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 Fraudulent Ink Backgrounds

[This is taken from David N. Carvalho's Forty Centuries of Ink, originally published in 1904.]


FIFTY years ago and long before the employment of the fugitive “anilines” for ink uses, and “wood pulp” as a material for paper, two French chemists, Chevallier and Lassiagne, published in the Journal de Chimie Medical, an article “On the Means to be Employed for Detecting and Rendering Perceptible Fraudulent Alterations in Public and Private Documents,” which as translated is valuable enough to quote in full:

“The numerous experiments which have been already tried at various times, have made known the processes which may frequently be put in practice for causing the reappearance of traces of writing effaced by chemical reactions, and for throwing light on the work of the guilty. But there are cases in which all the means proposed for this purpose fail, and then the criminal may escape justice from the want of conclusive material proofs. If, as has already been proved, it is not always possible to cause the reappearance of the effaced writing, for which written words have with a fraudulent intent been substituted, at least, as our experiments demonstrates, we may recognize, by some effects which are manifest on the surface of the altered paper, the places where the criminal act has been performed, circumscribe them by a simple chemical reaction visible to the least practiced eye, and even measure their extent. In a word, the visible alterations produced on a deed are susceptible, owing to the partial modifications which the surface of the paper has undergone, of being differently affected by certain chemical actions, and of being rendered visible. The following experiments, made in a judicial investigation, furnish us with the following facts:

“1st. The surface of paper sized in the ordinary way, or letter paper, no longer presents with certain reactions, the same uniformity where it has been either accidently moistened in several places by various liquids, or left in contact for a certain time with agents capable of removing or destroying the characters which have been traced on it with ink.

“2d. The application of a thin layer of gum, of starch, or farina, of gelatine, or fish-glue, with a view of sizing certain parts of the paper, or of causing certain bodies to adhere to it momentarily, is detected by an action similar to that which shows paper to have lately been wetted by the contact of liquids.

“3d. The heterogeneousness of the pulp of the papers, and the kind of size with which they are impregnated, lead to differences in the results which are observed with the same chemical reagents.  We shall now examine each of these propositions, and describe the means which we have employed in endeavoring to solve questions of so high a degree of interest.

“1st. The homogeneousness of sized paper not partially altered by the contact of liquids (water, alcohol, salt-water, vinegar, saliva, tears, urine, acid salts, and alkaline salts) is demonstrated by the uniform coloration which this surface takes on being exposed, if not wholly, at least in various parts, to the action of the vapor of iodine disengaged at the ordinary temperature from a flask containing a portion of the metalloid. When the surface of paper not stained by any of the above mentioned liquids is exposed to the action of this vapor for three or four minutes in a room the temperature of which is about 60 degrees F., a uniform yellowish, or light-brownish yellow, coloration is noticed on the whole extent exposed to the vapor of iodine; in the contrary case, the surface which has been moistened, and afterwards dried in the open air, is perfectly distinguished by a different and well circumscribed tint. On the papers into which paste starch and resin have been introduced, the stains present such delicate reactions that we may sometimes distinguish by their color the portion of paper which has been moistened with alcohol from that which has been moistened with water. The stain produced by alcohol takes a bistre-yellow tint; that formed by water is colored of a more or less deep violet blue, the desiccation having been effected at the ordinary temperature. For the stains occasioned on these same papers by other aqueous liquids, the tint, apart from its intensity, resembles that of the stains of pure water. The feeble or dilute acids act like water on the surface of the same paper containing starch in its paste; but the concentrated mineral acids, by altering more or less the substances which enter into the composition of the latter, give test to the stains which present differences. We are always able to recognize by the action of the vapor of iodine the parts of the paper which have been put in contact with chemical agents, the energy of which has been arrested by washing in cold water. We are able, on several ancient deeds, written on stamped paper, and a few words of which had been removed by us with chemical agents, to recognize the places where their action was exerted, to see and to measure the extent which they occupied on the surface of the paper.

“The testing of a paper with the vapor of iodine will present this double advantage over the methods hitherto practiced for detecting falsifications in writings, that it points out at once the place in the paper in which any alteration may be suspected, and that, on the other hand, it enables us to act afterwards with the reagents proper for causing the reappearance of the traces of ink, when that is possible. If the means which we now propose cannot always make the former writing appear, they demonstrate the places where the alterations must have been made, when, however, the want of uniformity presented by the surface of the paper is not explained by any circumstance.  This proof becomes, therefore, a weapon which the guilty person cannot avoid. But might not the presence of a stain, or several stains, developed by the vapor of iodine, in different parts of a public or private deed, give rise to a suspicion, where these stains have, perhaps, been occasioned by the spilling of some liquid on the surface of the paper?  and would it not be rash and unjust to raise an accusation from such a fact? There would indeed be great temerity in drawing such a conclusion from a fortuitous circumstance; but the inference which may be drawn from the place occupied by these stains on the surface of the paper, from the more or less significant words found in those places, would not permit an accusation to be so lightly brought, where simple reasoning would be sufficient to destroy its basis. Besides, the subsequent reactions which would be made would certainly never revive words formerly written and effaced; whilst the latter effects may be often produced, more or less visibly, on those parts of the paper on which falsification has been practiced, figures or words being substituted for other figures or words.

“2d. The applications made to the surface of a sheet of paper, with a view of covering it again at certain parts with a fine layer of gum, gelatine, starch or flour paste, or in other places to cause other sheets of paper to adhere, may be recognized not only by the reflection of light falling upon the paper inclined at a certain degree of obliquity, and by the transmission of light through the paper, but also by the varying action which the vapor of iodine exerts on the surface which is not homogeneous.  Papers containing starch and resin are more powerfully acted upon by this vapor than papers of a less complex composition. Both in the parts covered with starch, or paste flour, are colored in a few minutes of a violet blue; but with starched papers alone a more intense coloration is manifest on the places covered again with a thin layer of gum arabic, size or gelatine. By looking, then, on the surface of the paper, held somewhat obliquely to incidental light, we distinguish clearly, by their different aspects, the parts on which these various substances have been applied. The vapor of iodine, in condensing at the ordinary temperature on the surface of the papers to which any kind of size has been applied in various places, produces differences which are most commonly well recognized by the greater or less transparence of the paste of the paper.

3d. The heterogeneousness of the pulp of the various papers of commerce, and the nature of the size with which they are penetrated, cause differences, either in the coloration which the surface of these papers takes when exposed to the vapor of iodine, or in the tint which is manifested in the portions of the size deposited in certain portions of that surface; thus, papers with starched pulp generally turn brown, or blue, according to the amount of water that remains in their interstices; other papers turn yellow only under the influence of the vapor of iodine, and the parts which have received superficially a layer of another agglutinative body resist this action for a certain time, and are distinguished from the parts of the paper which are not covered with it.”

My own investigations confirm to a great extent the value of these experiments and the accuracy of the deductions, in so far as they relate to “linen” paper; but they do not always obtain when made in connection with paper of inferior grades.

It is also true that dry paper is affected differently under the influence of the vapor of iodine, as would be paper which had been moistened and then dried; but the part which had been moist assumes the color of blue-violet, while unaltered paper assumes a yellow-brown color. Even when the paper thus treated is moistened all over with water, there will be a difference, for those parts which had been before moistened, will appear a dark violet-blue, while the other parts will show a plain blue coloration.

In cases where pencil writing has been removed with a soft rubber or fresh bread, the parts thus erased will assume, when subjected to iodine fumes, a brown color trending towards violet and much darker than the undisturbed portions of the paper. Lines impressed upon paper with a “stylus,” a glass or ordinary dry pen, can be made visible by the fumes of iodine, the lines showing with a stronger coloration than the surrounding paper.





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