Master forgers mingle with experts
A H Baldwin & Sons, fifth-generation dealers in coins and medals, will be selling an unusually large collection of lead medallions, figures and pilgrim flasks mad by William Smith and Charles Eaton at the Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair, which opens today in west London.
Smith and Eaton - better known as Billy and Charley - were a couple of mudlarks who used to scour the Thames for valuables. By 1857, they found an easier way to meet the insatiable demand for antiquities: counterfeiting pieces using plaster of Paris moulds and acid to age the lead. Their most popular lines were knights in armour and priests with loose robes.
Timothy Millett of Baldwin & Sons, who will be selling the 'Billys and Charleys' for between pounds 45 and pounds 150, said that these forgers' greatest asset was their 'total ignorance'. As they were both illiterate, their medieval inscriptions were all the more convincing for being an entirely meaningless mix of letters and symbols.
They found a ready buyer in an antiques dealer, William Edwards, who sold the 'treasures' on to George Eastwood, an antiques dealer near the City. The story was that the pieces had turned up at Shadwell during the construction of the new dock.
But in 1858, Henry Syer Cuming, an archaeologist, condemned the Billys and Charleys as 'a gross attempt at deception'. Even though their case went through the courts, Billy and Charley escaped prosecution. Within a few years, however, divine justice caught up with them.
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 Watch: Man takes selfie every mile of 2,600 mile hike, creates amazing timelapse video
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
Amanda Knox murder conviction: Italian court overturns verdict for US student and Raffaele Sollecito in the killing of Meredith Kercher
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
Jeremy Clarkson 'could be given minder' ahead of a potential Top Gear return
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...