A Fortsas Hoax of 1840

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.


I love a good hoax, and this one seems particularly well done: essentially, Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, a historian, researched the sorts of books that Europe's most noted book collectors would find irresistible. He then made up a Count, Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas, who had a book collection of only one-of-a-kind books. If another was found of any book, the Count would burn it, insuring he held the only known copy. Each of the 52 books listed in the catalog was specifically designed to appeal to a particular collector.

The eager collectors were instructed to arrive in the Belgian town of Binche for the auction, where they were all roundly zinged. They all descended on the town, a long, difficult journey for many of them, only to find that the town had decided to buy the incredible collection for their library. Only none of the locals knew about the count, the books, or even their town having a library. All the noted collectors, many of whom bore heated rivalries with one another, had all been led on a wild goose chase, and were now crammed, fuming, in the local tavern. Eat it, mid 19th-century noted rare book collectors!

There's more details here as well, from a 1909 book of "literary curiosities."