I’ve been blogging since 2010, but many of my earlier posts have been lost. However, I am sometimes able to resurrect a post from that era. This is one – with additions – originally posted in November of 2011.
I was reminded recently of Edward Simpson, universally known as Flint Jack, the so-called Prince of Counterfeiters. He was a forger of stone tools way back in the middle 1800s. It is believed that he gained his knowledge of geology and archaeology while in the service of the Whitby historian, Dr Young. Some years after the doctor’s death he led an honest life as a collector of fossils and a helper in archaeological investigations.
Edward’s life of imposture started when he found that he could easily imitate a barbed flint arrow and he soon became very proficient at replicating several different types of ancient stone artefacts. Indeed, he went on to forge coins, manuscripts, necklaces, glass objects, Roman armour and much more.
It must be remembered that the early days of archaeological studies witnessed a vogue for the collection of stone tools, bringing with it a boom in the buying and selling of forged items – Victorian museums were keen to obtain ancient artefacts. For nearly 30 years, Jack was able to pass off his forged fossils and antiquities. One commentator suggested it was his craving for alcohol that spurred him on.
It was on one of his trips to London that he was charged by a Professor Tennant with the forgery of antiquities. He confessed … and after that was invited along to learned societies to show how he manufactured the forged artefacts! The poacher had now turned gamekeeper.
The following excerpt is a concise account of Flint Jack’s trial published in the Whitby Gazette on 19th March 1867
“Flint Jack” – A notorious Yorkshireman – one of the greatest impostors of our times -was last week sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for felony at Bedford. The prisoner gave the name of Edward Jackson, but his real name is Edward Simpson, of Sleights, Whitby, although he is equally well known as John Wilson, of Burlington, and Jerry Taylor, of Billery-dale, Yorkshire Moors. Probably no man is wider known than Simpson is under his aliases in various districts – viz. “Old Antiquarian”, “Fossil Willy”, “Bones”, “Shirtless”,”Cockney Bill”, and “Flint Jack”, the latter name universally.
Under one or other of these designations Edward Simpson is known throughout England, Scotland and Ireland – in fact, wherever geologists or archaeologists resided, or wherever a museum was established, there did Flint Jack assuredly pass off his forged fossils and antiquities.
He imbibed, however, a liking for drink, and he admits that from that cause his life for 20 years past has been one of great misery. To supply his cravings for liquor he set about the forging of both fossils and antiquities about 23 years ago.
In 1859, during one of his trips to London, Flint Jack was charged by Professor Tennant with the forgery of antiquities. He confessed, and was introduced on the platform of various societies, and exhibited the simple mode of his manufacture of spurious flints. From that time his trade became precarious, and Jack sunk deeper and deeper into habits of dissipation, until at length he became a thief, and was last week convicted on two counts and sent to prison for 12 months.
Here’s another portrait of Jack in later life, again showing him posing for the camera with a hammer in one hand and a piece of stone in the other.