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How to tell a fake or forgery

Index to known fakes, forgeries and deceptive facsimiles (a Microsoft Word table that opens separately)

Details of the works cited below can be found in the Bibliography


There must be hundreds, probably thousands, of reproductions of early maps. They are commonplace in public spaces likes restaurants and hotels. These pages do not describe such obvious copies. J.B. Post suggested the concern should be with maps that 'pretended to be what they are not, with the intent to deceive'. However, as it is not possible to determine with any certainty a publisher's intention, this listing uses instead the criterion of maps that might deceive a reasonably experienced person.

Even that is far from being an objective guideline. Those who have never closely examined an original engraving are sometimes taken in by obvious copies. Then again, some experienced observers have been deceived by examples that their colleagues had immediately realised were false. The fact that an imitation has been publicly discussed as a possible original, or if one has deceived, say, a curator or dealer, is sufficient reason for including it in this listing. The Albarel map of North America is a good example. Although it would not have been thought likely to 'deceive a reasonably experienced person', John Woram found four examples in North American archives and specialist libraries (though some seem to have been removed from public catalogues after they had been alerted by us). Is that one example sufficient evidence, perhaps, of the need for these pages?

Looking from the other end, the producer's, the crucial question is whether the publisher has included a clear, and non-removable statement, indicating a modern origin. Information in a margin - particularly if it is some way from the map edge - can easily be trimmed off or hidden behind the mount in a frame. The surest way to avoid confusion is for an embossed stamp to be applied on the body of the map, or a special watermark incorporated into the paper.

Producers of high quality facsimiles may have the highest motives, but, if it is possible for the unscrupulous to pass them off as genuine, they will do so. Sets of the Morden playing card maps that Harry Margary so lovingly reproduced were stained brown and put through auction as originals, and facsimiles of globe gores have been used to make fake original globes.

This 'Fakes, Forgeries and Facsimiles' section is trying to record different points of view, not analyse arguments or judge between them. Nor is it concerned with the accuracy of the map's content, i.e. deceptive information, or the 'maps that lie' aspect of the history of cartography.

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Confusingly, the following terms are often used interchangeably. Nor is there a precise match between the definitions offered by the Oxford English Dictionary and the various categories of cartographic deception.


The OED suggests "to tamper with, for the purpose of deception", which implies the alteration of an existing document. Such certainly happens occasionally to maps (see Dates) but most of the possible 'fakes' listed here are either wholly genuine or entirely false. The term applies almost exclusively to manuscript maps and other hand-made objects.

Fakes are often controversial. In some cases - and the Vinland Map is the best example - the arguments have continued for decades. In the context of the history of cartography such real or suspected fakes are far more important than the forgeries of printed maps. However their brief entries here are largely restricted to pointing the user to the best sources of further information.


However there are certainly a number of maps that were created by hand and then machine-printed like other forgeries. The Albarel map is a good example of a fake/forgery hybrid - a concoction, in this case comprising elements from different printed maps, which is then attributed to an imaginary author. The crude fake of the De Bry map of the middle part of America reproduced the original authorships statement (even if the date was garbled) but likewise added elements from other sources, to make what was no doubt considered to be a more 'attractive' composition [this was noted in November 2008].

Another concoction [described in October 2008] is a version of the Janssonius map of Nova Anglia, variously and implausibly dated 1580 and 1595, and made up of decorative elements plundered from different sources. A parallel instance [described in October 2009 and June 2010 respectively] relates to the paired Hondius-Janssonius maps of North America and South America.

Another later entry to the fakes listing [August 2009] describes a 1643 Tavernier world map that had been 'improved' with elements from other maps. For a fifth concoction see Shirley No.250, Plate 197, a Plancius-style world map with other elements from various sources. [That it is a fake was confirmed subsequently.] In January 2013, a doctored facsimile of the Hondius-Le Clerc world map was seen [Shirley No.233, Plate 185 - i.e. the double-hemisphere version]. Issued by Antica Editions ('Cartes anciennes sur papier parchemin') it has been embellished with additional sea creatures, one each in the North and South Atlantic.

This same Antica Editions has issued facsimiles of the regional maps of France from the Le Clerc atlas, also with additional decorative features taken from elsewhere. I owe this to Wulf Bodenstein's note in the BIMCC Newsletter 45 (January 2013), p.24.

Then, in October 2013, I was alerted to the existence of the following French illustrative artist who was producing map 'concoctions', in sizeable numbers, for at least forty years.

Daniel Derveaux (1914-2010)
{This section added 18 October 2013}

Daniel Derveaux was a well respected French artist and illustrator, working in St Malo from at least 1933. He was then using engraving and, by 1942, lithography, as well as offset printing (probably the technique used in this case), though he also drew in crayon directly on the stone. His entry in the French Wikipedia refers to "trčs nombreuses cartes géographiques ou historiques sur la France et toutes ses régions". In the 1940s and 50s he produced almost 50 'antique' maps, augmented with coats of arms and genre scenes. For further information about Daniel and his son and successor Pierre, as well as technical notes on the printing method, see the new website, selecting, in the English version, 'Ancient and historical maps' and 'About us'. {This sentence added 11 August 2014}

How many maps did he produce and how many of those might be confused with genuine originals, particularly if they do not bear his signature or a date, or if those details have not been recorded? An Advanced Search on WorldCat for Daniel Derveaux and 'Map' (in 'Format') produced 89 hits (some being duplicates). The earliest date cited is 1944, the latest 1989.

Many of the maps concern France and a number are clearly historical reconstructions but several titles look as if they are likely to be redrawn maps, presumably with the added pictorial elements that were his signature feature. An entry has already been made for his counterfeit map of North America supposedly acknowledging the newly formed United States - 'Carte des pays d'Amérique Septentrionale dressée en 1778 avec privilčge du Roy'.

One other of the Derveaux productions can be singled out for this listing, since I have been supplied with a legible image [Note added 30 January 2014]:

    'Angliae, Scotiae, et Hibernić, sive Britannicar: Insularum descriptio'. The retained imprint reads: Amstelodami Ioannes Ianssonius. Anno 1621 (although the WorldCat description gives the date incorrectly as 1629). Originally issued in 1604 by Pieter van den Keere, the plate was taken over by Janssonius, who added his own 1621 imprint. See R.W. Shirley, Early printed maps of the British Isles 1477-1650 (Holland Press, 1980), Nos 263 & 374. A medium resolution image of the 1621 original is available from the University of Bern.

    In late January 2014 I was alerted by Peter Lenagh to an example of this on eBay. The image is small and unclear, even when enlarged, but the Derveaux additions in this case are easy to describe: a centaur has been inserted towards the lower left, with a cartouche alongside to his right, stating 'Ports in England and Wales'. Beneath the centaur can be read: 'Edit. Col [?] Derveaux'. Beneath that is a black-bordered strip containing ten English city views, reading from the left: Bristol, Hull, Newcastle, Chester, London, Yarmouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, Dover Castle and Plymouth. At the same time, Derveaux had to extend the side borders with a couple more lines of longitude (the map is oriented to the west).

    There is no Janssonius map of the British Isle including such city views; the photographic addition of these is evident. Others will probably be able to identify the views, which, since there are none from Wales (despite the heading), are likely to have come from a larger, 17th-century (?) suite.

A number of other maps seem worth mentioning separately. Since they are listed under his authorship, all must bear his signature but, as with the 1778 Amérique Septentrionale, this important detail may have been omitted by some cataloguers. What follows is a selective listing:
  • 'Carte du pays de Tendre' (Jacques Defrevaulx)
  • 'Royavme d'Amour en l'isle de Cythere' (Tristan L'Hermite& T Sadeler)
  • Bellin: Corse
  • Berey: Bourgogne, etc.
  • Braun & Hogenberg: Bruxella
  • Covens & Mortier: Imperii Russici
  • Dagde: Languedoc
  • Delisle & Buache: France (1768 reissue of the 1721 original)
  • Duval: Lorraine & Alsace (1683); Switzerland (1677)
  • Hondius & Rogier: Holland
  • Jacques Defrevaulx: 'Lutetia 1600 vulgo Paris'
  • Jaillot: Afrique
  • Jollain: Mont-St-Michel; St Malo
  • Josse de Reveau: 'Lutetia, vulgo Paris, anno 1575'
  • Lafreri: Scandinavia
  • de Rossi, etc: Italia (1694)
  • Sanson: Asie; Guienne & Guascogne; Normandie; Pays Bas catholiques
  • Speed-Overton: Holy Island, etc.
  • Tarde: Sarlat
  • Tavernier: Paris
  • van Langren: America meridionalis
  • N.Visscher: Teutschland
  • Zenoni: Hispania
[Update: 11 August 2014.] The new website, Editions d'Art Daniel Derveaux, lists (in French or English) 60 of the maps for sale, each with an enlargeable image. This indicates what is still available; it is not a complete inventory of what was produced.

[Update: 30 January 2014.] Peter Lenagh drew my attention to a page on eBay, which may be temporary, listing about 25 Derveaux maps. They are attributed to Daniel Derveaux; each has a thumbnail (enlargeable only slightly so not legible); none has a proper description, e.g. with the name of the author or date of the original. The modest prices show there is no attempt to suggest (here at least) that these are originals. They are being offered for sale from Chartres, France [though I was assured (June 2014) by Guillaume Derveaux that this has no connection with the family business.]

[Update: 22 October 2013.] Peter Meurer referred to the Derveaux version (1979) of the Visscher map of Germany, S. Imperium Romano-Germanicum oder Teutschland, in his article 'Die Deutschland-Karte des Straßburger Mathematikers Julius Reichelt (ca. 1680)', Speculum Orbis 2, (1986): 96–102 (note 15, p.102). Derveaux had added a harbour scene in the lower left.

[Update: 12 May 2023.] 'Copy, reconstruction or fake?' (an illustrated note by Debbie Hall about one, or perhaps two, Derveaux plans of Paris; for the Bodleian Map Room Blog, 11 May 2023).

The Fakes, Forgeries and Facsimiles listing was first published online in 2008. None of Daniel Derveaux's productions had previously been brought to my attention - despite some of them being 'likely to deceive', as per the wording of the section's heading. And the only one that could be written up, the fake 1778 map referring to the Etas Unis, was published in the 1960s; in other words it has been around for about half a century.

The French Wikipedia entry mentions that almost 10 million Derveaux prints had been distributed by the Editions d'Art Daniel Derveaux, run, since 2006 by Daniel's grandson, Guillaume, in Parthenay, France. How many further examples of the 1778 North America or any other of his maps are likely to appear in future on eBay, perhaps ambiguously described?

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"The making of a thing in fraudulent imitation of something; also, esp. the forging, counterfeiting, or falsifying of a document" OED), is a good summing up of most of those considered to be 'forgeries' in this listing, i.e. deceptive copies of printed maps.

Some forgers add fake elements, e.g. dates and/or imprints (sometimes improbable ones) to their maps, to give them spurious authenticity.

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The term is often applied to any kind of reproduction. However, it should be restricted to "an exact copy or likeness", i.e. not one of the many reduced copies available today. Clearly, unless they are of the same size as the original there is no danger of deception. The facsimiles listed in these pages are of high quality and lack a visible statement of their modern origin (though note that any marginal explanation can be trimmed off or hidden under a mount).

In the age before the general availability of adequate photography, facsimiles were hand-drawn. This applied to the mid-19th century atlases of Jomard and Santarem, and a number of maps. One described here, the Champlain map of New France, was closely examined and found to be a very meticulous copy, especially of the letter forms. However, as a lithograph it could easily be distinguished. {This paragraph added 12 January 2017}

Although it is usual to refer to a single example of a printed map as a 'copy', that word will not be used here, to avoid confusion with the genuine reproductions or counterfeit 'copies' being described. Instead, the more correct term 'impression' will be used to refer to a single example of a printed map.

For information about legitimate publishers of facsimile maps see Map Collections.

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Other types that might confuse

'Pirated' imitations

Publishers often produced close imitations of the work of their rivals, particularly before copyright protection began to be effective in the 18th century. Such 'pirated' copies were common in 17th-century Amsterdam. The appearance of almost identical maps need not arouse suspicion.

Such unauthorised imitations were usually created by cutting directly through the paper of the impression that served as a model, onto the new copper plate. The point to remember is that paper was dampened before printing and would shrink afterwards. Hence a printed map is always slightly smaller than the plate it is printed from, and imitations may be a little smaller than their models. Remember also that genuine impressions of the same map may vary in size by as much as 2% because of uneven shrinking.

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The same applies to reprints as to facsimiles, that they have been noted only when they are thought likely to deceive. But is there usually a clear statement that they are not original impressions? The answer, of course, is no. Which is why some of the listed items fall into the category of reprints ('restrikes', or later pulls). A surprisingly large number of early copperplates and woodblocks survived for a century or more, even to the present day. Some have certainly been used to produce confusing later reprints.

As yet, no listing of surviving plates and blocks exists. This site can list only those that have definitely been reused, not the far wider corpus of those known to survive, and that might be reprinted in future. Francis Herbert has a provisional, unpublished listing of surviving printing platforms for woodcut, engraved and lithographed maps [email: francis443herbert(at)btinternet.com].

Lithographic stones, widely used by official mapping agencies during the 19th and 20th centuries, survive in considerable numbers. It seems that some are still used for occasional printing, e.g. those for the sheets of the Bavarian land registry survey, owned by the Landesamt für Vermessung und Geoinformation in Munich. In those cases, reprints might be difficult to distinguish from originals [information kindly supplied by Theo Bauer, October 2008].

Bibliographically, such reprints are interesting because, by definition, they will represent the map in its final form (or 'state'). In the case of the Bressani map, this is later than known from any surviving impressions from the 16th century.

In the east (particularly in Korea) woodblocks continued to be printed from for a long time. Given also that traditional papermaking techniques survived longer there, it can be very difficult to date the surviving impressions of such maps.

In addition, there are apparently imitations of Japanese maps - see Kazutaka Unno, Chizu no Shiwa: Creases of Map or Essays on the History of Cartography (Tokyo: Yushodo Press, 1985). [Review by John Sargent in Imago Mundi, 41 (1989): 155, stating that it includes a section on 'fake and imitation maps']

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Cartart FacTsimile

"Considered by scientific terms it is not a real 'facsimile' because the map was re-cut manually. However, the woodcut is the original reproduction technique of this particular map" - explanation by Zsolt Török of the Cartart FacTsimiles produced in Budapest.

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Photographically-produced counterfeits and digital techniques

Until recently, most photographically-produced forgeries used a series of dots, visible under magnification [see Manasek 2001, fig.4]. Nowadays they will tend to be printed with continuous tones, which are harder to detect.

On digital techniques, see messages to the MapHist list for August 2006, under the headings 'Nolin fake' and 'Giclee sites'. The map in question was identified as 'a Giclee reproduction using digital technology', and links were given. Alice Hudson, in a message to MapHist on 12 September 2006, mentioned 'a digital facsimile printed on antique paper'.

In connection with the thefts from the Girolamini Library in Naples, for which the former Director, Marino Massimo De Caro was arrested in May 2012, a related crime emerged: the forging of entire antiquarian books. Those so far identified comprise early works on astronomy, e.g. by Galileo. Highly plausible, these were created photographically by copying a published facsimile. However, certain imperfections, found only on the facsimile, betrayed the true origin. I have seen an attempt to pass off as original a copy of a Ptolemaic map based on a sheet from one of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum facsimiles. So, if a facsimile exists it is worth checking a supposed original against it, very carefully, looking for tell-tale imperfections arising out of the modern printing process. No forged map-related volumes have yet been identified but that does not mean that they could not exist. {This paragraph added 23 December 2012}

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Medium of the original map

Copper engraving

The distinction between copper engraving and woodcut may seem an academic one. In the context of forgeries, however, it is significant. An engraving (usually on copper) is produced by means of an 'intaglio' process, involving cutting the map detail into the soft metal. Because a copper engraving passes through a special press under immense pressure, the paper is squeezed into the inked recesses in the plate. Apart from leaving a 'platemark' (see below) that physical experience can be seen under quite low magnification (even sometimes with the naked eye) in the crispness of the printed lines. Where the black is thick, e.g. round a border, the ink may stand up sufficiently to be felt with a finger (the 'bite of the plate'). Forgeries, using modern printing methods, do not imitate those features.

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A woodcut, by contrast, is printed with no more pressure than was necessary for text. The printed detail you see is what was left behind when the blockcutter trimmed away the background. The printed lines are far less sharp than with an engraving and there is no platemark. That makes the forger's task much easier. But an original woodcut is still the product of a hand-printing process and, as a result, there may be slight indentation in the paper. Woodcut was not much used for maps after the 16th century. Detail tends to be knocked off, or eaten by worm. This is most likely to affect the outer margin. Art editors (do they still do this?) did not like to reproduce such a 'damaged' map and so carefully filled in the broken lines. In the process they created a 'bibliographical fake', which can confuse researchers trying to document progressive damage.

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Lithography, introduced at the beginning of the 19th century, uses a smooth stone, with the printing image neither sticking up nor gouged out ('planographic'), and hence easy to imitate. No lithographic map forgeries have yet been detected, probably because their relatively late date has meant they were of insufficient value. But there are certainly forgeries of other lithographic subjects.

[For more information about these different printing platforms for maps see Web articles and commentaries on specific topics in the History of Cartography - 4. Themes (under 'Printing methods'); for more about copper engravings see the editor's Understanding Engraved Maps]

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Differences between a known original and a suspected forgery

Most forgeries start with a photograph. The earliest so far identified are thought to date from the late 19th century They are usually then printed by some variant of the photo-lithographic process. Since the forgery is now two removes from the original, it is not surprising that there has been a loss of image quality. The original sharpness that came from the direct contact between paper, printing ink and copper has been lost. The lines will be blurry and, where close together in the original, will have run together.

However, there are recent indications that some modern forgers are using sophisticated techniques to replicate features of the original. At least two forgeries are known, printed from actual copper plates (with their genuine characteristics) that had been mechanically copied from an original model. [See the discussion of the 1624 Smith title-page map on the MapHist Illustration page ('duplicate Intaglio plate'), and the note on Ortelius America (variant (C)).]

The Italian firm < http://www.cose-belle.com/content-categories/cat-393/maps_and_instruments_of_observat.html > Cose-Belle may be offering examples printed from a modern plate:
"All maps are Made in Italy, outlined using a hand tooled copper press, painted by hand using water color, mounted on an antiquated, linen and cotton canvas in sections which fold easily and are encased in a soft bag, inside of a luxurious burgundy gift box with the map’s title written across the corner cover." [No website for Cose-Belle visible, February 2012.]

All early maps were hand-printed, one at a time. To do that, the copperplate or woodblock was cleaned and re-inked to produce each impression. During that process various things might happen to make one impression very slightly different from another. There might be too much or too little ink in one place, leading to smudging or faintness. A piece of dust might get onto the plate, the paper might be creased in the press, and so on. There could be lots of innocent reasons why the map you are looking at is very slightly different from a known original. And that is before considering what happened afterwards: the applying of colour by hand, folds, damage, staining, etc.

Each genuine impression will be different - even if it might take an expert with a magnifying glass to see that. Each forged map will be exactly the same, since they are machine-produced copies from a single photograph. That photograph will have captured the unique features (the 'copy-specific details') of a single original impression. Put two examples of the forgery together and you see those 'unique' features repeated. It is even possible to find that a forgery reproduces damage on the model (perhaps a tear or a small missing piece) whereas the forgery's paper is undamaged at that point. From my time at Weinreb & Douwma I recall two examples of that, both woodcut originals. The first was the Apian world map of 1520 and the second a map from the Ulm Ptolemy - particularly interesting because it reproduced a blemish found only in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum facsimile edition of 1963.

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Ageing a reproduction

Various devices are used to give a modern reproduction at least the superficial appearance of age. Tea or coffee are popular applications. One popular (and very cheap) series of John Speed maps was as brown as chestnut and, being on crinkled paper to give the supposed appearance of vellum, looked like overcooked poppadoms. In a message to Maphist on 13 December 2005, however, Daan Strebe described a more sophisticated attempt at deception (though without identifying the map involved):
"What caught my attention was the sudden revelation of typical and heavy aging. Yellowing. Mottling, particularly toward the edges. Foxing. Everything I would expect to see on a 400-year old map that had not been carefully preserved. Yet turning it away from the light, it reverts to its too-perfect condition. It is as if the map had been resurfaced somehow while somehow preserving the original image."

[Update 20 August 2008:] 'Old Map Tutorial' (Directory Aviva. Photoshop Tutorials. Learn About Using Adobe Photoshop) discussed a way of taking a 'simple black and white drawing and converting it into a mysterious, old map, lost for hundreds of years.' This was intended, presumably, for innocent web-use but the result (which looks as if it has suffered from the worst kind of 1860s brittle paper damage) is similar to some of the forgeries circulating on paper.

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Original early maps were sometimes coloured, sometimes not. There is no general rule, but some maps are more usually found in original colouring (e.g. Blaeu), others in black and white (e.g. Speed). The modern colouring of maps dates, largely, from the 1930s onwards, and was directly linked to the sale of maps as individual sheets. Colouring was applied by hand, in much the same way as in earlier centuries (though the pigments were now artificial not natural). This was done because most purchasers wanted it and would pay more for a coloured example. So modern colouring does not make the underlying map suspect. If, however, the colour could be shown to be old, that of course would remove doubt about its authenticity. The most usually cited feature of early colouring is when certain colours (usually green), but not all, bleed through the paper and can be seen from the back. In extreme cases, e.g. roughly the period 1650-1750, the green may have eaten its way through the paper and caused breaks.

For a brief, illustrated article see Dieter Duncker's 'Antique Maps - Recognising the difference between old and modern colouring' on Kunstpedia.

Colour was not applied to maps by machine until the second half of the 19th century, and that can be the most obvious way to tell a modern reproduction. "Most early maps were colored by hand and brush strokes can often be discerned. Reproductions usually use printed halftones and the small dot patterns can be seen with a magnifying glass" (The Old Map Gallery).

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Most original maps have no date; most fakes and some 'improved' forgeries are dated. Many starting collectors with little experience of early maps are worried by the absence of a date. They do not like to have to rely on somebody else for what they may feel is the map's most important feature, namely its age. Paradoxically, it leads them to doubt the genuineness of an undated map. A number of forgeries in this listing are really a kind of fake/forgery, in that a date, and sometimes the name of a publisher, have been added to what would otherwise have been a straightforward forgery. [Those instances are indicated by '(F)' after the date in the Index table.] Not only is a date no guarantee a map is genuine, it may itself be a faked element. Several manuscript maps are known to have had their dates altered, for a variety of possible reasons.

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Most maps were originally published inside a book. If the map was illustrating a text, it would usually be folded (sometimes more than once) and stuck in, rather than forming an integral part of the paginated text. Such a map would show the lines of the original folds, even after conservation. [It would be right, however, to ask (in the light of recent thefts) how and why the map came to be separated from the book.] If the marks of the folds are visible across the surface of the map, but it is clear that the paper has never been folded, then this will be a forgery - based on a photograph that had picked up that detail.

It is more likely that the map started life in an atlas. Often it will have been folded vertically down the middle and pasted onto a 'guard', a blank strip sewn into the volume. Even after conservation, the mark of the fold, and the traces of paste down the spine, can usually be seen. A forgery will not have a genuine old fold. After being pressed together for centuries, the two sides of a genuine map may show signs of colour or ink offset from one side to the other. Matching staining or worm-holes are other indications of authenticity.

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Marginal information

A responsible publisher, when producing a facsimile map, will place a printed statement to that effect. That would normally be outside the map border, at the bottom. However, if there was too big a gap between that text and the map it would be easy to cut that statement off (or hide it under a mount).

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Paper and Watermarks

Always hold a supposedly pre-1800 map up to the light to see if it has chain-lines and watermark(s), or a date, or some indication of modern origin.

An expert can tell by the look and feel of paper if it is old or not. Others need a helping hand. The essential difference is that, around 1800, machine-made ('wove') paper (made from wood pulp) began to be introduced. When held up to the light, this has an even appearance, though there may be a watermark. It may well be lighter than old paper and almost certainly smoother.

The earlier, hand-made ('laid') paper has a grid of chain lines {the larger ones about 2.5 cm apart and the smaller ones just over 1 mm each}, to which one, or on a folio-sized map, two watermarks would be attached by wire. The chain lines reflect the tray in which the papermaker shook the rag-based material. Some forgeries do not make any effort to reproduce the chain lines of laid paper.

Paradoxically, old, hand-made paper, usually lasts much better than that made after 1800. The strong browning of Janssonius maps is one exception. Otherwise, an overall browned appearance is likely to represent the forger's (incorrect) idea of how old paper should look. However, an early map will usually have some damage or discolouration. The complete absence of these is likely to mean either that it has been heavily restored, or that it is counterfeit.

The study of watermarks is complicated and confusing. The essential guides are large and available only in a research library (apart from the 92,000 images of the "Piccard" Collection of Watermarks). Map publishers tended to continue issuing their maps over long periods, not unnaturally using different batches of paper. Therefore, attempts to tie a particular watermark to a particular atlas are usually not successful. And, of course, like everything else, a watermark can be imitated.

Some old paper carries a genuine date. Confusingly, though, the French continued to use the date 1742 for a long period. From the 1790s, English machine-made Whatman paper can be found with its date of manufacture. That is an invaluable bibliographical aid, rather than a mark of forgery.

Unfortunately, some forgeries are produced on genuinely old paper, supplies of which still exist (particularly for smaller sizes). For example, a book's blank end-paper might be used.

Some facsimile publishers, to ensure their products are not sold as originals, will use paper with an obviously modern watermark.

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The platemark is the main identifying feature of a genuine copper engraving. It represents the edge of the copperplate from which the map was printed. However it can be imitated.

Since copper was expensive, the printed surface on a genuine map will usually go close to the edge of the plate, i.e. the platemark will be very small, perhaps 1-2mm in the case of an Ortelius. The plate will have been trimmed and then rounded off, leaving a slightly irregular line. The plate will also tend to collect small amounts of ink residue, which will appear as a grey background. That will stop at the edge of the plate.

Confusingly, Manasek (2001) describes how the platemark on a small map may not be visible. He illustrates an example of A. Bell's map of Asia where this is the case.

The area between the map edge and the platemark may have been trimmed off a genuine map, for example if a multi-sheet map was being joined up.

Because the platemark is visually so important, forgers often add a false one. These tend to be much larger (10mm in the case of the Ortelius Iceland) and very regular. Instead of the paper being smooth and flattened inside the platemark and rougher and raised outside, there will be no change in paper appearance either side of the platemark. The fake 'platemark' will actually be just a simple groove. It is likely that the edge of the genuine platemark on the map that was photographed will still be visible, well inside the false addition. Fake platemarks will usually have been applied separately from the (usually) photolithographed map.

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Reverse text

Many early maps appeared originally in atlases, for example those by Ortelius. Those maps had explanatory text on their reverse. Forgers did not normally attempt to reproduce that. However a recently discovered Ortelius map of Iceland (see van den Broecke, 2006) does include the text - the first that the author (the expert on Ortelius) had seen.

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Parchment, calf-skin or vellum was widely used in the medieval period and, later, for cases where the map would be subject to hard use, for example, an estate map or a sea chart. Is there evidence of maps being produced on fake vellum?

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General Advice

"Caution: Beware of ill-fated combinations, such as bargain prices, doubtful provenance, unaccredited individuals and non-specialist outlets" (Hans Kok in IMCoS Bulletin No. 2).

"The discovery of a forgery starts with the use of 'two eyes and commonsense'", and "those attempting to buy mink for the price of rabbit usually wind up with rabbit'" (editorial in The Map Collector, 54 (1991) - an issue concentrating on cartographic deceptions - quoting A.D. Baynes-Cope and John S. Du Mont).

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Framed maps

Never buy a map, which is priced as if it was an original, while it is in the frame. Forgeries will often be mounted right up to the printed detail, which means that the platemark (if there is one) is obscured. In the frame it is difficult or impossible to tell if the paper is old or not. A facsimile may have had an acknowledgement of that fact outside the margin, or on the reverse, but neither will be visible on a framed map.

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Multiple examples

One of the indications that forgeries are about is when a number of examples of a rare map start to appear. As explained under 'Differences between known original and suspected forgery', all forgeries will be identical, without the minute copy-specific differences that can always be seen through close comparison of two apparently identical genuine maps. Place two suspect maps side by side. If they repeat the same copy-specific defects, they are forgeries.

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Restored maps

'Restorations to an original map may be so extensive, or deceptive, that "fake" becomes a more logical qualification than "real" ' (Hans Kok in IMCoS Bulletin No. 2).

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Why do people fake or forge maps?


This is not the place for an in-depth psychological study. Leaving aside the counterfeiter who wants the experts to look stupid, or the one who seeks to make a political point or support a particular theory, the majority of the counterfeits listed (if that is indeed what they are) were presumably motivated by pure greed - or are perhaps the result of naivety.

An article by Holly Hubbard Preston in the < http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/27/your-money/27iht-mmaps.html?_r=1 > New York Times on 28 May 2005 (entitled 'Maps as pocketbooks of previous lives') quoted Jeremy Markowitz, of Swann Auction House in New York, as saying, 'It's all about location, location, location.' He was talking, of course, about originals, but it might just as well have been forgeries. He went on explain that 'the most valuable antique maps are those that feature the whole world, followed by those depicting the "New World" or the Americas. The next tier are maps showing whole continents, including Africa, Asia and Europe. The third tier is occupied by regions and countries.'

It was pointed out by Jonathan Potter that 'there is a very direct correlation between the property and wealth of an area and the desirability of maps from that area', which is why 'a map of New York City is worth more than a map of Charleston'. He also noted that map prices would rise with a country's economy, e.g. Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s.

This extensive passage is given because it so closely mirrors the geographical distribution of counterfeit maps, found by sorting the 'Area' column of the Index table. The biggest group by far is the world, followed by America and North America. There is, indeed, a map forgery featuring New York - but not yet Charleston. Perhaps one of Japan dating from the 1980s will appear as well.

David Allen reinforces these points in his article on the Velasco Map (his note 11): "Between 1870 and 1920 there appeared a spate of forged documents relating to colonial American history. These forgeries accompanied the revival of interest in colonial history in the decades following the Civil War."

An incident reported in March 2007 (see 'Sea of Japan/East Sea controversy enlivened by claim that original map was altered') suggests that the focus by nationalists on the historical names for such entities as the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Japan/East Sea (and hence, it is argued, their 'correct' modern form) might spill over into cartographic deception. There is no reason to believe the claim from Japanese bloggers that the South Koreans had actually altered the details relating to some disputed islets on "a historical map at the Dokdo Museum". Nevertheless, a cultural outrage of that kind is not impossible.

Finally [December 2008 update], in a development that might have amused the forger of the series of small portolan charts - though without giving him any financial benefit - Christies in November 2005 sold one of those charts as being the work of the 'Venetian Forger'. It still fetched Ł2,640 ($4,575).

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History of counterfeit maps

This remains to be attempted but, if you sort the Index table on the 'First Seen' column, it gives the chronological sequence of what has so far been reported.

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Future research

It was not possible to carry out systematic research for these pages. One point, though, became clear. There are surprisingly few mentions of 'fake' or 'forgery' in book indexes. The manner in which so many of those listed have been learnt of by accident strongly suggests that many more remain to be identified.

The present editor has provided a framework; perhaps other(s) will continue the work.

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Further general reading

[The following, even when concerned with a specific map, include descriptions explaining the precise characteristics of the forgeries. The most useful illustrations are in the publications of van den Broecke and Manasek. For other literature see the Bibliography]

Broecke, Marcel P.R. van den. 'Unmasking a forgery: recognising a real Ortelius', Mercator's World, 3:3 (May/June 1998): 46-9. [Ortelius America (variant (B))].

Broecke, Marcel P.R. van den. 'Unmasking another forgery of an Ortelius atlas map: Iceland', Journal of the International Map Collectors' Society, 106 (Autumn 2006): 7-9. [Ortelius Iceland].

Broecke, Marcel P.R. van den. 'Last comments on the alleged Ortelius forgery', Journal of the International Map Collectors' Society, 108 (Spring 2007): 50 [responding to Lázló Gróf's comments above about the Iceland map forgery].

Clemens, Raymond. 'Map Forgeries' [comments and links on some forgeries in the Beinecke Library, Yale University, including the Vinland Map, identified by the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (YIPCH) - 11 July 2022].

Dotson, Elaine, ’Truth and Lies: Tips to Identify [Map] Forgeries and Reproductions’ (a good, illustrated summary - Old World Auctions Newsletter, spring 2016).

Gaffney, Dennis, 'Tips of the Trade: Verifying Antique Maps', Antiques Roadshow [illustrated advice from Chris Lane, of the Philadelphia Print Shop, who urges the use of an 8x magnifying glass to detect the photomechanical pattern of dots, 13 March 2000].

Gróf, Lázló, 'Ortelius forgery?', Journal of the International Map Collectors' Society, 107 (Winter 2006): 32-3 [letter, touching on a number of forgery topics, responding to Marcel van den Broecke's article on the Ortelius map of Iceland].

Kok, Hans, 'Distinguishing fake from real' (Bulletin No. 2 of the International Map Collectors' Society (IMCoS), originally published in the IMCoS Journal) [this excellent pamphlet by the Chairman of IMCoS appears to be the only general summary of the subject; a number of its points have been reused here but the pamphlet should be read in full].

Library and Archives Canada, 'Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery' [the map example is concerned with plagiarism, but there are technical explanations about the uncovering of other kinds of deception].

Manasek, Francis J. 'Facsimiles, Forgeries, and Other Copies', in Collecting Old Maps (Norwich Vt.: Terra Nova Press, 1998): 73-82 [providing good descriptions, e.g. of photogravure (p.74)].

Manasek, Francis J. 'How to spot these fakes: identifying a new breed of counterfeit maps', Mercator's World, 6:2 (March/April 2001): 18-23; and the letters that resulted, Mercator's World, 6:4 (July-August 2001). {NB. These links via the Internet Archive sometimes do not work.} [Describing the map of North America by A.Bell (plate XCI of Encyclopedia Britannicaof 1768-71) and 'North America from the best Authorities' by B.Baker (c.179-[?])].

Hoax Museum Blog (a search of the site found a number of references to maps - Marquette, Vinland, etc. - but this was not systematically checked).

Shirley, Rodney, W. [private communication, 25 August 2006]:
"There are several examples in the late 19th century of careful copies being made of early maps, sometimes to insert into books where the original was missing. Munich has been cited as one source. More recently I have seen clever fakes (not usually of world maps) emanating from France and from Italy. There is a quite separate category, which is of 'old' maps which have been fabricated from re-drawn parts of earlier ones. These are usually easy to detect but may deceive customers who are unaware of the originals."

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Details of the works cited above can be found in the Bibliography

Index to known fakes, forgeries and deceptive facsimiles (a Microsoft Word table that opens separately)

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