Joe Esposito submitted this article based on his visit to an event at Mount Vernon yesterday on forgeries and fakes of George Washington
documents. Thanks! There's a nice numismatic aside, which could be a topic for another day. -Editor
Mount Vernon’s new presidential library was one of 12 locations in the D.C. area and among 160 venues worldwide that participated in an
eclectic Obscura Day 2016 on April 16. The topic of this session was fraudulent and fake documents and artifacts of George Washington.
The sponsoring group, Atlas Obscura, which visits unusual history sites, attracted 25 people to the Fred W. Smith National Library for
the Study of George Washington, which is adjacent to the historic mansion. Participants had an opportunity to view bookplates, books and
papers which were concocted by three notorious forgers in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The tour was led by Michele Lee, a special collections librarian who is personally interested in studying Washington fakes and
forgeries, and supplemented by comments from Mark Santangelo, the chief librarian and archivist. Also present was Mary Thompson, a research
historian. Santangelo and the library were profiled in The E-Sylum two years ago.
The forgers discussed were Robert Spring, who practiced his trade in Philadelphia, Canada and Baltimore in the 1860s and 1870s; Joseph
Cosey, who manipulated documents of historic figures during the 1920s and 1930s; and Charles Weisberg, also a serial forger and whose work
spanned the 1930s and 1940s.
These and other forgers relied on tracing original documents, sometimes using a brazier as a light box for assistance. They also
developed modest skills at freehand copies of the signatures of Washington and others. Coffee grounds were used to age paper.
Over the years, Washington forgeries have been uncovered by analyzing the paper, which sometimes was foolishly woven rather than laid,
which was the practice in the eighteenth century; slipping up on the some of the finer points of Washington’s distinctive signature; and by
the status of the deteriorating iron residue used in the ink.
One of the unexpected treats of the visit was seeing two glass-enclosed pyramids of Washington medals, positioned immediately inside the
door of the rare book room. One group has 30 medals from 1778 to 1860 and the other 27 from 1860 to 1932. At the pinnacle of the latter assembly of
medals is the famous Saint-Gaudens inaugural centennial medal of 1889. Among other medals were Washington Before Boston medal and splashers and Laura
Gardin Fraser’s Washington bicentennial medal of 1932.
The tour was capped by an impressive, half-hour performance by a Mount Vernon historical interpreter who was portraying Robert Spring.
The presentation was given for the first time.
For more information on Washington forgeries see this 2011 American Heritage article, cited on the tour: http://www.americanheritage.com/content/ignoble-profession. Charles
Hamilton, the late noted autograph expert, also wrote two books on document forgers.
Atlas Obscura seeks out events to include on an ongoing basis. Perhaps numismatists have an interest in recommending or organizing
events for them which highlight unusual aspects of the hobby. To make a recommendation, go to: http://www.atlasobscura.com/obscuraday2016. Scroll to the bottom.
Atlas Obscura is a great web site and blog, with interesting articles on a multitude of fun topics. Among yesterday's event was
(yikes!) "Cut It Off! An Amputation Demonstration Watch as a skilled medical historian amputates a (model) leg using Civil War-era
surgical tools." -Editor
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON NATIONAL LIBRARY
Wayne Homren, Editor
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.
To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor
at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe go to: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/esylum
Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.
NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster