Dead Men Tell Tales
Front row: Sundance on the left, Cassidy on the right
In fact they won’t shut up and apparently also do not die. Lest you assume from the headline that death has been conquered the answer in one particular case is alleged to be stayed but not stopped. For those who have seen Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you may remember that the story ends without confirming these men’s deaths. It looked to be a matter of poetic license that in fact has turned out to be prophetic according to a keen-eyed collector in Utah who has announced he has Mr. Cassidy’s personal account of his depredations – dated 1934. The news in MacArthur like terms is – old robbers never die, they just fade away slowly.
Mr. Cassidy is thought to have died of lead poisoning in a shootout in Bolivia in 1908. As luck would have it a keen-eyed collector acquired a post-death account of Mr. Cassidy he is now convinced is Mr. Cassidy’s thinly veiled autobiography. First person post death accounts are rare. Lincoln is said to have appeared to his wife after he died but he was a piker by comparison for he didn’t give her even a single scrap of paper with his post–death signature. However, what he was unable to do himself others later did for him - creating a growing body of signed documents that are projected in time to total a million or more. Were they all in his hand he would have died of exhaustion long before Booth shot him. European artists, Dali, Picasso, Klee and Matisse have been similarly honored. Forgers, apparently believing they could divine artist intentions sought to increase supply après la morte works. Such items are in fact signed homages, that is, signed by forger on behalf of the artist. That such works are mistaken for the real thing cannot be attributed to a desire for fame on the part of forgers because they never disclose their involvement. They are not only skilled, they are shy.
Dead Men Tell Tales
That European art lovers may engage in such activities is understandable as there is no other way to satisfy the market’s craving for original works of art when the material is in short supply. From this recognition it’s just a short step to “I’ll get you one,” particularly when the style is that of an 8 year old and we have children to feed. In any event a minor inflation of the artist’s production is simply good business. In those cases however where the number of copies exceeds the number of originals [as is said to sometimes be the case] it suggests that homagers were better artists than accountants.
Americans of course have higher standards. They will not be hornswoggled into paying thousands of dollars, francs or Euros for questionable material. They prefer to buy theirs online for $150.
Books have also been subject to the sincerest form of flattery. Thomas J. Wise produced flattering if fake works of 19th century poets, and traded them with avid collectors for real examples.
And then there is Daniel G. Brinton’s 1859 “Notes on the Floridian Peninsula” that contains the limitation “100 copies” of which it has been said “500 are known.”
There are of course, for those with greater ambitions, the various shrouds said to have been wrapped around Jesus. I’m waiting to hear that Butch Cassidy was also wrapped in the Shroud of Turin. It’s only a matter of time.
It may turn out that Butch Cassidy did escape to live an innocuous life for another thirty years and that, with the approaching final curtain, wished to discretely almost bare his soul.
In support of this his sister has claimed she saw him in 1925 in or near Spokane. But she also said the controversial manuscript was written by a friend. For the new manuscript owners this must be very disappointing; to get both confirmation and rejection in a single sentence. The rub with the manuscript is that the writer never admits he’s Butch. That’s left to the reader to decide to agree. For the owners to gloss over inconvenient facts and seize upon those that affirm the most optimistic perspective is understandable. Whether it is true is the subject of debate..
Dead Men Tell Tales
Dan Buck, a Cassidy historian, is quoted in the LA Times recently as having this to say:
“Total horse pucky. It doesn’t bear a great deal of relationship to Butch Cassidy’s real life, or Butch Cassidy’s life as we know it.”
The story apparently does not closely reflect substantiated events, a fact explained by the manuscript’s owners as Cassidy writing a fictionalized account of his life."
In the book business we see this every day. Old books and other things generally are subject to grade inflation. A miserable copy is a fair copy; the fair copy is a good copy, the good copy an outstanding one, the outstanding copy “the finest I have seen in 50 years in the trade.” And then of course there is the first person account written 30 years after the writer’s death, the true black tulip, the one that defies memory and science. “You have to see it to believe it.”
The book business is the awkward combination of emotion and logic. Logic should always win and rarely does because where there are books there is often unjustified hope. In this case I hope to hear the resolution of this case in the next year or so. If the story is true the account will parade through the rooms at Sotheby’s or Christie's with all the pomp of Napoleon entering Notre Dame and then be sold for countless millions. Or, the piece will become an interesting artifact and like Custer’s hair disappear but be whispered about in bedtime stories for generations to come.
LA Times article on this subject.