William Poole considers turning to the age-old craft of forgery

I’ve got to the age where house prices have started bothering me and so there is nothing for it but forgery.

The study of fakes is one of the more interesting bits of the humanities, not just because of the objects being faked, but because of what this tells you about the audience the forger is trying to deceive, and how advanced their historical sense is.

We can think of this using the three categories once developed to understand the history of fossil finds: position, form, and substance.

Once, position would do. If an artefact is found in the right kind of place, then it is probably genuine. So if the monk comes out of his monastic archive with a charter proving he owns your land, once upon a time you believed him, because that’s what you expect to find in monastic archives.

Then someone starts asking awkward questions about the handwriting: this may have come from your archive, but it looks like it was written yesterday. And so form has to be added to position: it has to look right as well as be found in the right place.

Ah, the next person says, but it is written on paper, and paper was not used at this date. And so substance has to be fixed: animal skin, not paper.

Some forgeries are detected simply because they are too good to be true, or because they manipulate what collectors want or what museums feel they ought not reject. My favourite candidate is the Warren Cup, bought by the British Museum in 1999 for £1.8 million, the most money the museum had ever paid for a single object. The British Museum is convinced it is genuine. Many disagree. I have no vote, but google it and you will see why the doubts seem sensible.

My own line will be in forging literary manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries. This is the way to do it without getting caught: rather than produce a new manuscript which everyone has been looking for, what you do is forge one we already have, switch it for the original, and sell on the stolen original to a wealthy collector.

If you have 50 letters by Elizabeth I in your library today and you have fifty tomorrow, it may take you years to notice that the fiftieth is actually a modern forgery of a letter, the authenticity of which has never been questioned. That’s the beauty of it: because the (once genuine) object seems never to have moved, the theft is not suspected.

Of course, what this needs is a black market: if I forge a letter by Elizabeth I and switch it, I need to rely on a collector who is happy to buy the stolen original and keep the whole business secret. Now, those Oxford house prices. Any takers? I genuinely can knock out quite a good facsimile of Shakespeare’s hand. Only took an afternoon to get the hand of his odd ‘h’s and ‘a’s.