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The title to money and property of all kinds depends so lately upon

the genuineness of signatures that no study or inquiry can be more

interesting than one relating to the degree of certainty with which

genuine writings can be distinguished from those which are


When comparing a disputed signature with a series of admittedly

genuine signatures of the same person whose signature
is being

disputed, the general appearance and pictorial effect of the writing

will suggest, as the measure of resemblances or differences

predominates, an impression upon the mind of the examiner as to the

genuine or forged character of the signature in question. When it is

understood that to make a forgery available for the purposes of its

production it must resemble in general appearance the writing of the

person whose signature it purports to represent, it follows as a

reasonable conclusion that resemblances in general appearances alone

must be secondary factors in establishing the genuineness of a

signature by comparison--and the fact that two signatures look alike

is not always evidence that they were written by the same person.

As an illustration of the uncertainty of an impression produced by the

general appearances and close resemblance of signatures, even to an

expert observer, is manifested when the fac-simile signatures of the

signers of the Declaration of American Independence, as executed by

different engravers, are examined. On comparing each individual

fac-simile made by one engraver, with the fac-simile of the same

signature made by another engraver, they will be found to exactly

coincide in general appearance as to form and pictorial effect, and so

much so, that the fac-similes of the same signature made by different

engravers cannot be told one from the other. On examining them by the

use of the microscope they may be easily determined as the work of

different persons. While this is likewise true of the resemblances in

general appearance which a disputed signature may have when compared

with a genuine signature of the same person, it is also true that the

measure of difference occurring in the general appearance of a

disputed signature, when compared with genuine ones of the same

person, are not always evidence of forgery.

There are many conditions affecting the production of signatures,

habitually and uniformly apart from the causes which prevent a person

from writing signatures twice precisely alike, under the influence of

normal conditions of execution. The effect of fatigue, excitement,

haste, or the use of a different pen from that with which the

standards were written, are well known conditions operating to

materially affect the general appearance of the writing, and may have

been, in one form or another, an attendant cause when the questioned

signature was produced, and thus have given to the latter some

variation from the signatures of the same person, executed under the

influence of normal surroundings.

In the process of evolving a signature, which must be again and again

repeated from an early age till death, new ideas occur from time to

time, are tried, modified, improved, and finally embodied in the

design. The idea finally worked out may be merely a short method of

writing the necessary sequence of characters, or it may present some

novelty to the eye. Signatures consisting almost exclusively of

straight up-and-down strokes, looking at a short distance like a row

of needles with very light hair-lines to indicate the separate

letters; signatures begun at the beginning or the end and written

without removing the pen from the paper; signatures which are entirely

illegible and whose component parts convey only the mutilated

rudiments of letters, are not uncommon. All such signatures strike the

eye and arrest the attention, and thus accomplish the object of their

authors. The French signature frequently runs upward from left to

right, ending with a strong down nourish in the opposite direction.

All these, even the most illegible examples, give evidence of

experience in handling or mishandling the pen. The signature most

difficult to read is frequently the production of the hand which

writes most frequently, and it is very much harder to decipher than

the worst specimens of an untrained hand. The characteristics of the

latter are usually an evident painstaking desire to imitate faulty

ideals of the letters one after the other, without any attempt to

attain a particular effect by the signature as a whole. In very

extreme cases, the separate letters of the words constituting the

signature are not even joined together.

A simulation of such a signature by an expert penman will usually

leave enough traces of his ability in handling the pen to pierce his

disguise. Even a short, straight stroke, into which he is likely to

relapse against his will, gives evidence against the pretended

difficulties of the act which he intends to convey. It is nearly as

difficult for a master of the pen to imitate an untrained hand as for

the untrained hand to write like an expert penman. The difference

between an untrained signature and the trembling tracing of his

signature by an experienced writer who is ill or feeble, is that in

the former may be seen abundant instances of ill-directed strength,

and in the latter equally abundant instances of well-conceived design,

with a failure of the power to execute it.

Observations such as the preceding are frequently of great value in

aiding the expert to understand the phenomena which he meets, and they

belong to a class which does not require the application of standards

of measure, but only experience and memory of other similar instances

of which the history was known, and a sound judgment to discern the

significance of what is seen.

No general rules other than those referred to above can be given to

guide the student of handwriting in such cases, but the differences

will become sufficiently apparent with sufficient practice.

A well-known banker, writing to the author of this work, makes some

points on the subject which are rather disturbing. His fundamental

proposition is that the judgment of experts is of no value when based

as it ordinarily is, only upon an inspection of an alleged fraudulent

signature, either with the naked eye or with the eye aided by

magnifying glasses, and upon a comparison of its appearance with that

of a writing or signature, admitted or known to the expert, to be

genuine, of the same party.

He alleges, in fact, that writing and signatures can be so perfectly

imitated that ocular inspection cannot determine which is true and

which is false, and that the persons whose signatures are in

controversy are quite as unable as anybody to decide that question.

Nevertheless, the law permits experts to give their opinions to

juries, who often have nothing except those opinions to control their

decisions, and who naturally give them in favor of the side which is

supported by the greatest number of experts, or by experts of the

highest repute.

Decisions upon such testimony this banker regards as no better than,

if quite as good as, the result of drawing lots. Of course he cannot

mean to include under these observations, that class of forgeries

which are so bunglingly executed as to be readily detected by the eye,

even of persons not specially expert. He can only mean to say that

imitations are possible and even common, which are so exact that their

counterfeit character is not determinable by inspection, even when

aided by glasses.

At first blush this contention of the banker is extremely a most

unsatisfactory view of the case, and the more correct it looks likely

to be, the more unsatisfactory. Courts may go beyond inspection and

apply chemical on the tests, but such tests cannot be resorted to in

the innumerable cases of checks and orders for money and property

which are passed upon every day in the business world, and either

accepted as genuine or rejected as counterfeit. But the real truth is,

in fully ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, that no check or order is

paid merely upon confidence in the genuineness of the signature, and

without knowledge of the party to whom the payment is made, or some

accompanying circumstance or circumstances tending to inspire

confidence in the good faith of the transaction. In that aspect, the

danger of deception as to the genuineness of signatures loses most of

its terrors.

It is one of the recognized rules of court to admit as admissible

testimony, the opinions of experts, whether the whole or any specified

portion of an instrument was, or was not written by the same hand,

with the same ink, and at the same time, which question arises when an

addition to, or alteration of, an instrument is charged. It must be

recollected that at this time It is a very easy matter for experienced

forgers and rascals to so prepare ink that it may appear to the eye to

be of the age required, and it is next to impossible for any expert to

give any information in regard to the age of a certain writing. In

many instances experts have easily detected the kind of ink employed,

and have also successfully shown the falsity of testimony that the

whole of a writing in controversy was executed at the same time, and

with the same ink.

James D. Peacock, a London barrister, who has given considerable time

and study to disputed handwritings, lays great stress upon the ability

of determining the genuineness or falsity of a writing by what he

calls its "anatomy" or "skeleton." He says that some persons in making

successive strokes, make the turn from one to another sharply angular,

while others make it rounded or looping. Writings produced in both

ways appear the same to the eye, but under a magnifying glass the

difference in the mode of executing is shown. As illustrating that

point, he makes the following statement in respect to a case involving

the genuineness of the alleged signature of an old man whose

handwriting was fine and tremulous:

"On making a magnified copy of the signature, I found that the

tremulous appearance of the letters was due to the fact that they were

made up of a series of dashes, standing at varying angles with each

other, and further, that these strokes, thus enlarged, were precisely

like these constituting the letters in the body of the note, which

were acknowledged to have been written by the alleged forger of the

note. Upon the introduction of this testimony the criminal withdrew

the plea of not guilty and implored the mercy of the court."

As one means of determining whether the whole of a writing was

executed at the same time, and with the same ink, or at different

times, and with different inks, Mr. Peacock further says that the

photographic process is very effective because it not only copies the

forms of letters but takes notice of differences in the color of two

inks which are inappreciable by the eye. He states that:

"Where there is the least particle of yellow present in a color, the

photograph will take notice of the fact by making the picture blacker,

just in proportion as the yellow predominates, so that a very light

yellow will take a deep black. So any shade of green, or blue, or red,

where there is an imperceptible amount of yellow, will pink by the

photographic process more or less black, while either a red or blue

varying to a purple, will show more or less paint as the case may be."

As to deception which the eye will not detect, in regard to the age of

paper, he says:

"I have repeatedly examined papers which have been made to appear old

by various methods, such as washing with coffee, with tobacco, and by

being carried in the pocket, near the person, by being smoked or

partially burned, and in various other ways. I have in my possession a

paper which has passed the ordeal of many examinations by experts and

others, which purports to be two hundred years old, and to have been

saved from the Boston fire. The handwriting is a perfect fac-simile of

that of Thomas Addington, the town clerk of Boston, two hundred years

ago, and yet the paper is not over two years old."

The most remarkable case of deception to the eye, even when aided by

magnifying glasses, is in determining when two pen strokes cross each

other, which stroke was made first. Mr. Peacock does not explain how

the deception is possible, but that it occurs as matter of fact, he

shows by an account of a very decisive experiment. Taking ten

different kinds of ink, most commonly on sale, he drew lines on a

piece of paper in such a way as to produce a hundred points of

crossing and so that a line drawn with each of ink passed both over

and under all the lines drawn with the other inks. He, of course,

knew, in respect to each point of crossing, which ink was first

applied, but the appearance to the eye corresponded with the fact in

only forty-three cases. In thirty-seven cases the appearance was

contrary to the fact, and in the remaining cases the eye was unable to

come to any decision.

By wetting another piece of paper with a liquid compound acting as a

solvent of ink, and pressing it upon the paper marked with lines, a

thin layer of ink was transferred to the wet paper, and that shown

correctly which was the superposed ink at every one of the one hundred

points of crossing.

Many cases have occurred, in signatures written with different inks,

where some letters in one cross, some letters in another, in which it

becomes important to decide the order of sequence in writing. It is

also frequently important to decide the order of sequence in writing.

It is also frequently important when the genuineness of an addition,

as of a date, is the thing in dispute.

No subject can be more important or interesting to the business public

or especially to bankers than that of the reliability of the lists of

the genuineness of written papers. While it is true that in most cases

there is some ear-mark beside the appearance of a signature, whereby

to determine the genuineness of a document, it is also true that in

many cases, and frequently in cases of great magnitude, payments are

made on no other basis than the appearance of a writing. The most

common class of these last cases is where "A" has been long known to

be an endorser for "B," and where the connection between the two,

which leads to the endorsements, is well known. There is nothing in

the appearance in the market of a note of "B" endorsed by "A," that

is, in any degree calculated to excite suspicion or to put a

prospective purchaser upon his inquiry. If the endorsement of "A"

resembles his usual handwriting, it is almost always accepted as

genuine and if losses result from its proving to be counterfeit, they

are set down to the score, not of imprudence, but of unavoidable


Thus, as the ingenuity of rogues constantly takes new forms, the ways

and means by which they can be baffled in these enterprises are

constantly being multiplied. The telegraph and telephone give

facilities for promptly verifying a signature where one is in doubt.

It happens not infrequently that the desire to get a given number of

words into a definite space leads to an entirely unusual and foreign

style of writing, in which the accustomed characteristics are so

obscured or changed that only a systematic analysis can detect them.

If there be no apparent reason for this appearance in lack of space,

the cause may be the physical state of the writer or an attempt at

simulation. If a sufficient number of genuine signatures are

available, it can generally be determined which of these two

explanations is the right one.

Note illustrations of various kinds of handwriting in Appendix at end

of this book. Particular attention is directed to the descriptions and

analysis. They should be studied carefully.