From the “Old News is So Exciting” front, from half a century ago, here’s the story of Joseph Cosey, one of the greatest forgers in American History.
Cosey received an even greater tribute from the New York Public Library when, in 1934, with the dual purpose of educating the innocent and removing from circulation as many specimens of his work as possible, it set up, under Bergquist’s supervision, a special file known as the Cosey Collection, to which it has been adding ever since. Consisting principally of items the library has been able to prevail upon Cosey’s dopes to donate, the Collection now comprises seventy-eight documents—thirty-one Lincolns, eight Poes, five Franklins, five David Rittenhouses, four Mary Baker Eddys, four George Washingtons, two Edwin M. Stantons, two Thomas Jeffersons, two John Marshalls, two James Madisons, one John Adams, one Samuel Adams, one Button Gwinnett, one Lyman Hall, one Benjamin Rush, one Richard Henry Lee, one Patrick Henry, one Alexander Hamilton, one Walt Whitman, one Mark Twain, one Sir Francis Bacon, one Earl of Essex, and one Rudyard Kipling, the last three being rather unusual examples, since Cosey made few excursions into the foreign field. Bergquist started the Cosey Collection with two specimens he had more or less confiscated from the forger himself —a Lincoln legal petition and a draft of some notes Poe wrote in connection with “Tamerlane.” The latest additions—two Franklin pay warrants, probably copied from the one Cosey stole—were contributed in 1954 by Arthur Swann, a vice-president of Parke-Bernet, who weeded them out, with the owner’s approval, from a group of autographs the galleries were about to auction off. Although speculation is almost meaningless in such matters, one well-informed collector has ventured to guess that if its contents were genuine, the Cosey Collection would be worth about a hundred thousand dollars.
The issue is of particular interest to me because the anonymous nature of the Internet and venues like eBay have given rise to a boom in modern forgery. Though concentrated in sports memorabilia, there have been some notable recent cases in the book trade as well. This is why I won’t buy a Robert A. Heinlein or Philip K. Dick signature without provenance. (I currently have no signed Philip K. Dick and only a single signed Heinlein (an inscribed book club edition I bought from David Hartwell). There is a also certain online seller (whom we shall refer to as F_________) that my friends and colleagues are reasonably sure makes his living selling forged signatures (though mixed in with real ones, just to keep people guessing).
As always, caveat emptor.