Fakes & Forgeries: Yesterday and Today

Can you Can you tell the true artifact from the fake? The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) invites visitors to test their skills in Fakes & Forgeries: Yesterday and Today, a ROM-produced exhibition opening January 9, 2010 in the Centre Block, Level 3. The interactive exhibition presents 115 real and fake objects that run the gamut from historical specimens and cultural artifacts, to household items and designer name brands. Visitors of all ages are invited to guess which objects are real and which are clever fakes. There is also educational information about pirated computer software as well as a section on counterfeit currency. Visitors learn how to tell authentic pieces from sly forgeries and discover the fascinating lengths forgers will take to hoodwink the unwary.

This exciting project has been made possible thanks to the exhibition’s Presenting Sponsor Microsoft Canada, Education Partner the Bank of Canada and in part through a contribution from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage. Once Fakes & Forgerie completes its ROM engagement on April 4, 2010, the exhibition will travel to museums across Canada.

“The subject of forgeries, counterfeiting and piracy is not only fascinating in a museum context but is also an issue that is very much present in our everyday lives,” said William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO. “The ROM is pleased to partner with Microsoft Canada and the Bank of Canada to help arm Canadians across the country with knowledge of frauds past and present.”

“Microsoft is thrilled to be able to contribute to this exciting and educational exhibit,” said Michael Eisen, Chief Legal Officer for Microsoft Canada. “For as long as art has been created and products have been made and distributed, the underworld of forgery and counterfeiting has existed. Lifting the veil on this black market activity confirms that although times and related technologies have changed, people are still as likely today to let the Trojan Horse through the gate as they were thousands of years ago.”

“We are proud to collaborate with the Royal Ontario Museum on this new educational exhibit,” said Gerry Gaetz, Chief of Currency at the Bank of Canada. “This exhibit is a wonderful opportunity to show Canadians how important and easy it is to check their bank notes for fakes!”


The 1,500-square-foot exhibition features 11 cases, each devoted to a different category of artifacts and their corresponding forgeries. Every display provides hints on how to tell the real from the fraudulent and provides the visitor with a chance to guess an authentic artifact or specimen from an almost identical forgery. Seven cases feature items from the ROM’s collection, spanning the Museum’s dual mandate of Natural History and World Cultures. Two cases display modern knock-offs ranging from black market DVDs to designer brand clothing and accessories. Microsoft Canada contributes a case on counterfeit computer software and the Bank of Canada provides a display on the history of counterfeiting currency in Canada and an array of counterfeit bank notes.

Paul Denis, ROM Assistant Curator in the Department of World Cultures, commented, “For centuries, forgery of art and collectibles has plagued the world, and with the trend toward steep increases in art prices, the forger’s nefarious trade will certainly continue to grow. Today’s counterfeiters also go far beyond the art market, creating all manner of phony consumer goods: designer clothing, jewellery, electronic equipment, computer software, pharmaceuticals, and even food. Fakes & Forgeries details a history of forgery around the world as well as modern scams and provides handy tips to avoid being fooled in the future.”

Historical Forgeries

Fakes & Forgeries illustrates how the forging of art and collectables has plagued the world for centuries whenever collector demand has outstripped supply of a genuine article. The display entitled Egyptian Antiquities looks at popular culture’s transfixion with ancient Egypt and how a variety of unscrupulous counterfeiters have capitalized on that fame by flooding the marketing with a variety of fake Egyptian artifacts, such as statues, reliefs and figurines. An example is provided of two similar fragments of reliefs, one authentic and one fake, of the type that once decorated walls and columns in ancient Egypt. The crude and contrived representation of the imposter’s facial features, along with several other inaccuracies, such as an improperly illustrated crown of Upper Egypt, stand in stark contrast with the genuine artifact. The genuine relief, dating between 2040 and 1963 BC, displays crisp assured carving and clean draughtsmanship that results in an organic cohesiveness of the face.

The Improving on Nature case demonstrates how alteration of minerals can run the gamut from enhancing a genuine specimen to fooling investors into sinking millions of dollars into a worthless mining claim. Visitors are educated on how to distinguish between a real gold nugget and a fake: a copper nugget covered in a thin gold plating. The secret to differentiating between them is weight. The density of pure gold is 19.3 gram/cm3, while the density of copper is 8.9 gram/cm3. Therefore a nugget of gold should weigh more than twice as much as the same size piece of copper.

Mystery in Mexico examines the fascinating Zapotec civilization and how, in the early 1900s, a large-scale wave of hundreds of pre-Columbian pottery came onto the market. The forgeries were crafted using ancient techniques and were so convincing that they ended up in the collections of major museums around the world, including the ROM. Presented are four urns, two of which are genuine (created between 200-500 AD), while two are clever fakes (likely made between 1907 and 1915). In order to distinguish the genuine artifacts, the urns were tested with a process called “thermoluminescense”, which measures when an object was fired in a kiln. Another way to identify the fakes from the real is to look for inconsistencies in design motifs used. Forgers will often copy various elements, such as feathers, tunics, pedestals, etc., from authentic artifacts, but combine them in a way that doesn’t make artistic sense.

Fine glassware, ceramics and porcelain are examined in Setting a Fine Table. The display includes an examination of an authentic Chinese-made hand-painted porcelain plate from the late 18th century versus an English factory-produced imitation from 50 years later. In Chinese Mysteries, real and fake artifacts, such as mirrors, spearheads and belt hooks are scrutinized. This section also illustrates the difference between recently-made objects paying respectful homage to the past versus fraudulent pieces made with the intent to deceive.

Women from Ancient Greece examines ancient Greek terracotta statuettes known as “Tanagra” figurines. The figurines usually depict fashionable women standing in relaxed poses and are named after the ancient Greek town of Tanagra, which flourished from about 330 to 200 BC. The people of that region often buried their dead with such terracotta figurines. For millennia these graves remained undisturbed until, in 1871, local villagers began finding the tombs and looting them of their valuable contents. Within a few years almost 10,000 graves were plundered, flooding the antiquities market with thousands of genuine Tanagra figurines. The artifacts proved so popular to collectors that by 1876 outright forgeries were being mass-produced, swamping art markets with counterfeit statuettes. Fakes & Forgeries presents a number of such real and fake artifacts. The authentic figurines were cast using a two-piece mould with a separate base. The women depicted wear their hair in a style known as a “melon” coiffure, where hair is divided into wide, deep waves or ribs from ear to ear, and fastened at the back of the head in a knot or bun. The figurines’ clothing would also appeal natural with realistic-looking folds. The Victorian-era forgeries, while somewhat convincing upon first glance, lack the hallmarks of proper technique and delicacy of detail.

Fossils: Buyer Beware delves into how the remains of once-living organisms can either be tampered with to increase their value or even entirely faked by dishonest dealers. Fossils of trilobites, 550 to 250 million-year-old undersea creatures distantly related to lobsters, are particularly susceptible to forgery due to their high appeal to collectors. While Morocco is known for its superbly preserved trilobite fossils, the country also has a thriving cottage industry that takes less-than-perfect fossils and enhances them to appear more attractive to unsuspecting buyers. Fakes & Forgeries displays Moroccan specimens of the trilobite species Acadoparadoxides briareus that range from completely uncorrupted to severely manipulated. To tell them apart, it is known that the genuine article features 18 thoracic segments and is bilaterally symmetrical. One forgery showed 13 spines on one side and 15 on the other, making the creature suspiciously lopsided. These forgeries are dangerous to researchers as the process of fraudulently enhancing a specimen can actually destroy the authentic portion’s scientific value.

Modern fakes

The display entitled Counterfeits Equal Theft explores trademark infringement and warns of the dangers of unwittingly buying knock-off brands. Counterfeiting consumer goods is the world’s fastest growing crime wave, robbing billions of dollars and thousands of jobs from legitimate companies and retail stores. It also reduces government tax revenue and contributes to the growth of organized crime. In Canada, the cost of counterfeiting and piracy in lost tax revenue, investment and innovation is estimated to be in the billions annually. Ultimately, the consumer also suffers as the counterfeit goods are often of substandard quality materials and workmanship. Displayed are a variety of knock-off goods bearing the registered intellectual properties of the brand owners indicated including a bogus Chanel bag, a fake Nike running shoe and counterfeit True Religion jeans. One item, a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, is so convincingly faked that even the CCM tags and logo have been copied.

Every household item in the case labeled Really Good Deal? is counterfeit. The products, ranging from black market DVDs, toothpaste, electrical cords and even hockey equipment, are often of poor quality and can cause injury or, in extreme cases, death. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and CSA Group offer the following advice for educating consumers:

• Be suspicious of an item with an unrealistically low price

• Always buy brand-name items from reputable, well-known retailers with clearly stated return or exchange policies

• Exercise caution when making a purchase online

Computer Software Piracy and Counterfeiting explores pirated software and alerts consumers to the dangers of counterfeit products. Some of the risks include introducing viruses into the computer or unwittingly providing credit card information to theft rings when purchasing the bogus programs. At the very least, pirated software may be incomplete or defective. At the worst, it can damage computer systems and steal information from the unwary consumer. Displayed are some examples of genuine and pirated computer software including an XBOX 360 game and Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 software. One easy way to tell whether software is genuine is to check the underside of the disk. A pirated disk will often have a purple surface indicating that it’s recordable. Genuine Microsoft products contain a Certificate of Authenticity label affixed to the outside of all product packages. This label contains a number of security features and is difficult to forge. The display also reminds consumers that unauthorized duplication of computer software is illegal.

The Countering the Counterfeiters case displays past and present examples of genuine Canadian currency as well as corresponding fakes, sketching a history of the counterfeiting of Canadian bank notes. As advances in printing technology improved, so too did the quality of forgeries and the need to stay one step ahead of imposters. Most fake bank notes are produced and distributed by organized crime to finance other illegal activities. Vigilance is required by all citizens in financial transactions, as once a forged bank note is accepted, there is no recourse. Reimbursement is impossible; it’s illegal to pass along the fake note. In order to arm the public, the exhibition details the latest advances in technology, such as ghost images, metallic stripes and two-toned ink, used by the Bank of Canada in modern currency to help everyone distinguish authentic from counterfeit bank notes.


Fakes & Forgeries is a ROM-produced travelling exhibition available to museums across Canada. For more information about booking Fakes & Forgeries, contact Beth Keleme, Travelling Programs Coordinator, at bethke@rom.on.ca.

ROM Members already know that the best way to experience the ROM is through Membership. A ROM Individual or Family Membership delivers numerous benefits, including free general admission, newsletters, events, previews, discounts and much more. For additional information or to purchase a membership, call 416.586.5700 or visit www.rom.on.ca/members.

Admission to the Fakes & Forgeries: Yesterday and Today is included with paid general admission. Adults: $22; Students and Seniors with ID: $19; Children (4 to 14 years) $15; Children 3 & under are free. Half price admission prices, presented by Sun Life Financial, apply on Friday nights from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Groups of 10 or more adults may call Mirvish Productions Group Sales at 416.593.4142 or 1.800.724.6420 for information on special rates and private guided tours.