Records of Deception: Forgeries and the Integrity of the Historical Record

A one-hour panel discussion sponsored by RBS followed by 15 minutes of Q&A held on Tuesday, 30 June 2020, 4–5:15 p.m. ET, via Zoom.

Forgeries, as opposed to facsimiles or copies, are characterized by their makers’ intent to deceive. While accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” abound in today’s media, special collections also contain examples of documents that have been faked or forged for various purposes throughout past centuries. Although the majority of forgeries were never created with the explicit intention of distorting the historical record, their cumulative impact poses a threat to the integrity of collections stewarded by libraries, even as the ongoing practice of forgery continues to complicate the marketplace for books, prints, maps, and ephemera.

On Tuesday, 30 June, RBS faculty members Brian Cassidy (Type Punch Matrix), Julie Nelson Davis (University of Pennsylvania), Nick Wilding (Georgia State University), and Kevin Young (The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), spoke about these various aspects of forgery, as well as bibliographical techniques and other strategies they use to authenticate historical documents, ranging from manuscripts and early-printed books to twentieth-century flyers and zines. Barbara Heritage (RBS) and Joan Friedman (former Curator of Rare Books at the Yale Center for British Art) co-moderated the discussion. 

Follow the conversation on social media using hashtags #RBSOnline and #RBSRecordsOfDeception.

This panel discussion was presented live in June 2020. The session was recorded, and you are invited to watch the recording of the event below via our RBS YouTube channel.


Brian Cassidy has been involved in the book business in one form or another since 1994. In 2004 he established Brian Cassidy Bookseller, specializing broadly in twentieth-century countercultural and avant garde movements, as well as archival and vernacular materials. He is on the faculty of the Antiquarian Book Seminar, and is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, the Independent Online Booksellers Association. In June of 2019 he launched with co-founder Rebecca Romney the rare book firm Type Punch Matrix. He has lectured on the bibliography of duplication at Rare Book School, New York University, Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and elsewhere. He is currently developing the class “Identifying and Understanding Twentieth-Century Duplicating Technologies” for Rare Book School.

Julie Nelson Davis is Professor of the History of Modern Asian Art and Director of the Penn Forum on Japan. Recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on Japanese prints and illustrated books, Davis teaches a wide range of courses on East Asian art and material culture in the greater global context. She is author of Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (Reaktion Books, 2007 and 2021), Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), and Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (in press). Davis was recently a guest curator for the Freer and Sackler Galleries for an exhibition on Utamaro (2017), and is preparing an exhibition of Japanese illustrated books at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working on a new project on issues of imitation, homage, and fakery in early modern Japanese art and their legacies into the present.

Nick Wilding is Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University, where he teaches Early Modern history, the history of science, and the history of the book. He is the author of Galileo’s Idol: Gianfrancesco Sagredo and the Politics of Knowledge (Chicago University Press, 2014), Faussaire de Lune: Autopsie d’une Imposture, Galilée et ses contrefacteurs (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2015) and a dozen research articles. He has held fellowships at Stanford, Cambridge, Columbia, the American Academy in Rome, the New York Academy of Medicine, the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library and the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography, Rare Book School. He currently serves on the Council of the Bibliographical Society of America. He is a Senior Fellow in Rare Book School’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography.

Kevin Young is the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Poetry Editor of the New Yorker. He is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020. Young’s second nonfiction book, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts & Fake News, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Nonfiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was named a New York Times Notable Book.


Barbara Heritage is the Associate Director and Curator of Collections at Rare Book School. She currently serves as the Secretary of the Antiquarian Book School Foundation, as the Chair of the New Scholars Program Committee of the Bibliographical Society of America, and on the Board of Directors for Blue Mountain Dharma in Charlottesville. She has written extensively on the manuscripts and publishing history of Charlotte Brontë. Working with Donna Sy, she is currently co-editing a collected volume on critical-bibliographical and book-historical pedagogies resulting from the conference, “Bibliography Among the Disciplines,” that she and Sy co-chaired in 2017.

Joan Friedman is a retired art historian and rare book curator who worked for many years at the Yale Center for British Art.  After a mid-life career change, she became a professor of Accounting at Illinois Wesleyan University, and is now retired for a second time.  She collects the works of Owen Jones, mid-Victorian color printer and designer. She keeps out of trouble by volunteering for RBS, the BSA, and other organizations.