• Doyle, June 20: CLAUDE MCKA. Home to Harlem. New York: Harpers, 1928. First edition. $700 to $1,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Haydn's VI Original Canzonettas, signed by the composer. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Doyle, June 20: A rare EP sleeve inscribed by John Lennon. $800 to $1,200.
    Doyle, June 20: An extremely rare 1961 concert set list and autograph letter from The King. $7,000 to $10,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Bryan Batt's copy of the Mad Men Yearbook, 2008-2014. $600 to $800.
    Doyle, June 20: An original Al Hirschfeld depicting comedian Fred Allen. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: A signed note from George Gershwin with reference to Porgy and Bess. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: An original Harold Arlen manuscript musical quotation from "Over the Rainbow.” $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: A fine original Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly's wedding trousseau. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Doyle, June 20: The poster for New Faces with inscriptions and the signature of Eartha Kitt. $200 to $300.
    Doyle, June 20: The classic "Jazz" Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost for Cowan Pottery. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Tony Award Medallion won for "Kismet." $3,000 to $5,000.
  • Heritage Auctions, June 27
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    The Great Gatsby
    New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Mary Shelley
    Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
    London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    J. R. R. Tolkien
    The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
    London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1937
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Jane Austen
    Emma: A Novel. In Three Volumes. By the Author of "Pride and Prejudice," &c. &c.
    London: Printed for John Murray, 1816
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Robert Louis Stevenson
    An Inland Voyage
    London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Ernest Hemingway
    Three Stories & Ten Poems
    Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
    History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark
    Philadelphia, 1814
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Emily Dickinson
    Autograph letter signed ("Emily and Vinnie"), to Mary Adelaide Hills
    Amherst, MA, Late April, 1880
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    John Keats
    Autograph letter signed ("John Keats"), to Mrs. Jeffrey
    Honiton 4 or 5 May 1818
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Samuel Johnson
    A Dictionary of the English Language: In which the Words are deduced from their Originals…
    London, 1765
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    H. P. Lovecraft
    Small archive of nine lengthy autograph letters signed variously over a period of six years to J. Vernon Shea.
    Various places, 1931-1937
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Izaak Walton
    The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation…
    London: T. homas Maxey for Rich. ard Marriot, 1653
  • Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Keats, John] Spenser, Edmund: The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr. Edmond Spenser. $50,000 - $80,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: (Walton, Izaak): The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative man's Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing. $30,000 - $50,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Thomas, Gabriel: An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of West-New-Jersey in America. $25,000 - $35,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Carroll, Lewis]: The Game of Alice in Wonderland. $2,000 - $3,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Athias, Joseph, et al.: Biblia Hebraica. $7,000 - $10,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Warhol, Andy, and Jens Quistgaard] Dansk Designs Salesman's Presentation Catalogue. $2,500 - $3,500.
  • Sotheby’s, June 26: Poe, Edgar Allan. Tamerlane — the most poignant rarity in American literature. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." 2,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: William Blake. “Poems with very wild and interesting pictures” 1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: Thomas Taylor [artist]. The original cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 400,000 - 600,000 USD

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2021 Issue

A Story of Fraud, Deceit, Forgery and Murder Comes to Its Conclusion at Heritage Auctions

Mark Hofmann's forged Oath of a Freeman (Heritage Auctions photograph).

A story of deceit, fraud, forgery, and murder closed perhaps its final chapter in the book rooms at Heritage Auctions last month. This sordid tale goes back 35 years, though its beginnings started over four centuries earlier, in 1638. That is when Stephen Daye, a locksmith by trade, boarded a ship bound for the New World. He had agreed to work for printer Joseph Glover in return for paying his fare. Daye didn't know much about printing, but Glover was there to teach him the ropes.

 

It didn't turn out that way. Glover died on the voyage. Daye's indebtedness now belonged to Glover's widow, Elizabeth, who did not know as much about printing. Nonetheless, Daye, along with his son, took on their responsibility. Daye is best known today for producing the first book printed in what is now the United States, the book commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book. It is estimated he printed 1,700 copies in 1640, but it was not a quality production and the books were well-used. Only 11 copies are known to survive. The last one to sell at auction sold at Sotheby's in 2014 for over $14 million.

 

While this was Daye's first book, it was not the first item he printed. It is known that in 1639, he printed a single sheet of the Oath of a Freeman. This was a loyalty oath British subjects were to make to the King. This (or possibly some sort of atlas he may have printed) is the first printing of any sort in the U.S. portion of America. Not a single copy is known to survive, though for centuries people have searched. That was until 1984. That is when Mark Hofmann walked into the Argosy Book Shop in New York and walked out with a copy, which, along with five other items, cost him all of $25. At least, that is what he said. Over 35 years later, Hoffman's Oath has finally moved on.

 

Bookseller Justin Schiller recalled he first met Mark Hofmann at the New York book fair in 1984. Hofmann picked him out to be his dealer. The reason was that Schiller was a dealer in children's books and that was Hofmann's interest. However, this would quickly turn to something not fit for children.

 

Schiller explains that Hofmann “had a passion for early books.” He also claimed he was the beneficiary of a trust fund. Every few months he would get a payment which enabled him to purchase important books. Hofmann, who was from Salt Lake City, also said that he had made some significant discoveries. These included items of interest to the Mormon church. The church was a buyer, but needed funds for purchases, so, he said, they made him an “archivist.” He could could go through their collections, select non-Mormon items he thought worthwhile, and sell them to raise funds to buy the Mormon items he was finding. He explained to Schiller this was done quietly as otherwise, someone will always object to selling anything, which in turn would have made it impossible for the church to buy the items it wanted. It was a good story.

 

Unbeknownst to Schiller or anyone else at that time, Hofmann was a liar and master forger. The documents he was “finding” he was, in fact, making. As Tyler Measom, Director of the movie Murder Among the Mormons, explained, Hofmann rose from being a mediocre forger to an absolute master. Perhaps this is not surprising, as he said Hofmann forged a coin at age 14 so well that he fooled the U. S. Treasury Department into thinking it was real.

 

Hofmann was making some amazing “finds,” including the infamous Salamander Letter. More about that later. Schiller said he had known Hofmann for about four months when his piece de resistance appeared. That was the Oath of a Freeman. How much would the first document printed in the U.S., of which this was the first copy ever discovered, be worth? Hofmann estimated $50,000. Schiller told him it was worth $1.5 million.

 

Naturally, when something this astonishing appears a couple of questions immediately arise. Where did it come from? Is it real? If something seems too good to be true... you know the rest. Hofmann had an answer. It came from Argosy Books and Hofmann produced a bill of sale to prove it. It showed that he had purchased the Oath of a Freeman and several other items for $25. Evidently, Argosy did not know what it had.

 

That was not nearly enough proof. Schiller then consulted numerous experts to evaluate the Oath. All but one thought it was real, or at least, that there was nothing about it that established it as a fake. The only scientist who disagreed was one who had authenticated the Shroud of Turin, which made Schiller question his judgment. In the process, Schiller, who had a financial deal with Hofmann if the item was sold, spent an enormous sum on authentication and selling, well into six figures. He took it to the Library of Congress, with the price set at $1.5 million. They examined it carefully, and while not confirming its authenticity, stated that there was nothing inconsistent with it being real. Still, they balked. Reportedly, they were concerned about the provenance, title, and price. Schiller took it to the American Antiquarian Society. They wanted it, but not for $1.5 million. They offered $250,000. He turned it down. Not enough.

 

Meanwhile, one of Hofmann's earlier efforts, very good but not quite good enough, was causing some suspicion. This was the Salamander Letter. It was a letter supposedly written by one the three witnesses named in the Book of Mormon. If true, it would have rocked the tenets of the Latter-day Saints church. It implied that founder Joseph Smith had engaged in some magic sort of stuff in the creation of the Book of Mormon. It also claimed that it was not an angel that brought the golden plates to Smith but a white salamander. Ouch. He attempted to sell it to the church, probably thinking they would want to bury it. They did not buy. He did find a believer in collector Steven Christensen. He bought it. Unfortunately for Hofmann, Christensen became suspicious in time and later convinced it was a forgery. Hofmann felt he had to deal with his client's suspicions. His answer was to kill him.

 

On October 15, 1985, Hofmann planted a bomb at Christensen's office. When the latter attempted to pick it up, it exploded, killing him. An hour and a half later, a second bomb exploded at the home of Christensen's business partner, Gary Sheets. The idea was to make it look like Christensen's murder had to do with business dealings, not with Hofmann and the Salamander Letter. It, too, exploded, killing not Gary Sheets but his wife, Kathleen. There was also a third bomb, but it accidentally went off in Hofmann's car, injuring him.

 

With that, police became very suspicious of Hofmann. He was exceptional at faking documents, but not at faking murders. They searched his house. They found the plates for some of his forgeries, along with other tools of the trade, guns, and the name of the firm that created the plate that was used to print the Oath. Now, the experts reassessed their judgment of Hofmann's various works. They found numerous similarities in some of his works not previously noticed as they were not examined together. It all came tumbling down. Utah, as Schiller observed, is “Gary Gilmore” country. Gilmore was the killer who was executed by firing squad. Hofmann decided it was better to plea bargain than go to trial. In return for his life, he agreed to confess. He was sentenced to five years to life. It will be the latter. In seeking early parole in 1988, he wrote a letter to the parole board that showed no remorse. They told him he would never get out. Schiller adds that he tried to hire someone to assassinate the parole board members. I cannot confirm this, but if so, it is understandable why they would tell him you will never get out. Thirty-three years later, Hofmann is still alive, residing in the Utah State Prison at Gunnison. He is 66 years old.

 

How was he able to pull off these forgeries? Both Schiller and Measom were astounded by his skills. He took blank pages from contemporary books so the paper would be authentic. The paper used for the Oath was one of those Daye had used in printing the Bay Psalm Book. He dug up an old book that explained exactly how ink was made in those days and duplicated the process masterfully. He even used chemicals to mimic the aging process. Schiller recounted that to imitate the way ink gradually bleeds through a piece of paper over time so as to be visible on the reverse, he placed his Oath on a screen and ran a vacuum underneath it. He was filled with tricks like that.

 

As for the receipt from Argosy Books, he sneaked a much inferior, obvious imitation of the Oath into their shop with him so they would write it up on a bill of sale as being the Oath of a Freeman without any thoughts it might be the real thing.

 

For the past 35 years, Schiller has been sitting on this document. The mind may know, but the heart resists. He kept open the slight possibility that, against all odds, it actually was real. Schiller said, “It's a nightmare,” and “I've lived with this for 35 years,” “but,” he continued, “inside I had hope there was a slight possibility the oath was real.” Schiller is now well into his 70s and it was time to accept the inevitable. “At this point we must accept the Oath is a forgery.” He put it up for auction. And yet, in hoping the buyer will make it available to researchers, he added that he still hopes there is a slight chance that it will eventually be determined the Oath is real. Giving up a dream that has lasted half a lifetime is hard.

 

The forged Oath of Freeman sold to an anonymous bidder on June 9, 2021, at Heritage Auctions for $52,500, handily beating the estimate of $16,000-$24,000.


Posted On: 2021-07-01 05:53
User Name: ae244155

Thank you to baltobook for noticing the previous mistake on the bookseller's name.


Posted On: 2021-07-01 07:32
User Name: andrewnadell

It was sold to Ken Rendell who donated it to the Grolier Club.


Posted On: 2021-07-01 07:32
User Name: andrewnadell

It was sold to Ken Rendell who donated it to the Grolier Club.


Posted On: 2021-07-01 10:59
User Name: heas8994

Appears to be a very good review of Hoffman and the Oath of Freeman and congrats to Ken
Rendell for buying and giving to the Grolier Club.


Posted On: 2021-07-01 18:20
User Name: johnwindle

Purchased by Ken Rendell for the Grolier Club collection of fakes and forgeries donated by Rendell. The underbidder was Michael Zinman probably for the AAS.


Posted On: 2021-07-03 09:49
User Name: battledore

An overall good summary of the events that occurred, though omitting the unexpected appearance at auction from “Fine Printed and Manuscript Americana from the Collection of Mrs. Philip D. Sang,” 27 March 1985 (Sothebys NY) a mid-17th century British book containing a transcription of the 1638/9 "Oath of a Free Man" text. Allegedly it was this entry in the Sothebys catalogue that alerted Hofmann to the specific citation of the original broadside from Massachusetts Bay Colony, of which no copy survived. For more detailed analysis, please refer to A JUDGEMENT OF EXPERTS (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society) edited by James Gilreath, 1991. The Hofmann "Oath" was acquired at the Heritage Auction by Kenneth W. Rendell and Shirley McNerney Rendell for donation to the Grolier Club as part of their Collection on the Detection of Forged Handwriting, currently in process.


Rare Book Monthly

  • Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 70 - Warner (Robert). The Orchid Album, 11 volumes, 1882-1897. £5,000 to £8,000
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 151 - United States. Melish (John), Map of the United States with..., British & Spanish Possessions, 1816. £40,000 to £60,000
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 159 - World. Speed (John), A New and Accurat Map of the World, 1676. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 503 - American Civil War playing cards. Union Cards, New York: American Card Co., 1862. £500 to £800
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 573 - Shepard (Ernest Howard), 'The Hour is Come’, original watercolour, [1959]. £10,000 to £15,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 922 - Wilde (Oscar). An Ideal Husband, large paper limited issue, 1899. £4,000 to £6,000
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 744 - Disney (Walt). “Sketch Book” [of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], 1938. £700 to £1,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 771 - Auden (Wystan Hugh). Portrait of the head of W. H. Auden, 1970. £1,000 to £1,500
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 822 - Fleming (Ian). Goldfinger, 1st edition, signed by the author, 1959. £6,000 to £8,000
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 895 - Rowling (J. K.). A complete inscribed set of Harry Potter books plus ephemera. £8,000 to £12,0000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 883 - Orwell (George). Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1st edition, London: Secker & Warburg, 1949. £3,000 to £5,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 700 - Ashendene Press. T. Lucreti Cari De Rerium Natura Libri Sex, Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1913. £4,000 to £6,000
  • Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 4. Blaeu's Magnificent Carte-a-Figures World Map in Full Contemporary Color (1642) Est. $12,000 - $15,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 125. 1775 Edition of the Landmark Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia and Maryland (1775) Est. $15,000 - $18,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 673. Rare Frontispiece in Full Contemporary Color with Gilt Highlights (1662) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 717. Complete Tanner Atlas with Important Maps of Texas & Iowa (1845) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 3. Henricus Hondius' Baroque-Style World Map (1641) Est. $9,500 - $11,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 258. Complete Set of De Bry's Native Virginians & Picts from Part I of Grands Voyages (1608) Est. $2,750 - $3,500
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 608. Superb Work on 18th Century Russia with over 100 Maps and Plates (1788) Est. $3,500 - $4,250
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 49. One of the Most Important 16th Century Maps of the New World (1556) Est. $5,000 - $6,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 706. Superb Image of the Annunciation in Contemporary Hand Color (1518) Est. $900 - $1,100
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 123. One of the Earliest Maps to Show Philadelphia (1695) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 631. One of the Earliest Printed Maps of Afghanistan & Pakistan (1482) Est. $1,900 - $2,200
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 689. Proof Copy Engraving of the Senate Floor During the Compromise of 1850 (1855) Est. $1,500 - $1,800
  • Bonhams, June 15-25: 18th Century American Sea Captain's Journals of Voyages to Hawaii, China, and South America. $35,000 - $45,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Autograph Diary from Bolling Advance Base, Winter 1934. $40,000 - $60,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854. $4,000 - $6,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Cellarius, Andreas. Harmonia macrocosmica seu atlas universalis et novus, totius universi creati cosmographiam generalem, et novam exhibens. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Nobelist George Stigler's Copy of Ricardo's Classic on the Science of Economics. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris: F. L. Schmied, 1927. $15,000 - $20,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Fine Copy of Walras's Classic on the Theory of Marginal Utility. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Arion Press Moby Dick. Melville, Herman. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Venegas, Miguel. Noticia de la California, y desu conquista temporal, y espiritual hasta el tiempo presente. $7,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Carelton Watkins, Yosemite and the West. Portfolio of 21 imperial albumen prints. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: An Unpublished Archive of Thornton Wilder Correspondence to F.J. O'Neil. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Vesalius, Andreas. 1514-1564. Suorum de humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome. $100,000 - $150,000
  • Bonhams, June 25: Vesalius, Andreas. 1514-1564. De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. $200,000 - $300,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Gersdorff, Hans Von. 1455-1529. Feldtbuch der wundartzney. $40,000 - $60,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Pare, Ambroise. C.1509-1590. La Methode Curative des Playes, et Fractures de la Teste humaine. Avec les pourtraits des Instruments necessaires pour la curation d'icelles. $25,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Reisch, Gregor. 1470-1525. Margarita Philosophica. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bright, Richard. 1789-1858. Reports of Medical Cases, Selected with a View of Illustrating the Symptoms and Cure of Diseases by a Reference to Morbid Anatomy. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Berengario da Carpi, Giacomo. C. 1460-1530. Tractatus de fractura calve sive cranei. $10,000 - $15,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Vicq D'Azyr, Felix. 1748-1794. Traite d'antomie et de physiologie. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Croce, Giovanni Andrea Della. 1509?-1775. Chirurgia libri septem... $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bruno Da Longburgo. 1200-1286. La cyrogia di Maistro Bruno: Expertissimo in quella. Tradutta in vulgare. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Schwann, Theodor. 1810-1882. Mikroskopische Untersuchungen uber die Ubereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiere und Pflanzen. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Cowper, William. 1666-1709. The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, with Figures Drawn after the Life… $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bidloo, Govard. 1649-1713. Anatomia humani corporis, centum & quinque tabulis, per artificiossis. G. de Lairesse ad vivum delineatis. $6,000 - $9,000

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