Quiz of the Month: Fakes, Forgeries, Fabrications, & Facsimiles

Fakes, forgeries, fabrications, and facsimiles are 4 “F”s that are often heard together when it comes to authenticating questioned documents, artifacts, and works of art.  Each connotes something slightly different:

Fake generally means a document, artifact, or work of art which has been altered in some way to appear older, more valuable, or more unique than it actually is.  Fake might also refer to a facsimile (see below) which is being passed off as a genuine item.

Forgery refers to a fraudulent imitation of a genuine, extant document, artifact, or work of art.  A forgery is created with the intention to deceive.

Fabrication suggests something akin to forgery, with the exception that a fabrication may be a document, artifact, or work of art that never, in fact, existed.  Such a work might be introduced as a “lost” version of a play by a famous playwright, for example, or a “previously undiscovered” portrait by a famous painter.  A fabrication does not have to imitate an existing item in minute detail; it need only have characteristics consistent with the time-period, place, and tradition it purports to be from, and also have a persuasive provenance.

Facsimile is perhaps the most benign of the group.  While fakes, forgeries, and fabrications suggest a deliberate intention to deceive, facsimile denotes a detailed reproduction which is not necessarily intended to be taken for the genuine item.  Facsimiles might occasionally be believed to be authentic by a well-meaning but unknowledgeable person, or they might be exploited by a knowledgeable yet unscrupulous person.

The National Association of Document Examiners is one national organization which credentials forensic examiners and graphologists who are trained in questioned document examination.  Appraisers and conservators often know a great deal about authenticating documents, but are not necessarily credentialed (or qualified) to do so.  They may often be consulted in conjunction with other forensic specialists.

"Solemn Oath" by Dmitri Moor (1919)

This privately-held, Bolshevik propaganda poster designed by Dmitri Moor is a facsimile — and perhaps also a fake, since the seller did not readily disclose to the buyer that the poster was not original.  (Click on the image to see it in a higher resolution.)  The paper is a thin, wood-pulp paper that is darkening slightly with age, which is consistent with the time-period during which this lithographic poster would have been printed.  However, there is a clear visual clue which indicates that this is a digital reproduction of an original poster.  Can you see it?  Share your guess in the Comments, and we will post the answer next week.

1 Comment

  1. These are interesting issues that I recently bumped into when evaluating a purported pirate diary! (Discussion is at http://tslacconservation.wordpress.com/.) The item’s authenticity has been debated for years. Should it be inauthentic, its murky origins cloud the distinction between fabrication and forgery. Fundamentally, we don’t understand the maker’s original intent. Was the goal just to create an artistic rumination on a historical figure? Or was the goal to convince others that the item was genuine, as seems to have been the objective of later caretakers?

    As for your poster, my eyes are on that seam in the middle, but perhaps I’m barking up a Menshevik tree!

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