In its nondescript cloth binding, the University of Pennsylvania’s copy of The Works of Publius Virgilius Maro Translated by John Ogilby (London : T. Maxey, 1650) at first appears unremarkable. However, the book’s association with the infamous 19th c. forger Harry Buxton Forman (1842-1917) makes it noteworthy. When this volume of Virgil’s works in the Latin Culture Class Collection was rebound, the binder took care to preserve Forman’s bookplate by affixing it to the title page. H. Buxton Forman was a respected bookman of his time. He was a bibliophile and scholar, establishing his reputation with bibliographies of Shelley and Keats. During his years of book collecting and literary pursuits Forman developed a friendship with T.J. Wise (1859-1937), also a collector and respected bibliographer. Their friendship ultimately took a criminal turn as they used their combined bibliographic expertise to fabricate dozens of counterfeit works.
Forman and Wise forgeries were not just limited to simple piracies or creating fraudulent copies of existing works. Rather, they collaborated to invent what are called “creative forgeries.” They used their knowledge of facsimile printing and their reputations as scholars of 19th c. British literature and poetry to invent fictitious works. After compiling selections from an author’s published oeuvre and re-assembling them into a new work, they would then manufacture these fake titles under a false imprint, passing them off to fellow collectors as previously unknown editions. Their unusual method allowed them to operate unexposed for nearly 30 years by “restricting themselves to the more obscure (and thus hitherto unknown and rare) minor works of major authors. Pamphlets purporting to be privately printed for their author’s own use and therefore not commercially available began to emerge from 1888.” (Jones, M. Fake? p. 224).
One of the earliest of these privately printed pamphlets was Poems and Sonnets by Percy Bysshe Shelley edited by Charles Alfred Seymour (1887) where the title page records that the editor Seymour, (an alias for Wise) was a member of the fictitious Philadelphia Historical Society.
Although long suspected of bibliographic misdeeds, Forman and Wise managed to avoid overt accusations of their crimes as there was often no original copy with which the fraudulent copy could be compared. The case against them was not proven until John Carter and Graham Pollard issued their work An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets (1934). By searching auction catalogs, reviewing the forged authors’ correspondence, analyzing the chemistry and composition of paper and scrutinizing the history of the printing types used in the suspected pamphlets, Carter and Pollard could demonstrate the items were anachronistic.
The extent to which H. Buxton Forman participated in the forgeries and perhaps even masterminded the scheme did not become clear until after the publication of Enquiry. A full account of his involvement and the detective work leading to the unraveling of the Forman-Wise enterprise appeared nearly 50 years later by Nicolas Barker and John Collins in A Sequel to An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets by John Carter and Graham Pollard (1983).
Entry no. 1267 in the 1920 auction catalog, The Library of the Late H. Buxton Forman. [Part III], verifies the title’s existence in Forman’s library. The unsigned “Shelley Bookplate,” one of two Forman was known to use, was engraved by Scottish poet and artist William Bell Scott (1811-1890). The bookplate illustrates the owner working at his desk accompanied by a bust of Shelley. It is captioned with the lengthy and grandiloquent text:
The figure that you here see put
was for H. Buxton Forman cut,
Amid his household gods to bide
And relics culled from far and wide.
This book is his on whom you look;
For Scott his graving tackle took
And etched the man to watch therein.
That none by guile the book might win.
Then siste fur!* of great and small
The world holds books enough for all.
Of roughly handling this beware,
And put it in its place with care.
How amusing that Forman would admonish others from daring to obtain his book through guile.
- Barker, Nicolas and John Collins. A Sequel to An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets by John Carter and Graham Pollard : the Forgeries of H. Buxton Forman & T.J. Wise Re-Examined. London & Berkeley : Scolar Press, 1983.
- Carter, John and Graham Pollard. An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets. London : Constable, 1934.
- Collins, John. The Two Forgers: A Biography of Harry Buxton Forman and Thomas James Wise. New Castle, DE : Oak Knoll Press, 1992.
- “Forging a Collection : Thomas J. Wise and H. Buxton Forman, the Two Forgers” University of Delaware Library, Special Collections. 21 December 2010.
- Jones, Mark, ed. Fake! The Art of Deception. London : British Museum Publications, 1990.
- “Harry Buxton Forman.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 March 2014.