Englishman Robert Spring (b. 1813) immigrated to the United States and opened a modest bookshop in Philadelphia. However, he found the bookseller’s trade less than profitable and began to seek ways to capitalize on the growing interest in Presidential paraphernalia, specifically, George Washington. Although Spring continued to run his bookshop legitimately, his...
Englishman Robert Spring (b. 1813) immigrated to the United States and opened a modest bookshop in Philadelphia. However, he found the bookseller’s trade less than profitable and began to seek ways to capitalize on the growing interest in Presidential paraphernalia, specifically, George Washington. Although Spring continued to run his bookshop legitimately, his counterfeit activities were soon detected, and he was arrested in Philadelphia in 1858. He sought refuge in Canada and continued his forgery by using pseudonyms. Spring returned to the United States circa 1860, settling in Baltimore.Â After a second arrest, Spring’s operating procedures were outlined at his 1869 trial for forgery in Philadelphia. He died penniless in a Philadelphia charity ward hospital in 1876.
Spring was ambitious and his ingenuity sometimes evokes a grudging admiration. He originated the technique of personalizing his fabrications. He was also first to advertise, soliciting for autographs and rare books. Spring also had the honor of being characterized in a 1930 Robert Ripley â€˜Believe It Or Notâ€™ cartoon. His work has duped many, even so far as his Washington forgeries being ostentatiously displayed in Independence Hall.Â He is said to have described his activities as â€œinnocently contributing to the gratifications of the amiable weakness of those who are fond of autographs.â€ It is thus ironic then that the notorious Spring would base his livelihood forging the signature of the man who â€œcould not tell a lie.â€
Perhaps less than half of the libraries, and almost none of the private owners, are aware that their Washington document is a Spring forgery. Springâ€™s forgeries are recognizable both because they lack Washingtonâ€™s bold, strong but elegantly fluid stroke and also because he used similar formats time and time again. He would use the “Pass,” allowing a soldier of varying name to pass this way or that. Or he would write a check from Mount Vernon. These forgeries, increasingly uncommon, are highly sought after by Washington collectors and others interested in the world of American forgers.
Autograph Document Signed, “Mount Vernon, October 8, 1798, to the Cashier of the Office of Discount and Deposit â€“ Baltimore,” â€œWill please pay Lewis Benedict Esq. or bearer the sum of Two hundred and twelve dollars and chg. the same to my account.. G. Washington.”
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