The library shelves at Washington State University contain more scandal than you might think.
Examples of these, including forged historical documents, rare books that were stolen and false first edition books, are on display in “Frauds, Fakes and Forgeries: Deception in the Archives,” on exhibit now through the end of the month.
The items on display are part of WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, a department of the library that collects and preserves documents, records, photographs and other items not available for checkout. These items are often rare and historical — and thus, vulnerable to various types of deception.
Among the items on display are those that tell the story of the theft of nearly $500,000 worth of rare books and manuscripts. During the 1980s, Stephen Blumberg broke into the WSU library and took 357 books and around 2,500 manuscripts. It was just one of numerous libraries that the Iowa book collector stole from in what is the largest book theft in U.S. history. Work on the case by WSU Police Officer Stephen Huntsberry lead to Blumberg’s identification and arrest in 1990.
These types of thefts are unusual, said Cheryl Gunselman, manuscripts librarian. But the memory of the theft remains and precautions are taken to minimize the chance of it happening again.
Another item on display is a historical newspaper announcing the death of George Washington in 1800. Except, it’s not the real thing — it’s a collectable reproduction. Newspapers often create these for historical events and they are known to be reproductions at the time, but later generations who inherit them may not know.
When it comes to heirloom newspapers that mark historic U.S. events, Gunselman said a good rule of thumb is that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. She recommends consulting the Library of Congress’ Information Circulars website which lists commonly reproduced newspapers and how to tell — through a word being off or an ad appearing differently, for example — if you’ve got an original or a later reproduction.
The oldest item in the exhibit is a sophisticated copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle from around 1500. But in this case, “sophisticated” isn’t a good thing, Gunselman said, it means the book has been cobbled together out of multiple incomplete copies. Because the book on exhibit is not assembled well, it’s assumed it was never pretending to be an original, but is an example of forgery practices. The book, which has not been on exhibit for a long time, is in the original German and contains woodcut illustrations.
Among other items, the exhibit also includes a forged manuscript said to be Abraham Lincoln’s, doctored photographs, false first edition books and literary forgeries of those who published pretending to be someone else.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Frauds, Fakes and Forgeries: Deception in the Archives”
WHEN: Through July
WHERE: Terrell Library, Washington State University, Pullman