Mercator's World Volume 3, Number 3, May/June 1998, page 46-49 UNMASKING A FORGERY By Marcel P.R van den Broecke This summer marks the quadricentennial of the death of Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), publisher of the "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum", the first modern atlas. As interest in collecting antiquarian maps has increased in general and as demand for loose maps from Ortelius's printed atlases has grown in particular, incidences of theft and fraud have risen. A Dutch expert on Ortelius's life and legacy provides a case study. (hier jpg1, plaatje met portret van Ortelius, met het volgende onderschrift:) Merchant in maps, collector, traveler, student of ancient coins and objects, self-made expert in ancient geography, author of place-name dictionaries, and maker of one of the most successful atlases of all time, Abraham Ortelius exemplified the Renaissance ideal of "Homo Universalis" (einde onderschrift) An American collector recently was offered four maps by a person who professed to know nothing about the material he had for sale. The seller only knew he wanted $ 3,500 for the four sheets of paper. The collector recognized the sheets as two maps by Abraham Ortelius, "America Sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio" (first plate) and "Europae" (first plate, second state), as well as a map and a print by Georg Matthaeus Seutter. Because Ortelius's America map alone usually costs at least $ 5,000, the price was attractive. The collector, assuming the seller simply did not know the value of the material he offered, bought the sheets. However, still uncertain, the collector asked a reputable map dealer to comment on the Ortelius maps. The dealer expressed his doubt as to their authenticity, noting the absence of text on the back side and that the paper "did not feel right". The collector then contacted me for advice. The lack of text on the back of an Ortelius map is not, by itself, an indication of forgery. Ortelius did like to print text on the back sides of maps in his atlas, because, he said, "the reader would not like to see empty pages". However, loose Ortelius maps without text on the back also have been available; my own stock includes quite a few such examples. I told the collector I could say something definite on the authenticity of the maps only after inspecting them personally, and he sent them to me. I immediately recognized both maps as forgeries based on the following points: First, the plate mark was in the wrong place and of the wrong nature. In Ortelius's time - the very beginning of copperplate intaglio printing - copper was expensive and scarce. A copper-plate was not larger than the picture it contained. In all maps by Ortelius, as well as his contemporaries, the plate mark can be seen and felt on the edge of the printed image. By contrast, the plate mark on the America map was a shallow indentation about 5 to 7 millimeters outside the printed image. The blank space between the printed image and plate mark became the rule in late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century copper engravings, but it is not seen on maps of the sixteenth or early seventeenth century. The plate mark was also of the wrong nature: simply a shallow groove pressed into the paper. In genuine copper engravings of the time, plate and paper were pulled through the rollers together, compressing the entire printed area. Paper that passed through the roller without a copperplate pressed against it, retained its original thickness. Thus, the portion of the map sheet that fell inside the plate mark was more compressed than the portion outside the plate mark. On the so-called Ortelius maps, the paper on either side of the groove was the same height. The groove apparently was fashioned by a sharp object and a ruler. Second, the cartouche of the America map bore the quasi-handwritten date of 1574. In the sea below the cartouche, the Europe map was dated 1573. But these particular Ortelius maps have no dates. In fact, the Europe map was based on an original of Ortelius's second state, published between 1575 and 1581. Perhaps the forger intentionally added such "mistakes" in order to disown the pretense of the map's genuineness if questioned. Third, the paper did indeed have the wrong feel. It was neither heavy, not bright enough, and the color tended toward very light green rather than the yellowish-white characteristic of authentic sixteenth century. The sheets also had incorrect watermarks - in fact, each exhibited two. Genuine Ortelius maps were printed on paper milled in northern France, and they display only one watermark per sheet, not two. And the forged maps did not display any of of the three watermarks most commonly found on genuine Ortelius maps. (hier jpg.2, plaatje met twee watermerken) (hier jpg.3, plaatje met drie watermerken, met het volgende onderschrift:) The watermarks on the forged Ortelius America map (upper left) and Europe map (upper right) did not match those most commonly found in genuine Ortelius map sheets (bottom row of 3 pictures), which were printed on paper milled in northern France. Though the forged maps display two watermarks per page, genuine maps display only one (einde onderschrift). Fourth, subtle differences existed between the forged maps and the originals. The printed areas appeared identical (exactly the same lettering, place-names, locations etc.), indicating photographic reproduction. On close examination, however, the ornamental corner designs of Ortelius's genuine America map have sections of very fine horizontal and vertical hachuring, resulting in very small squares. The forgery showed hachuring only in the vertical direction; hardly any squares appeared. (hier jpg.4, onderschrift zit op de foto zelf) Finally, the coloring of the America map was pale and unconvincing. The back side showed some "bleeding" of green that did not quite match the green on the map side, indicating that the ink was smeared. The blue also bled, which does not occur in genuine blue color. The Europe map shows no bleeding at all, a well-known though not decisive characteristic of new color. Guenter Schilder and Peter van der Krogt of the Department of Historical Cartography of Utrecht University confirmed my findings after inspecting the forged and original copies of the maps. Yet, neither could tell how the forgeries had been produced. Theo Laurentius, a Dutch expert on early paper and printing, notably Rembrandt etchings, solved the mystery. Laurentius identified the paper used in the forged maps as of Italian origin and dating from the middle of the eighteenth century. The forger obtained the image photographically by making an offset plate from an original Ortelius map and used the new plate and an offset printing press to print the image on the Italian paper. The absence of the small squares created by both horizontal and vertical hachuring is a common limitation of the offset procedure. David Bannister, a British map dealer and co-author of "Antique Maps" (Phaidon Press, 1983) reports that in the late 1970s versions of Ortelius's America map and 1587 world map were brought to the attention of the Public Archives of Canada. Upon examination, they proved to be nearly identical forgeries. Tests on the paper, ink, and printed images proved the maps were not very old, and the forged platemark was eleven millimeters larger than the plate mark on the originals. Because a good Ortelius atlas is now worth more than the sum of its parts (its map sheets), the destructive practice of breaking up Ortelius atlases has almost stopped completely. Thus, the supply of map sheets remains constant or diminishes, but the demand grows. During the past ten years, the price of Ortelius's America map has increased from about $ 1,500 to $ 5,000 on the international market. It is only natural that the advantages of falsifying such maps increase at the same time and that, sadly, more cases like the one described here are bound to occur. (tekst hieronder zo mogelijk in een kadertje) Buyer Beware * Ask for a document authenticating the map, stating the cartographer and the * date of printing. Any reliable dealer will provide such a document. Do not * buy from dealers who are unwilling to provide their name, address, and * a written statement about the authenticity of what they offer. * Beware of platemarks outside the printed area if the map dates to the * sixteenth century or first half of the seventeenth century. If plate marks * on maps supposedly from this period are clearly outside the engraved area, * consult an expert. * If you have been deceived, obtain a statement from a reliable map dealer * about the forgery and, if possible, prosecute the seller. (einde kadertje) Marcel P.R. van den Broecke is a map dealer and director of the International Statistical Institute. He wrote a profile of Abraham Ortelius for the May/June 1997 issue of Mercator's World and recently authored Ortelius Atlas Maps: An Illustrated Guide. (Hes Publishers, 1996). He asks that readers contact him with any information regarding Ortelius forgeries via the internet at