The Counterfeiter Known as ‘Flint Jack’

19th June 2018 — 18 Comments

Replica flint spear attributed to Flint Jack. CC Licence

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.

Flint Jack

Edward Simpson, alias Flint Jack, the forger – Wikipedia cc licence

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.

flints

Specimens of Flint Jack’s forgeries in the National Museum of Scotland. The iron rod on the left is the tool he generally used for chipping flints

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.

flintjack

Flint Jack in later life. The similar pose suggests that he was ambidextrous! – Wikipedia

________________________________________________

FROM MY OWN COLLECTION

© JW

I show one of the flint arrow heads from my own collection and will tell you more about it some time – what little information I know. But first, I’m interested in reading what the experts think about its provenance. Please leave a comment if you can add to the meagre information I already have. Thank you.

John

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18 responses to The Counterfeiter Known as ‘Flint Jack’

  1. Unlikely that stone tools found by eye in your fields or paddocks would be forged. Here in Oz the stone age lasted far longer than most other countries. Mostly spears and boomerangs used rather than arrows here.

  2. From my meagre knowledge of arrowheads, John, I would say authentic… But this is from a laymans point of view..

    I love the story of how he went from a forger to a teacher… Some things are timeless!! LOL

    Micheal.

  3. Very Interesting story, enjoyed it

  4. Bruce D Campbell 19th June 2018 at 11:55 PM

    Forgeries are sometimes very easy to spot, and yet people are often so gullible that they will buy anything. Stone artifacts are especially hard to get a read on for age due to the fact that the stone is itself old. There are telltale signs to look for if you are knowledgeable. Eccentric arrowheads were initially created by a forger, now they are actually sot after. GO FIGURE.
    http://www.lithiccastinglab.com/gallery-pages/tussingereccentricspage1.htm

  5. Joseph from Oregon 20th June 2018 at 1:18 AM

    Authenticity has been a problem here in the North West as many finds, by clip board carrying archeologists of course, lack patina. Also, points and tools can be rapidly reproduced by students from the same piles abundant spalls found littered on most sites next to midden mounds.

    • Can you tell if the one at the bottom of my post is genuine … or not!

      • Joseph from Oregon 20th June 2018 at 11:30 PM

        I might be able to shed light of it’s potential use. If what I see is it’s true size, it ‘s function is neither an arrow point or spear point. The upper notch looks freshly flaked. Also, quickly made with little sign of re-sharpening. Seems more lake a ”strike a lite” multi tool. The heavy notches suggest if hafted would provide leverage but not flight. Sorry, It’s a fake John, like other points similar,, unless there is significant documentation to the contrary.

        • Alas, It has been mislaid, but from what I remember it was about 1.5 inches long. You are very astute and quite correct. It is a fake.

          I purchased it in a gift shop somewhere between Guelph and Niagara whilst on a Canadian holiday. Full marks to you, Joe.

  6. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 20th June 2018 at 5:18 AM

    So surely this begs the question, how does one know what is real and what is a fake?

    If the so called experts of their time were duped into thinking those were real, and were the teachers of our experts today, than how do we know that our experts even know what’s real or not?

    I can see this appearing on an episode of QI at some point??

  7. A good read, as usual John, which brought to mind a man I met about eight years ago. He was
    from St.Just in Penwith, Ne Penzance. I cannot remember his name, but, we met when he was doing a demonstration of making flint tools, at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
    A truly fascinating man to talk to, and his work was to die for.
    Anna Tyacke FLO at the museum could help if needed.

  8. I wonder how many of his forgeries still lie in museums!

  9. Bruce D Campbell 21st June 2018 at 12:50 AM

    John, was your point a personal find? Was it a field or stream find? And finally what are the dimensions? I personally, would not be so quick to discount this as authentic without further knowledge.

  10. A cunning and prodigious artificer! I like him! How easily experts are fooled… The Piltdown debacle was a hoot! What is it about forgers that makes them fascinating to the point of being (well, almost) admirable? A few years ago (thanks for reminding me, John) there was the shy-but-industrious Shaun Greenhalgh and his eager family: “possibly the most diverse forgery team in the world, ever”. They had a wonderful documentary all to themselves! Do Wiki them! Cheers John!
    PS: Will we perhaps be reading one day the exploits of ‘Flash John’ and his forged blog??

  11. steve on the bmd forum loves making flint items …hopefully he will show you some of his works of art ….thanks for the read John …..not seen this blog before

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