Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - Detecting the Truth.
Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Detecting Deception

Written Documents

Manuscripts

Previous | Next

Manuscript of the ruling by François Bigot, 1751

Zoom+

Ruling by François Bigot, 1751
Source


Seal on the ruling by François Bigot, 1751

Seal on the ruling by François Bigot, 1751
Source


Reverse side of the seal on the ruling by François Bigot, 1751

Reverse side of the seal on the ruling by François Bigot, 1751
Source

You have probably already seen old documents with wax seals on them. Seals were an early security system for manuscripts! Many important families had a metal stamp with a carved symbol that was specific to them. After signing an important document, they would drip a dab of hot wax on the ribbon that held the pages together and press the stamp in it, creating a seal. If the seal was broken, it would warn people that someone may have tried to alter the document.

This eight-page text called the Ordonnance, signed by François Bigot in 1751, came to Library and Archives Canada in 1919. Oddly, only in 1991 did we discover that the seal of this document is mysterious….

After some meticulous examination, we knew that the document was authentic -- the paper is of the right time period and the handwriting and the signature are the same as on other documents written by Bigot. The strange thing about this text is the seal. It's located in the wrong place, it's not the stamp that Bigot usually used and it seems… well… too perfectly round. When sigillographers had a closer look, they also noticed that the wax had not stained through the paper (like it usually does) and that the thickness of the seal had not left a bumpy mark on all the other pages (like it should have done). Was it added much later on? Why would anyone add a seal to a document that did not have a seal to begin with? Unfortunately, Canada has so few sigillographers that we still don't know why, when and who put this seal on this document. This mystery remains sealed….

Tricks of the Trade

Examine the seals closely. Can you see a wax stain through the back of the page?

Printed document in black type on white paper, with some staining and a rip at top of sheet

Zoom+

Fake order from Bishop of Québec, dated 1759, created after 1810
Source


Close-up of S in fake letter from Bishop of Québec

Close-up of "s" in fake letter from Bishop of Québec
Source

Published Documents

Look at this letter written by the Bishop of Québec. For a long time, it was thought that this letter was proof that a printing press was in use in the city of Québec as early as 1759. After all, the letter is dated 1759 and it is printed by printing press, so why would anyone think otherwise?

Thanks to some good detective work, we now know that this is not the original letter and that it could not possibly have been printed before 1800. Here's why: Until around 1800, printers only used a small letter "s" at the very end of words. If there was an "s" somewhere else in a word, it would be written as a long "s" (that looked like a funky letter "f"). In this document, the small "s" is printed everywhere! This proves that the document was definitely printed much later than 1759. Another clue strongly suggests that the printing date was after 1800 -- the paper! Although wove paper like the one used in this document was available in 1759, it was still extremely rare and it would not have been available in Canada until after 1800.

Tricks of the Trade

Examine the letter "s" in the words of this document. Are they short ("s") or are they long ("f")? Do you know what this means?

Previous | Next


Glossary

sigillographer: an expert who specializes in the study of wax seals

wove paper: a smooth-surfaced, machine-made paper