Paper And Watermarks
The brownish tint of old age which paper needs to help out a fraud is
obtained in various ways--sometimes by steeping in a weak solution of
coffee, but in other cases by holding it before a bright hot fire. This
latter device is, fortunately, not easy of accomplishment, considerable
care, judgment and even luck being needed to ensure a satisfactory
result. In our own case we have failed persistently in the attempt, the
paper becoming tinted so unequally as to excite remark at first sight.
All the old pattern of letter paper was almost uniform in size--post
quarto, and the watermark is invariably very distinct, explainable by
the fact that the art of close weaving the wire mould was not then
brought to its present state of perfection.
The watermarks are very fairly imitated by means of a pointed stick
dipped in a solution of spermaceti and linseed oil melted in water and
stirred till cold; or, equal quantities of turpentine and Canada balsam
shaken together. The same result may be obtained by the use of megilp, a
mixture employed by artists.
The detection of this watermark fraud is simple and infallible. If the
suspected document be moistened with lukewarm water the spurious
watermark disappears immediately, but if genuine, it becomes plainer.
The worn and dingy appearance inseparable from age in a letter is
accentuated by rubbing it lightly with a dirty duster. The effect is
usually obvious under a strong glass, the passage of the dirty cloth
revealing itself in minute parallel lines.
Very little care is needed to distinguish between paper that has been
taken from books and the genuine letter paper of the period. To begin
with, such letters are always on single sheets. In genuine cases, the
sheet is as often as not a folio of four pages. In the majority of cases
the bogus sheet is of no recognised size. If taken from a book larger
than post quarto, it has had to be cut to conceal the tear. This
operation has made an irregular sized sheet--too small for post quarto,
too large for the next size. In the genuine writing paper, all four
edges are usually rough like those of a bank note. If the sheet has been
abstracted from a book, one edge must have been cut or trimmed.
Again, such paper is of unequal thickness, the writing paper of the
period being much smoother and finer than the printing paper, while in
parts it is almost certain the ink has run, as it does on a coarse,
absorbent paper. This is a sure sign that the paper is printing and not
Further, such paper is certain to show signs of wear at the bottom edges
where they have been handled and exposed, while that part of the page
which has been closest to the inside edge of the cover is generally
cleaner, and shows less sign of wear. In many cases the impression of
the book binding is plainly visible.
A careful examination and comparison of a few sheets of genuine letter
paper of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the blank leaves
found in printed books will reveal differences so marked that mistake is
scarcely possible afterwards.
It often occurs that grease marks interrupt the forger. Knowing that he
cannot write over them, and that they are hardly likely to have existed
on the paper when it was new, and when the letter was supposed to be
written, he avoids them. The result becomes apparent in unequal spacing
of words and even letters.
On one occasion a really excellent forgery, which had successfully
withstood all the tests we had applied, had its real character revealed
by a curious oversight on the part of the forger.
It was an early seventeenth century document, and our attention was
arrested by a peculiar uniform smudgy appearance, such as results from
blotting with a hard, unabsorbent, much-worn sheet of blotting paper. At
the period of the presumed date of this document blotting paper was
unknown, writings being dried by means of a specially prepared fine
powder called pounce, sand, or a powder containing fine crystals of
metal intended to give an ornamental gloss to the ink. Close examination
under the microscope revealed the truth. There were no signs of pounce
or any other drying powder, the crystals of which are usually plain to
the unassisted eye, but there were distinct signs of the fibre of the
blotting paper left in the ink.
Another forgery we discovered through the presence in the centre of the
sheet of paper of a very faint square outline which enclosed a slight
discolouration. The sheet had, as usual, been removed from a book, and
the square outline was a faint impression of a book-plate which had been
affixed to the opposite page. The discolouration was caused by the ink
on the book-plate.
It should be superfluous to have to remind intelligent and educated
persons that it is necessary for a collector of old documents to make
himself familiar with the peculiarities, habits and customs of the
period in whose literary curiosities he is dealing. Yet fact compels the
admission that extraordinary laxity and even ignorance exist on these
points. We are acquainted with a collector, by no means uneducated, who
gave a good price for a letter purporting to be by Sir Humphrey Davy,
the inventor of the miners' safety lamp, enclosed in an envelope. He was
ignorant of the fact that envelopes were unknown until 1840, thirty
years later than the date of this particular letter. Envelopes supposed
to have been addressed by Dickens have been offered for sale and
purchased, bearing postage stamps not in circulation at the period.
One would imagine that a forger would pay sufficient attention to his
materials to be on his guard against the blunder which earned the
perpetrator of the Whalley Will Forgery penal servitude. He put forward
a will dated 1862, written on paper bearing in a plain watermark the
date 1870! Another indiscreet person asked the Court to accept a will
written and signed with an aniline copying pencil, but dated years
before that instrument had been invented.
Both the works by Dr. Scott and Mr. Davies, given in the list, show
samples of watermarks of the various periods affected by forgers of