ERASURES, ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.