Page 69b38.20 Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Originals (Autographs) - Originals & Dupes 20

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure A fabulous cabinet card of one of the most eminent 19th century surgeons, Sir William MacCormack.

Not only a fine photograph, in excellent condition, but it also carries the personal signature of Sir William to an admirer, and the date October 1883, when he signed it.

Sir William was born in Belfast, Ireland, to a renowned doctor father, and became internationally famous for his work on how to treat wounds resulting from cannon shells and gunshots to the body cavity and the intestines.

In the Franco-German War of 1870 he was surgeon-in-chief to the Anglo-American Ambulance, and was present at the Battle of Sedan. He also went through the Turco-Servian War of 1876. As a result he became a leading authority on gun-shot wounds, on which he lectured and wrote internationally. His research saved countless lives on Victorian battlefields all over the world.

He had a huge personal presence and was wildly popular in society.

In 1881 he acted as honorary secretary-general of the International Medical Congress in London, and was knighted for his services.

For five years in a row (1896-1900) he was elected President of the British College of Surgeons, an unprecedented honour.

He was created a Baronet in 1897 and appointed surgeon-in-ordinary to the Prince of Wales.

During the Boer War he went to South Africa, from November 1899 to April 1900, as consulting surgeon to the British Forces.

In 1901 he was appointed honourary sergeant-surgeon to King Edward VII.

But his intense application to his work strained him and he died suddenly in December 1901.

Cabinet cards were uniform sized 11 x 17 cm, heavy cardboard cards with - usually - a real photo portrait glued to them. They were issued by the photographer who took the picture and signed his name to them. Clients took a quantity to give to friends. Cabinet cards reached their heyday of popularity in the 1880s, and started to fall out of favour in the 1890s, as small personal Kodak cameras began to appear and people took their own photos.

Go to Dr. William MacCormack

Cabinet Card, Dr. William MacCormack, 1882
Orig. cabinet card - Size - 11 x 17 cm
Found - Toronto, ON

Reality Check? - Real autographs were not normally found on cabinet cards but can be seen when a card was signed to give to a special friend.

But is the signature real, or just part of the photo reproduction, like so many autographs on photos are? In other words, a fake autograph.

One clue is that the signature runs over the edge of the (pasted on) photo, so it was put on after the photo was glued to the board backing.

Secondly, when you tilt the card, a real signature should not share the sheen of the photo surface around it. This one clearly shows that the signature covered (obscured) the photo sheen with ink, interrupting the reflective surface of the photo with a matte finish.

Sir William's hand actually touched this very card...

Unlike those faking Royals...
Go to those Faking Royals

Fabulous or Fake?

Sometimes you make fabulous discoveries on ebay, which happened when we saw this piece of antique sheet music which was hyped by a seller as "Personally autographed by famed Canadian World War I song writer Lt. Gitz Rice."

Autographs on snippets of paper are OK, on letters better, on real historic documents like this, wonderful. Looks real...

And let's face it celebrities did sign their photos, their books, their sheet music.

But how can you be sure?

Take the word of an ebay seller?

And what happens when you get it and it's a fake and he's got your money?

So you look for another copy of the sheet music on the internet...


And find one, which is - not so astonishingly - autographed in exactly the same way.

The autograph, however real it looks, was printed. It's a dupe, a fake signature... Like the photo and the other parts of the cover, all done as a photomechanical reproduction covered with a uniform grid of tiny dots.

So the ebay seller was lying, blatantly. I never would have guessed...

In fact Gitz is a favourite for hucksters selling music with "genuine autographs," all fake, of course.

Not so the only real autograph on the page, the name of the person who once owned the sheet music a century ago. It's an autograph most collectors wish weren't there, defacing the page...

Not us though. We like the link to real people, who once sang sorrowfully around the piano, thinking of the family members among the hundreds of thousands - millions really - who never returned from the holocaust of World War I.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Letter, Col. GE Benson - October 17, 1901
Orig. letter - Size - 30 x 40 cm
Found - Gardiner, ME

Pretoria, 17.10.01

Messrs. Cobbalt & Sons,

Dear Sir,

I think I asked you to discontinue the port after October. I now write to say I wish it to be sent as usual after you receive this.

When Christmas approaches I think something special in the way plum pudding, mince pies etc. might be sent. A light cake then would be acceptable - or shortbread.

Yrs truly
GE Benson Col

Address as before.

Bogus Signatures

So many signatures of prominent people are faked, especially on paintings, either on pictures which have never had signatures, or where a lesser artist's name has been removed and replaced with a more salable one.





So the nagging question remains for all autograph seekers - is the signature real?

Is our signature, immediately below, that is written on the title page of this book, really that of Major Benson, or did some antique seller just scrawl it in to increase the value of the book?

Trying to find signatures of men like Major Benson, who make a meteoric but brief turn on the stage of history, can be difficult.

We spent years looking for corroboration, writing hither and yon hoping for supporting proof.

Without luck.

Then out of the blue... a letter on ebay caught our eye...

Is it a match?

Judging by the variation in the thickness and thinness of the letters, it looks like Col. Benson even used the same type of writing tool for both the signature in our book and for the letter he wrote two years later.

The letter was to a provisioner who was to supply him with treats for the coming holiday season.

As it was, Col. Benson would never live to see the port and mince pies, which he was ordering, probably for his officers for the Christmas festivities in Pretoria.

Only 14 days later he would fight his last battle, on October 30, 1901, in a ferocious fight at Brakenlaagte, some 120 miles southeast of Pretoria, and die of his wounds.

No doubt the port he ordered was raised in solemn salute to his memory that sad Christmas Day...

Go to Major Benson
Go to General Wauchope & Black Week



Many more types of autographs are out there, but you have to be careful

Go Tons of Autographs



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