AE Monthly

Articles - March - 2005 Issue

Exhibit Recognizes Francis Drake, First Englishman to See California

Noimage

none


Note on Drake's brass plate: It has been described as a joke that "got out of hand." Evidently a small band of eminent historians and practical jokers in the San Francisco area in the 1930s hatched a plan to create a fake of the plaque Sir Francis Drake said he left behind while conducting repairs on his ship somewhere along the Pacific coast. They fashioned the plate from brass, carved in words they imagined Drake might have written, dug out a hole where Drake said he inserted a coin, used fire and dirt to "age" it, and left it in the San Francisco hills. It would be found by a local resident who would bring it to Professor Herbert Bolton, who was then Director of the Bancroft Library. Bolton, perhaps wanting too much to believe it was real (he had long been on the lookout for this plate), fell completely for the ruse. He would pronounce it authentic, and raise $3,500 to buy the plate. By this point, the ruse was clearly out of hand. Its perpetrators would throw hints of the fakery out along the way, but Bolton and others who wanted to believe would ignore them. Too much was now invested in the "authenticity" for any of the conspirators to dare come forward and publicly acknowledge what they had done.

Ironically, the mystery behind the plate would also surround those who created it. It would be forty years after the plate's discovery that Bolton's successors at the Bancroft would have the plate re-examined using the latest metallurgical techniques. It was confirmed that the plate was, indeed, a fake. By then, all in the small group of middle-aged pranksters from the 1930s would be long gone. For years, it was generally believed that a historical fraternity known as E Clampus Vitus had perpetrated the fraud. Fluorescent paint on the back with the initials ECV pointed a long finger toward this group (did people once believe that Drake had used fluorescent paint?). However, a more recent investigation has named four specific long deceased individuals, only one a "Clamper," as those responsible. Still, not even this is absolutely certain, so the definitive explanation of who faked the plate, like the whereabouts of the real plate and Drake's bay, may still be uncertain. Here is a link to the University of California Berkeley website with a 2003 article on the latest explanation as to who was responsible for the fake plate:
www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/02/18_drake.html

AE Monthly


Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions