Few accounts of forgery are as strange as the case of Vrain Lucas.
Lucas's career as a forger began in 1851 when he met the esteemed French mathematician Michel Chasles. Lucas showed the mathematician a few letters he claimed to have found written by famous historical personages such as Joan of Arc and Charlemagne. Chasles was intrigued, so Lucas began "finding" more letters for him.
The letters that Lucas presented to Chasles were written by a broad spectrum of historical celebrities including Julius Caesar, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and Shakespeare, but they all shared a few things in common. Their content always reflected favorably on France, and they were all written in French. Most of them were even written on the same watermarked paper (even the ones supposedly from the early Roman empire).
For some reason, none of this ever caused Chasles pause. He kept buying whatever Lucas produced, and Lucas eventually produced thousands of these letters.
Suspicion was only raised when a scholar noticed that sixteen of Lucas's letters letters had been copied from a 1761 manuscript. But even then, Chasles defended Lucas. It was only when Lucas failed to deliver 3,000 autographs, which Chasles had paid in advance for, that Chasles finally brought charges against him. This was in 1869, eighteen years after the two men had first met.
In February, 1870 Lucas was sentenced to two years in jail. As he was taken away to prison, it was discovered that he had been preparing a special manuscript for Chasles before he had been interrupted by the trial. It was the text of the Sermon on the Mount written by Jesus himself in French.
Links and References
- Henri Leonard Bordier, The Prince of Forgers, Oak Knoll Press. 1998.