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Anonymous Letters And Disguised Hands
Classes Of Handwriting
Forged Literary Autographs
Forged Signatures
Handwriting And Expression
How To Examine A Writing
Measurement And Its Appliances
Paper And Watermarks
Pencils And Stylographs
The Alphabet In Detail
The Capitals
The Expert In The Witness-box
The Principles Of Handwriting Analysis

Forged Signatures

The most difficult phase of the art of the handwriting expert consists
in the detection of forgery in signatures. It will be obvious to the
student who has followed the instructions and illustrations already
given that this difficulty is brought about by two principal causes:
first, by the paucity of material for comparison; secondly, because of
the very important fact that a forgery must, by its nature, be a good
and close copy of an original. This means that the unconscious tricks
and irregularities that often abound in a long letter, written in a more
or less disguised hand, are almost entirely absent from a forged
signature. It follows, therefore, that the student must have some other
clues and rules to guide him, for he cannot rely upon the chance of a
slip or accidental trick occurring in a signature that contains at most
perhaps a dozen letters.

The first step in the examination of a suspected signature is to master
thoroughly the various characteristics of the genuine signature. These
must be studied in every possible relation, and from as many specimens
as can be obtained. The magnifying glass must be in constant use and the
eye alert to detect the angle at which the pen is habitually held, the
class of pen used, and the degree of pressure and speed employed. These
last-named points can only be discovered as the result of practice and
observation, and though at first sight it may appear impossible to form
a correct estimate of the pace at which a pen has travelled, the student
will, if observant, soon learn to detect the difference between a
swiftly formed stroke and one written with slowness and deliberation. By
making a number of each kind of stroke and carefully examining them
through a glass, the student will learn in an hour more than can be
taught by means of verbal description. The study of the genuine
signatures must be continued until every stroke and its peculiarities
are as familiar as the features of a well-known face, for until one is
thoroughly impregnated with the original it will be useless to proceed
with the examination of the suspects.

At first sight the student will probably perceive very little, if any,
difference between the original and the suspect. It would be a very
clumsy forgery if he could. Gradually the points of dissimilarity will
become clear to him, and with each fresh examination they grow plainer,
until he is surprised that they did not sooner strike him; they are so
obvious that the eye cannot avoid them; they stand out as plainly as the
hidden figure, after it has been detected, in the well-known picture
puzzles. There are few faculties capable of such rapid and accurate
development as that of observation. Thousands of persons go through life
unconscious of the existence of certain common things until the occasion
arises for noticing them, or accident forces them upon the attention;
then they marvel that the thing should have escaped observation. This is
a truism, no doubt, but the force of every platitude does not always
present itself to every one. The comparison of handwritings is so
essentially a matter of cultivating the powers of observation, that even
if turned to no more practical account than that of a hobby its value as
a mental exercise is great.

There are two principal methods by which a signature may be forged:
first, by carefully copying the original as one would copy a drawing;
secondly, by tracing it.

The first process is referred to as copied. The forger will, most
probably, have practised the signature before affixing it to the cheque
or other document, thereby attaining a certain degree of fluency. But
however well executed, close examination with the aid of the magnifying
glass will reveal those signs of hesitancy and irregularity that one may
reasonably expect to find in a copy.

There is no part of a person's handwriting so fluent and free as his
signature. Even the most illiterate persons show more freedom and
continuity of outline in their signature than in the body of their
writing. This is explicable on the ground of usage. A writer may feel a
degree of momentary uncertainty in forming a word that he does not
write frequently, but his signature he is more sure about. He strikes it
off without hesitancy, and in the majority of cases appends some
meaningless flourish, which may be described as a superfluous stroke or
strokes added for the purpose of ornamentation, for adding
distinctiveness, or, in some cases, and particularly with business men,
with the idea that the flourishes help to secure the signature from
forgery. Such writers will probably be surprised to learn that there is
no form of signature so easy to forge as that involved and complicated
by a maze of superfluous lines and meaningless flourishes. The most
difficult signature for the forger is the clear, plain,
copybook-modelled autograph. A little thought and examination will make
the reason for this clear.

Let a signature be enveloped in a web of curves and flourishes, making
it look like a complicated script monogram. The lines are so numerous
that the eye cannot take them all in at a glance, and, if copied, any
slight irregularity or departure from the original is more likely to
pass undetected amid the confusing network of interlaced lines. If, on
the other hand, the signature be simple and free from the bewildering
effects of flourishes, the entire autograph lies revealed, a clear and
regular outline, and the slightest variation from the accustomed figure
stands out naked and plain. Most of the successful forgeries will be
found to be on signatures of the complicated order. Their apparent
impregnability has tempted the facile penman to essay the task of
harmless imitation; his success has surprised and flattered him, and the
easy possibilities of forgery opened up. More than one forger has
admitted that his initiatory lessons were prompted by an innocent
challenge to imitate a particularly complicated "forgery-proof"

It must be remembered that the eye of the casual observer takes in a
word as a whole rather than in detail. This explains why an author can
rarely be trusted to correct his own proofs. He knows what the word
should be, and in reading his work in print he notices only the general
expected effect of a word. It needs the trained eye of the proof-reader
to detect the small _c_ that has taken the place of the _e_, the
battered _l_ that is masquerading as an _i_. So long as the general
outline of the word is not distorted the wrong letters are often passed;
and it is much the same with a signature with which one is fairly
familiar. The trained examiner of handwriting, like the proof-reader,
knows what to look for, and discovers irregularities that would escape
the notice of the untrained eye.

The first part of a genuine signature that should be examined is the
flourish, which includes all fancy strokes appended to it, and any
superfluous addition to the body of the letters. A close scrutiny
through the glass will show that the lines forming the tail-flourish are
generally clear, firm and sharp in outline, being formed, not only
without hesitation, but with a dash and decided sweep that are strongly
at variance with the broken, saw-edged, unsteady line of the copy. It
will also generally be found to follow an almost fixed rule in the
matter of its proportionate conformation: that is, supposing the writer
finishes up with a horizontal line under his signature, it will be seen,
on averaging a dozen or so of them, that the distance of the line from
the feet of the letters is proportionately uniform. If the line be begun
with a spur or curved inward hook, that feature will be repeated. The
end of the flourish or final stroke, at the point where the pen leaves
the paper, should be very carefully examined. One writer finishes with
an almost imperceptible dot, as if the pen had been stabbed into the
paper; another finishes with a curve, either upward or downward; a third
with a hook turned upward, either a curve or an angle; while a fourth
continues the line till it becomes finer and sharper to vanishing point.
Some writers are fond of concluding with a more or less bold and
expansive underline running horizontally with the signature. A close
examination will show a variation in the degrees of thickness of such a
line, which should be carefully noted and looked for in other genuine

In this connection it will be found extremely useful and instructive to
study strokes, either horizontal or vertical, with a view to discovering
whether they were struck from right to left, top to bottom, or _vice
versā_. The glass will render it easy to detect beginning from end after
a few failures, which, by the way, should not be allowed to discourage,
for every minute devoted to the study of handwriting is so much gain in
experience, and represents so much more learned, which will never be

The flourishes that occur on and about the signature proper must be
treated as exaggerated loops, and their shoulders, arcs, hooks and toes
carefully measured and noted. For this purpose an average genuine
signature should be selected and gauged, which is done in this way:
Place over it a sheet of transfer paper. With the scale-rule and a fine
pencil draw horizontal lines that will touch the tops and bottoms of the
bodies of the letters, lines that touch the tops and bottoms of the
tailed and topped letters, and vertical lines that follow the shanks of
every topped or tailed letter, including the capitals. The gauge, when
completed, will represent a framework fitting the signature, and its use
is twofold. It helps the eye to detect the variations in the general
contour of the signature, and, when placed over another, brings out the
points of difference. Due allowance must be made for proportion. It is
obvious that the distance of letters will be greater in a signature
written larger than another, but the proportionate distances will be
preserved. The difference in the size of a letter is not very important,
except that it offers more scope for examination. For example, a looped
_l_ may be very small or half an inch long; but, if made by the same
writer, the proportionate width at top, bottom and middle will be
preserved, and compare with the same measurements in the smaller letter.
Signatures of the same writer do not often vary much in size, though
they may be thicker or finer according to the character of the pen used;
but observation will show that the difference in a handwriting caused by
the use of different pens is much more imaginary than real.

The traced signature is produced by placing the paper over the genuine
autograph, holding it to the light, generally on a sheet of glass, and
tracing it with a fine point. Such forgeries are often more easily
detected than the copied signature, for the reason that signs of the
tracing process can generally be found by careful examination. The fine,
hard point used to trace the autograph leaves a smooth hollow, which can
be seen through the glass on examining the back of the cheque or
document. If the paper be held in a line with the eye in a strong light,
the ridge will be more clearly perceived. The difference between a mark
made by a hard point and a pen can be tested by experiment. The hard
point must of necessity be pressed with a degree of force to make the
desired impression on the paper, and the result is a smooth hollow. But
if a pen be pressed hard, it produces two parallel lines, and, instead
of a hollow, a ridge is formed between the parallels. Of course, it will
be so slight as to be hardly perceptible, except through a strong glass,
but it will be there nevertheless, and knowing what to look for, the
expert will generally have no difficulty in satisfying himself whether
the forgery has been traced or copied, a very valuable piece of evidence
when once settled, for it is within the bounds of probability that the
genuine signature from which the tracing was made may be discovered. It
is possible, and has often occurred, that the writer of the original may
have some recollection of having written to the suspected person, or in
many ways a clue may be suggested. There is a well-known case of a
forgery being brought home to the perpetrator through the accuracy of
the tracing. It is a fact easily proved, that no man can write a word
twice, so exactly, that if the two are overlaid they fit. If two such
signatures be produced, it is safe to assume that one has been traced or
otherwise mechanically produced. In the case mentioned a signature on a
cheque was pronounced a forgery by the person supposed to have signed
it. In examining specimens of the genuine autograph, the experts came
upon one which, when placed upon that on the cheque, proved a perfect
replica, down to the most minute detail, showing beyond question that it
had been used to trace the forgery from. It was further proved that the
original had been in the possession of the supposed forger, and the jury
were asked to decide whether it was probable that a man could reproduce
his signature in exact facsimile after a lapse of time, and without the
original before him. As the chances against such a contingency are many
millions to one--a fact the student can verify--the jury decided against
the forger.

At the risk of appearing tautological to a tiresome degree it is
necessary to accentuate the fact that the comparison of handwriting,
and more particularly of signatures, is essentially dependent on
cultivating the faculty of observation. This art cannot be taught; it
can only be acquired by practice and experience, like swimming or
riding. The teacher can at most indicate the method of study and some of
the leading principles of conducting an investigation. Most men are not
naturally observant, and the habit can be best fostered by having an
object; but when once a person has been taught what to look for he
almost instinctively notices details that previously never struck him.
This is specially true of the study of handwriting.

The best method of practice that can be adopted by the student is to
begin by making a careful study of his own signature and writing. He
will be surprised at the number of facts hitherto unsuspected that will
be revealed to him. The value of using his own handwriting as a subject
of examination lies in this, that the student can satisfy himself how
and why certain strokes are made. This he can only guess at in the
writing of others.

The preliminary exercise should consist in studying the effect produced
by the different methods of holding the pen. The signature supplies
excellent material for this class of practice. Begin by holding the pen
with the top end pointed well towards the left shoulder, in the absurd
and unnatural position taught by the old school of writing masters.
Repeat the signature with the pen held a trifle less acutely angular,
and go on till six or eight signatures have been written at a decreasing
angle--until the top of the penholder points well to the right,
producing what is known as a backhand. The effect of these angles must
be carefully noted, and in a short time it will be found possible to
arrive at a very accurate opinion as to how the writer of a particular
signature habitually holds his pen--an important and valuable piece of
knowledge. The practice should be extended to long sentences, and a
frequent repetition of all the letters, capital and small, the
magnifying glass being always used to examine the effect of the various
and varying strokes.

In examining a signature for comparing it with a suspected forgery it
should be copied very frequently, as the clues and suggestions the
experiments will produce are of much greater service than will at first
appear, and of more practical value than pages of theory, as the how and
why will be revealed for much that would be obscure without this
assistance. As experience grows, it will not be necessary to adopt this
copying process so often, for the eye soon becomes alert at detecting
slight shades of difference in strokes, and a glance will convey more
than could be explained in many pages.

Next: The Expert In The Witness-box

Previous: Forged Literary Autographs

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