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New Dickinson Poem purchased for $24,150 Proved Fake


New Dickinson Poem purchased for $24,150 Proved Fake
Associated Press
Saturday, August 30, 1997; Page D07
The Washington Post

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.-There was no reason to doubt the origin of a
handwritten Emily Dickinson poem purchased for $24,150 by her
hometown library in Amherst. Even the words "Aunt Emily," penned on
the back, rang so true that the library curator wondered which
relative wrote them. That question set off a chain of inquiry that
has now exposed both the poem and manuscript  as shams by one of this
century's most clever  forgers, according to the Jones Public  Library
and Sotheby's auction house. "It's an extraordinarily good forgery,"
Selby  Kiffer, a senior vice president at Sotheby's,  said Thursday.
"The correct paper for the  period, the correct writing  instrument
for  the period [the 1870s], the literary tone was  quite good -- and
the imitation of the writing." The Jones Library bought the two-stanza
poem, which was written in faint pencil, through  Sotheby's on June 3.
It is a meditation on  classic themes of the 19th-century poet: death
and the meaning of life. The poem had passed through the hands of more
 than one document dealer, was reviewed by  Dickinson scholars and
survived the scrutiny   of Sotheby's as a newly uncovered Dickinson
work. The library intended to add the poem to  its collection of
original Dickinson writings  and research  material on the reclusive
Amherst poet. Jones curator Daniel Lombardo wondered, though, if he
could identify the niece or other relative who wrote "Aunt Emily" on
the back. His first inkling of trouble arose when he could find no
matching hand among the poet's relatives. But the real breakthrough
came when a Dickinson collector told library staff that he had been
offered the poem by Mark Hofmann in the mid-1980s. Then viewed as a
legitimate documents dealer, Hofmann was later convicted of two pipe
bomb murders. He said he was trying to cover his tracks on Mormon
documents he had forged for profit. In 1987, he was sent to prison for
life. Library investigators found a book on Hofmann  in which he
mentions a Dickinson poem he had  supposedly admitted forging. In the
book, Hofmann was reported to say he later saw it published as a newly
discovered Dickinson  work. A 1986 book on collecting historical
documents supplied the last link of evidence: It carried a photograph
and transcript of just such a new Dickinson work. Lombardo studied it
under magnification; it was the library's, he said. "He was one of the
most skilled forgers in this century. The lengths he went to fool all
the experts were extraordinary."
Copyright 1997 The Associated Press

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