Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Art of the Scam

Donald Trump may know a thing or two about The Art of the Deal, but the art of the scam has been around since man first realized he could get rid of something he didn’t want or that was worthless by tricking another man into taking it. 

The Beautiful Rachel
In the Book of Genesis (first book of the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament), Laban tricks young Jacob into marrying the wrong sister.  

Jacob has fallen hopelessly in love with the beautiful Rachel, Laban’s youngest daughter; however, on their wedding night, the veiled woman led to the wedding chamber by Laban is his eldest daughter, the very plain Leah.  By the time Jacob realizes he has been scammed, it’s too late.  The marriage has been consummated.  In his defense, it should be noted that Jacob had had a great deal to drink during the wedding feast, which no doubt contributed to his confusion. 

Leah bears Jacob six sons and a daughter, but Jacob never loves her and never forgives her for her part in the scam.  Jacob and Rachel eventually do marry, but she dies in childbirth. 

Image No. 8  1949 – Jackson Pollock

By all accounts, art scams have hit an all-time high, and the internet has greatly contributed to that rise.  Clever scammers can weave such intricate nets on the net that even experts and savvy collectors can be caught up in them. 

Counterfeit Jackson Pollock


In 2004, actor Steve Martin, an avid and experienced art collector, got caught in a $49 million dollar, international art scam when he unknowingly purchased a fake Heinrich Campendonk, a German expressionist painter. 

And then there are the book scams, some unintentional, some not, that can turn the literary world on its head and leave more than a few editors, publishers, agents and promoters with egg on their faces. 


In 2009, after enthusiastically promoting the memoir of a Holocaust survivor, Herman Rosenblat, which she called “the single greatest love story” she had ever read, Oprah Winfrey was forced to publicly admit that the book was so embellished as to be more fiction than fact.  In fact, the entire love story had been made up by Mr. Rosenblat, whose tearful confession that he had only done it to make the readers feel good did little to remove the sting of embarrassment for all concerned. 

But my favorite literary hoax has to do with the slightly racy, long-lost memoir of an 18th Century fashionista.  Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion 1764-1765 by Miss Cleone Knox was supposedly discovered and edited in the mid-1920’s by the author’s descendant, Mr Alexander Blacker Kerr.

The Diary caused such a sensation that several printings had to be run to meet the public’s demand.  The greatest literary critics of the time raved about it, and Sir Winston Churchill excused his late arrival to a dinner party one evening by saying that he had felt compelled to finish the Diary before going out. 

It wasn’t long, however, before certain discrepancies were discovered and the elusive Mr. Alexander Blacker Kerr appeared reluctant to come forward and explain them. 

Not long after that, the Diary was revealed to be a hoax, but the mystery remained.  Who was the mysterious writer of Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion 1764-1765

Portrait of Magdalen King-Hall

Cleone Knox turned out to be a rather bookish 21-year-old woman named Magdalen King-Hall (1904-1971), who had written the Diary as a bit of a lark and never dreamed that anyone would take it seriously as the writings of a young lady of the 18th Century. 

When Miss King-Hall sat down to tea with Lord Darling, one of the Diary’s enthusiastic reviewers, to explain how it all came about, he was so charmed by the young woman that all was forgiven.  The public was even more forgiving and sales of the Diary rose to new heights.  No doubt the fact that this young woman had managed to pull the wool over the eyes of so many soi-disant experts added an extra dollop of deliciousness to the affair. 

Magdalen King-Hall would become a successful writer under her own name. 

Her historical novel, Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton, published in 1944, was made into a Hollywood movie starring Margaret Lockwood and James Mason. 

You’ll be interested to know that, according to Magdalen King-Hall’s son, Richard Perceval Maxwell, Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion 1764-1765continues to deceive the experts.”  In 1994 the BBC broadcast a dramatized version of the Diary proclaiming it to be original. 

Isn't that just too delicious?!


  1. Fascinating - you find the most interesting information! Thanks for taking the time and effort to share it with us all.

    1. So glad you enjoyed this, Janice. I actually found a small sentence about Magdalen King-Hall in calendar description and was intrigued enough to investigate the matter. To my delight, it was quite a story.

      Always enjoy when you take time out of your busy schedule to leave a comment.

      Cheers, M-T

  2. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    This was such a lovely and very welcome intermezzo from my photo scanning! Love it and yes, especially in the arts, like the great painters, every so often a fake surfaces. I've even thought about the danger of people in China, copying after the detailed information I provided about authentic antique Limoges porcelain art. WHO knows? And indeed, the masses will not be able to tell the difference, I've come across several of such pieces on the internet.
    But let's hope and pray that we stay sane and educated so we can do our own homework and be able to distinguish false from real.

    1. Dearest Mariette,

      You know as well as anyone that "The Art of the Scam" is alive and well and global. Good luck on your project. It sounds as if you are making great progress!!

      Gros bisous, ma chère amie,

      Cheers, M-T

  3. My husband is an oil painter and he has to deal with the counterfeits of his work coming out of China! It's a strange sensation and you're pretty helpless as the Chinese government has zero interest in stopping the practice. It's a consideration when his work is posted online that the file not be so big that it's easier for the counterfeiters to copy. Yuck.

    Thanks for the interesting story!

    1. Dear Erin, thank you so much for the information on your husband. I don't know how, or even if, we can put a stop to this, but, w/the help of people like you, we can at least call attention to it.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

  4. If you're interested, here's a website of some scammers stealing my husband's work. Please don't buy through them, naturally, but they do have cheek.

    1. Indeed, I am very interested in this. You have done everyone a service by citing this website.

      If there is anything else I can do to help, please let me know. You can contact me through the Contact Form on the right.

      Cheers, M-T


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