Posts Tagged ‘fraud’

Literary Forger Lee Israel Dies

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Lee Israel has died. Who? She published a number of biographies, but that’s not what she’s best known for:

In the early 1990s, with her career at a standstill, she became a literary forger, composing and selling hundreds of letters that she said had been written by Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward, Lillian Hellman and others. That work, which ended with Ms. Israel’s guilty plea in federal court in 1993, was the subject of her fourth and last book, the memoir “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” published by Simon & Schuster in 2008.

The techniques of her illicit craft sound quite interesting:

In a rented storage locker on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the writer Lee Israel kept a cache of antique typewriters: Remingtons and Royals, Adlers and Olympias. Each was tenderly curated, hung with a tag whose carefully lettered names — Edna, Dorothy, Noël, Eugene O’Neill, Hellman, Bogart, Louise Brooks — hinted at the felonious intimacy for which the machines were used.

When dealers started to suspect her she switched tactics.

By dealing in typed letters, Ms. Israel was obliged to copy only the signatures. This she did by tracing over the originals, first covertly in libraries and later in her Upper West Side apartment, originals in hand. For over time, after whispers among dealers about the authenticity of her wares made composing new letters too risky, Ms. Israel had begun stealing actual letters from archives — including the New York Public Library and the libraries of Columbia, Yale, Harvard and Princeton Universities — and leaving duplicates in their place.

“She would go into these libraries and copy the letter in question, go back to her home and fake as best she could the stationery and fake the signature, and then she’d go back to the institution and make the switch,” David H. Lowenherz, a New York autograph dealer, said on Monday. “So she was actually not selling fakes: She was substituting the fakes and selling the originals.”

She was also a “feisty” alcoholic who couldn’t hold a day job.

Dead at 75.

(Hat tip: Elizabeth Hand’s Facebook page.)

eBay Bad Seller Alert: jazzsharkman

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Back in October, I thought I had snagged a great deal: A first edition of Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said for $48.

However, upon getting it, I immediately saw that it was not a first edition. There was no First Edition statement on the copyright page, and code P7 rather than code 050 on page 231, indicating a later printing, as per Levack’s PKD bibliography. So I contacted the seller for a refund.

Despite selling it on false premises, he refused to take it back, and offered an insulting $5 refund through eBay’s arbitration system.

So this is a blog post to warn anyone away from dealing with eBay seller jazzsharkman, AKA

Kurt Skaggs
PO Box 1800
Union City, CA 94587

due to his fundamental dishonesty in selling a non-first as a first edition, then refusing to take it back.

I’ll update this page if he ever comes to his senses and sends me a full refund.

Book Signature Faker Allan Formhals Found Guilty

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

An antiques dealer accused of selling books signed with fake signatures of famous figures on eBay has been found guilty of some of the charges he faced.

Allan Formhals, 66, of Milford on Sea in Hampshire, was found guilty of eight counts of fraud and two of possessing articles for the use in fraud.

He was cleared of two counts of fraud and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on three further counts.


Forged Book Signatures in the UK?

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One problem book collectors face in assembling a collection is the possibility that some books sold as signed by the author actually have forged signatures. (This is why I won’t buy a book with a Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein signature unless it’s a dealer I trust or has some sort of providence.) Because such fraud is hard to prove, and the average amount lost to any single book signature fraud is probably well south of $2,000, I imagine the crime ranks only slightly higher for police fraud squads than busting counterfeit Pog rings, and such fraud is seldom prosecuted.

But “seldom” doesn’t mean “never.” In England, book dealer Allan Formhals has gone on trial for 15 counts of fraud, “accused of selling books on eBay signed with fake autographs of public figures including Winston Churchill, Robert Louis Stevenson and Pablo Picasso…Police also found the forged signatures of JRR Tolkien, Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette at Mr Formhal’s home, the court was told.”

This is why you should be suspicious of anyone who promotes “flatsigned” books (i.e., only a signature and no inscription) as being superior, since such signatures are easier to forge. “The longer the author inscription the better” has been the usual tradition in bookselling, and I see no reason to abandon it now.

But at least science fiction collectors should take heart that it could be worse, as fake signatures are a much greater problem in the realm of sports memorabilia, where such fraud is a constant problem.

The Formhals trial is still ongoing.