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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

A Hobby For Near Sighted-People

( Originally Published 1913 )

Among a collection of early Byron MSS. is a boyish poem, so bad as to deserve quoting in part, to show that great writers are made as well as born :

Adieu to sweet Mary for ever,
From her I must quickly depart;
Though the Fates us from each other sever
Still her image will dwell in my heart.

No forger of Byron MSS. would ever dream of trying to pass off, as Byron's, verse so weak and faulty as that third line.

The most authoritative French writer on autographs thinks that all good judges of autographs are necessarily near-sighted; it takes the most excellent close eyes, he thinks, to detect a counterfeit MS. Of late, " expert " evidence on handwriting has fallen into discredit in courts of law, and one does not wonder. But expertise in the detection of fraudulent autographs is not quite the same thing as that. Such experts have always been few and naturally gifted, and there are the details of the paper, the colour of the ink, the creases, the water-marks, etc., to aid them.Certain autograph frauds are famous-Chatterton's Rowley poems, for instance, and Macpherson's alleged transla tions from " Ossian." Curious to state, W. H. Ireland, the wholesale counterfeiter of Shakespeare's signature and MS., once dwelt in the building lately occupied by Sotheby's, the place where the best autograph auctions are held.

A Good New Book.-Autograph collectors are many, but good books in English on their hobby have been strangely few. Now, however, an authoritative, handy guide has been published at a handy price; I mean the " Chats on Autographs," by A. M. Broadley (Unwin, 5s. net). With this, and the " Guide to the MSS., Autographs, etc., exhibited in the Department of MSS. and in the Grenville Library of the British Museum " (published and sold at the Museum for 6d.) a beginner at autograph-collecting will find himself well equipped.

Some Quotations.-- The publishers of autograph catalogues invariably adopt the following convenient abbreviations: A.L.S. (autograph letter signed), A.L. (autograph letter unsigned), A.N.S. (autograph note signed), D.S. (document signed). In France L.A.S. indicates an autograph letter signed, and P.S. (Piece signee) a signed document."I ask for a classification of autographs, which should be logical and scientific. Mr. Broadley cites the one adopted by M. Charavay. Omitting the purely French references, it is as follows: (1) Heads of Governments, (2) Statesmen and Political Personages, (3) Warriors, (4) Men of Science and Explorers, (5) Actors and Actresses, (6) Writers, (7) Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, and Architects, (8) Women. But one cannot consider that an ideal classification. Why set " Warriors " in front of " Writers " and " Painters," etc. ? Why put " Actors and Actresses " in front of Writers and Artists? And why should "Women" be a separate head ?

Detecting Forgeries.-Forgers used to counterfeit autographs by the aid of lithography; now the camera is brought in, to help ; but the fraudulent use of the hand, with pen and ink on old paper, still goes on. Tracings, done over genuine letters and documents, are sometimes fobbed off upon the unwary. Facsimiles of letters, published in books of biography, are taken out, folded, creased, soiled, and then sold as originals. But there are tests of the difference between printers' ink and ink from the pen. If the "manuscript" be done in lithographic ink or by the aid of photography, you may touch the letters by the tip of a tiny brush dipped in muriatic acid and water, and without causing the ink to lose colour; " in a genuine letter the writing so touched would grow faint or disappear." A mere matter of chemistry, that, you see. " I once discovered a letter of William Pitt the elder to be a forgery by the mere accident of the sun falling on it and showing a narrow rim round each letter. In this case the basis was a photograph, touched up with black paint."

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