Topic of the month: forgeries as cultural assets
Thirty years have now passed since Hitler’s diaries were exposed as fakes. Forgeries may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of history and culture, and yet they have often played an important role in history – especially as they were not always exposed as quickly as the Hitler diaries were.
In the case of historical documents, forgeries have often remained undetected for centuries. The forgery of official documents reached its pinnacle in the Middle Ages. According to research, about 50 percent of surviving early medieval documents and records are counterfeit, although frequently the reasons behind the forgery were to provide “evidence” of existing property rights, liberties, or privileges.
It is important to realise that there were many different kinds of “forger” in medieval times, from those who were engaged in the “honest” reconstruction of texts that had been lost or needed to be updated, to the deliberate act of forgery as we understand it today.
Many different types of forgery were common in the Middle Ages too, ranging from the alteration of a date to large-scale etchings of whole parchments, which at times even included various features of the authentic document, such as its seal.
For these reasons, it is often impossible for laypeople to recognise such documents as fakes. In addition to analysing the content, specialists can find other indications of a document’s authenticity from its physical attributes, such as the format of the parchment, the way in which the seal has been applied and the style of handwriting. In the case of the document pictured above from the Landesarchiv Baden Württemberg, it was the date that proved it was counterfeit – at the time it was issued, Konrad I was not yet king of the Holy Roman Empire.
A search for forgeries in the database of the DBB turns up a plethora of objects other than old papers and documents, including counterfeit coins and banknotes and cultural artefacts such as the “Göttin mit dem Perlenturban” (Goddess with a Pearl Turban), an ‘artwork’ that adorned 60-pfennig stamps in the 1980s before it was discovered to be a forgery.
Ultimately, forgeries should be regarded as important cultural assets too. What and why something was faked says a lot about the time in which the forgery took place. Take a look and see what interesting objects you can find when perusing the DBB database.