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The following chapter is written by Mr. William C. Shaw, of Chicago,

the well-known handwriting expert and expert on forgery, whose

services are called in all important forgery and disputed handwriting

cases in the country. It is replete with facts and suggestions of the

greatest importance, and will be found not only interesting reading,

but an instructive article throughout.

The comparativ
frequency with which checks, drafts, notes, etc., are

being raised or altered, as well as deeds, wills, etc., forged and

substituted, has naturally created a widespread interest in the

subject of "disputed handwriting." The importance of practical

knowledge in this direction by those who are continually handling

commercial papers and legal documents is at once apparent, but others

engaged in any business pursuit may be saved considerable loss,

trouble and annoyance by observing the principles and suggestions

explained and illustrated in this article.

In approaching the subject of detecting forged or fraudulent

handwriting let it be understood as a fundamental principle that there

are hardly two persons whose writing is similar enough to deceive a

careful observer, unless the one is imitating the other. Hands, like

faces, have their peculiar features and expression, and the imitator

must not alone copy the original, but at the same time disguise his

own writing. Even the most skilled forger cannot entirely hide his

individuality and is bound to relapse into his habitual ways of

forming and connecting letters, words, etc. The employment of extreme

care can be detected by signs of hesitancy, the substitution of curves

for angles, etc., which appear very plainly when the writing is

critically examined with a magnifying glass. When a signature has been

forged by means of tracing over the original, the resemblance is often

so exact as to deceive even the supposed author. In these cases the

microscope is generally effective in detecting the forgery, as well as

the methods employed. Perfect identity of two genuine signatures is a

practical impossibility; if, therefore, two signatures superposed and

held against the light completely coincide it is almost certain that

one of them is a forgery.

The methods employed in executing forged handwriting are varied and

depend largely on the individual skill and inclination of the party

attempting it.

The most frequent class of forgeries consists of erasures, which means

the removing of the genuine writing by mechanical or chemical means.

Erasing with knife, rubber, etc., has practically been abandoned by

expert forgers, on account of the almost certain detection which must

necessarily follow the traces left in evidence. Erasing fluids, ink

eradicators, etc., are more generally used for this purpose. These

have entered the market for legitimate purposes and can be

commercially obtained. Too much confidence should, therefore, not be

placed in the careful writing of checks, etc., alone, as with the aid

of chemicals the original writing can be entirely removed and forged

words and figures substituted.

Second in importance and frequency, and perhaps the easiest kind of

forgery, consists of simple additions to genuine handwriting. In

checks or drafts the changing of "eight" to "eighty" by the addition

of a single letter is a striking illustration. The change of "six" to

"sixty," "twenty" to "seventy," etc., can also be accomplished by

adding a few strokes and without erasure, as per specimens given.

The forging of signatures and writing in general is accomplished by

means of tracing as above referred to, free-hand copying, with the aid

of considerable practice, and copying by mechanical or chemical

processes. It is not intended here to give directions, but simply to

refer to facts, with a view to preventing losses and detecting

forgeries. For this reason one method of reproduction may briefly be

described. The carelessness with which blotters are used in public

places, bank counters, post, express and hotel offices is to be

strongly condemned. The entire signature of an indorser is often

clearly copied on the underside of the blotting paper, which only

needs to fall into the hands of a designing party to be projected on

any paper or document and in any desired position.

The means of discovering and demonstrating forged handwriting are as

varied as the methods employed in its execution, and it may be some

comfort to know that the cunning of the forger is more than matched by

the skill and ability of the expert.

The ordinary method of identifying handwriting consists in the

"comparison of hands." This, however, is only admitted in courts of

justice under certain limitations. The genuineness of a disputed

writing can be proved by a witness who has seen its execution, or by

comparison with correspondence received in the regular course of

business, or by comparisons with disputed specimens of the alleged

handwriting, which must also be in evidence. Disputed signatures may

be compared with other signatures acknowledged to be genuine, or with

letters or documents, the genuineness of which is unquestioned. In

arriving at conclusions many things are to be considered, the form of

the letters, their manner of combination, evidences of habit, etc.

Another method of detecting forgery is afforded by the internal

evidences of fraud of the writing itself, with or without the aid of

comparison with genuine writing. These evidences may consist of

alterations, erasures, additions, crowding, etc., as above referred

to; tracing a genuine writing by means of ink or pencil, afterwards

retraced, etc.

The copy of a genuine signature may be free-hand or composite, by

which is meant that the writing is produced discontinuously or in

parts. Comparison of the separate letters of the doubtful specimen of

writing with the separate letters of the genuine writing of the

supposed imitator or imitated always exhibits less uniformity if

imitation has been attempted, the copyist being frequently led into an

approach to his ordinary handwriting or into an oversight of some

special characteristics of the writing he is simulating. Even minor

points do not escape the expert's critical attention. The dotting of

the i's, or crossing of the t's, curls, loops, flourishes, intervals

between words and letters, connections, characteristics of up and down

strokes are all carefully noticed.

A glass of low magnifying power will, as a rule, exhibit erasures, and

even bring to view the erased letters. In tracing, the forger

frequently fails to cover over the first outlines, which can be

plainly distinguished. The places where the pen has been put upon and

removed from the paper may sometimes be noticed, which is in itself

strong evidence of fraud.

With the aid of a microscope the character of the alterations, certain

characteristics due to age, emotion, etc., the kind of pen used and

how it was held, the nature of ink, order of writing, with regard to

time, whether produced by the right or left hand, standing or sitting,

can often be determined. Indentations made by heavy strokes or a sharp

pen, as well as those employed as guides for the signature

subsequently written, will also be brought into prominence. Forged

signatures placed under the microscope have generally a patched

appearance, which results from the retracing of lines in certain

portions not occurring in genuine writing.

In case of disputed handwriting photography has also been employed to

great advantage. Of course the writing in question should, whenever

practicable, be compared with the original, photographic copies being

looked upon with disfavor and considered by most courts as secondary

evidence. Still, photographic enlargements of genuine and disputed

signatures are very useful in illustrating expert testimony. Certain

characteristics, differences in ink, attempts to remove writing, etc.,

may be brought to view, which would be entirely overlooked by direct

examination. The wonderful power of the camera has recently been

illustrated in a very striking manner. A large ocean steamer was

photographed, and on receipt of the proof the owners were surprised to

see a hand bill posted on the side of the hull. Examination of the

ship disclosed no hand bill there, but another photograph exhibited

the same result. A searching inspection revealed the presence of the

mysterious paper buried beneath four coats of paint, but defying the

superficial scrutiny of the human eye.

As a last resort chemical tests may be applied, by which the identity

or difference of the inks used may be established, etc. As a means of

demonstrating that chemical erasures have been made a certain

manipulation and treatment of the paper submitted will almost

invariably bring back the original and obliterated writing.

A few words regarding papers and documents, intended for preservation,

will not be amiss. Improved processes of manufacture have certainly

had no beneficial influence on the durability of the products, and

while inks and papers have become greatly reduced in price and

apparently improved in quality, it is very doubtful if much of our

book learning and many of our written instruments will go down to

future generations. Even fifty years will suffice to decompose many an

attractive volume at present on the shelves of our libraries, or fade

the writing of finely engraved and important documents. The quality of

the ink and paper selected is therefore of greatest importance.

Typewritten copies particularly are subject to the ravages of time,

and ought to be avoided when preservation for years to come is the

principal consideration, as for instance in the case of wills, etc.,

which ought to be made in one's own handwriting whenever practicable.

Briefly, I may state that all the safeguards employed on commercial

papers or legal documents, outside of the actual protection afforded,

have the beneficial effect or tendency to make forgeries, erasures or

alterations more difficult, at the same time warning prospective

forgers to keep a respectful distance.

The inks used, the position of the writing, the paper on which it is

written, the employment of certain chemical, mechanical and clerical

preventatives are all to be thoughtfully considered by those who

desire to protect themselves against losses resulting from fraudulent


With regard to expert testimony it may be said in conclusion that it

is most effective if governed solely by the evidence submitted, and

not by information otherwise obtained. The microscopic and

photographic examination of papers and documents, as well as their

mechanical and chemical treatment, require in all cases the trained

eye, the skilled hand and the extensive experience of the expert, in

order to fully utilize the available material and to arrive at

conclusions which are in entire accord with the facts under

consideration, thereby aiding in the just and equitable settlement of

weighty questions of profit or loss, affluence or poverty, liberty or

imprisonment, life or death.

Another expert in handwriting says that regarding the methods made use

of to determine authorship, specialists are naturally reticent. Some

of them have admitted, however, the nature of the leading principles'

which guide them. The philosophy of the matter rests mainly on the

fact that it is very rare for any two persons to write hands similar

enough to deceive a careful observer, unless one is imitating the

other. "Fists," like faces, have all some special idiosyncrasy, and

the imitator has not merely to copy that of some one else but to

disguise his own.

By careful and frequent practice he may succeed well enough to deceive

the ordinary man, but is rarely successful in baffling the expert.

Even the most skilful culprit cannot wholly hide his individuality, as

he is sure to relapse into his ordinary method occasionally. Then

again, great care has to be used, and this can be detected by the

traces of hesitancy, the substitution of curves for angles and _vice

versa_, which come out very plainly when the writing is examined under

the microscope, as it usually is by the expert.

A plan of detection which has been adopted with great success is to

cut out each letter in a doubtful piece of writing, and paste all the

A's, B's, etc., on separate sheets of paper. The process is also gone

through with a genuine bit of caligraphy of the imitator or the

imitated, as the case may be. Comparison almost invariably shows that

the letters are less uniform if imitation has been attempted, the

writer being occasionally betrayed into some approach to his ordinary

caligraphy, or into momentary forgetfulness of some special point in

the handwriting he is simulating.

No point is too small to escape an expert's attention. The dotting of

the "i's," the crossing of "t's," the curls and flourishes, the

intervals between the words, the thinness of the up-stroke and the

thickness of the down-stroke, are all noted and carefully compared.

Where only a signature has been forged, and that by means of tracings

from the original the resemblance is often so exact as to deceive even

the supposed author, but in these cases the microscope is generally

effective in determining not merely the forgery but the method by

which it was accomplished. It is some comfort to know that the cunning

of the forger is overmatched by the scientific skill of the trained