You know how collectors should always do their research before buying or selling? We now know there’s a second rule of thumb: always follow your gut feelings. Recently, a researcher writing a book about Galileo decided to follow his “spidey” sense about an authenticated Galileo manuscript. He thought it odd that the manuscript, owned by the University of Michigan Library since 1938, was written in the same brown ink, when it was supposedly written on two different occasions. And it turns out, he was right to question it. It appears the Galileo manuscript, which had been authenticated by several experts in the last 90 years, is the work of a 20th-century forger.

For decades the University of Michigan Library owned a 1610 manuscript related to the discovery of a sun-centered solar system. At the top is the draft of a letter signed by Galileo describing the new telescope, and on the bottom are sketches plotting the positions of the moons around Jupiter — “the first observational data that showed objects orbiting a body other than the earth,” the library described it.

Nick Wilding, a historian at Georgia State University, uncovered evidence with the paper and watermarks suggesting the manuscript was a fake. The library investigated and determined that he was right. Wilding, who is writing a biography of Galileo, has uncovered forged Galileo works before. He previously found evidence that a copy of Galileo’s 1610 treatise “Sidereus Nuncius” (“Starry Messenger”), with several watercolors, was a fake. He became suspicious of the Michigan manuscript in May while examining an online image of it. Some of the letter forms and word choices seemed strange to him, and even though the top and bottom were supposedly written months apart, the ink seemed remarkably similar.

The moral of the story for collectors is that sometimes, even experts can get it wrong.

galileo manuscript document 20th century forgery

Photo: University of Michigan Library (via


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