Auctions | May 16, 2012

Bonhams to Sell Schimmel Collection of Literary Forgeries

Bonhams is pleased to announce the sale of the Stuart B Schimmel Forgery Collection in London on 23 May.

This important and renowned collection of material relating to literary counterfeits was assembled over many decades by Stuart and Dorothy Schimmel. They were fascinated by the stories behind the forgeries and what the false documents revealed about the history of the times in which they were concocted.   Indeed, the study of literary forgeries and their significance is now a recognised academic discipline, taught in universities and colleges.

Few literary forgers were motivated by money. Rather, they were attracted by the reflected glory in ‘discovering’, say, an unknown work by a famous figure. The Schimmel collection is particularly strong in the works of William Ireland who fabricated an entire new Shakespeare play, Vortigern; letters between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton; letters by Queen Elizabeth I and a host of other material.  Part of his motive was to feed his father Samuel’s obsession with the Bard.  Samuel continued to believe in the authenticity of Vortigern even after his son confessed that he had made it all up.  Ireland’s, The Shakespearian Productions, is the highest estimated item in the auction at £15,000-30,000 (US$24,000-48,000)          

One of most celebrated of all hoaxes involved the entirely fictitious Scottish Bard, ‘Ossian’, whose works were wildly popular and admired by Goethe and other European literary figures in the 18th century (although Dr Johnson immediately denounced them as the work of a mountebank).  They were ‘translated’ into English by the poet James Macpherson who seems to have been driven by a desire to add lustre to the family name.  

The auction contains a number of pieces relating to Macpherson including a rendition into verse of one his most successful inventions, The Fingal of Ossian, (£4,000-6,000 - US$6,500-10,000)

The sale also features the work of the artist known as ‘The Spanish Forger’ who has been described as “one of the most skilful, successful and prolific forgers of all time”. Active between 1900-1920 in France, The Spanish Forger produced beautifully detailed and coloured illuminated manuscript leaves, purporting to be from the fifteenth century, which are now sought after in their own right.  Four of his works are included in the sale, with Pawnbroker attracting the highest estimate of £6,000 - £8,000 (US$10,000 - 13,000). Although there are now scholarly books devoted to his work, the identity of The Spanish Forger has never been discovered.

For more information on the sale, go to www.bonhams/books.