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Print of an imaginary view of Canada, [1528]
1ère vue de Canada (First View of Canada), [1528]. Notice anything odd?
Print of an imaginary scene of beaver-hunting in Canada, circa 1782
Beaver Hunting in Canada,
circa 1782

ARCHIVED - Detecting the Truth.
Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery

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Document Doubles

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?

Manuscript of the treaty of peace with the Hurons of Detroit, 1764 Manuscript of the treaty of peace with the Hurons of Detroit, 1764

Treaty of peace with the Hurons of Detroit, 1764

Copy of the 1764 treaty of peace with the Hurons of Detroit Copy of the 1764 treaty of peace with the Hurons of Detroit

Copy of the 1764 treaty of peace with the Hurons of Detroit, last 2 pages

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.


Study of Explication de la Coutume de Paris, 1793-1801

Watermark on the study of EXPLICATION DE LA COUTUME DE PARIS, 1793-1801

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.

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Issue of the QUEBEC GAZETTE, June 21, 1764

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Quebec Gazette, June 21, 1764 issue

Copy of 1764 issue of the QUEBEC GAZETTE, printed in the 1900s

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Copy of 1764 issue of the Quebec Gazette, printed in the 1900s

Published documents

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!

Page of a Montréal newspaper, February 10, 1779 Copy of 1779 issue of a Montréal newspaper, printed in 1928

A Montréal newspaper entitled Gazette littéraire pour la ville & district de Montréal, February 10, 1779


attributed: something accepted as belonging to, written by or said by a certain person

chainlines: small regular lines that were left behind on paper when it was handmade in a mould made from rows of metal wires or bamboo. Chainlines are spaced farther apart than laidlines

deckle edges: rough and feathery borders present around a handmade sheet of paper

facsimile: an exact legitimate copy of a document created with no intention to harm. That's where the word "fax" comes from

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

manuscript: a document that is hand-written

watermark: a unique mark, lettering or design made on paper during its production and visible when the sheet is held up to light. Once made, the watermark can never be removed

wove paper: a smooth-surfaced paper without laidlines or chainlines