Abraham Lincoln's Most Notorious Forgers
Probably one of the most infamous forgers of the early 20th century was Joseph Cosey. His counterfeit documents and signatures of
Joseph Cosey was born Martin Coneely in February 1887, in Syracuse, New York. Although little is known about his youth, he managed to get into a great deal of trouble with the law starting at a young age. According to an article by Dorthy Twohig, Cosey served as a printers apprentice before joining the U.S. Army at age 22. However, after serving four years in the army he was dishonorably discharged for assaulting another soldier. The incident was to mark the beginning of a criminal career that would span his adult life.
To make ends meet after the army, Cosey embarked on a life of thievery.
Between 1914 and 1916, Cosey was convicted several more times. The charges ranged from attempting to cash counterfeit checks to concealing a deadly weapon. His offenses resulted in his eventual imprisonment in
Twohig stated that the defining moment of Coseys life was when he visited the Library of Congress and viewed a pay warrant dated from 1786, which was signed by Benjamin Franklin. He promptly stole the valuable object and spent days practicing
Cosey continued to profit by forging other historical figures writing styles and signatures. In fact, his technique of emulating the script of famous personalities became so sophisticated, that it was difficult for handwriting experts to detect authentic documents from Coseys imitations. Nonetheless, though it was a precarious source of revenue, it proved to be highly lucrative.
In addition to his Benjamin Franklin forgeries, Cosey also reproduced the signatures of numerous American legends, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Button Gwinnett, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. He also forged documents and signatures of other greats, including, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling.
Cosey was by all means a creative manufacturer of forgeries, yet not all of his reproductions and fabrications went unobserved. Some of the more skilled experts were able to find inaccuracies in his work. Those critical errors, which made Coseys forgeries distinguishable from authentic historical manuscripts, eventually landed him in more legal trouble.
Cosey made even more recognizable mistakes when he forged. For example, when comparing Abraham Lincolns signature with Coseys forgery, one can see a variation in writing technique.
Coseys luck with passing falsified documents was short-lived. In January 1937 he was arrested for selling a letter allegedly written by
Following his release, Cosey continued to forge a living making counterfeit documents until his death in the early 1950s. To date, many of his documents are still in circulation and have gone undetected as fakes. Those documents that have been exposed as Cosey fabrications are considered highly valued and sought by collectors who appreciate the forgers unique genius.