Billys and Charleys
August 30, 2008 10:03 AM   Subscribe

In 1857, hundreds of strange objects suddenly started appearing in London antique shops: coins and medals, vases and statues, all made out of soft metal with weird designs and cryptic lettering. They were the work of two illiterate London mudlarks, William Smith and Charles Eaton, who managed to fool some of the leading archaeologists of the day into accepting their forgeries as genuine medieval antiquities.
posted by verstegan (15 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
This was a really fascinating read! Thank you for sharing it!
posted by headspace at 10:13 AM on August 30, 2008

Just think what those two could have done with ebay. Great story.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:45 AM on August 30, 2008

Forgeries?? That's what they want you to believe.
posted by orthogonality at 10:57 AM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ohmigod. Mudlark? You made me day.
posted by humannaire at 11:21 AM on August 30, 2008

I love these pieces!
posted by mwhybark at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2008

What a great story.

I think it is fascinating to read about people who were crafty enough to spot a profitable avenue, and lucky enough to spot it just before laws were written to stop them.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

As someone who has a passing interest in ancient artifacts, this is a fascinating story, and especially because archaeologists were fooled by these. They are quite crude to say the least. What they've unknowingly done is created artifacts for future generations to marvel at. They've created historical items, but not in the way they intended. Great stuff!
posted by Eekacat at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2008

They are beautiful - I would happily buy one. (Of course, they are cooler for the story - but beautiful in their own right, too.)
posted by jb at 12:48 PM on August 30, 2008

Very, very cool. Reminds me of the Voynich Manuscript.
posted by secret about box at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2008

Very cool. Reminds me of Leo Kottke.
posted by rdone at 1:20 PM on August 30, 2008

Wow, my weird little hobby has made the big time! (Pewter work is, largely, what I got my Laurel for in the SCA).

I first learned about Billy and Charley from these folks who were so inspired they stole their names for their own knock off faux-medieval pewter business. Unlike their namesakes, they try to do relatively exact reproductions, so looking through their site will give you a pretty good idea of what Billy and Charlie were trying to knock off. Here are a couple other SCA pewterers who do a pretty good job at doing exact reproductions.

To me, most of the Billy and Charlie pieces look wrong. I think part of it is technique driven and part of it is style driven. It's like comparing Charles Dana Gibson and Leonardo da Vinci (well, more like a mediocre Gibson imitator but you see what I mean). Of course, thanks to the internet, photo-offset printing and that industrial revolution thing, I've probably got more information on what real medieval pilgrim's badges looked like than any ten archeologists did in 1857.

Now if Billy and Charlie had been smart, they'd have focused on the naughty bits. It would have been longer before people started comparing notes.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Excellent post—thanks!
posted by languagehat at 2:09 PM on August 30, 2008

I love that an eminent archaeologist "felt that they belonged to the 16th century, partly on the logic that no forger would create anything so preposterous."
posted by moonmilk at 5:11 PM on August 30, 2008

I can't get past: In London antique shops
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on August 31, 2008

I can't get past: In London antique shops
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on August 31 [+] [!]

What's to get past?

The Tudors and Jacobeans staged the first Gothic Revival, hosting tournaments of days gone by (which were then only gone by 2-3 centuries).

16th-century Japanese samurai indulged in similar recreations. So did the Romans, at one point, IIRC.

Nostalgia for a romantic, chivalric, & glamorously dangerous past is one of man's oldest themes, I suspect. (Cue the Cro Magnon man, reenacting a Neanderthal mammoth hunt...)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:10 PM on September 2, 2008

« Older Lard: The New Health Food?   |   Marie-Thérèse will have her revenge on... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments