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The Fortsas Hoax

Catalogue d'une très-rich mais peu nombreuse collection In the summer of 1840, booksellers and collectors throughout Europe received a catalog describing a remarkable book collection which would shortly be sold at auction in a sale to be held on August 10, 1840, in Binche, a small town in the southwest of Belgium. The library of the late, and hitherto-unknown Count Forstas was unique in the annals of book collecting: it consisted entirely of books of which he held the only known copies. If the Count learned of the existence of even one other copy of a book in his collection, that title was immediately purged from his library. At the time of the Count's alleged death in 1839 at the age of sixty-nine, his library numbered fifty-two volumes, all unique copies, and all books which collectors would go to great lengths to possess.

As the date of the auction drew near, bibliophiles from all over Europe descended upon Binche and quickly sought out the offices of Mâitre Mourlon, notary, 9 rue de l'Église, where the historic sale was scheduled to take place. When they attempted to locate the offices of Mâitre Mourlon, however, they could discover no one among the residents of Binche who knew that individual. They also learned that Binche had no street by the name of rue de l'Église and the late Count himself was unknown to the townspeople.

The frustrated bibliophiles then discovered, via a broadside which suddenly appeared, that the library of the late Count Forstas would not be auctioned off after all because the town of Binche had acquired the entire collection for its public library. But when the disappointed bibliophiles tried to view the books in their new home, they learned that Binche did not even have a public library. It now became clear to the would-be buyers that they were the victims of a hoax and they left Binche, empty-handed. Eventually they learned the hoax had been planned and executed by Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, a retired military officer, who was renowned for his elaborate practical jokes.

The Fortsas Hoax has remained a favorite of bibliophiles since its inception. Following the publication of the scarce first edition in August 1840, there were at least four separate editions printed during the nineteenth century and there have been a number of twentieth-century private press editions. The combination of elaborate hoax, insider bibliophilic humor, and a bibliographic puzzle with the catalog itself has helped stimulate a lasting interest in the Fortsas hoax.

Catalogue d'une très-rich mais peu nombreuse collection Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, 1802-1889.
Catalogue d'une très-riche mais peu nombreuse collection de livres provenant de la bibliothèque de feu M.r le comte J.- N.-A. de Forstas. Mons: Typographie d'Em. Hoyois, Libraire, [1840].

This copy of the scarce first edition of the Fortsas Catalogue contains the following autograph note in an unidentified hand on the title page: "Ce catalogue d'une bibliothèque qui n'a jamais existé est une curieuse mystification de M.r Chalon, membre de la société de bibliophile de Mons."

Documents et particularités historiques sur le catalogue du comte de Fortsas; par Emm. Hoyois. Mons: Emm. Hoyois, [1857].

In this work Emmanuel Hoyois, the printer of the original Catalogue, chronicles the history of the hoax with supporting documents such as reprints of original newspaper articles and letters from the bibliophiles who had inquired about the auction or even placed bids.

second edition of the Catalogue Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, 1802-1889.
Catalogue d'une très-riche mais peu nombreuse collection de livres provenant de la bibliotheque de feu Mr. le comte J.-N.-A. de Forstas. Deuxieme Édition. Bruxelles: G.A. van Trigt, [1863].

This second edition of the Catalogue is alleged to have been the only reprint authorized by Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon.

Walter Klinefelter, b. 1899.
The Fortsas Bibliohoax; with a reprint of the Fortsas Catalogue and bibliographical notes and comment by Weber DeVore. New York: Press of the Woolly Whale, 1942.

Klinefelter provides the most useful historical summary of the Fortsas hoax to date. The book also contains the most authoritative bibliography of the various editions of the Fortsas Catalogue. The Fortsas Bibliohoax also reprints the original Catalogue with English translations of the descriptions.

The Fortsas Catalogue: a Facsimile

Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, 1802-1889.
The Fortsas Catalogue: a Facsimile, with an introduction by Lessing J. Rosenwald. North Hills, Pa.: Printed for the Philobiblon Club, Bird & Bull Press, 1970.

This fine-press printing of the Fortsas Catalogue includes an historical introduction by the great American bibliophile Lessing J. Rosenwald.

Psalmanazar Macpherson Chatterton
Ireland Index Collier
Prokosch Hoaxes

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