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List of Hofmann fakes grows longer, reaches farther

Published: Sunday, Sept. 15 2002 12:00 a.m. MDT

Anthony Marks, a busy Boston cardiologist, doesn't have much time to read, and when he does it tends to be catalogs of collectible autographs.

But with a Cape Cod beach vacation on the horizon, his wife purchased him a copy of Simon Worrall's book "The Poet and the Murderer," a true crime story about forgeries and a Utah forger named Mark Hofmann.

It was fascinating, he said, but then he read something that made his jaw drop. It was the name of rare documents dealer Charles Hamilton and a reference to a forgery of American patriot Nathan Hale.

Marks remembered Hamilton, who in 1984 had sold Marks an extremely rare Daniel Boone document. He remembered the Hale document as part of Hamilton's catalog offered for sale at the same time. Could it be that his prized Boone document was also a forgery?

"I said to my wife, 'I am part of this book,' " Marks told a gathering of Hofmann experts, investigators and victims gathered in Salt Lake City for the symposium "Genuine Fakes: The Forgeries of Mark Hofmann."

Indeed, the Boone document — a signed list of trade items during the height of Daniel Boone's Indian fighting days — is a Hofmann forgery, despite two separate certificates of authenticity from Hamilton.

Who said? Actually, Hofmann said.

Marks told the symposium he corresponded with Hofmann, offering him some details in the document, but not all of the text. Hofmann wrote back, claiming the document as a forgery and filling in small details only the forger would know.

It seems Marks had joined a still-growing list of Hofmann victims, a list that Utah rare books dealer Ken Sanders, the organizer of the symposium, said should grow even longer as more and more attention is focused on Hofmann's forgeries and more and more effort is made to get the forgeries off the market.

"This symposium will provide the momentum to create a registry of known Hofmann forgeries," said Sanders, who has more than 50 Hofmann forgeries on display. "The list will never be complete, but that is no excuse not to start one."

Participants in the symposium, which ended Saturday, disagreed on how many Hofmann forgeries there are, whether it be dozens or hundreds or maybe more.

Collector Brent Ashworth, one of Hofmann's favorite victims, told the symposium he knows of about a half dozen Hofmann forgeries that have not been accounted for. He either owned them at one time or Hofmann offered them for sale and he didn't buy. But they are not part of the catalog of known Hofmann forgeries.

"These things are still floating around and we need to get them off the market," Ashworth said.

Many of them are off the market. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has 446 items in its archives that were acquired from Hofmann. Ashworth has others, Sanders has some.

Rare coin dealer Al Rust, who was left deeply in debt by the man he said he trusted implicitly as a friend and business partner in deals to acquire rare documents, found that 25 of 26 documents he had acquired from his friend were forgeries.

Rust was emotionally and financially devastated by the entire series of events, and he still has few answers 17 years after Hofmann's forgeries culminated in the murders of two people.

The biggest answer, he said, came after a long heart-to-heart talk with Hofmann's father, and the realization that dwelling on the anger and betrayal and financial ruin "would have destroyed me mentally, physically and spiritually. At that moment I had to forgive him. I had to," Rust said.

The symposium offered a public forum for victims to tell their stories, and they all had stories to tell and insights to give that have not been told in any of the five books on Hofmann.

Focusing on the victims of murder and forgery is important, Sanders said. But he also hopes the symposium will also be the catalyst inside the world of rare documents and autographs to stem the continued trade in Hofmann forgeries that are being passed off as legitimate historical documents.

The proceedings of the symposium will be published, the registry will be updated and made accessible to anyone in the business of buying and selling documents, and pressure will be put on those in the antiquarian world to exercise greater diligence when dealing in possible Hofmann forgeries, he said.

In the meantime, a one-of-a-kind penny is set to be auctioned off next week and it is expected be bring anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.

Hofmann says it's a forgery. One of his.


E-mail: spang@desnews.com

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