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Notable antique frauds from recent history

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The Bingham secretary and the “great Brewster chair” are far from the only antique forgeries to fool the experts in recent history.

Babe Ruth’s baseball glove

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Anything associated with the Babe, baseball’s king of kings, is worth big money. That’s why, when a California man was selling Ruth’s childhood baseball glove, it sparked huge interest. The man, Irving Scheib, said the glove was so beloved by the Babe that “he slept with it under his pillow at the orphanage,” where he was placed as a child. Scheib bought the glove on eBay for $750. His asking price? $200,000. The glove actually was a real antique dating to the 1890s, the decade when Ruth was born. But the celebrity connection was completely Scheib’s invention, as was the false documentation he created linking it to Ruth. His scheme fell apart when a potential buyer asked for the documents to be notarized and Scheib balked. He received two years of probation in 2012.

Thomas Jefferson’s wine

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One of the most expensive bottles of wine ever sold at auction is a 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux owned by Thomas Jefferson. In 1985, Christopher Forbes (of Forbes publishing fame) bought it for $156,000. Little did he know that a few decades later it would be the subject of a book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, detailing how it was an elaborate fake. The bottle was part of a larger collection of wine that a forger known as Hardy Rodenstock claimed he had found behind a brick wall in Paris. William Koch (of Koch brothers fame) also bought some of those bottles in the 1980s. Decades later, his staff discovered that the bottles were likely fake when they tried to authenticate them. In the 2000s, Koch pressed charges against Rodenstock, whose real name turned out to be Meinhard Goerke, for his fine-wine fraud. The case was ultimately settled out of court.

Paul Revere’s silver

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In the 1930s, early American silver was in high demand. In the ’30s and ’40s, newspapers reported that collector Arthur Lenssen had purchased antique silver smithed in the shop of patriot Paul Revere. Later, forgers began to target him. After Lenssen died, experts discovered that 75 percent of his silver collection was fake, and that most of those forgeries had come from just two dealers in Philadelphia. These fakes included a silver porringer with fake Paul Revere marks added on.

Period furniture for Versailles

French authorities arrested two antiques dealers in 2016 under suspicion of selling fake period furniture to the Palace of Versailles. These included two stools, an armchair and another chair supposedly made for Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s mistress, in the 18th century. The French government had purchased the four pieces of furniture for 2.7 million euros (about $3 million). However, it began to investigate them once Charles Hooreman, an 18th-century chair specialist, told Versailles he thought they were fake.

At last check, the two dealers — Bill Pallot and Laurent Kraemer — were still awaiting trial. Kraemer maintains his innocence, but Pallot has already admitted to commissioning an artist to forge the two chairs. The scandal has rocked the antiques world in France, as Pallot was formerly considered one of the foremost, if not the foremost, 18th-century chair expert in the country. 

Vampire-hunters’ kits

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Vampires aren’t real, but the historical fear of them is, including in Connecticut. From at least the 16th through the early 20th centuries, people across Europe and New England performed rituals to stop the dead from rising and feasting on the living. So it might seem that “vampire hunting kits” were a real thing. Not likely. Purported antique kits have included anachronistic items like optical brighteners, as well as “silver bullets” made of pewter. So far, none of the many so-called kits floating around has ever been authenticated.

This article appears in the March 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.