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Before the time of printing presses and photocopiers there was just one way to make a copy -- it had to be done by hand. It's therefore sometimes hard to tell the difference between an original, a legitimate copy called a facsimile and a forgery.
At Library and Archives Canada (LAC), we have an original friendship and peace treaty signed by Sir William Johnson and four delegates representing the Huron people. Another almost identical document is available at the New York State Archives. Both documents have suffered some damage, but we know that they are both originals of the same treaty. How is this possible?
There are clues that prove that both of these are originals -- such as the signatures, the wax seals, the staining of the seals through the paper and the way the ink has partially eaten through the paper (a chemical process that takes many decades to happen). Also, experts know that it was common practice to make a number of original documents so that they could be sent overseas or so that all the people involved could have a copy. There are also a dozen facsimiles of this document scattered throughout libraries and archives, and one of them is located here. It is a copy created by Witham Marsh, the Secretary of Indian Affairs, to keep as a record.
Watermark on the study of Explication de la Coutume de Paris, 1793-1801, under transmitted light
A rare manuscript entitled Explication de la Coutume de Paris still has our experts puzzled. It seems to be a copy of L'Abrégé de la Coutume de Paris, a book published in London in 1772, but without the title page. With some research, we found out that a lawyer called Xavier Lanaudière wrote it. The handwriting and initials throughout the manuscript are identical to that of his application to practise law. From looking at a watermark on the paper we also know that it was made between 1793 and 1801. What still puzzles LAC experts is why this manuscript was ever written. The original book, L'Abrégé de la Coutume de Paris, attributed to François-Joseph Cuguet, was one of many reports on the Coutume prepared for the Governor of Quebec. A few years later, the Governor ordered a shorter version of the document, which was published in 1773. Why then would Lanaudière go through the trouble of rewriting it 24 years later? Our best guess is that it was an exercise for Lanaudière's law studies or perhaps he made a copy for a friend or co-worker because it was impossible to get the original book. But so far, we still do not have an explanation for Explication.
Did you know...?
Experts use many tools to detect doubles.
Ah, the good old days! When men wore white powdered wigs and almost every thing was made by hand -- including paper. To celebrate its 150th anniversary, the Montreal Gazette published a facsimile of one of its earliest issues. The differences between the original newspaper from 1779 and the facsimile printed in 1928 can only be seen when you look at the paper on which it is printed. Although much effort was made to use a type of paper that imitated 18th century paper (with fake chainlines and laidlines to make the paper look old), the newer paper is easy to identify because it's too thick and it doesn't have the deckle edges (rough and feathery borders) that the original handmade paper would have had.
The difference is even easier to spot in the facsimile of the first issue of the Québec Gazette. Again, it's the paper that gives it away! The "wove" paper used in the early 20th century facsimile simply would not have been available in 1764. This proves that, sometimes, it's not the words that speak loudest, but the paper on which those words are printed!
forgery: an imitation of a document or object made, or a real document or object changed to fool people into thinking it's the real thing -- at someone else's expense. Signing someone else's name on a checque is a forgery. Forging any document with the intent to harm is a serious crime
laidlines: small regular lines left behind on paper when it was handmade in a mould made from rows of metal wires or bamboo. Laidlines are very close together and run perpendicular to the chainlines