundred unpublished items, and many genres and forms of discourse: poetry, prose, letters, diaries, proclamations, drama, treatises, drawings.”[p.54]

After Chatterton comes a tale of William Henry Ireland and his forged Shakespeare writings.

On page 67 is a quote attributed to Wellek and Warren from 1963 that made me wonder about Fomenko’s New Chronology. The quote talks about how forgeries and hoaxes spur interest in developing further studies into specific topics. If FNC is a forgery or hoax, then it has had that effect on me. For it has encouraged me to learn more about history and how history is studied. Even if it is not a forgery or hoax, it has still had that effect on me.

“A good forgery is like a shot of adrenaline in the bloodstream of culture.”[p.67]

Chapter 3

Scholar Forgers: John Payne Collier, T. J. Wise

Chapter 3 moves us from the 18th century into the 19th century, focusing on Collier and Wise. The chapter briefly discusses Collier’s activities and then moves on to those of Major George Gordon Byron and Thomas James Wise.

Chapter 4

The Missing Link: Archaeological Forgery and Fictions of the First Human

“There were no archeological fakes in the eighteenth century because the discipline had not become a central cultural activity.”[p.91]

Were there really no archeological fakes produced in the C18th? I find that hard to believe. Even though the discipline had not been firmly established yet, there was still fakery of virtually every kind taking place. How here are we to define archeological fake? The opening sentence for this chapter says, “Archeology is the study of remnants and artefacts of the past”.[p.91] I’m not as familiar with 18th century forgery as I am with medieval and early modern, but I’d imagine there were some fakes being produced, even though I don’t have an example off the top of my head. Maybe I’ll loop back to these notes to include an example if I find one, or someone can comment here if they know of any.

His first example of C19th forgery was Heinrich Schliemann’s “Troy”.

Three main fakes were discussed. The Moulin-Quignon fake, George Hull’s giant man, and the Piltdown Man.

Edward ‘Flint Jack’ Simpson was forging in the 19th century and was only caught because he confessed unprompted and demonstrated his forgery.

While reading through the story of Dawson faking Piltdown Man I couldn’t help but think about the types of forgeries, in this case extraordinary and mundane. Yes, the oldest human remains ever found is sensational but mundane forgeries exist as well, such as some of the Shakespeare forgeries discussed earlier in the book. I think it’d make an interesting poll to see if people think extraordinary discoveries are more likely to draw skepticism than mundane ones.

Another thing stuck out to me, this time from the end of the chapter. That is the advocate for scientific testing who was apparently long ignored. How many items out there are on display in museums that are fakes, and all it would take to expose them is a scientific test or two?

Chapter 5

Crusaders against the Art Market: Hans van Meegeren and Tom Keating

These two forgers are incredibly popular among authors of books on forgery. I’ve read about them from a handful of different sources. Regardless, I like Haywood’s writing style and still enjoyed the refresher on what the two of them did.

The case of Giovani Bastianini was briefly covered, a man who had to prove his works were his because other appropriated them for nefarious uses.

Israel Rouchomowsky’s Tiara of Saitaphernes and Alceo Dossena’s pseudo-Renaissance sculptures were discussed.

Chapter 6

Literary Forgery in the Modern Age

Chapter 6 focused on false autobiographies, plagiarism, and copying.

“Plagiarism is the unacknowledged and therefore dishonest borrowing from another text which has copyright protection.”[p.135]

Can non-copyrighted texts be plagiarized? I think so. I don’t agree with the above quote.

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17 Comments on “Notes On Ian Haywood’s Faking It: Art and the Politics of Forgery

  1. Although I don’t disagree with anything here — apart from believing ‘Thomas Chatterton’ to be himself made up — I would criticise the general lack of ambition. When it comes to art forgery my judgement would be that it is actually quite beneficial. Spread the aesthetic! would be my motto. National(ist) forgery played a small part in the history of small nations but not a decisive one. More important is the wholesale creation of entire epochs. For example, practically the entirety of Classical history is a Renaissance confection. Just as Christianity is a medieval one. It is all in my book, Missing Persons, published last month. When I say ‘all’ I mean ‘God only knows how little’.


      • Not in any detail, it is a bridging section between two other periods that are. The relevant passage reads

        Did you know, for instance, the entire history of Greece and Rome suddenly appeared in a plethora of manuscripts during the Renaissance? The clue is in the name. The originals – that is to say, the copy before the copy, not the original originals – are all missing but the sources being relied on are reported as having arrived from a number of places and for a variety of reasons. The most important one, we are told, was the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and Greek scholars arriving in the west bearing the precious manuscripts. “Quick, run for your lives, and take Europe’s heritage with you.”

        It gets worse. Renaissance writers had a tricky choice. They could write under their own name and be ignored, maybe put to death for heresy, or they could publish under a Classical name, reach a Europe-wide audience and live comfortably as esteemed scholars keeping the flame of civilisation burning. Did you think Homer, Thucydides, Vitruvius, Euclid, Galen, Plutarch, Ptolemy and the rest wrote it all, suffered the indignity of silence for a thou- sand, two thousand, three thousand, years and then burst onto the world stage all over again just when the world was ready to take up their mantle? Well, please don’t.


      • There are a lot of MSS containing info about Greek and Roman history that date prior to the Renaissance. Do you think the datings are wrong?


      • Your request is very broadly pitched. If you would care to name, say, two of the MSS of which you speak, I will endeavour to satisfy you or amend the offending passage in my book. But remember, I am not disputing that Greece and Rome existed and therefore had histories.


      • “Did you know, for instance, the entire history of Greece and Rome suddenly appeared in a plethora of manuscripts during the Renaissance?”

        My question was in response to this. The earliest MSS of Dio Cassius’ Roman History (Codex Marcianus Graecus 395 and Codex Laurentianus 70, 8) have been dated to the 9th and 10th centuries. This is well before the Renaissance.

        What exactly do you mean by “…the entire history of Greece and Rome suddenly appeared…”?
        ^Maybe this is a better question


  2. The phrase ‘have been dated’ tells me immediately that these are not actual 9th and 10th century documents. If they were they would be shrieked from the rooftops as opposed to being so obscure as to not warrant a Wiki entry. Not exactly the highest hurdle in the world. You’ll know better than I when they first appeared and it won’t be before the Renaissance. Obviously neither of us will be impressed by what scholars claim for their back stories. As soon as one of them is carbon-tested and the date comes back as pre-1450, get back to me and I’ll bestir myself to look beyond Wiki. It’s their job to prove their case, not my job to disprove it. The REST is history.


      • They divide into two depending whether the manuscripts are considered to be originals or (true) copies. If originals, then physical specialists are let loose — codicologists, papyrologists, ink & colour experts. You ran a piece on this so you would know better than me. My mind tends to glaze over much too easily, I am in awe of your indefatigability. Needles to say, they all came back with a ‘ninth/tenth century’ verdict. That’s how you know they’re not real experts. Even if the codices are genuinely ninth/tenth century, there should be outliers, there should be experts getting it wrong, there should be experts saying they are fakes, there should be experts saying ‘we don’t know’. After all, they are all agreed it is not a very exact science.
        Since Dio Cassius is supposed to be a first century figure this would appear to be irrelevant anyway but not so. Such an early copy would (quite correctly) be held to be quite persuasive in its own right. As the physical experts are agreed, the Dio Cassius experts can be let loose. They are certain to be unanimously in favour because everything known about Dio Cassius emanates from either his own works, known from later copies (‘there are so many but I can instance the codices Marcianus Graecus 395 and Laurentianus 70, 8 just for starters’) or quoted by or referred to in other people’s works from later copies (‘there are so many you’d have to be a Dio Cassius specialists to know the full extent’).


      • You told me who you think gets let loose for originals. Who do you think they let loose for “(true) copies”?

        Also, Dio Cassius is believed to have been born in the 2nd century and to have published his Roman History in the 3rd. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone place him in the first


      • A true copy is not itself evidence, but only bears witness. There is no point testing it artefactually (though in many cases they still should, and don’t). It is only the words on it that count and hence should be turned over to specialists relevant to those words. The mischief arises when the words are only available from ‘copies’. Dio Cassius a simple error on my part. I don’t believe he existed but even so I should have got when he was supposed to have existed right.


      • Somebody writes a manuscript. That’s part of the historical record. Later, somebody copies that manuscript. Notwithstanding scribal errors, that’s a true copy. Part of the historical record. Ordinarily, manuscripts do not last long so gradually the historical record becomes reliant on copies. There is no absolute way (or even a relative one, to be perfectly blunt) of verifying the copying chain so people who wish to create their own ‘historical record’ just write their own manuscript and claim it is a copy of an ancient one. This is a statement of the blindingly obvious but is rarely acknowledged ‘in the literature’.


      • This is an impossible task (not just for me, for historians). One of the chief reasons for suspicion is that although the original and the copy must co-exist, the copy seems always to survive, the original seemingly never does. This reaches farcical levels when you are dealing with entire collections supposedly compiled by manuscript collectors for whom the original is extremely valuable, the copy not. Yet, for example, the National Library of Wales’ whole archive of ‘medieval’ manuscripts were acquired from collectors who somehow managed to lose the originals every single time, but managed not to lose any of the copies they claimed to have made of them. You do the math!


      • If determining the true from the fake is an impossible task for you and for historians, how can you say any copies are true or fake? This would place you in a stalemate where you’d have to say “We don’t know if X is a true copy or not because there are no methods available to make such a determination”


  3. Ain’t that the truth. Historians simply won’t acknowledge that there just isn’t enough history out there to support the number of historians. This is not a counsel of despair, just a plea for moderation. Let’s just take one example, De Bello Gallico. Excise that from the historical record (it has no provenance so shouldn’t be in there) and you lose a lot of colourful derring-do but you still have Gaul and Britain safely in the Roman Empire. Our Number One Rule is: The truth is always boring.


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