An Eye For Detail Thwarts a Forger

The letter to Crane & Co., Paper Manufacturers, is dated Oct. 31, 1878 from Philadelphia:


We are informed that the enclosed sample of paper is manufactured by you.

There has been presented for probate in this city a will claimed to be forged, which is written upon this kind of paper, and it becomes a matter of considerable moment for us to ascertain when the particular and exact brand was manufactured. I presume it may possibly extend over a period of years, and would be obliged if you will give us what information you can upon the matter.

Yours truly,

Pinkerton’s request was part of his investigation of the celebrated Whitaker will case:

in which an attempt was made to defraud the heirs of an aged and miserly millionaire in Philadelphia a few years ago. In this case the parties to the forgery were an aged and hitherto respectable lawyer, who had for years been the confidential adviser and counselor of the deceased, and three other men whom he had selected for his purposes, to forge the seals and to sign fictitious names of witnesses. This was one of the best planned and carefully executed forgeries with which the courts have had to deal, and many months were spent in the investigation and trial which finally ended in conviction. (From Thirty Years a Detective, Allan Pinkerton).

As the investigation proceeded, Pinkerton and his operatives began to focus on the paper used for the allegedly forged will, as well as the rules which were drawn at a local paper wholesaler. In fact, “Mr. Crane” (we don’t know which) was called to testify, and authenticated the paper as Crane’s Parchment Deed.

By an ingenious and scientific course of investigation we were able to determine, beyond a doubt, that the paper on which this forged will was written, was not really manufactured for some months after the date on which the will purported to be executed. It is true it was manufactured by the same firm, from the same materials, bore the same trade-mark, and was intended to be the same paper in every respect, but it was ascertained that by some little derangement in the setting of the machine which ruled the lines upon the paper, there had been caused a scarcely noticeable difference in the two papers. This once proved, it became necessary to more fully establish the question of a conspiracy to defraud, and finally, one of the parties to the forgery was induced to disclose the whole affair, and the entire scheme of these unscrupulous men was fully divulged. In the end the fraudulent will was set aside, the heirs came legally into their estate, and the guilty forgers were condemned to imprisonment.

Click here to learn more about this colorful and influential man, whose company continues to this day.

One last note. A letter to Crane from the firm of J.G. Ditman & Co., Wholesale Paper Dealers and Manufacturers in Philadelphia regarding the case, was written on paper with this Crane watermark. More on that later.

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