Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles: Famous owners?
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"A volume of the very slightest consequence may be transformed into an object of precious regard just by a bit of writing on one of its leaves."

William Harris Arnold, Ventures in Book Collecting, New York, 1923

Any volume may become a treasured object if it contains the autograph of a famous person. Imagine the appeal of an early edition of Shakespeare signed by another seventeenth-century poet, the thrill of reading President John Adams's own copy of Shakespeare, discovering a Shakespeare play signed by William Penn, or, most thrilling of all, owning a Bible signed by the Bard himself. Profit certainly motivates many forgers, but so too does the desire to fool unsuspecting collectors. Henry Clay Folger was fooled on some occasions and on others knowingly took a chance on inscriptions or annotations that might, or might not, be what they seemed.

Fragment of a Shakespeare Second Folio with the signatures "W. Davenant," "John Dryden," and "Augustine Davenant"

Fragment of a Shakespeare Second Folio with the signatures "W. Davenant," "John Dryden," and "Augustine Davenant" ©

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
A Fragment from Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies
London: by Tho. Cotes..., 1632

These signatures present us with some intriguing puzzles. They are probably forgeries. "W Davenant" was a poet and playwright who was a contemporary of John Dryden, and with whom Dryden adapted Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1667. In 1651, D'Avenant was a prisoner in The Tower awaiting possible execution for treason against the Commonwealth. It is unclear why he would have signed his name on the last leaf of Henry VI, Part 1, or why Dryden would have signed the leaf twelve years later. Was Augustine D'Avenant Sir William's son? If so, he was about ten years old in 1675. Why would someone forge his name?


William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Plays and poems... First American edition
Philadelphia: Bioren and Madan, 1795–96

In 1926, a book dealer in New York sent Mr. Folger an eight-volume set of Shakespeare, writing, "Although you may have this set now I thought my set would appeal to you on account of its association interest. It was in the Library of President John Adams, each volume bearing his bookplate." In fact, the bookplates were altered, as you can see if you move the cursor over the image on the right. The perpetrator missed volume 3, where the apostrophe in "Adam's" remains. Someone named John Adam once owned these books, not President John Adams.

Bookplates supposedly belonging toPresident John Adams ©

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