Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Abraham Lincoln's Most Notorious Forgers

Charles Weisberg

Charles Weisberg, also known as "The Baron" was brought to public attention in the mid 1930's after he was charged with mail fraud in Pennsylvania for trying to sell forged documents and autographs through the postal service. Some of the forgeries he attempted to sell included a series of falsified signatures purportedly that of actress Jane Mansfield, as well as forged Stephen Collins Foster, Francis Hopkinson and Walt Whitman letters and manuscripts. However, he also sold documents via the mail that were alleged to be original works by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Charles Weisberg
Charles Weisberg

What distinguished Weisberg's Lincoln forgeries from others was that he was quite adept at replicating the writing style and signature of the famous president. Moreover, he would at times use preexisting letters from the Civil War era, on which he would write a forged extension to the document purportedly composed by Lincoln. On first inspection, one might believe that the documents were genuine articles. Yet, as experts analyzed the documents more closely they discovered several critical errors that raised doubt as to their authenticity.

According to an article by Lita Solis-Cohen, one of the errors Weisberg made in his Lincoln forgeries was that his letters were, "long and involved," whereas Lincoln's actual letters were usually brief and to the point. Furthermore, Hamilton pointed out that Lincoln "almost never wrote notes at the bottom of letters or documents, but preferred to fold them three or four times, then write at the top of the center section of the fold." Weisberg's supposed "original" documents were also judged as fakes when it was discovered that the ink used was not from the Civil War period, but actually a modern formula.

Weisberg's Lincoln forgery
Weisberg's Lincoln forgery

The inaccuracies found in Weisberg's documents eventually exposed him as a forger. He was arrested on several occasions and served two back-to-back prison sentences during the 1940s. During his last jail term in 1945, Weisberg died of natural causes in Pennsylvania's Lewisburg Prison. After his death he earned the reputation as one of the most-skilled Lincoln forgers in history. Another well-known fraudster named John Laflin followed in his footsteps.

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