Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles: John Payne Collier
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"Shame on the perpetrator of that foul libel on the pure genius of Shakespeare!"

Clement Ingleby, A Complete View of the Shakespere Controversy, London, 1861

In 1852 John Payne Collier, a respected Renaissance scholar, announced his discovery of an important Second Folio of Shakespeare's plays. This volume contained thousands of seventeenth-century manuscript corrections and improvements which purportedly derived from early manuscript copies of the plays. The unknown emender was dubbed "the Old Corrector," and the volume became known as the "Perkins Folio" based on an early ownership inscription. Collier's decision to include the emendations in a new edition of Shakespeare created an uproar. Alarmed by Collier's attempts to alter the hallowed words of the Bard, sceptics suggested that Collier himself was the Old Corrector.

Title page from Ingleby's Complete View of the Shakspere Controversy, 1861

Title page from Ingleby's Complete View of the Shakspere Controversy, 1861

Clement Mansfield Ingleby (1823–1886)
A Complete View of the Shakspere Controversy
London: Nattali and Bond, 1861

The book on the left is Ingleby's personal copy of his 350-page attack on the genuineness of the Old Corrector's alterations to the Perkins Folio. The volume also charges Collier with forging emendations in a First Folio at Bridgewater House and tampering with manuscripts there and at Dulwich College and the State Paper Office. Ingleby's meticulous chronology and exhaustive evidence failed to elicit a confession from Collier, although it did effectively put the controversy to rest.


Collier's forgeries extended far beyond the Perkins Folio. He forged letters and other documents, and inserted forged verses, inscriptions, lists, and autographs in genuine sixteenth- and seventeenth-century manuscripts and printed books. Some of these forgeries were included in his edition of the Stationers' Company Registers and in his History of English Dramatic Poetry. The full extent of his forgeries is unknown—the authenticity of many books and manuscripts owned or studied by Collier has been permanently compromised as a result of his known deceptions.

John Payne Collier (1789–1883)
Commonplace book in two hands, ca. 1630–1650, with Collier forgeries, ca. 1840

Collier forged eighty-three ballads in the blank leaves of this commonplace book. They are interspersed among genuine seventeenth-century literary, theological, and medical extracts. It was not until 1971 that a Folger curator matched the handwriting to that of the "Old Corrector." William Chappell unwittingly included some of the ballads in Popular Music of the Olden Time (London, 1859).


17th-century ballad forged byCollier

"The Cuckoes Song," a17th-century ballad forged by Collier

"If the emendations be forgeries how the inventor of them, if alive, must laugh...they now form an essential part of every new edition of Shakespeare."
"I am such a despicable offender I am ashamed of almost every act of my life."
Collier lived until the age of ninety-three. In the last decade of his life he took stock of his career in an assortment of printed and private accounts. An Old Man's Diary was printed for friends, while the intended readership of his unpublished autobiography and journals is less certain. Although he continued to assert his innocence, a number of entries in the autobiography and journal hint at his conflicted sense of shame and pride.

Pages from J. Payne Collier's journal as an old man

Pages from J. Payne Collier's journal as an old man

John Payne Collier (1789–1883)
Unpublished journal (manuscript)
November 7, 1872 to December 11, 1882

The twelve surviving volumes of Collier's journal from this period record his experiences, reading, and memories as an old man. Many of the dated entries express his regrets: that none of his children or twenty-three grandchildren "care a straw about any of the points that interest me," that he burned all of his letters "and very very sorry I now am," and that his Poet's Pilgrimage, a Spenserian allegory written in 1822, was unworthy. In the page on the left he signs himself "J. Payne Collier Nearly blind" and confesses in a shaky scrawl, "My repentance is bitter and sincere."

Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles Exhibition Highlights

Can you spot the fake? | Original copies | Facsimile "witchery" | Famous owners? | False imprints | The Headless Horseman | William Henry Ireland | John Payne Collier | Shakespeare's Mulberry Tree |

Exhibition Intro | Visiting the Folger

This page updated January 26, 2004