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Results: Fake Radar Contest

By Perry M. Frohne 

In this column, I will cover each of the five images from last issue’s fake radar contest, explain why they were real or fake, and then announce the winner.

I appreciate the enthusiastic response, and am grateful that so many collectors are trying to learn what tools (mental and manufactured) are required to keep fakes out of their collections. The contest answers ran the gauntlet from serious efforts to frivolous guesses. The results show that we have learned a considerable amount, but still have a long way to go. 

First, let us concede that the five images have great content, which rates at least a 9 out of 10 in scarcity of subject matter (with the exception of No. 4). Remember that content is the first thing that should make you wary about any image that you think about purchasing. So, looking at each one of these for the first time, you are naturally skeptical. Also, when I mention lack of clarity or an image looking grainy, have a look around the rest of the magazine and you will see plenty of clear and sharp images to compare the fakes to. The fakes really stand out.

  1. Union African American cavalryman with a Miller & Rowell of Boston photographer’s back mark

Impressive for sure. But upon closer inspection you notice the leveling line along the bottom right edge of the albumen accomplished using a straight edge (ruler?) to help align the fake albumen on its new mount. They also used it on the upper left hand corner. They didn’t erase these lines otherwise they may have gotten away with it. Now that I pointed them out, you can easily see the lines. Very sloppy on their part. The graininess and lack of clarity of the image also is a give-a-way to this being a modern fake.

2. Western pose, man leaning on his rifle

Fortunately for us, the albumen they remounted is shorter than the old removed albumen, which left indentations near the red line they could not cover with the new remounted image. You have to look closely, but it is there. Also, they put a small line to help align the fake albumen in the lower right hand corner (as you look), and then failed to erase it. A modern fake for sure.

3. This is considered a fake Lincoln conspirator image

This carte de visite pictures Ernest Hartman Richter of Germantown, Md. Detectives found his cousin, conspirator George Atzerodt, asleep in Richter’s home. Richter told investigators that Atzerodt was not there in an attempt to protect him. The detectives hauled Richter to Washington and imprisoned him aboard the monitor Saugus. 

Richter eventually gained his release.

Why is this image a fake? There are a few giveaways. It has a photographer’s back mark of the Bierstadt Brothers in New Bedford, Mass. Alexander Gardner took the original photograph on April 25, 1865, on the Saugus, and sent it to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton for use in the conspirators’ trial. The image was never mass-produced for the public. Also notice the lack of clarity and sharpness of the albumen. The final clue is the small alignment mark on the lower right hand corner, just like the others in this group. This is not how period photographers mounted albumens.

4. Soldier in carte de visite mount

This is the easiest to identify as a fake image. I wrote a column about the recent use of period paper frames to cover damaged albumens. Please see “CDVs That Never Existed” (Winter 2020).

5. Seated African American corporal with a J. C. Spooner of Springfield, Mass., photographer’s back mark 

Total lack of sharpness and clarity to this soldier’s image; a poor image for such awesome subject matter.

The winner 

Only two contestants correctly guessed that all five cartes were fakes.

Mark Savolis responded first with the correct answer, and he will receive a signed copy of the soon-to-be-released Gettysburg Faces by MI Editor and Publisher Ron Coddington.

Jane Johansson is second runner up. In her response, Jane explained her methodology, which includes exercising caution. She deserves her own book about how to collect.

In summary, though the bad guys are getting much better at creating these little heart breakers, the good guys (you, the thoughtful collectors) are applying the principles covered in this column.

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

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