Fakes and Frauds: Varieties of deception in print and manuscript

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  • Book Review

    Fakes and Frauds: Varieties of Deception in Print and Manuscript, ed. Robin Myers and Michael Harris. Winchester: St. Paul's Bibliographies and Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1990. Cloth, $55.

    The seven articles in this volume clus- ter around two separate if frequently overlapping topics, and it would be a

    p i ty if the title's emphasis on forgeries and other deceits fails to attract atten- tion from those interested in the schol- arly, literary, and publishing worlds of eighteenth-century England.

    Venerable old age is no guarantee of legitimacy in print or manuscript, for the modern era has no monopoly on inge- nious deceptions and downright lies, as Lotte Hellinga first demonstrates in " 'Less than the Whole Truth': False Statements in 15th-Century Colophons." She argues that early colophons, no less than the works they conclude, must be read critically as texts themselves, with due attention to circumstance, intent, and multiple layers of meaning; printers might alter the truth for a variety of rea- sons including the need to evade the au- thorities, commercial puffery, or even academic punning. In an extended ex- ample occupying most of the article, Dr. HeUinga reviews the evidence for differ- ing current interpretations of the colo- phon of the famous Mainz Catholicon and advances her own complex conjecture about the date and circumstances of the printing, which she believes are con- cealed rather than illuminated by the colophon itself: that it was done by a consortium of Gutenberg's creditors headed by Dr. Conrad Humery, some-

    place outside Mainz, around 1469. The argument is given much fuller treatment in Dr. Hellinga's article in the Gutenberg Jahrbuch for 1989, of which the present piece appears to be a brief and partial summary, and should be considered in the context of Paul Needham's study of the Catholicon printings and his quite different conclusions.

    Nigel Ramsay's "Forgery and the Rise of the London Scriveners' Company" traces the growing need for regulating the honesty of English scribes in a largely illiterate society dependent on sealed documents to authenticate the numerous grants, deeds, leases, bonds, wills, and other records of medieval life. England lacked the official notarial system fre- quently found in Continental countries, and provided no significant legal pro- tection against forged documents in pri- vate transactions (statutes against forg- ers applied only to royal and official in- struments); the clever forger (of which we have entertaining examples) could work with near impunity. In response, by the last quarter of the fourteenth cen- tury the scriveners of London had orga- nized themselves into a well-regulated professional company, distinct from uni- versity-oriented book scribes, and adher- ing to their own rules for performance and standards of integrity. Ramsay's brief account whets one's appetite for more on this topic, particularly as it rounds out recent scholarly attention paid to the history of book production and publish- ing in the later middle ages.

    The most useful essay in this collec- tion, Michael Treadwell's "On False and Misleading Imprints in the London Book

  • 92 Publishing Research Quarterly / Summer 1992

    Trade, 1660-1750," admirably fulfills its stated aim of providing a "modest be- ginners' guide to when to become suspi- cious that the work in front of us may not in fact have been printed by, printed for, or sold by those whose names it bears in black and white." He distinguishes first between those imprints which de- ceive intentionally and those which, while technically accurate, nevertheless provide traps for the unwary. To the lat- ter category belongs, for example, the abbreviated imprint which for economy's sake names only a seller, who may not be either the publisher or the printer, and who almost certainly will not have ex- clusive rights to the work. To the former, that of the genuinely misleading imprint, belong those in which the publisher wishes for some reason to conceal his involvement with a project; the title page may therefore claim to be published by one of the dozen or so well-known "trade publishers" (named by Treadwell), fronts who lend their names to the work of oth- ers. Treadwell suggests practical ways of assessing potentially false imprints, ei- ther to authenticate or expose, and notes warning signs in certain forms of ad- dresses or names. The article is clear, con- cise, focused, and informed by the author's expertise in the early eighteenth- century English book trade. It should be required reading for beginning bibliog- raphers and other scholars working in this field.

    In "Paper Pirates: The Alternative Book Trade in Mid-18th Century Lon- don," Michael Harris looks at the activi- ties and changing fortunes of publishing "outsiders." These were the mostly poorer printers on the fringes of success to whom free competition and open mar- kets were denied by a monopolistic car- tel of established printers and booksell- ers operating in "congers," or organized partnerships, to protect their claims to exclusive publication rights and market

    access. Yet if the insiders characterized all outside competitors as "literary pi- rates," operating beyond the law, the perspective was somewhat different from the other side. In the 1730s and early 1740s Robert Walker, William Rayner, and others successfully organized a se- ries of alternative yet commercially pros- perous businesses, and mounted attacks on the establishment by various means: by legally challenging insider claims to copyrights on such perennial sellers as Shakespeare's works; by issuing biblical commentaries, the Book of Common Prayer, and other popular religious works in in- expensive serial form to compete with the protected trade of the King's Printer; by aggressive marketing including cut- rate newspaper advertising; by quasi-le- gal "takeovers" on the fringes of the re- spectable trade; and by developing al- ternative distribution networks in Lon- don and the Home Counties based on street hawking, direct sales, and even provincial representatives. While not in- variably successful (Walker and his col- leagues were frequently sued and occa- sionally imprisoned), such entrepreneurs were in Harris's view the forerunners of later and more effective attacks on a mo- nopolistic book trade and the notion of perpetual copyright.

    Joseph M. Levine's "'Et Tu Brute?' History and Forgery in 18th-Century En- gland," tells more about the eighteenth century's notions of history, classical scholarship, philology, standards of proof, and an appetite for controversy than about conscious deception. This is a graceful account of the debate in print over the authenticity of letters purport- edly exchanged between Cicero and Brutus, and accepted as real in Charles Middleton's acclaimed 1741 biography of the Roman orator. Claims and counter- claims within the Cambridge academic community spilled over into the publish- ing world and found avid partisans;

  • Book Reviews 93

    Levine is particularly good at explaining the interlocking patterns of academic patronage, friendship, and scholarly ap- proach which informed responses, pub- lished or otherwise, by James Tunstall, Charles Yorke, Jeremiah Mark]and, and finally--in both a lighthearted parody and a serious book--by Charles Ross. Be- hind the furor and the fun was a serious debate over, and increasing sophistica- tion in, standards of classical philology. That such a debate found a legitimate commercial audience says much for the value placed on the classics in Augustan England.

    The volume concludes with two es- says leading up to the present day. Nicolas Barker in "The Forgery of Printed Documents" entertainingly covers the fa- miliar groun d of forgeries by Harry Buxton Forman and Thomas Wise to il- lustrate the importance of evidence based on anachronisms in text, paper, and ty- pography, and places this in the context of his larger plea for a proper balance between "subjective" impression and "objective" evidence in assessing authen- ticity. He moves into the twentieth cen- tury with accounts of his own role in unmasking two modern deceptions. The first of these concerns the Frederic Prokosch keepsake pamphlets, many of which were sold at Sotheby's in 1972; the second, given extended treatment, covers the notor ious case of Mark Hoffman's ingenious forgery of The Oath of a Freeman, and combines a brief sum- mary of Hoffman's career with a techni- cal discussion of the typographical and

    other problems in this forgery. It is un- fortunate that Barker's article (alone among the contributions to this volume) lacks the footnotes which would lead readers to other publications on the topic.

    Tom Davis brings a different perspec- tive altogether to issues of forged hand- writing. As both bibliographer and fo- rensic documents analyst, he argues for more communication between the two fields and begins with a discussion of the physiological mechanics of writing: the "interaction of bone, muscle, and brain that produces skilled handwriting." Defining the basic movement involved in writing as a variation on wave-forms, rather than as the discrete joining of in- dividual letter forms, Davis uses this theory to test two cases of potential forg- ery from trials at which he offered ex- pert testimony, distinguishing the varia- tions in writing caused by psychological or physical stress from those inherent in a forger's imitation.

    The essays in this volume began as papers given at the tenth annual confer- ence on aspects of the book trade, held in 1988 under the auspices of the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at Birkbeck Col- lege of the University of London. The publication of this latest in the series of proceedings is a tribute to the work of the two editors, Robin Meyers and Michael Harris, in p