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For week ended February 13, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

Effect of Hoffman Forgeries Still Being Felt
(Poetic justice)
Sydney Australia Morning Herald 12Feb00 A4
ing this list.

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS -- An article in the Sydney, Australia Morning Herald demonstrates the continuing effect that Mormon document forger Mark Hoffman has on the market for historical documents. The documents forged by the former LDS Church member are in many cases still in circulation.

Hoffman may be best known among LDS Church members for his "salamander letter," a letter that purported to be an account of one of Joseph Smith's encounter's with the Angel Moroni. The account claimed that the Angel Moroni transformed from a salamander. An LDS Church member purchased the letter and donated it to the Church.

However, as Hoffman's forgeries and lies began to unravel, he made pipe bombs and killed two people, and injured himself when one of the bombs went off prematurely. He is now serving a life sentence for the murders, but escaped the death penalty through a plea bargin, in which he detailed all his forgeries.

No one has collected all the forged documents and removed them from circulation, however. Several of the documents were sold at auction in 1997 by the worldwide auctioneer Sothebys. The documents included a signature of Daniel Boone, a "Reward of Merit" signed by American Revolutionary Nathan Hale and a poem by Emily Dickenson.

The Morning Herald article focuses on the Dickenson poem, which was purchased by the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts through the efforts of Curator of Special Collections Daniel Lombardo. While somewhat satisfied with Sotheby's assurances that the document was genuine, Lombardo became suspicious when he couldn't find out the document's provenance -- the history of who owned the document and when they owned it.

Hoffman's forgeries were themselves excellent and fooled many experts on documents. In the case of the Dickenson poem, Lombardo used experts from Yale and elsewhere, who found many things in the document that made it look like something Dickenson produced. Evenutally, Lombardo asked the experts to look closer, and find all the evidence in the document that made it look like it wasn't Dickenson's work. This, and the provenance that Lombardo was eventually learned made it clear that the document was a forgery.

The poem had ended up in the collection of a Las Vegas document dealer, who transferred it and many other documents, most of which were legitimate, to the estate of a co-owner of his gallery after the co-owner died, in order to buy-out the estate. The estate then auctioned the documents through Sothebys.

The Morning Herald reporter tells the story of Lombardo's discovery of the Dickenson forgery in much more detail, and also relates his interview with the Las Vegas document dealer and Hoffman's letter to Lombardo apologizing for the forgery .


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