Exhibition: Books, Crooks and Readers.

Image on the invitation: Fingal, the protagonist of the Ossian forgeries (Alexis-François Girard)

Image on the invitation: Fingal, the protagonist of the Ossian forgeries (Alexis-François Girard)

‘If a Man tells a Lye in Print, he abuses Mankind and imposes upon the whole World’  Daniel Defoe, 1704.

This summer, the exhibition Books, Crooks and Readers: the Seduction of Forgery (1600-1800) will present a large number of early modern forgeries from Leiden University Libraries to explore the purposes, strategies and effects of the many lies told in seventeenth and eighteenth century print. From 6 June to 1 October the exhibition can be visited at the exhibition room.

See also the online exhibition.

Textual deceptions

The invention of print provided forgers with a new and particularly effective medium to present their fabrications. As a result, the early modern world soon found itself imposed on by a multitude of textual deceptions, ranging from forged travel accounts to deliberate – and often dangerous – misattributions and from simple hoaxes to wholly invented national histories.

Whether a forger had political motives, intended to play a joke or was simply seeking fame and fortune, print offered a particularly seductive medium. Not only did it provide access to unprecedented numbers of readers but also new strategies, textual as well as visual, to fool them. In addition, the use of print gave gullible readers the opportunity to disseminate forgeries further, for instance through translation, and the less gullible ones a medium to voice their suspicions.

A map showing Curzio's Inghirami's invented Tuscan past (1637)

A map showing Curzio's Inghirami's invented Tuscan past (1637)

Games of seduction

Tracing the story from their creation to the aftermath of their exposure, the exhibition will explore how seventeenth and eighteenth century forgeries managed to seduce their readers into believing their printed lies. However, not everyone fell for this seduction and the exhibition will show how the games of cat and mouse played by forged books, crooks and readers left indelible marks on the scholarship and literature of their period.

Famous forgeries

George Psalmanazar, the 'native of Formosa'

George Psalmanazar, the 'native of Formosa'

The exhibition shows some of the most famous forgeries of this period, including Curzio Inghirami’s invented Etruscan past, the Orientalist fabrications of George Psalmanazar and James Macpherson’s forged Ossian poems.  It will feature also a wide range of less well-known but equally fascinating deceptions from the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

The exhibition is guest curated by cultural historian and LUCAS researcher Jacqueline Hylkema, who is currently working on the PhD project The Rhetoric of Illusion: Persuasion and Response in Forgery, the Arts and Other Deceptions (1600-1750) as well as a number of other projects and publications in the field of early modern forgery.


In September the exhibition will be accompanied by a series of weekly lectures, given by Jacqueline Hylkema, Olga van Marion and Juliette Roding. The exhibition will be concluded on 30 September with a special lecture by Jack Lynch, Professor of English at Rutgers University and author of Deception and Detection in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2008). More information on the lectures.

Practical information

The address of the University Library is Witte Singel 27, 2311 BG in Leiden.

The exhibition is open for visitors during opening hours of the library building.

Please note:

  • The library is closed on the following holidays: June 8 and 9

  • During Summer recess (Monday July 21 to Sunday August 31) the library is closed on Sundays and has adapted opening hours for weekdays and Saturdays. Please check the adapted opening hours.

Leiden University Libraries organises at least three exhibitions each year, making ample use of the rich collections at Leiden University. Most exhibitions are a collaboration with researcher and education at the university, frequently also with other Leiden museums and institutions. You have free access to the compact exhibition room which is located in the entrance area of the library.

Last Modified: 04-08-2014