Phony "Ancient" Authors Fabricated by the Author and Corroborated by Unearthed Fake Artifacts


(Antwerp: [Printed by Johannes Grapheus for] Heirs of Joannes Steels, 1545). 171 x 114 mm. (6 3/4 x 4 1/2"). [8], 300 leaves.

CONTEMPORARY CALF BY THE PECKING CROW BINDER, covers with blind-ruled frame, oblique gilt fleur-de-lys cornerpieces, and the binder's signature gilt stamps--a hand clutching a spray of flowers, with a bird perched on top--at the center; raised bands, later but well-chosen endpapers, ink titling to fore edge (expertly rebacked in the style of the period, with simple blind and gilt decoration; corners neatly restored). In a modern brown cloth clamshell box. Printer's device on title page. Front pastedown with later pasted-on manuscript note regarding the forgery; title page with contemporary ownership inscription of Fr[ater] Augustinus [illegible]; first and last page with shallow (and scarcely visible) blind stamp of the (now defunct) Theological Institute of Connecticut. Adams B-788. For the binding: Nixon, "Sixteenth Century Gold Tooled Bindings" 17; Foot, "The Henry Davis Gift" I, 129-38; Miner, "History of Bookbinding, 525-1950 A.D." 258-60. Covers a little marked and with minor staining (a narrow inner strip of upper board somewhat darkened and crackled because of rebacking), text printed on inferior stock (and so with overall faint browning), otherwise an excellent example with only insignificant defects, the carefully restored binding sound and pleasing, and the text fresh and clean.

This is an early printing of an elaborate and influential literary forgery, offered here in a binding by the celebrated Parisian Pecking Crow Binder, favored by some of the greatest bibliophiles of the period. The Italian Dominican Giovanni Nanni, generally known as Annius Viterbiensis (ca. 1432-1502), came to prominence after preaching and then publishing a series of sermons in which he interpreted the Book of Revelation to predict a Christian victory over the threatening Turks. But the work that brought Nanni his greatest fame--and infamy--was the present book, first published in 1498. Produced at a time when scholars were becoming heroes for discovering and publishing unknown ancient manuscripts, the collection purports to be translations of lost works of several ancient writers, with commentary by Nanni. However, these "ancient" works were composed by Nanni himself, who went so far as to fake stone inscriptions in ancient languages and to bury them near his hometown of Viterbo, to be excavated and "discovered." He was intent on proving that Viterbo and the surrounding region of Etruria had been founded by Noah himself after the flood, and that the area's Etruscan civilization was thus more ancient and influential than Greece or Rome. He ascribed his fraudulent works to real authors, and Nanni's fake history ironically had great influence on the methods of later scholars: reliance on chronology, contemporary inscriptions, and official records superseded unquestioning acceptance of the accounts of ancient authors. According to Foot, the Pecking Crow workshop was active in Paris during the first half of the 16th century, though most bindings with this particular decoration were done between 1535 and 1550. The "bird pecking at grain" tool was first noted by Dorothy Miner in the exhibition catalogue she prepared for the Walker Art Gallery in 1957, and is heraldic in origin. The bird is combined with a tool called a dextrocherium, because its floral spray is held by a right hand (from the Latin "dexter" [right] and the Greek "cheiros" [hand]). The tools appear singly in other, more elaborate, bindings from the workshop (e.g., Miner 258 and 259), but are most famously seen together, as here. The patrons of our Pecking Crow Binder could hardly have been more illustrious, as they included Jean Grolier, Thomas Wotton, Marcus Fugger, and the French king François I.

Keywords: Fakes, Forgeries, & Hoaxes