It should come as little surprised that the literary works of John Keats have been the subject of numerous attempts at forgery. Major George de Luna Byron (ca. 1810-1882), who claimed to be the natural son of the Lord George Gordon Byron by a Spanish countess, was quite successful at penning and pawning off fake letters of Byron, Shelley and Keats in the mid-nineteenth century. And H. Buxton Forman (1842-1917), the legitimate editor of several editions of published letters and writings of John Keats was later implicated in one of the great literary forgeries of the early twentieth century. Manuscript forgeries were once so frequent that Simon Gratz’s 1920 A Book About Autographs included among its thirteen chapters “Chapter IV: Concerning Spurious or False Autographs,” followed by “Chapter V: The Same Subject Continued,” and “Chapter VI: The Same Subject Continued.”
Returning to Haverford’s own Keats letter, our records show that it too was once the subject of a forgery investigation. In January 1965, curator of the Quaker Collection, Edwin B. Bronner, was contacted by a recent college graduate from Florida who had been shown the very same letter by a bookseller in Miami. Supposedly found within the pages of an 1833 edition of Hogarth’s Anecdotes, the bookseller was not interested in selling the letter, but was anxious to know of its authenticity. Bronner sent the young man a photostat of our original and the Florida letter was sent to the laboratory of the Metropolitan Dade County Police Department for inspection. Their reply: “This is a clumsy, artificially aged print, not handwriting. As a manuscript it is worth nothing. 13 Jan 1965.” The young man who wrote to us also stated that the document had been covered on both sides with an adhesive plastic and then partially burned, causing a “peculiar polka dot area in the upper right-hand corner of the front sheet.” A negative photostat of the Florida imposter still remains in our files (along with the authentic Keats letter) and notice of the incident was reported by Bronner in the April 1965 issue of The American Archivist.