Forgery isn’t just about paintings: When crime invades many industries

Part 3 of a three-part series on forgers. Read part 1 here, part 2 here.

Not only paintings are forged. This group of master forgers duped the literati, the worlds of currency and philately, historical archivists and even the wine experts. Sometimes, it’s about the thrill of the con, but more often, it’s about the money.

Read on for more cons involving books and documents, stamps, and even wine.

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The literary forger

1 > William Henry Ireland: British apprentice + confessed Shakespeare forger seeking paternal acceptance

In the late 1700s, 19-year-old apprentice William Henry Ireland began “discovering lost documents” in Shakespeare’s own handwriting in an old trunk. Ireland’s difficult father worshiped Shakespeare, so the scheme was the perfect in with him.

As a prolific forger of the Bard, Ireland produced signatures, legal documents and manuscripts. He not only had his father’s attention, but the approval of experts as well. Since essentially no documentation remained of anything relating to Shakespeare’s life or handwritten work, experts and the public alike were ripe to accept Ireland’s fakes.

But when Ireland became bolder and wrote “a lost Shakespearean masterpiece” titled Vortigern and Rowena, the jig was up.

William Henry published An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts to clear his father’s name in 1800. In 1805, he published The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, but neither man could recover their reputations before their deaths. William Henry Ireland died in 1835 virtually penniless.

The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly is a great read about Ireland’s antics.

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The international stamp scam

2 > Jean de Sperati: Italian artist + convicted philatelic faker filling a need in the affordable art market

As a child in Italy in the late 1890s, Jean de Sperati was a stamp collector with an interest in printing and photography – his family printed postcards and owned a paper mill. A great foundation was in place for a future stamp counterfeiter.

When his first forgeries of San Marino stamps went over well, de Sperati fabricated 500 master-quality forgeries from more than 100 different issuing agencies. But in 1942, his shipment was intercepted. de Sperati managed to convince the officials that the stamps were not originals but forgeries for sale at a pittance of the actual value. How’s that for an argument?

de Sperati was charged with fraud instead of the more severe crime of exporting capital. In his 1948 trial, he proclaimed himself an artist and not a counterfeiter. However, he was sentenced to a year in jail and fined 310,00 francs. At 64 years old, he never served time. In 1954, he sold his collection for a bundle and died three years later.

Jean de Sperati is best known for his remarkable red 1913 £2 Kangaroo stamp. His forgeries are considered by many to be the best in the world, and sell at Sotheby’s and Christie’s for thousands.

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The currency con

3 > Charles Ulrich: German engraver + convicted counterfeiter living large as a serial polygamist

Charles Ulrich made his name after he emigrated to New York City. In the 1860s, he became one of the greatest engravers of counterfeit US $100, $50 and $5 bill plates. In New York Times articles, Ulrich claimed that he produced $80,000 in fraudulent currency (about $1.38 million via the Inflation Calculator), and more with his future partner, Henry C. Cole.

But his weakness was not only money – Ulrich liked the ladies. So much so that he had a wife in several cities. And this would be his first downfall.

Ulrich had been incarcerated, but escaped many times over, and spent time on the run in Canada. In 1868, while in Cincinnati, all his women converged and gave him up to the police. Ulrich finally confessed and was sentenced to 12 years in a federal penitentiary.

Ulrich was pardoned in 1876 – shortly before he met Cole. In 1878, Ulrich was again captured, but became an informer to jail Cole. Testimony revealed that the counterfeit ring had made a fatal error. Some bills still bore the engraved signature of Register of the Treasury Lucius E. Chittenden. The problem was that Chittenden had been replaced before the genuine notes had been printed. Ooops.

In 1907, Ulrich died at age 72 finishing his life as a legitimate engraver. His currency was said to be “unrivaled in delicacy of touch and matchless beauty of finish.”

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The great wine sham

4 > Person(s) unknown: Italian wine consultant(s) + false advertiser(s)/embezzler(s) orchestrating a massive wine fraud operation

While the investigation is ongoing, Tuscany is facing one of the biggest wine scams in its history. According to Decanter, Italian police have seized fake Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino wines, enough to fill more than 200,000 bottles. Cheap wine was switched out and labeled as two of Italy’s most famous brands. Fortunately the wine never left the distributors.

Wine Spectator reports that an unidentified wine consultant is under investigation – suspected of fraud, hacking and embezzlement. It’s unclear whether the wineries were duped by the alleged fraudster, or complicit.

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 Read part 1 here, part 2 here.

Montage designs: Janet Giampietro
Images: William Henry Ireland confession and forgeries, and Jean de Sperati forgeries are in public domain. Real currency that Charles Ulrich was forging, $100 note, 1868 with Chittenden signature, other notes, 186,  are in public domain. Images for wine bottles montage from Wine Spectator, for illustration only.

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