Dear Lee,

The Right TYPE of Mind.

It reads like a TV mystery story. In 2015 an impressive piece of furniture, an 8-foot-high secretary, was sold to the well-known Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art at the prestigious Winter Antiques Show in New York. Rumor says it sold for $375,000. It was called the “Bingham Family Civil War Memorial Secretary,” a period wooden secretary embellished with inlaid bone stars, fans and patriotic sayings honoring John F. Bingham. The 17-year-old Bingham was killed at the Civil War Battle of Antietam in 1862. The story of the event, the reputation of the dealer, the unusual decoration, and opinions of many experts made this a folk art treasure to be prominently exhibited the next summer.

In late 2016 there was a report that a piece in the Atheneum’s folk art collection was a fake, and in 2017 the secretary was taken off view in the museum to be studied. In April 2018 Clayton Pennington of the Maine Antiques Digest broke the story of the confession of desk’s forger, Harold Gordon, the dealer who had embellished the pieces to add to the price. Those involved were all fooled by the cleverly added inlay and the provenance, and all are expected to have their money refunded. But, as we said, it reads like a mystery.

A “smoking gun” was evident the whole time but wasn’t recognized until Michael Rodman, a dealer and typographer, noticed the pictures of the famous secretary. The typeface used in the words under the clock was Times New Roman, a font favored by newspapers. But Times New Roman was introduced in 1932. Incorrect type styles are often found in fakes books, but this is the first time we have thought about the age of a font and how it could uncover a fake.

We talked to Mr. Rodman. He recognized the style flub from a picture in the newspaper. He didn’t even have to examine the piece for proper patina, screw and nail holes, paints, power tool marks or construction quirks to prove it a fake. And he has found many other fakes from incorrect type styles. He says when he explains his expertise spotting fakes to an auctioneer, they will remove the item from their sale.

Fakery foiled by a font. Truth revealed in the most unusual and obvious of ways.