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Fakes, Forgeries and Frauds

In my initial column, I prepped you for learning to develop your “fake radar” when looking at images. The next step in our educational journey begins now, as we begin exploring in depth this initial example of a fake.

First, I have a couple of housekeeping notes.

It is not my intention to create a “how to” guide for those with evil machinations. But I have to describe and illustrate different examples of fakes to help you recognize one when you see it. Some explanations will be more in depth than others, depending on the type of fake itself.

On a happier note, at the end of each column I will offer suggestions on equipment available to make fake detection easier for you.

A little background history

An actual CDV-sized tintype.

An actual CDV-sized tintype.

Tintypes were inexpensive to produce by the early 1860s. Also at this time, the demand for cased images (including ambrotypes) had greatly diminished. It was not considered a financially good idea to put a cheap tintype into an expensive case. We now enter the era of the paper tintype sleeve/mat.

In December 1862, Peter Neff, the largest tintype manufacturer at the time, announced he would start making carte de visite (CDV)-sized tintypes. Naturally, other photographers followed, producing the CDV size as the new normal for tintypes by the mid-1860s. Paper sleeves with mats with different-size openings and designs were fashioned to hold securely the new generation of hard images. Smaller sizes were also created. The Gem-type and the ninth plate were both usually applied to CDV-sized card stock by gluing a piece of paper over the tintype back to secure it. The total cost to the consumer fell dramatically, thereby generating more demand.

The current situation

A large group of these mats and sleeves were auctioned off on a popular auction site in 2015 in large quantities. I dreaded these auctions because I knew what would happen. It didn’t take long for con artists to start using these mats and sleeves to manufacture a new type of CDV that never existed.

Now, let’s move on to our first fake, which in my opinion is a profound insult to history. Two parts make up this woeful tale of fraud. We cover part one now—hiding damaged areas of original paper albumen images behind period mats & sleeves used for tintypes. This type of fake is especially devious because actual materials from the period are utilized to create a false Civil War, and later, period image.

Here’s an example. Let’s say an unscrupulous person comes into possession of a badly damaged carte de visite of a Civil War soldier. The albumen may have tears or extensive stains. Maybe, someone severely trimmed the mount 150 years ago to fit into an album. Bottom line: the image is unsalable as is.

This seller decides to make it appealable by hiding the damage. How is this done, you ask? Simple. First, the person finds a period CDV-sized paper mat with an opening used for tintypes. Then, the person trims the damaged CDV to fit inside the opening of the mat. The next step is to secure the trimmed CDV to the back of this mat. Finally, old paper is glued to the back of the mat; thereby covering the newly trimmed CDV and making it appear authentic. Now, the unscrupulous person has a salable “period” image!

Deconstructing a fake: On the left is a scan of an image I made long before a faker came into possession of it. The images following the scan show how the faker cut it down and attached it to the mat.
Deconstructing a fake: On the left is a scan of an image I made long before a faker came into possession of it. The images following the scan show how the faker cut it down and attached it to the mat.

When the fakes first appeared, con artists auctioned only mat covered damaged common soldier CDVs, and then sold them for the usual money a uniformed soldier image would bring. These low-end auctions often eluded my attention, as I have too many common soldiers already in my inventory. It wasn’t until con artists got greedy and started using scarcer subject matter that I started to notice them on eBay. Sadly, the crooks keep evolving.

Damaged CDVs are not the only source material being used to create these fakes. Part two of this fraud, the rapid expansion of subjects and materials covered up with these mats (and sleeves), is alarming. Postwar photographs of President Lincoln, outdoor views of soldiers, CSA officers and other historic subjects, all surrounded by the appropriate sized mat or sleeve, appear at auction with regularity. Broken stereo-view halves are being trimmed, covered and sold as well. Recently, I have found steel engravings with great subject matter trimmed down and covered by a mat at auction. I have also seen 1960’s Civil War Centennial reproduction photos used. By trial and error, these con artists are finding out what will pass as authentic.

Bottom line

CDVs with paper mats or sleeves over the paper subject itself never existed in the 19th century. If you see one online, at a show or anywhere else, avoid it. Some will look so authentic that you won’t believe it a fake. Eventually these fantasy images will no longer be profitable and will stop being created once collectors become more educated.

For your toolbox

Unless you have eyesight like Superman, you will need a quality, handheld-lighted magnifier or pocket microscope. Typically inexpensive, having one with you while shopping can save you from buying a fake image. There are many different brands and sizes available at reasonable prices online. I utilize both types when looking at photography at trade shows, or while performing appraisals on the road. My favorite is the Topro Mini Jeweller 60X Pocket Microscope. It is small and easily stays in your pocket. I also use Leuchtturm lighted magnifiers, which provide clear-lighted viewing in a portable size. I suggest putting them on a neckband, as it is easy to leave them behind.

Perry Frohne is the owner of Frohne’s Historic Military. He has been investigating fake images for more than 20 years. He is an MI Senior Editor.

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