Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles: Shakespeare's Mulberry Tree
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"And from his touchwood trunk the mulb'ry tree
Supplied such relics as devotion holds
Still sacred, and preserves with pious care."

William Cowper, "The Task," 1785
Thus Cowper described the mulberry tree that gave birth to the Shakespeare relic industry. Supposedly planted by Shakespeare at New Place, his Stratford home, the tree was sold for firewood in 1756. Instead of burning it, purchasers transformed the firewood into saleable items and made a fortune. The issue of fakery has several dimensions here. Did Shakespeare plant the tree? Does wood from trees grown from slips of the original mulberry count as genuine? Was a box marked "Shakespeare's wood" actually made from "the" tree? Was the wood even genuine mulberry? The only certainty, as a modern scholar observes, is that the tree provided a "new and strange addition to rural England's arts and crafts, namely that of making poetry pay."

A 1905 auction catalogue features a prominent photograph of this "tea-caddy made from the mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare." The lengthy text description goes on to call it "an undoubted genuine relic, having Sharp's own stamp on it." Thomas Sharp, the best-known maker of mulberry souvenirs, stamped "Shakespeare's wood" into his products. Note, however, that this box does not actually bear his stamp, only a damaged area where a stamp seems to have been scraped away. The box is possibly genuine mulberry, but fake Thomas Sharp.

Mulberry tree tea chest

Mulberry tree tea chest

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