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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

other individuals.

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.