The false making or material alteration with the intent to defraud of any apparently legally significant writing.


Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition

FORGERY (derived through the French from Latin fabricare, to construct), in English law, “the fraudulent making or alteration of a writing to the prejudice of another man’s right,” or “the false making, or making malo animo, of any written instrument for the purpose of fraud or deceit.” This definition, it will be seen, comprehends all fraudulent tampering with documents. “Not only the fabrication and false making of the whole of a written instrument, but a fraudulent insertion, alteration or erasure, even of a letter, in any material part of a true instrument whereby a new operation is given to it, will amount to forgery,—and this though it be afterwards executed by another person ignorant of the deceit” (Russell on Crimes and Misdemeanours, vol. ii.). Changing the word Dale into Sale in a lease, so that it appears to be a lease of the manor of Sale instead of the manor of Dale, is a forgery. And when a country banker’s note was made payable at the house of a banker in London who failed, it was held to be forgery to alter the name of such London banker to that of another London banker with whom the country banker had subsequently made his notes payable. As to the fraud, “an intent to defraud is presumed to exist if it appears that at the time when the false document was made there was in existence a specific person, ascertained or unascertained, capable of being defrauded thereby; and this presumption is not rebutted by proof that the offender took or intended to take measures to prevent such person from being defrauded in fact, nor by the fact that he had or thought he had a right to the thing to be obtained by the false document” (Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law). Thus when a man makes a false acceptance to a bill of exchange, and circulates it, intending to take it up and actually taking it up before it is presented for payment, he is guilty of forgery. Even if it be proved as a matter of fact that no person could be defrauded (as when A forges a cheque in B’s name on a bank from which B had withdrawn his account), the intent to defraud will be presumed. But it would appear that if A knew that B had withdrawn his account, the absence of fraudulent intention would be inferred. A general intention to cheat the public is not the kind of fraud necessary to constitute forgery. Thus if a quack forges a diploma of the college of surgeons, in order to make people believe that he is a member of that body, he is not guilty of forgery.

The crime of forgery in English law has been from time to time dealt with in an enormous number of statutes. It was first made a statutory offence in 1562, and was punishable by fine, by standing in the pillory, having both ears cut off, the nostrils slit up and seared, the forfeiture of land and perpetual imprisonment. It was made capital, without benefit of clergy in 1634. The most notable cases of those who have suffered the extreme penalty of the law are those of the Rev. Dr W. Dodd in 1777, for forging Lord Chesterfield’s name on a bond, and Henry Fauntleroy, a partner in the banking-house of Marsh, Sibbald & Co., for the appropriation by means of forged instruments of money entrusted to the bank, in 1824. “Anthony Hammond, in the title Forgery of his Criminal Code, has enumerated more than 400 statutes which contain provisions against the offence” (Sir J.T. Coleridge’s notes to Blackstone). Blackstone notices the increasing severity of the legislature against forgery, and says that “through the number of these general and special provisions there is now hardly a case possible to be conceived wherein forgery that tends to defraud, whether in the name of a real or fictitious person, is not made a capital crime.” These acts were consolidated in 1830. The later 663statutes, fixing penalties from penal servitude for life downwards, were consolidated by the Forgery Act 1861. It would take too much space to enumerate all the varieties of the offence with their appropriate punishments. The following condensed summary is based upon chapter xlv. of Sir J. Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law:

1. Forgeries punishable with penal servitude for life as a maximum are—

(a) Forgeries of the great seal, privy seal, &c.

(b) Forgeries of transfers of stock, India bonds, exchequer bills, bank-notes, deeds, wills, bills of exchange, &c.

(c) Obliterations or alterations of crossing on a cheque.

(d) Forgeries of registers of birth, &c., or of copies thereof and others.

2. Forgeries punishable with fourteen years’ penal servitude are—

(a) Forgeries of debentures.

(b) Forgeries of documents relating to the registering of deeds, &c.

(c) Forgeries of instruments purporting to be made by the accountant general and other officers of the court of chancery, &c.

(d) Drawing bill of exchange, &c., on account of another, per procuration or otherwise, without authority.

(e) Obtaining property by means of a forged instrument, knowing it to be forged, or by probate obtained on a forged will, false oath, &c.

3. Forgeries punishable with seven years’ penal servitude:—Forgeries of seals of courts, of the process of courts, of certificates, and of documents to be used in evidence, &c.

By the Merchandise Marks Acts 1887 and 1891, forgery of trade marks is an offence punishable on conviction by indictment with imprisonment not exceeding two years or to fine, or both, and on conviction by summary proceedings with imprisonment not exceeding four months or with a fine.

The Forged Transfers Act 1891, made retrospective by the Forged Transfers Act 1892, enables companies and local authorities to make compensation by a cash payment out of their funds for any loss arising from a transfer of their stocks, shares or securities through a forged transfer.

United States.—Forgery is made a crime by statute in most if not all the states, in addition to being a common law cheat. These statutes have much enlarged the common definition of this crime. It is also made a crime by a Federal statute (U.S. Rev. Stat., ch. 5), which includes forgery of national banknotes, letters patent, public bid, record, signature of a judge, land warrants, powers of attorney, ships’ papers or custom-house documents, certificates of naturalization, &c.; the punishment is by fine or by imprisonment from one to fifteen years with or without hard labour.

In Illinois, fraudulently connecting together different parts of several banknotes or other genuine instruments so as to produce one additional note or instrument with intent to pass all as genuine, is a forgery of each of them (Rev. Stats. 1901, ch. 38, § 108). The alleged instrument must be apparently capable of defrauding (Goodman v. People [1907], 228, Ill. 154).

In Massachusetts, forgery of any note, certificate or bill of credit issued by the state treasurer and receiver general, or by any other officer, for a debt of that commonwealth, or a bank bill of any bank, is punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years (Rev. Laws 1902, ch. 209, §§ 4 and 5).

In New York, forgery includes the false making, counterfeiting, alteration, erasure or obliteration of a genuine instrument (Penal Code, § 520). An officer or agent of a corporation who with intent to defraud sells, pledges or issues a fraudulent scrip, share certificate, is guilty of forgery in third degree. Falsely making any instrument which purports to be issued by a corporation bearing a pretended signature of a person falsely indicated as an officer of the company, is forgery just as if such person were in truth such officer (id. § 519). Counterfeiting railroad tickets is forgery in the third degree. Falsely certifying that the execution of a deed has been acknowledged is forgery (id. § 511). So also is the forging a fictitious name (People v. Browne [1907], 103 N.Y. suppl. 903). Punishment for forgery in the first degree may be twenty years, in the second degree ten years, in the third degree five years.

In Pennsylvania, fraudulently making, signing, altering, uttering or publishing any written instrument other than bank bills, cheques or drafts, was punishable by fine and imprisonment “by separate or solitary confinement at labour for a term not exceeding ten years” (L. 1860, March 31); forging bank bills, &c., for a term not exceeding five years. Defacing, removing, or counterfeiting brands from lumber floating in any river is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine (L. 1887, May 23). Fraudulently using the registered mark of another on lumber is punishable by fine or imprisonment by solitary confinement for a term not exceeding three years (id.).

In Tennessee, forgery may be committed by typewriting the body of and signature to an instrument which may be the subject of forgery (1906; State v. Bradley, 116 Tenn. 711).

In Vermont, the act of 1904, p. 135, no. 115, § 24, authorizes licensees to sell intoxicating liquors only on the written prescription of a legally qualified physician stating that it “is given and necessary for medicinal use.” It was held that a prescription containing no such statement was invalid and the alteration thereof was not forgery (1906; State v. McManus, 78 St. 433).

Authorities.—Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law; Stephen, Digest of Criminal Law; History of Criminal Law; L.O. Pike, History of Crime in England, 1873-1876; Russell, On Crimes; Archbold, Criminal Pleadings.


 WordNet 3.6

  • (n) forgery criminal falsification by making or altering an instrument with intent to defraud
  • (n) forgery a copy that is represented as the original

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary

  • Forgery That which is forged, fabricated, falsely devised, or counterfeited.“These are the forgeries of jealously.”“The writings going under the name of Aristobulus were a forgery of the second century.”
  • Forgery The act of forging metal into shape.“Useless the forgery Of brazen shield and spear.”
  • Forgery The act of forging, fabricating, or producing falsely; esp., the crime of fraudulently making or altering a writing or signature purporting to be made by another; the false making or material alteration of or addition to a written instrument for the purpose of deceit and fraud; as, the forgery of a bond.

Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • (n) forgery The act of forging or working metal into shape.
  • (n) forgery Invention; devising.
  • (n) forgery The act of fabricating or producing falsely; the making of a thing in imitation of another thing, as a legal document, commercial paper or coin, a literary production, a work of art, a natural object, etc., with a view to deceive, mislead, or defraud; specifically, the act of fraudulently making, counterfeiting, or altering any record, instrument, register, note, or the like, to the prejudice of the right of another: as, the forgery of a check or a bond. In criminal law It denotes (at common law) a false making of any instrument by which one person can become obligated to another (including every alteration of or addition to a true instrument), with criminal intent, for purposes of fraud and deceit; the making or altering a writing so as to make the alteration or the writing purport to be the act of some person whose act it is not; the false making of an instrument which purports to be that which it is not, as distinguished from an instrument which purports to be what it really is, but contains false statements. The definition is much enlarged by various statutes in different jurisdictions, under which many acts not originally forgery are punishable as such. See counterfeit, n., 2.
  • (n) forgery That which is forged, fabricated, falsely or fraudulently devised, or counterfeited; any instrument which fraudulently purports to be that which it is not.