This week, a collector approached us with some American historical autographs, among them a pay warrant signed by Benjamin Franklin. It immediately brought to mind the National Archives’ recent discovery of forged Abraham Lincoln document. In the late 1920s, Joseph Cosey stole a pay warrant of Franklin from the Library of Congress. He practiced the handwriting and before long was putting them out with some frequency. Cosey went on to forge autographs of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and other political and literary figures. He is a known forger – a heavy drinker who would forge you a document if you bought him a drink.
And judging by his fame and the quantity of his forgeries, he had quite a few drinks. Many of his pieces are now traded as authentic and some even reside in institutions next to their authentic counterparts. But as the below illustrates that Ben Franklin was his masterpiece. Can you find the authentic autographs? What differences do you see? This uses 4 examples of Franklin signatures, all purporting to date after 1776.
4 examples of authentic and forged signatures of Franklin
– Authentic signature as President (Governor) of Pennsylvania – likely 1785-6)
– Forgery by Cosey on a pay warrant dated 1786. The youthful paraph under the signature, the symmetry, the feminine curves of the handwriting are some of the elements to look for.
– Forgery by Joseph Cosey. Note its similarity to number 2.
– Authentic signature from 1777.