Book from a forger’s library

A recent visitor to our reading room examined the Library’s copies of two different issues of Robert Southey’s Poems printed in 1797 by Nathaniel Biggs for the booksellers Joseph Cottle of Bristol and G.G. and J. Robinson of London. The first of these, held within the Sterling Library, is the only copy recorded on the English Short Title Catalogue in the British Isles. The second was revealed to have an interesting provenance. A note at the front of the volume reads: ‘Purchased at Hampton Lodge Brighton at the sale of the effects of Henry Fauntleroy who was executed for a series of the most extensive and astonishing forgeries in the year 1824. Presented to the Honble Mrs Thomas by her most respectful and sincere friend E.C., Seaford, March 3rd 1825.’ While the identity of ‘Mrs Thomas’ and her Seaford-based benefactor ‘E.C.’ are unknown, Henry Fauntleroy (1784-1824) was a notorious banker and forger.

Fauntleroy joined the London banking house of Marsh, Sibbald & Co. in 1800, becoming a partner and living a fast life pursuing expensive mistresses and properties. When his bank faced collapse following large advances to speculative builders, Fauntleroy appropriated trust moneys and securities deposited by customers, forging powers of attorney. Living ‘in terrible suspense, daily expecting his crimes to be discovered’ (ODNB) he was arrested in September 1824 and tried at the Old Bailey. Convicted and sentenced to death, he was hanged on 30 November outside Newgate prison before a crowd estimated at 100,000.

Several printed contemporary accounts of Fauntleroy’s trial can be found in the Library, including that by Pierce Egan, and the Archives contain papers relating to his banking house (MS676). Massive frauds such as Fauntleroy’s influenced the reforms imposed by the 1826 Banking Act, and he was subsequently fictionalised in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Disowned and G.W.M. Reynolds’s Mystery of the Court of London.

While our Southey was acquired at an earlier sale of Fauntleroy’s effects, the bulk of his ‘very valuable library’ containing ‘a brilliant assemblage of illustrated works in English history, books of prints, &c.’ was sold by Sotheby in London in April 1825.

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