From antiquity to current times, there have always been writers devising literary forgeries of all kinds, either copying an existing book from the classical period or simply creating a fake original edition to trick collectors and scholars into purchasing a book that would be difficult to compare to any other. Some forgers do it for financial gain, some for ideological reasons, and some probably because of an impish instinct to prove that they can fool respectable scholars into believing an item is genuine.
There are some famous examples of forgeries, like The Donation of Constantine, a document supposedly written by Emperor Constantine (285-337 AD) and granting to Pope Sylvester I large territories of the Western Roman Empire as a token of gratitude for having converted him. Actually, the document was a forgery from the eighth century. This was not revealed before the 15th century, when Lorenzo Valla published the Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine, in which he revealed numerous anachronisms. The Catholic Churchsuppressed this work for many years before conceding, centuries later, that the Donation was a fake.
The Johns Hopkins University recently acquired one of the most comprehensive collections of literary forgeries: the Arthur and Janet Freeman Collection of Literary and Historical Forgery, also called the Bibliotheca Fictiva. Arthur Freeman is an antiquarian book dealer. He and his wife Janet Ing Freeman are scholars who wrote a book, reviewed here, about John Payne Collier, a nineteenth-century scholar and literary forger who published a number of fake documents on Shakespeare. Their collection includes 1,200 items covering many centuries, and they wanted it to belong to a research library, which is how these astonishing books are currently being made accessible for consultation in the Sheridan Libraries Special Collections. You will be able to discover works by Joannes Annius de Viterbo, by Thomas James Wise, and many others. Enjoy!
I’m not seeing it available on Amazon yet…