Clip | Galileo's Moon - Forgery 101

Experts explain how a fake Sidereus Nuncius made its way into infamy on the rare book dealing circuit.

Transcript Print

Was it possible the book was an early proof printed before the etchings of Galileo's drawings of the moon were ready? One to which Galileo himself had added his own watercolor paintings of the moon? There are authentic surviving copies of Sidereus Nuncius that just have blanks where the moon etchings should be.

It made headlines throughout the entire world an original manuscript with drawings by Galilei had been found. You have to imagine that his signature: His signature Io, I, Galileo Galilei fecit I have made this.

The pride emanating from that! All that created such a sense of immediacy Galileo's aura was closer to those in that room than it had ever been before thanks to that book. And I said and that really made an impact on people-- on me as well, and fascinated them. That secured the books renown and around the world.

The men who brought the book to Richard Lan claimed it had been lying untouched for centuries in Argentina before they found it and offered to sell it. You can see how the ink here penetrates through to the other side. Everything appears to add up. Here, in exactly the same way the other books have edgings and precisely these points. And then here on this page the depictions of Jupiter and it's dancing wounds begin.

If genuine, the estimated market value --10 million dollars. At the time most rare book dealers did not worry too much about forgeries because of the labor involved in making a believable fake. It had generally been assumed that you couldn't successfully Forge 17th century books 17th century books are produced using bits of metal type and a hand press and there are just too many physical factors that are difficult to recreate nowadays to make it worthwhile.

The letterpress printing process would require the creation of identical versions of each letter and punctuation mark that appears on every page and then the forger would have to match the exact spacing between every letter in the book.

Book dealers put great stock in the belief that their product simply couldn't be forged. In addition to the tedious labor involved the pages in early modern books have a unique characteristic that rare book dealers believed was to duplicate.

Most forgeries of early modern books had been done lithographically or using LaserJet.

neither of those printing techniques leaves any print impression in the page.

The Martayan Lan copy had this deep impression so almost instinctively when you look at it and feel it, it looks like a genuine 17th century book and it doesn't look like a facsimile.

It seemed unlikely that anyone would create a copy of Siderius nuncius as believable as the Martayan Lan copy.