Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Abraham Lincoln's Most Notorious Forgers

Spotting an Authentic Lincoln

It is likely that a collector's worst fear is buying a worthless forgery. Moreover, there is little doubt that most have been unwittingly duped at one time or another when buying a collectible. How can you avoid making a costly mistake? Hamilton, a recognized handwriting expert and collector has compiled 13 rules that assist buyers and owners of historical documents in scrutinizing the authenticity of their prized collections, which are:

Rule 1: Be wary of bargains!

Rule 2: Ignore affidavits by people who are not recognized as authorities on autographs.

Rule 3: Check doubtful handwriting against a genuine example of the same period.

Rule 4: Make sure the address-leaf is correctly written, sealed and folded.

Rule 5: Beware of a signature that differs in any marked way from the usual signature of the writer.

Rule 6: Examine the paper carefully.

Rule 7: Exercise caution when handwriting is noticeably small.

Rule 8: Do not be misled by dealer markings on a document, or by penciled notations or by repairs or by evidences of prior mounting or framing.

Rule 9: Compare the ink with that of a genuine document of the period.

Rule 10: Carefully investigate any autograph of exceptional rarity or with extraordinary contents.

Rule 11: Check the contents of the document or letter against known facts.

Rule 12: Be suspicious of shaky handwriting or any evidence of erasures or tracing.

Rule 13: Keep an eye out for Autopen signatures.

More specifically, when analyzing an alleged Lincoln document, there are many telltale signs that could determine it authenticity. According to an article by Katherine Ramsland titled "Literary Forensics," there are several primary factors that play an important role when analyzing and comparing documents. Those factors are divided into four categories, which include form, line quality, arrangement and content.

Relating to form, some of the characteristics found in Lincoln documents that distinguish them from other works include, distinctively small characters, which are mostly in a somewhat standing position with a faint skew to the right. Furthermore, his handwriting is often difficult to read due to partially formed cursive letters. In his signature, almost all of the letters are connected, especially the "A" of Abraham with the "L" of Lincoln.

The line quality of Lincoln's writing (which Ramsland says is affected by the type of instrument used, flow of script, or the pressure exerted), is sometimes varied, depending on the time and condition in which the document was written. A majority of his documents were written in dark brown, almost black, ink. He was also known to use bluish paper when writing formal and informal letters. Moreover, aside from his signature, which is often stepped and written on three different levels, the flow of his writing is mostly even.

Lincoln's scriptural style is also clearly spaced and evenly aligned. However, it is the content of Lincoln's letters and documents that distinguishes his writing from others. Lincoln was usually concise. Thus, he used his words efficiently, yet elegantly. It was obvious that he had a superior grasp of the English language, and he was extremely careful in his wording. Although there have been many who have successfully forged Lincoln's writing form, arrangement and even line quality, few have been able to emulate his content style. In fact, it is his writing form that made him a master of prose.

Although there are many clues that can help us determine a fake Lincoln from an original, there are incidents where superbly executed forgeries have gone undetected even by the most trained expert. Thus, there is a possibility that somewhere in the world, either in a museum, historical archive or private collection there is a chance that an alleged Lincoln "original" is actually an unexposed fake. This fact prompts onlookers to take an even closer look and ask, "Is this the real thing?"

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