The following article was printed on March 9 1867 in "All the year round"
Counterfeits and counterfeit antiques have been known to the world in every age. Mr. John Evans, F.R.S., has exposed the manufacture of all kinds of antiquities, in a lecture before the Royal Institution. The same subject has been followed up by Mr. Samuel Sharp.
A tendency to dishonesty, for the sake of gain, has been the characteristic of every age; and the modern example of whom we are writing is no unworthy representative of his class with the distinctive difference that the rogues of old forged moneys almost wholly, while Flint Jack (though he has not shrunk from the fabrication of old coins) has mainly devoted his time and talents to the formation and vending of spurious manuscripts, gems, pottery, bronzes, ornaments, seals, rings, with special attention to monastic seals, Roman and Saxon fibulae, the so called " coal money," stone hatchets and hammers, flint arrows and spears, bronze celts, jet buttons and armlets, and, most remarkable of all, fossils, and those so admirably executed that there are few scientific men who have not been constrained, at some time or other, to confess themselves "done" by that arrant rogue, Flint Jack.
Edward Simpson was born in 1815, of humble parents, his father being a sailor. In his youth he appears to have been tame and manageable, like many other wild animals, whose real nature does not show itself until they have attained their adult stage. At the age of fourteen, he entered the service of Dr. Young, the late historian of Whitby, an ardent geologist. Edward, his constant attendant in fossil-hunting expeditions, acquired thus in five years the rudiments of geology, more particularly of the Yorkshire coast.
He left Dr. Young to serve Dr. Ripley, also of Whitby, with whom he remained six years; but his second master's death threw Edward out of employment, and from that time to this he has lived loose from all trammels.
From this time he began to acquire his various aliases. We hear no more of Edward Simpson. The active and more than ordinarily intelligent young fellow, who has hitherto borne that name, becomes Fossil Willy on the Yorkshire coast; Bones, at Whitby; Shirtless in the Eastern Counties; the Old Antiquarian, in Wilts and Dorset; and Flint Jack, universally.
After the death of Dr. Ripley, Fossil Willy took to a roving life, for some months rambling about the neighbourhood of Whitby, gathering specimens, for which he found a ready sale amongst the local dealers. In 1841 he began to extend his walks to Scarborough, and there got to know two gentlemen with whom he had dealings in fossils. After including Filey and Bridlington in his exploring expeditions, he became very " handy" in cleaning fossils, in which he took as much interest as in their discovery.
He was, consequently, tolerably well off in the world, and made tramping a really profitable pursuit; for he never wasted money on any conveyance, unless when he had a river or the sea to cross.
In 1843, his taste for geology was suddenly perverted by his returning to Whitby, and there being shown the first British barbed arrowhead he had ever seen. The Tempter, in some plausible human shape, inquired if he could imitate it. He said he would try. The spark had been applied to the train of gunpowder and from that time his life of roguery began. He was henceforth Flint Jack to the backbone.
But the flint arrow-head was Jack's ruin. The fine workmanship which all genuine arrows show, and the beautiful regularity of their form, sorely puzzled him. He made many a failure in his endeavour to copy the original. At last a mere accident showed him how to chip flint, and also revealed the proper tools. Jack, however, has never yet succeeded in discovering the mode of surface-chipping; that, he says, is a barbarous art which has died with the flint-using people, the Britons. He has exhausted his ingenuity, and tried every form of tool to effect this object, without success. Hence, his forgeries in flint are now easy of detection.
Jack was musing one morning on the weakness of connoisseurs and the means by which the Britons had chipped their flints, when, heedlessly taking out the hasp of a gate which was hanging loosely in its fastenings, he struck a blow, without any purpose, with the curved part of the iron on a piece of flint. To his great astonishment, off new a fine flake; so Jack, in delight, tried again. The second blow was even more fortunate than the first; the long wished for secret was discovered!
By practice he acquired the knack of striking off any sort of flakes he needed. He afterwards declared, with pride, that he could at that time make, and sell, fifty flint arrow-heads per day. Thenceforth dates that extraordinary supply, to collectors and museums, of forged flint weapons the causes of many a warm discussion of great annoyance, and of much mirth. The ring or curve of the gate-hasp did it all.
For heavy work, Jack has supplemented this with a small round-faced hammer of soft iron (not steel); and for light work, about the points and barbs of arrows, the pressure of a common bradawl is all he requires. In place of the round-faced hammer, a water-worn pebble of any hard stone picked up on the beach is sometimes used is, in fact, more effective for striking off flakes of flint, and is only not used generally on account of its weight. Jack's pockets were often too heavily laden to add the weight of a boulder-hammer to the raw material which they already contained the flint nodules out of which he manufactured stone hammers, hatchets, hand-celts, pounders, and adzes, to his heart's content.
There sow came over him a strong desire to study antiquities in general; and, by visiting museums, and obtaining access to private collections, he quickly familiarised himself with the forms and materials of urns, beads, fibula, seals, etc. and to the fabrication of all kinds of antiques he boldly set to work. The line of life upon which Jack was now entering necessitated the strictest secresy: to have had a confederate or confidant would have risked the ruin of all his plans.
He was obliged to deny himself the consolations of friendship and the sweets of love. He spent long years without a companion; unknown, except to those whom he invariably duped at their first acquaintance; avoiding all contact with "travellers" of less ability, for Jack is a man of ability; and, as a wanderer and an outcast, he is promising to end his days.
Accordingly, at the beginning of 1814, we find Jack at Bridlington, fairly astart in imposture. In this locality, genuine British flints are obtainable in the fields in surprising quantities, and these Jack would sometimes pick up ”they were useful in leavening with a grain of truth a whole bushelful of impudent falsehoodsâ€” but he chiefly dealt in spurious flints of his own working. Here he got introduced to a resident antiquary, for whom if his own statement be reliable he made a collection, six hundred in number, and of course all warranted genuine, if need be.
At this period, so active was he in prosecuting his trade, that he ordinarily walked thirty or forty miles a day, vending his wares and collecting materials. In the Wold country, garden rockworks are even yet enriched by specimens of ancient stone implementsâ€”all the handiwork of clever Flint Jack.
The year 1844 was waning, when Jack conceived the bright idea of adding to his trade the manufacture of British and Roman urns. His first pottery was made on the Bridlington clay. This was an ancient British urn, which he sold as genuine, asserting it to have been found somewhere in the neighbourhood. For a time, the urn-making business proved the best. But this new branch of trade necessitated even still more secresy and still greater knavery. Jack betook himself to the cliffs, where he set up an ancient pottery of his own.
Here, after modelling the urns, he placed them beneath the shelter of an overhanging ledge of rock, out of the reach of rain, but free to the winds, until dry. Then came the bakings. These were only required to be rude and partly effective; the roots, grass, and brambles afforded the "fire-holding," and with them he completed the manufacture of his antiquities.
Jack, however, finding the clay cliff of Bridlington Bay much too open and exposed, repaired to the thickly wooded and solitary region about Stainton Dale, between Whitby and Scarborough; where he built himself a hut near Raven's Hall, and used to spend a week at the time there engaged in the making of urns and stone implements. After a general "bakingday," he would set off, either to Whitby or Scarborough, to dispose of his "collections'' all of which he solemnly declared had been found in (and taken by stealth from) tumuli (pronouncedby him toomoolo) on the moors; his great field of discovery being the wild wastes between KirbyMoorside and Stokesley, where he declares a man might pass a month without meeting another human being.
Delightful solitude! He was monarch of all he surveyed; the fear of detection was reduced to a minimum and the general knowledge of antiquities of the British period was then but small. The urns were all sold, without incurring the least suspicion. "Now" (1866), he says," they would be detected at once;" being not only too thick in the walls, but altogether of wrong material, ornament, shape, and burning. "I often laugh," says Jack, " at the recollection of the things I used to sell in those days!" The force of boastful and swaggering roguery can scarcely go much further than this. Which of the two enjoyed the greater pleasureâ€”Jack Flint, the cheat, or his clients, the cheated?
At Pickering, Jack got acquainted with Mr. Kendall (a gentleman much occupied with archaeological matters), who showed him a collection of flints purchased as genuine. Of course they were of Jack's make. On being asked for his opinion, in a moment of weakness he frankly declared that he knew where they came from. He even set to work to show the method of manufacture, initiating his patron into the mysteries of forming "barbs," "hand-celts," and "hammers." Jack states, in apology and explanation of his erring for an instant into the ways of honest men, that Mr. Kendall's kindness overcame him, and that he resolved, for once, to speak the truth. He did it, and had no occasion for regret. He exposed the forgery, and retained a friend to whom he could look for a trifle when "hard up."
At Malton he found cut the only antiquary in the place, and immediately set to work to deceive him. But he also found there a rival (a barber) in the fabrication of ancient urns. Therefore, as the hatchet was least understood, he sold the antiquary one, formed out of a piece of ironstone, without the fraud being at the time detected. Q'his hatchet was alleged to have been found at Snainton, where Jack said he had stopped to help some people who were taking up potatoes in a field near the church. While digging there he had found the relie, and had refused to sell it to the landlord of the inn, preferring to dispose of it at Malton.
This, if true, was a bad speculation, for he sold it for a shilling only. The hatchet was a very elever forgery indeed. In order to come at its real history, inquiries were subsequently made at Snainton; and it was found that, near the church, there was no tillage land at all. Hence suspicions of the implement's genuineness. It is now in the collection of Doctor Rooke, of Scarborough, and would deceive the majority of antiquaries at the present day.
On another visit, Jack played a still bolder game, and succeeded. In Piekering he found an old tea-tray, and out of this "valuable" he set to work to fashion a piece of ancient armour. His first idea was a shield, but the "boss" bothering him with an insuperable difficulty, it was abandoned for a Roman breastplate (peetorale), which was constructed forthwith. This was a remarkably successful effort. Jack made it to fit himself, adapting it neatly to his own arms and neck, with holes for thong-lacings over the shoulders and round the waist.
After finishing it, he walked into Malton, wearing the "armour" under his coat. On arrival he had an " ancient" piece of armour for sale, found near the encampments at Cawthorne; and a purchaser was again found, whose suspicions had not yet been excited. The "relic" is now at Scarborough.
About this time Jack heard of the discovery of a Roman milestone. The idea was new. He therefore set to work to make one, taking care to render the inscription as puzzling as possible. The stone he found on the roadside near Bridlington. The mock milestone was duly produced and sold, and, according to Jack's statement, is now in the British Museum.
Of this milestone story we have another version. The locality of Bridlington is named as that where Jack found the flat slab, and, after his rough lettering, grinding, and chipping, he buried the stone in a field for subsequent discovery and disinterment, which farce was solemnly carried out. First of all, a lad wheeled the exhumed stone in a barrow to Bridlington; but as the bait did not get taken quite so quickly as Jack desired, he set off with his treasuretrove to Scarborough, where the Bridlington antiquaries were represented as wanting jndgment, thereby losing a prize.
One of Jack's patrons in the medical profession is alleged to have given five pounds for the stone, and that it is not now in the British Museum, as Jack fancies it is, but that the buyer presented it to the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. The milestone trick is regarded as one of Jack's most famous exploits.
During this same period of his career, he undertook the manufacture of seals, inscribed stones, etc. Of the latter, he professed to have found one in the stream of the Pickering marshes. In passing the railway gate-house there, he went to the stream to drink, and in so doing, noticed a dark stone at the bottom of the beck.
This he took out, and found it had letters on it: "IMP CON STAN EBUR" round the Christian symbol. Jack being then but little known, no suspicion of a forgery was entertained. In course of lime, this si one was submitted to Mr. Roach Smith, Mr. New!on, of the British Museum, and other antiquaries, but no conelusion could be arrived at, its form suggesting most, if anything, the ornate top of the shaft of a banner. But the abilitj of the Romans in working metal made it unlikely that they should use so rnde a stone ornament for such a purpose, so that theory was obliged to be rejected. The artiele still remained a puzzle; it is now considered a curiosity. Its parentage was afterwards discovered; havmg been duly traced to Flint Jack's hands.
There is a tide in the affairs of men. Jack's tide was tarned, appropriately, by too much liquor. In 1846, a change came over him. He continued to be the same arrant rogue; but, in addition, he began to indulge in the dangerous delights of intemperance. "In this year," he says, "I took to drinking; the worst job yet. Till then, I was always possessed of five pounds. I have since been in utter poverty, and frequently in great misery and want."
Jack seemed to have been "led away" at Scarborough. If he was, it only servecf him right; for he did not, at that place, reform his practice of leading other people wrong. While there, he got introduced to tie manager of one of the banks, but he says he could not "do" him; for he bought no flmts, and only cared for fossils. Jack had not yet set about forging fossils, as he afterwards found it expedient to do. While at Scarborough, however, he made and disposed of a "flint comb." This artiele was a puzzle to most people, and the purchaser submitted it to Mr. Bateman, who could not find any use for it, except that it might have been the instrument by which tattooing of the body was effected.
At the end of that year, Flint Jack visited Hull, where, being short of money he had been "always short of money since he took to drinking" - he went to the Mechanics' Institute, and sold them a large stone celt (trap), represented to have been found on the Yorkshire wolds. The imposture was not detected. But Hull proved a barren place; and, not being able to find out any antiquaries or geologists, Jack crossed the Humber, and walked to Lincoln. Here he called upon the curator of the museum, and sold him a few flints and fossils, the flints being forgeries. As this was the only sale he was able to effect, he set off for Newark, and there found out the only geologist in the place, who was making a collection of fossils. Jack remained there a week, collecting and making fossils and working flinls, his patron supposing that all, both fossils and flints, were genuine.
The fossil-forging business was being pushed on now; it was so much more convenient to make a fossil than to look for it. Jack answered curious inquirers by stating that the flints were all picked up on the high lands in the county, and he was always careful to particularise the neighbourhood of camps, entrenchments, etc. the positions of which he learned by reading local histories; and he invariably visited the sites in person. As for the fossils, he, knowing the different strata, found them where the open quarries were, and, if not findable, Ihey were always makable. Barely, therefore, if ever, was he at a loss.
And so he went on and on, sinking deeper and deeper in the mire of rascality; sometimes, in his wanderings, reaching places where there were no antiquaries to take in, sometimes stumbling upon collectors whose names he has forgotten now, having probably good reasons of his own for remembering to forget them. At Cambridge the chalk and green sand enabled him to lead a jolly life. Through the curator of the Geological Museum and an optician, who dealt in fossils and antiquities, he managed to drive a roaring trade.
His sides shook with laughter while relating the tricks he played upon a learned professor there. In the neighbourhood of Yarmouth, he made the acquaintance of an "archaeological parson, easy to do." At the remembrance of his visits to this " easy" divine, Jack indulged in immoderate mirth, pronouncing him, however, to be " of a good sort, and a right liberal fellow." He had got to that degree of insolence in which, while despising his dupes, he could dole out to them a sort of contemptuously compassionate praise.
The elergvman showed his antiquities freely, and gave an unlimited order to collect specimens of Roman or British implements. Jack immediately set to work with a will, and soon produced a valuable assortment, delighting his patron with forms quite unique the invention of his own fertile brain. The Yarmouth gains soon melted in the bser-pot, and then Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, with empty pockets.
At Colehester he fell in with a travelling Jew, who collected paintings, china, furniture, or any other antique artiele for the London dealers. Jack said this man was no blockhead; but Jack cheated him nevertheless. Jack's antiquities delighted the son of Isracl, who never suspected their origin, and who was incautious enough to mention the marts in London where he could dispose of them. This was precisely what Jack wanted, for to London he had resolved to go.
He took in his Hebrew customer deeply, making him many things. The Jew at length became aware of their spurious nature, but was far from cutting the acquaintance in consequence; ou the contrary, he subsequently bougnt his productions regularly.
In London he got introduced to Mr. Tennant, of the Strand a step which turned out to be the beginning of the end. On him he called to dispose, at first, of fossils only, but afterwards sold flints and other antiquities. On being asked, later on, "Did you take them in at the British Museum?" Jack replied," Why, of course I did!" And again," They have lots of my things, and good things they are, too."
For twelve months Jack honoured London with his presence, manufacturing, chiefly flints, all the while, and obtaining his supplies of raw material by taking boat to the chalk at Woolwich. At lengfli the dealers (and the museums too) becoming overcharged with flints, Jack feared their verr plentifulness might arouse suspicion. He tlerefore resolved upon a return to Yorkshire, Â»ut cunningly took a different route, directing hn "walks" through Bedford and Northampton, yhere he found three ready dupes.
"Here," says Jack, "I did best of any."
For all, he made large collections of flints, "spicing" them sometimes with a few genuine fossils. At Nottingham he found two antiquaries, and duped both. There, by way of "a rest from the cares and anxieties of business," he took a "holiday," to visit the battle-ground of Wallerby Field (Charles I. and Cromwell).
At York he became known to the then curator of the museum, and regretted greatly he had no flints to "do" him with. All his stook in trade had been left at Nottingham, and the intermediate country had yielded no flint. The curator furnished him with money to go to Bridlington, and collect chalk fossils and shells, whieh he did, and supplied to the York Museum. He remained on the coast about twelve months, attending wholly to fossils, and appearing to have a final chance of lapsing at last mto an honest life.
An unfortunate walk to North Shields one day brought him to the beach, where he found flint among the shingle. The temptation was irresistible. Jack set to work on the spot to make forged celts. With a spurious collection he went to Durham, and there resumed his former trade, selling a few as genuine (with a plausible history attached) to private individuals who "took an interest in antiquities."
After another replenish on the Yorkshire coast, Jack conceived the idea of visiting Ireland, thinking that his English beats would well bear "rest." He accordingly started on his Irish walk, heavily laden with antiquities for the sons of Erin. He says he did well saw all the best things in the north of the island, traversing it entirely on foot, highly delighted with the scenery. Sometimes he collected fossils, sometimes he made a few flints. He had much rather manufacture them than pick up genuine ones for sale; "gathering them was such a trouble." From Dublin he returned, via Liverpool, to York, aiming for the coast, in search of flint. Although he "did well" in Ireland, improvident habits soon exhausted his cash, and lie reached his store of wealth, the coast, in a state of utter indigence.
After a twelve mouths' sober fit, he fell a "longing to see other parts of England." At Bottesford, in the Vale of Belvoir, he found a jrreat open quarry of lias, yielding numerous fossils. This was a grand prize; and he stopped here some time, working the quarry to a large extent. The first basketful he got there he sent to a elergyman of Peterborough a sort of recognition of past kindnesses, which Jack was not backward in according, and perhaps the only redeeming trait in his character. But he soon atoned for this virtuous weakness. At St. Alban's he found a good customer, to whom he sold spurious flint-knives, arrow-heads, and "drills." The eleverest trick was providing an ancient silver coin to order, out of the handle of a German silver teaspoon.
At Devizes (where he sold both fossils and forged flints to the museum), Jack was deemed so remarkable a being that he was solicited to sit for his first portrait. His cartes accordingly were freely sold as photographs of "The Old Antiquarian."
At the close of 1859, Jack returned to Loudon, and was at once charged by Mr. Tennant with the manufacture of both stone and flint implements; but that gentleman promised to introduce Jack at the meetings, of the Geological and Archaeological Societies, if he would expose the method of manufacturing flints. Jack consented. He prepared some rough flint implements, and had everything ready for astonishing the natives at an evening meeting, to which he was taken in a cab (a wonderful event in his life) by Mr. Tennant. Here, on the platform, he finished, the rough flints, and fashioned them into his best shapes for arrows, &c., and also exhibited his mode of obtaining flakes from blocks of flint, and finally showed genuine and spurious flints in contrast.
Mr. Tennant lectured that evening on Jack's roguery, and the members were surprised how easily and simply the weapons were made. They could not help laughing at one another, on recollecting the way in which they had been duped. They asked Jack how he discovered the method himself; which he explained, showing his implements, of which the memorable gate-hasp near Whitby had been the parent.
In 1861, Jack found the news of his forgeries spread throughout the land. All collectors began to fancy their treasured flints were spurious. He found his occupation as a deceiver almost gone -, but still kept wandering about, continuing to manufacture flints and call upon old acquaintances, whom he generally found forgiving, and as ready to purchase "dooplicates" as they were while supposing them genuine. The rest of Jack's life is soon told. In 1863 he again visited Wilts, where (at Salisbury) he was introduced upon the platform of a learned society, and again photographed.
As a proof of Jack's skill as a craftsman, one long-suffering collector (who, after being repeatedly done, still submitted to be done again) possesses a stone hatchet, which is so remarkably like a genuine one, that, its history being lost, he is unable to determine whether it is of Jack's manufacture or that of the ancient Britons.
For the above biographical details we are indebted to the Malton Messenger, whose proprietor the sturdy impostor had imposed on. It is therefore a study from the life, and not a fancy portrait, as the extravagance of its features might cause it to be supposed. Flint Jack's present position is miserable; and it would be strange if it were otherwise. Among antiquaries he can generally raise a trifle for pressing needs a proof of their placable disposition; but, when possessed of a little cash, he drinks without ceasing, until it is gone.
It has lately become the rule for archaeologists to hang in their sanctum a portrait of Jack framed in his own flints, and the fashion has given him a better demand for his wares. Not long since he started on a trip through Westmoreland and Cumberland, heavily laden. He was hard up at starting, and had to part with a first-rate "dooplicate of a hammer-head for one shilling, declaring he had not made one for the last six years, and that it was worth at least five shillings. "Genuine ones," said Jack, "are not to be obtained; and the discussions of the learned, at all the Institutions, are over hammers and celts of my make!"
He is still anxious to learn, and is much in want of a pattern of the so-called "tool-stone." Which of our readers will gratify his laudable wish? By inadvertence, a gentleman mentioned one, which is in the possession of the proprietor of the Malton Messenger, and Jack went to Malton to inspect it. Being refused, he became highly indignant, and vowed "never to call at Malton again."
On hearing of a likely customer, he will beat about the bush to find out what tack to sail upon. "Will he know me? Will he suspect me? Has he heard of me?" are his queries. If all seems plain-sailing, Jack is yet competent to pass off his flints as genuine; if known beforehand, he at once offers them as "dooplicates," relying on the skill shown in their formation for reward. If asked if he has been at lately, where he played off a particular dodge, Jack will reply, Tis over soon yet; he won't bear doing again for some time!"
But what a waste of ability! What might not this man have done for science had he only taken the same pains in assisting as he did in leading it astray! What advantages he might have ensured for himself; what intellectual gratification he might have procured for others! As it is, his antiquarian lore, his accurate topographical knowledge, are wasted on the occupants of the trampers' lodging-house or the beer-house kitchen. But, in truth, the absence of all moral feeling, the insensibility to shame, the unconsciousness which he displayed of the existence of such a thing as personal honour, make one suspect that he is scarcely responsible for his actions. A grain of gratitude seems to be the only pure morsel in the composition of this perverted character.