The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 19, May 7, 2006, Article 16


Regarding the "double-edged sword of library research" one reader
writes: " I recall a similar debacle in the field of fine arts.
Please understand this is all from memory.  I may not have all
the facts straight.  Here's how I remember it:

At some point during the 1990's, the art world became aware of a
scam that had taken place primarily in Europe.  A forger or a
confederate of a forger would pretend to be a researcher and
would obtain access to archives used by art historians and
authenticators.  These archives contain, among other things,
detailed descriptions of very valuable paintings whose current
location is unknown.  As you might expect, with the dislocation
of art treasures that resulted from the looting and destruction
that occurred during the Second World War, there are many art
works which were formerly in European collections that are now
considered lost.

The forger and his researcher accomplice would focus on a
particular piece of art that might be forged.  All pertinent
details for this painting would be retrieved from the archive.
The forger would then spend many months creating a painting that
might fool the art establishment.  The forger would attempt to
mimic the style of the original artist, all the while being
consistent with the information obtained from the archive.

When the painting was consigned to a gallery or an auction,
someone was hired to research it's provenance.  As you might
expect, the same archive that was referenced by the forger and
his partner was now accessed by the authenticator.  Since the
forgery was tailored to match these records, the authenticator's
report typically confirmed that the painting was genuine.

As I recall, by the time this scam was discovered, several very
expensive works that were later revealed to be forgeries had been
sold at major galleries and/or auction houses.  This was one of
the biggest scandals in the art world during the 1990's."

Fred Holabird writes: "Comments made recently regarding library
research, particularly those made by the Editor on Hoffman (the
famous Utah documents forger), are extremely important. Just like
everything else, one has to know how to use their tools, and many
researchers don't know how to use these tools properly. Library
research is a critically important tool in understanding and
unraveling certain parts of history. But it isn't the answer all
the time. Just because there is a directory listing for a specific
business does not mean an article in question is real or fake. It
simply means that there is evidence to support that such a thing
could be real. Too often a direct bridge is made in the association
of certain aspects of historical research and authenticity.

For example, we recently examined an old (circa 1625) oil painting
in a private collection. The "original" was reported in a European
museum. Upon further detailed research in original archival material,
it was found undeniably that the artist had painted this portrait at
least 4 times for other "sponsors." Did this mean that the painting
in question was real, but was a copy by the same artist? No. It meant
that it could be. In this case, we let science be our guide, and dated
the canvas using the latest C14 methodology at an outside lab, and
found the canvas to date to the early 1800's. The original, and the
original copies, were painted in about 1625. This example is a
nineteenth century copy.

In ingots, we have had the same thing happen. A clever (or humorously
artistic) person picked a mine name and made an ingot for it. I used
several examples in one of my articles, particularly a group from
Colorado, such as "the so-and-so Mining Co," Typically, as pointed
out by many, including Kleeberg and Buttrey, some of these bad mining
company dore bars have silly things punched in them such as "999 fine".
Few mining companies that I am aware of have refined bullion historically,
until modern times (generally 1970's onward, with exceptions). The
research here showed the maker had quite an imagination, using the
wrong metal produced (silver rather than gold), placing a high fineness
on the ingot (.999), etc. The worst of these, by far, are the silver
Wells Fargo bars that show up on ebay regularly, and seem to sell for
hundreds of dollars each.

In another case (three, actually), the original ingot punch for Harris,
now in a museum collection, was used to create at least three different
silver ingots in modern times. The modern ingot "artist" failed to
follow the industry protocols, and marked the ingots incorrectly. To me
at least, they are bad fakes. But to the market, they might appear
genuine. Others of similar "construction" certainly exist.

One very important part of our current work is developing a detailed
database using ICP 50-60 element, with multi-metal isotopes from
original high grade (native metal) ore specimens from specific site
localities. In this manner, we have directly compared specific gold
and silver specimens from specific mines to assayer bars from nearby
districts. This important work has already produced excellent results,
but is far from complete.  Inherent problems exist, such as the certainty
of a specific native gold or silver specimen actually coming from the
mine on the specimen label. To safeguard against this, specimens have
been acquired from mine owners, working geologists who collected on
site, and a few select museums who have older collections with verified

The initial findings from this database are that significant differences
exist on an atomic level between major mining districts that are separated
on the earth's crust by significant distances. In example, most Colorado
placer gold from the 1860's districts differs significantly from most Mother

Lode California placer gold. The same holds true for Georgia. We have yet
to test southern California gold regions, or Oregon, Washington, and Montana

regions. There is a long way to go, and the testing is relatively
inexpensive, but we lack a funding mechanism for the thousands of
samples that need to be run to build the quality of data base needed."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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