Few persons outside of the banking and legal fraternity are aware of
the frequency with which litigations arise from one or another of the
many phases of disputed handwriting; doubtless most frequently from
that of signatures to the various forms of commercial obligations or
other instruments conveying title to property, such as notes, checks,
drafts, deeds, wills, etc. To a less extent the disputed portions
involve alterations of books of account and other writings, by erasure,
addition, interlineation, etc., while sometimes the trouble comes in
the form of disguised or simulated writings. A disproportionately large
number of these cases arise from forged and fictitious claims against
the estates of deceased people. This results, first, from the fact that
such claims are more easily established, as there is usually no one by
whom they can be directly contradicted; and, secondly, for the reason
that administrators are less liable to exercise the highest degree of
caution than are persons who pay out their own money.
In all instances where a forgery extends to the manufacturing of any
considerable piece of writing, it is certain of being detected and
demonstrated when subjected to a skilled expert examination; but where
forgery is confined to a single signature, and that perhaps of such a
character as to be easily simulated, detection is ofttimes difficult,
and expert demonstrations less certain or convincing. Yet instances
are rare in which the forger of even a signature does not leave some
unconscious traces that will betray him to the ordinary expert, while
in most instances forgery will be at once so apparent to an expert as
to admit of a demonstration more trustworthy and convincing to court
and jury than is the testimony of witnesses to alleged facts, who may
be deceived, or even lie. The unconscious tracks of the forger,
however, cannot be bribed or made to lie, and they often speak in a
language so unmistakable as to utterly defy controversion.
Note illustrations of forged handwriting in Appendix at end of this
With the present-day knowledge of writing in its various phases, the
identity of forged, fraudulent or simulated writing can be determined
beyond the possibility of a mistake. Every year sees an increase in
the number of important civil and criminal cases that turn on
questions of disputed handwriting.
There is not a day in the year but what bank officials are at sea over
a disputed signature and a knowledge of how to test and determine
genuine and forged signatures will prove of inestimable value to the
banking and business world.
Forgery is easy. Detection is difficult. As the rewards for the
successful forgers are great, thousands upon thousands of forged
checks, notes, drafts, wills, deeds, receipts and all kinds of
commercial papers are produced in the United States every year. Many
are litigated, but many more are never discovered.
Practical and useful information about signature writing and how to
safeguard one's signature against forgery is something that will be
welcomed by those who are constantly attaching their names to valuable
Every man should guard against an illegible signature--for example, a
series of meaningless pen tracks with outlandish flourishes, such as
are assumed by many people with the feeling that because no one can
read them, they cannot be successfully imitated. Experience has
demonstrated that the easiest signatures to successfully forge are
those that are illegible, either from design or accident. The banker
or business man who sends his pen through a series of gyrations,
whirls, flourishes and twists and calls it a signature is making it
easy for a forger to reproduce his signature, for it is a jumble of
letters and ink absolutely illegible and easy of simulation. Every man
should learn to write plain, distinct and legible.
The only signature to adopt is one that is perfectly legible, clear
and written rapidly with the forearm or muscular movement. One of the
best preventatives of forgery is to write the initials of the
name--that is, write them in combination--without lifting the pen. It
will help if the small letters are all connected with each other and
with the capitals. Select a style of capital letters and always use
them; study out a plain combination of them; practice writing until it
can be written easily and rapidly and stick to it. Don't confuse your
banker by changing the form of a letter or adding flourishes.
Countless repetitions will give a facility in writing it that will
lend a grace and charm and will stamp it with your peculiar
characteristics in such a way that the forger will pass you by when
looking for an "easy mark." Plain signatures of the character noted
above are not the ones usually selected by forgers for simulation.
Forgers are always hunting for the illegible as in it they can best
hide their identity.
It is said to be an utter impossibility for one person to imitate
successfully a page of writing of another. The person attempting the
forgery should be able to accomplish the following: First, he must
know all the characteristics of his own hand; second, he must be able
to kill all the characteristics of his own hand; third, he must know
all of the characteristics in the hand he is imitating; fourth, he
must be able to assume characteristics of the other's hand at will.
These four points are insuperable obstacles, and the forger does not
live who has surmounted or can surmount them.
To understand the principles on which an expert in handwriting bases
his work, consider for a moment how a person's style of writing is
developed. He begins by copying the forms set for him by a teacher. He
approximates more or less closely to these forms. His handwriting is
set, formal, and without character. As soon as he leaves off following
the copy book, however, his writing begins to take on individual
characteristics. These are for the most part unconscious. He thinks of
what he is writing, not how. In time these peculiarities, which creep
gradually into a man's writing, become fixed habits. By the time he
is, say, twenty-five years old, his writing is settled. After that it
may vary, may grow better or worse, but is certain to retain those
distinguishing marks which, in the man himself, we call personality.
This personality remains. He cannot disguise it, except in a
superficial way, any more than he can change his own character.
It follows that no two persons write exactly the same hands. It is
easy to illustrate this. Suppose, for example, that among 10,000
persons there is one hunchback, one minus his right leg, one with an
eye missing, one bereft of a left arm, one with a broken nose. To find
a person with two of these would require, probably, 100,000 people;
three of them, 1,000,000; four of them, 100,000,000. One possessing
all of them might not be found in the entire 14,000,000,000 people on
earth. Precisely the same with different handwritings--the peculiar
and distinguishing characteristics of one would no more be present in
others than would the personal counterparts of the authors be found in
It is more surprising, at first thought, to be told that no person
ever signs his name even twice alike. Of course, theoretically, it
cannot be said that it is impossible for a person to write his name
twice in exactly the same manner. A person casting dice might throw
double aces a hundred times consecutively. But who would not act on
the practical certainty that the dice were loaded long before the
hundredth throw was reached in such a case? The same reasoning applies
to the matter of handwriting with added force, because the chance of
two signatures being exactly alike is incomparably less than the
chance of the supposed throws of the dice.
Probably many persons will not believe that it is impossible for them
to write their own name twice alike. For them it will be an interesting
experiment to repeat their signatures, say, a hundred times, writing
them on various occasions and under different circumstances, and then
to compare the result. It is safe to say that they will hardly find two
of these which do not present some differences, even to their eyes, and
under the examination of a trained observer aided by the microscope,
these divergencies stand out tenfold more plainly.
Many cases of forgery hinge on this point, the forger having copied
another person's signature by tracing one in his possession, but such
attempts are always more easy to detect than those in which the forger
carefully imitates another's hand. The latter is the usual procedure.
The forger secures examples of the signature or writing which he
desires to imitate. Then he practices on it, trying to reproduce all
its striking peculiarities. In this way he sometimes arrives at a
resemblance so close as to deceive even his victim. Still there is
always present some internal evidence to prove that the writing is not
the work of the person to whom it is attributed. Likewise it will
reveal the identity of the person who actully wrote it, if specimens
of his natural hand are to be had for comparison.
It is impossible for a man to carry in his mind and to reproduce on
paper all the peculiar characteristics of another man's writing and at
the same time to conceal all his own. At some point there is certain
to come a slip when the habit of years asserts itself and gives the
testimony which may fix the whole production on the forger beyond the
shadow of a doubt.
The little things are the ones that count most in making examination
and determining a forgery for the reason that they are no less
characteristic than the more prominent peculiarities and are more
likely to be overlooked by the person who tries to disguise his hand.
The crossing of _t's_ and the dotting of _i's_ become matters of large
moment in making comparisons of disputed handwritings. There is
probably no matter in conjunction with a man's ordinary writing to
which he gives less thought than the way he makes these crosses and
dots. For that reason they are in the highest degree characteristic.
And it is precisely because of their apparently slight importance that
the person who sets out to imitate another's handwriting or to
disguise his own is likely to be careless about these little marks and
to make slips which will be sufficient to prove his identity.
Imitations of signatures are usually written in a laborious and
painstaking manner. They are, therefore, decidedly unlike a man's
natural signature, which is usually written in an easy fashion. The
imitations show frequent pauses, irregularities in pen pressure and in
the distribution of ink, and contain other evidences of hesitation.
Not infrequently the forger tries to improve on his work by retouching
some of the letters after he has completed a word. Microscopic
examination brings out all of these things and makes them tell-tale
Comparison of handwriting is competent but is not itself conclusive
evidence of forgery. Identification of handwriting is, if possible,
more difficult than identification of the person which so often forms
the chief difficulty in criminal trials. As illness, strange dress,
unusual attitude, and the like, cause mistakes in identifying the
individual, so a bad pen or rough paper, a shaky hand and many other
things change the appearance of a person's handwriting.
This kind of evidence ought never, therefore, to be regarded as full
proof in trials where a handwriting is in dispute. Generally the best
witness in a handwriting case is one who often sees the party write,
through whose hands his writing has been continually passing, and
whose opinion is not the result of an inspection made on a particular
occasion for a special purpose.