site logo


Erasure or erazuer, as it is more commonly called in England, from the

Latin word "scrape or shave" is the scraping or shaving of a deed,

note, signature, amount or of any formal writing. In England, except

in the case of a will, the presumption, in the absence of rebutting

testimony, is that the erasure was made at or before the execution

thereof. If an alteration or erasure has been made in any instrument

subsequent to its execution, that fact ought to be mentioned (in the

abstract or epitome of the evidence of ownership) together with the

circumstances under which it is done.

A fraudulent alteration, if made by the person himself, taking under

it would vitiate his interest altogether. It was formerly considered

that an alteration, erasure or interlineation would void the

instrument entirely, even in those cases where it was made by a

stranger; but the law is now otherwise, as it is clearly settled that

no alterations made by a stranger will prevent the contents of an

instrument from retaining its original effect and operation, where it

can be plainly shown what that effect and operation actually was. To

accomplish this the mutilated instrument may be given in evidence as

far as its contents appear and evidence will be admitted to show what

portions have been altered or erased, and also the words contained in

such altered or erased parts; but if, for want of such evidence or any

deficiency or uncertainty arising out of it the original contents of

the instruments cannot be ascertained, then the old rule would become

applicable or more correctly speaking, the mutilated instrument would

become void for uncertainty. If a will contains any alterations or

erasures, the attention of the witnesses ought to be directed to the

particular parts in which such alterations occur, and they ought to

place their initials in the margin opposite, before the will is

executed, etc., notice this having been done by a memorandum added to

the attestation clause at the end of the will.

In Scotland the rule as to erasure is somewhat stricter than in

England and the United States, the legal inferences being that such

alterations were made after execution. As to necessary or bona-fide

alterations which may be desired by the parties, corrections or

clerical errors and the like after a paper is written out but before

signature, the rule usually followed is that the deed must show that

they have been advisedly adopted by the party; and this will be

effected by mentioning them in the body of the writing. Thus if some

words are erased and others superinduced, you mention that the

superinduced words were written over an erasure; if words are simply

delite that fact is noticed, if words are added it ought to be on the

margin and such additions signed by the party with his Christian name

on one side and his surname on the other; and such marginal addition

must be noticed in the body of the work so as to specify the page on

which it occurs, the writer of it and that it is subscribed by the

attesting witness.

The Roman rule was that the alterations should be made by the party

himself and a formal clause was introduced with their deeds to that


As a general rule alterations with the pen are in all cases to be

preferred to erasure; and suspicion will be most effectually removed

by not obliterating the words altered so completely as to conceal the

nature of the correction.

The law of the United States follows that of England and Scotland in

regard to alterations and erasures.

If any one will try the experiment of erasing an ink-mark on ordinary

writing paper, and then writing over the erasure, he will notice a

striking difference between the letters on the unaltered surface. The

latter are broader, and in most cases, to the unaided eye, darker in

color, while the erased spot, if not further treated to some substitute

for sizing, may be noticed either when the paper is held between a

light and the eye, or when viewed obliquely at a certain angle, or in

both cases.

Very frequently it happens that so much of the size and the

superficial layer of fibres must be removed that the mark of the ink

can be distinctly seen on the reverse side of the paper, and the lines

have a distinct border which makes them broader than in the same

writing under normal conditions. If a sharp pen be used there is great

likelihood that a hole will be made in the paper, or a sputter thrown

over the parts adjacent to the erasure.

The latter effect is produced by the entanglement of the point of the

pen among the disturbed fibres of the paper and its sudden release

when sufficient force is used to carry it along in the direction of

the writing.

It is often of importance to know, in case of a blot, whether the

erasure it may partially mark was there before the blot, or whether it

was made with the object of removing the latter.

Inasmuch as an attempt to correct such a disfigurement would in all

probability not be made until the ink had dried, an inspection of the

reverse side of the paper will usually furnish satisfactory evidence

on the point. If the color of the ink be not more distinct on the

under side of the paper than the color of other writing where there

was no erasure, it is probable that the erasure was subsequent to the


If the reverse be the case, the opposite conclusion may be drawn.

Blots are sometimes used by ignorant persons to conceal the improper

manipulation of the paper, but they are not adapted to aid this kind

of fraud, and least of all to conceal erasures.

The decision as to whether they have been made legitimately and before

a paper was executed, or subsequently to its execution, and with

fraudulent intent, must be arrived at by a comparison of the

handwriting in which the words appear, the ink with which they were

written, and the local features of each special case which usually are

not wanting.

To determine whether or not papers contain erasures the suspected

document should be examined by reflected and transmitted light.

Examine the surface for rough spots. Forgers after erasures frequently

endeavor to hide the scratched and roughened surface by applying a

sizing of alum, sandarach powder, etc., rubbing it to restore the

finish to the paper.

Distilled water applied to the suspected document at the particular

points under examination will dissolve the sizing applied by the

forger. If held to the light the thinning will show. The water may be

applied with a small brush or a medicine dropper. Water slightly

warmed may be used with good results at times.

Alcohol, if applied as described for water, will act more promptly and

show the scratched places. It may be well to use water first and then


To discover whether or not acids were used to erase, if moistened

litmus-paper be applied to the writing, the litmus-paper will become

slightly red if there is any acid remaining on the suspected document.

If the suspected spots be treated with distilled water, or alcohol, as

already described, the doctored place will show, when examined in

strong light.

Which of two inklines crossing each other was made first, is not

always easy of demonstration. To the inexperienced observer the

blackest line will always appear to be on top, and unless the examiner

has given much intelligent observation to the phenomenon and the

proper methods of observing it mistakes are very liable to be made.

Owing to the well-known fact that an inked surface presents a stronger

chemical affinity for ink than does a paper surface, when one ink-line

crosses another, the ink will flow out from the crossing line upon the

surface of the line crossed, slightly beyond where it flows upon the

paper surface on each side, thus causing the crossing line to appear

broadened upon the line crossed. Also an excess of ink will remain in

the pen furrows of the crossing line, intensifying them and causing

them to appear stronger and blacker than the furrows of the line


It is probable that ink and pencil alterations and erasures are more

frequently made with a sharp steel scraper and ink-erasing sand rubber

than otherwise. By these methods the evidence--first, the removal of

the luster or mill-finish from the surface of the paper; second, the

disturbance of the fibre of the paper, manifest under a microscope;

third, if written over, the ink will run or spread more or less in the

paper, presenting a heavier appearance, and the edges of the lines will

be less sharply defined; fourth, if erasure is made on ruled paper, the

base line will be broken or destroyed over the scraped or rubbed

surface; fifth, the paper, since it has been more or less reduced in

thickness where the erasure has been made, when held to the light will

show more or less transparency. When erasures have been thus made the

surface of the paper may be resized and polished, by applying white

glue, and rubbing it over with a burnisher. When thus treated it may be

again written over without difficulty. When erasures have been made

with acids, there is a removal of the gloss, or mill-finish; and there

is also more or less discoloration of the paper, which will vary

according to the kind of paper, ink, and acid used, and the skill with

which it has been applied. If the acid-treated surface is again written

over, the writing will present a more or less ragged and heavy

appearance, if the paper has not been first skillfully resized and

burnished. It is very seldom that writing can be changed by erasure so

as not to leave sufficient traces to lead to detection and

demonstration through a skillful examination.

Upon hard uncalendered paper erasures by acid when skillfully made are

not conspicuously manifest, nor when made upon any hard paper which

has been "wet down" for printing, since the luster upon the paper

would be thereby removed, and, so far as the surface of the paper is

concerned, there would be no further change from the application of

the acid. This applies to a wide range of printed blank business and

professional forms.

A forgery consists either in erasing from a document certain marks

which existed upon it, or in adding others not there originally, or in

both operations, of which the first mentioned is necessarily

antecedent to the last; as where one character or series of characters

is substituted for another.

The removal of characters from a paper is effected either by erasure

(seldom by pasting some opaque objects over the characters, painting

over them, or affixing a seal, wafer, etc., to the spot where they

existed) or by the use of chemical agents with the object of

dissolving the writing fluid and affecting the underlying paper or

parchment as little as possible.

If the erasure be effected by scratching or rubbing, this removes also

the surface of the paper, which consists of some sort of "size" or

paste with resin soap, which is pressed into the upper pores to give

the paper a smooth appearance, and to prevent the writing fluid from

"running," or entering the pores and blurring the edges of the lines.

If the paper were left as it exists when the scratching or rubbing is

completed, it would be very easy to see that it had been tampered

with, for not only would the parts thus abrased show the running of

any fluid which was subsequently laid upon them, but the surface would

appear rough to the eye in comparison with adjacent parts of the

paper, and the place would appear thinner by transmitted light. Even

to the touch the surface would reveal differences from the ordinary

condition of other parts of the paper.

But the forger usually endeavors to overcome these difficulties by

applying to the scratched area sandarach, resin, alum, paste, or two

or three of these together, the effect being to prevent an unusually

large flow of ink from the pen and its abnormal absorption by the


The paper should be placed between the observer and a strong light, by

which means, either with or without a magnifying-glass, a distinct

increase in the brightness of the suspected area may be noticed,

indicating a thinning, and even traces of letters, or marks which have

escaped the erasing-tool, may be seen.

A close scrutiny may show places where the surface has been partially

torn, and the fibres of the paper united together into little knobs,

and almost invariably a magnifying-glass will clearly show the

disturbance of the superficial fibres, as compared with other and

normal parts of the paper. If the latter be tinted, the change of

appearance may extend to color. The color of the paper should always

be attentively observed.

A change of color over the part which is the subject of investigation

may indicate the mechanical removal of the paper itself, or a washing

either with water or with acids, alkalies, or saline solutions. A

certain spotted character which follows this latter treatment differs

from the changes of color due to age or soiling.

When the heavier strokes--usually the down strokes--of a writing are

thicker and more blurred than usual a removal of sizing is indicated,

or an original imperfect sizing of the paper.

On the contrary, where the strokes are thinner and closer together

than usual, the cause is generally the application of resin, which has

been added, in all probability, to conceal a previous scratching of

the surface.

The spots produced by washing are more like penumbra, or blurred marks

bordering the tracings of the character, and are generally colored.

In order to bring out any traces of ink-marks which have been so far

removed as not to be observable by the naked eye, Coulier recommended

the placing of the document between sheets of white filter paper and

passing a hot flatiron over it, allowing the latter to remain on the

spotted parts for a short time. Another method is to wet the suspected

paper or document with alcohol, wrapped in another piece of paper also

saturated with alcohol, for the purpose of bringing out as yellow

rusty marks all the pen strokes which had not been entirely removed by


This treatment fixes the appearance of the spread lines and colored

spots in the space that has been washed and renders more noticeable

the stain caused by a partial sizing. In this manner apparently white

paper on which at first no traces of characters could be found showed

a yellow tinge, denoting the presence of previous writing, and on the

application of gallic acid and an infusion of nut-galls became

sufficiently distinct to permit the erasure and forgery to be


When an erasure is made on the surface of such a paper, the mineral

and organic materials of the sizing and loading are removed, and the

fibres of the paper which they unite are deranged in form and

position. Such a surface exhibits invariably the teased-up ends of the

fibres, and generally shows by the agreement in their direction in

what way the scratching was done.

Even in cases where a substitute for the sizing has been so

successfully added that no change in color or surface is observable,

the fibres will show by their unusual positions that they have been

disturbed. When an attempt has been made to write over the place

without sufficiently restoring the sizing, the effects can be seen in

the running of the ink between the fibres and the staining of the body

of the paper to a considerable depth from the surface and to a

considerable distance from the spot.

Erasures in parchments produce prominences on the opposite side of the

sheet. The ink placed upon such erasures has a peculiar bluish tinge.

It happens at times that a whole page is taken out, either by

scratching or rubbing with pumice (which was the practice in the

eleventh century, when a parchment became so valuable that it was

common to keep up the supply by erasing the writing on old parchments)

or by washing.

When the latter method was used, the writing as in palimpsests can be

made to reappear by warming. The parchment can be either laid on a hot

plate or pressed with a hot flatiron between two sheets of paper.

Where the supposed writer of a document was a bad or careless penman

the interlineations or additions are generally distinguished from his

handwriting, which they simulate, by greater clearness and precision,

as has been said above; for when a man will risk being sent to jail

for forgery it is not likely that he is willing to lose any

prospective advantage which his felony will bring him by lack of

distinctness in the characters by means of which it is perpetrated.

Considering the number of fraudulent additions or interlineations

which are constantly made, the number of mistakes in spelling or in

following the method employed by the supposed writer in forming the

same words is surprisingly great. Several instances are recalled where

the name of the supposed writer was not only mispelled but spelled in

two different ways in the same instrument. It occasionally seems as if

the forger's attention is so earnestly directed to overcoming the

difficult parts of his task that he neglects the simpler and more

obvious parts. A forger generally leaves some telltale marks to make

his detection certain.

Since typewriting has come so generally into use, the question often

arises as to the identity of typewriting by different operators as

well as that done on different machines. This may usually be done with

considerable degree of certainty. Different operators have their own

peculiar methods, which differ widely in many respects,--in the

mechanical arrangement, as to location of date, address, margins,

punctuation, spacing, signing, as well as impression from touch, etc.

The distinctive character of the writing done on different machines is

usually determined with absolute certainty. With most machines there

are accidental variations in alignment. Certain letters from use

become more or less imperfect, or become filled or fouled with ink. It

is highly improbable that any one even of these accidents should occur

in precisely the same way upon two machines, and that any two or more

should do so is well nigh impossible. It is equally certain that all

the habits and mannerisms of the operators would not be precisely the

same. A careful comparison of different typewritings in these respects

cannot fail to determine whether they are written by the same operator

or upon the same machine. It should be remembered that writing upon

the same machine will differ in all the respects mentioned at

different stages of its use and condition.

An immaterial alteration is one which does not change the legal effect

or significance of an instrument. If what has been written upon or

erased from the instrument has no tendency to mislead any person to

the instrument, it will not be an alteration; it is immaterial also

where the meaning is in no manner varied or changed.

The courts uniformly hold that an immaterial alteration should be

treated as no alteration and therefore does not avoid the instrument.

Altering words in the instrument without changing the legal sense or

altering immaterial words is an immaterial alteration.

Retracing a faded name with ink, or tracing a word with ink written

with pencil, is immaterial.

Alterations and additions in deeds are immaterial where neither the

rights or duties, interests or obligations, of either of the parties

to the instrument are in any manner changed or affected.

A promissory note made payable to a partnership under a certain name

was altered by the maker and the payee without the knowledge of the

surety so as to be payable to the same parties under another name and

the court held it to be immaterial.

But the effect of the correction must be that it makes the instrument

conform to the intention of the parties concerned, nor must they alter

the legal sense of the instrument. Memoranda made on the margin of the

note for the convenience of the holder and merely explanatory of some

circumstances connected with the note are immaterial. The erasure of

words immaterial to the legal sense of the instrument or inserted by

mistake, is also immaterial.

Where an alteration is in itself immaterial it will not void an

instrument even though made with fraudulent intent.

In Missouri it has been held that any alteration material or

immaterial, made fraudulently or innocently, avoids a note in the

hands of one who made the alteration. But in a later Missouri case, it

is held, that the addition of the signature of a married woman without

a separate estate to a note already issued was a nullity and without

legal effect and therefore to be considered as no alteration and not

to discharge the original parties.