Fakes That Have Skewed History

By rewriting the record, some forgeries have set complex forces dancing

"The tenth muse," Critic Andrew Lang called the spirit of forgery. She may be busier and more inventive than any of her nine sisters. Under her sway, the 19th century Frenchman Denis Vrain-Lucas fabricated more than 27,000 documents purportedly from the hands of Archimedes, Sappho, Judas Iscariot, Caesar, Charlemagne and others, overplaying his own hand only when he forged a letter in which Pascal took credit for discovering the law of gravity, rather than Newton. Joseph Cosey, the most prolific of American forgers,...

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