What's in your attic? Authenticating history in the Heartland

What's in your attic? Authenticating history in the Heartland
By: Wes Wallace
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - In recent weeks, several viewers contacted Heartland News claiming they owned authentic copies of the Declaration of Independence.  The curiosity raised by the calls prompted us to talk to a local document expert to find out what's real or fake.
"There's always the possibility of hidden treasures and artifacts hidden in an attic,"  says Dr. Lisa Speer, Southeast Missouri State University's Special Collections and Archive Librarian, "but the chances of it being real isn't aren't that great.  It's probably a copy or a souvenir."
Dr. Speer explains there are three types of documents: authentic, copies, and forgeries.

She recommends looking at the type of paper.  High cotton or rag papers was popular before 1850.  She says you can hold it up to the light to check for horizontal and vertical lines called 'chain and wire lines.'  Examining it for watermarks and certain inks also help too. "A popular ink is the iron gall ink, which is very acidic and often eats holes in paper,"  explains Dr. Speer.

A lot of time forged documents have telltale signs they're not real.  Dr. Speer points to Southeast's famous forgery, a death warrant supposed to be from the time of the Salem Witch Trials.  It's creator did a little too much to it to try and make it look real.
If you think you have an authentic historic document, Dr. Speer recommends taking it to a handwriting expert to check out the writing, and she suggested having an ink test done as well.