Blog Posts

China: The Alice”™s Restaurant of Fake Collectible Coins

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception

Among many great discoveries that can be attributed to the Chinese is that Western consumers will buy shit if it”™s chocolate covered and packaged as an upscale brand. Our longtime fakes and frauds columnist W.J. Elvin takes a look at one little slice of the Chinese counterfeit market, collectible and rare coins, an area in which he dabbles with commercial and journalistic interest.


China: The Alice”™s Restaurant of Fake Collectible Coins
by W.J. Elvin III
July 28, 2011

Seems kind of weird for a Wag-the-Dog culture like ours to be getting all righteous with the Chinese over a bit of fakery.

I”™m talking about fake Apple stores in China, a scam so marvelously done that even some of the employees believed they were working for Apple.

Latest reports indicate those shops have been shut down. But, to give China its due, that story was just one little blip on the fake-o-rama radar.

Most fake stuff coming into the U.S. originates in China where, so we hear, not only factories — entire towns are devoted to producing counterfeit popular merchandise.

Those folks get down to it, even making money by making money.

How do you do that? (more…)

LiteratEye #49: Biff! Bam! Super-Journalist Takes On the Academics

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Here’s the forty-ninth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #49: Biff! Bam! Super-Journalist Takes On the Academics
By W.J. Elvin III
January 29, 2010

“I have never done any research that shows blondes are more aggressive, entitled, angry or ‘warlike’ than brunette or redheads.” Aaron Sell, Center for Evolutionary Psychology, in a letter to the Times of London.

You probably noticed the anti-British journalist rant posted on this site yesterday, provoked by the article referred to above. If not, it’s still available for your reading enjoyment.

The controversy has been getting a lot of play on sites catering to scholars such as Arts & Letters Daily as well as some more popular arenas like Defamer.

Thus far, though, no one seems to be standing up for British journalists. Until now, that is. Here in the LiteratEye bunker we’re taking a contrarian position on the matter. We declare British journalists to be the best and brightest in the business.

As I recall, old school British journalists could typically run circles around their American counterparts as news-getters and as entertaining writers. The few I’ve known as editors could no doubt have donned general’s uniforms and tidied up Afghanistan and Iraq in short order.

Their secret – and I’m speaking here of those I knew in the good old days — is that they understood and served reader interest. I’m sure they could have produced brilliant thumb-sucker think pieces or razor-sharp analysis of yet another boring issue. Or they could have written suck-up puff stories touting their intimate buddy-buddy relationships with the high and mighty. But, no, they wrote for the fellow who, over his morning coffee, would peek from behind the paper to say: “Jumpin’ cheeses, Alice, listen to this!” (more…)

LiteratEye #48: Newspaper Nostalgia: Biped Beavers, Libidinous Man-Bats on the Moon

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks

Here’s the forty-eighth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #48: Newspaper Nostalgia: Biped Beavers, Libidinous Man-Bats on the Moon
By W.J. Elvin III
January 22, 2010

beavers-200The New York Times, you may have noticed, plans to start charging for portions of its web content. One assumes the portions will be the those readers find most interesting.

So then patronage will fall off, and with fewer readers there will be fewer advertisers, and so on until we hear the death rattle of yet another newspaper. Well, in the case of the Times it probably won’t be quite that bad, but the Internet era has certainly seen the downsizing or demise of quite a few news publications.

How bad is it? MSN Money lists newspaper subscriptions among its top ten things not to buy in 2010, citing the popular alternatives.

Which is too bad, because newspapers and news magazines have been a great vehicle for the perpetuation of hoaxes. No doubt our host, Joey Skaggs, is indebted to more than a few for taking the bait. In my own forty years or so in the news business I noticed a fairly cavalier attitude toward great stories that seemed at least a little fishy: “Print first, ask questions later.”

In the good old days, before newspapers got all goody-goody ethical, editors and reporters were among the top pranksters.

The sport got up its steam back in the 1830s. That was when Richard Adams Locke, an English journalist serving as editor of The New York Sun, sprang what is regarded as the greatest newspaper hoax of all time. (more…)

LiteratEye #44: Disinformation: Did Jewish Author J.D. Salinger Really Marry a Nazi Official after World War II?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #44: Disinformation: Did Jewish Author J.D. Salinger Really Marry a Nazi Official after World War II?
By W.J. Elvin III
December 18, 2009

200px-JD_SalingerJ.D. Salinger, the quirky author of The Catcher in the Rye fame, slammed a door in the world’s face many long years ago. But he pops up now and then, mostly in the form of legal representatives, to whomp up on anyone invading his privacy.

Salinger is very much in the news these days due to his efforts to block publication of a “copycat” book.

There is another story, though, that hasn’t caught the attention of literary pundits in the U.S. – yet. It relates to an allegation in his daughter’s highly publicized “tell all” biography, Dream Catcher: A Memoir.

Just a bit of background: The Catcher in the Rye, as readers from Melbourne to Murmansk certainly know without it being said, is one of the most influential books of the last century.

Most survivors of the education mill of the ’60s and ’70s have probably read the book, either because it was required or because it was forbidden. Having sold 35 million copies, sales figures still run to 250,000 copies a year.

The book was denounced as a corrupter of youth. And, given certain sinister associations, maybe the tight-sphincter set was on to something in fearing its impact.

Among obsessive Catcher fans were John Hinckley, who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon.

But that’s another story, and so, back to the “Salinger married a Nazi” allegation. (more…)

LiteratEye #43: Oh, I wonder, wonder who, ummbadoo-ooh, who, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-third installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #43: Oh, I wonder, wonder who, ummbadoo-ooh, who, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?
By W.J. Elvin III
December 11, 2009

santa_record_broken-200Sure, some of us are nostalgic for ancient pagan winter rites like getting all painted up in blue for a sun worshipping cavort around a circle of huge boulders. Or those jolly pre-Christian customs like decorating trees with the intestines and various organs of one”™s enemies. But let”™s face it, the old-fashioned ways of celebrating year”™s end are pretty much out of favor with the mainstream.

All that old-fashioned revelry has been transposed into kinder, gentler Christmas. In fact — regardless of your position as participant, observer of some other tradition, or just as bystander — you probably see the reality of two Christmases operating side by side. There”™s the Christian religious celebration and then there”™s the giving and getting commercial holiday frenzy.

Well, we”™ll leave the religious rigmarole for someone else to tackle. Let”™s look at the evolution of the commercial frenzy. (more…)

LiteratEye #41 – Making a Killing in the Rare Book Business, Texas-Style

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-first installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #41 – Making a Killing in the Rare Book Business, Texas-Style
By W.J. Elvin III
November 27, 2009

scan0002-200Texans of the old-time cowboy mentality regard stunts like putting an unwary dude on the wildest bucking bronco they can find as just another darn good rip-snortin’ down-home prank.

And, in that vein, two high-rolling Texas book dealers in this story thought saddling the suckers with forged or stolen rarities was a real knee-slapper.

We’ll get to that but first a bit of background.

Forgery and theft are the two major crime concerns in the rare book business. It’s also a field where, as we shall see, one might just get away with murder.

While forgery is often encountered on the LiteratEye beat, theft also has elements of deception. When selling a stolen rare book the thief will predictably explain: “I found it in an attic.”

Book theft has long appealed to the pros because, for one thing, a small easily-concealed rare book may be worth thousands of dollars, and secondly, until recently book thefts were rarely treated as serious crimes. (more…)

LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fortieth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author
By W.J. Elvin III
November 20, 2009

pride, prejudice, zombies200It seems a sad thing that writers who keep on pumping out books after they are dead aren’t around to enjoy the benefits. Maybe there are literary awards passed out in heaven? “Best Book By A Recently-Deceased Author.”

I got to thinking about that after learning that mystery writer and outdoor expert William G. Tapply, who had become just plain “Bill” over the course of our correspondence last year, died recently. He left several books still to be published.

What that leads into is the issue of after-death publishing, not the posthumous publication of completed works as in Tapply’s case but works produced under an author’s name but actually involving other writers.

Sometimes such books are based on partially completed manuscripts, or even derived from ideas jotted on a cocktail napkin. If that.

The issue takes some odd turns. (more…)

LiteratEye #39: What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? Somebody Else.

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty ninth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #39: What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? Somebody Else.
By W.J. Elvin III
November 13, 2009

“My walk will be different, my talk and my name,
Nothing about me is going to be the same”¦”

-From the song lyric, There’ll Be Some Changes Made

12156_Grey-Owl-200There are different kinds of imposters in the field of literary deception. There’s the trickster, such as the false-memoirist in it for the bucks. And then there’s the true believer, the re-invented person who is really into a role.

Nasdijj is a trickster. He made claims but actually had no direct experience of the Navajo life he wrote about.

Grey Owl, on the other hand, surely had a trickster streak but he was far more the true believer. He was an English boy, Archie Belaney, who wanted to be an Indian. And eventually, in outward appearance and lifestyle, he became one.

If the imposter Nasdijj has any Indian defenders, I haven’t run across them. But certainly Grey Owl does. One of them is Armand Garnet Ruffo, author of Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney. The book is a prose poem that includes tales from Ruffo’s Ojibway relations.

Having read half a dozen accounts of Belany/Grey Owl’s life, I find the “facts” vary from one biographer to the next. Then there’s his own autobiography and other writings, which have to be taken with a pillar of salt. (more…)

LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty eighth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark
By W.J. Elvin III
November 6, 2009

There are a great many mysteries in the field of literary deception.

amberwitch-200So it is always a pleasure to learn of a new book that may shed light.

Having seen advance reviews some time ago in the British Press, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Melissa Katsoulis’ Literary Hoaxes.

Well, it’s a grand overview, a nice line-up of the usual suspects, but I’m less than delighted. Hoaxes raises many more questions than it answers, most of the questions resulting from a failure to source the tales therein.

How is it Katsoulis knows so much about William Henry Ireland, the young Shakespeare forger of the late 1700s?

Who told Katsoulis that the American Indian imposter Grey Owl was once recognized through his feathers by his very British aunts, who decided to keep their observation a secret?

And what assurance do we have that the author has her facts straight regarding Pierre Plantard’s part in creating the hoax behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

And so on, and on.

The book has no citations, no bibliography. No index, though the table of contents serves the purpose in a basic way. There just aren’t many signposts to guide those who might want to know more about any given topic. (more…)

LiteratEye #36- Memo to New Age Native American Wannabes: Maybe It”™s Time for a Brain Dance

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, The Big One

Here’s the thirty sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #36- Memo to New Age Native American Wannabes: Maybe It”™s Time for a Brain Dance
By W.J. Elvin III
October 23, 2009

LL009-200Who wouldn”™t want to pop $9,695 for the opportunity to starve for a couple of days and then sit in a steamy, almost unbearably hot box for hours and hours with 50 or so other eager seekers hoping to obtain the secret to enormous wealth?

Mighty compelling. But unfortunately it recently meant death for three participants and dire illness for 18 others. The verdict isn”™t in as to the exact cause but apparently the tragedy resulted from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest and elevated body temperature.

The seekers were participating in a “sweat lodge” ritual under the direction of James Arthur Ray, author of Practical Spirituality: How to Use Spiritual Power to Create Tangible Results, and many other similar books.

The charismatic Ray, like many others who might be termed New Age gurus, bases his promises of wealth, healing and/or special powers on a concoction distilled from the mystical beliefs of many cultures. The sweat lodge, at least this particular version, is borrowed from a Native American cleansing ritual.

These New Age gurus are messing with practices that the – what, “Old Age” – cultures have maybe thousands of years experience in administering. Many of the groups that hold the rituals sacred not only resent the “theft of culture” but for many years now have been warning of horrific dangers awaiting novice practitioners. (more…)

LiteratEye #34: Between the Covers: What”™s It Like to Be in a Book?

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Here’s the thirty fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #34: Between the Covers: What”™s It Like to Be in a Book?
By W.J. Elvin III
October 9, 2009

FOUR-190Once upon a time it was something of a rarity to appear personally in print, or even to know someone who”™d been written about.

Today, it”™s routine to be mentioned in someone”™s blog, or, failing that, to spend five minutes launching a blog and filling it with “me, me, me.”

But it”™s still a bit extraordinary to be in a book unless one has achieved celebrity or notoriety. When it happens to ordinary folk, the experience may come as a welcome surprise or a humiliating shock.

Certainly a book could be written covering all the lawsuits that have resulted from unwelcome attention of that sort.https://artoftheprank.com/blog/wp-admin/index.php?page=stats

For me, a career in the news business has meant frequently writing about others and rarely being written about myself.

I was, for many years, a Washington “insider” columnist and feature writer.

I”™ve often run across books mentioning intrigues, scandals and skullduggery that I”™d unearthed or expanded upon.

But that”™s not the same as actually being named and perhaps profiled. (more…)

LiteratEye #32: Pranks With a Novel Twist — An Interview with Elusive Wu Ming

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters

Here’s the thirty second installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #32: Pranks With a Novel Twist — An Interview with Elusive Wu Ming
By W.J. Elvin III
September 25, 2009

band0-200The counter-cultural creative arts collective Wu Ming, based in Italy, evolved out of the madcap Luther Blissett phenomenon (see LiteratEye #15).

Blissett scattered into a million little pieces, becoming an incredible world-wide prank epidemic. For a time it seemed everyone was doing bizarre creative “actions” and attributing them to Blissett.

Then some members of the group that launched the Blissett project morphed into Wu Ming.

Apparently they are now four culturally revolutionary Italian novelists cranking out very popular books.

Being anonymous – the name means “no name” in Mandarin – they are only identified by number, Wu Ming1 through Wu Ming5.

Right. And we just said there are four of them. Well, one of them must have dropped out. Or something. (more…)

LiteratEye #31: Poe”™s Poems Were Hoaxers Focus

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty first installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #31: Poe”™s Poems Were Hoaxers Focus
By W.J. Elvin III
September 18, 2009

2h88h2v.pg-200A master of macabre prose and poetry, Edgar Allan Poe”™s greatest masterpiece was undoubtedly himself. Fate had its cruel influence, but to a great extent he authored his own construction and destruction.

You might ask: “Isn”™t that true of all of us?” Probably so, to some degree.

But the little lies and exaggerations we construct about ourselves aren”™t likely any match for the mystifications of a man whose life remains a weird puzzle despite study by hundreds of researchers and scholars.

Poe”™s life and work have been very much in the spotlight this year. Events continue in his primary haunts – Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City – and throughout the nation and the world, in honor of his 200th birthday.

If you haven”™t participated, there”™s still time to take part in remembrances. Who knows what you might learn, about Poe or about yourself.

Poe walked in the psyche”™s darkness as easily as most of us walk in broad daylight. And he brought back tales putting a name and words to what we find inexpressible. Or at least that was so in his day. Today the reader probably thinks, “Yep, saw that last week on Warehouse Thirteen.” (The spooky sci-fi series did in fact incorporate Poe into a recent episode).

But then again, he probably didn”™t have anything therapeutic in mind. As portrayed by some students of his life and work, Poe may well have been a diabolical, disdainful and drug-addled trickster who delighted in tormenting his readers. (more…)

LiteratEye #30: Can Holden Caulfield Come Out and Play? You”™ll Have to Ask the Judge

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues

Here’s the thirtieth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #30: Can Holden Caulfield Come Out and Play? You”™ll Have to Ask the Judge
By W.J. Elvin III
September 4, 2009

salingercatcher-200J.D. Salinger has been hiding out in the woods for the past fifty years or so, rarely heard from except when disputes have drawn him into legal battles. As has been widely reported, one such battle is going on right now, that being his suit against Fredrik Colting, a Swedish author.

There”™s no need to trouble you with a lot of detail since it”™s been in the news. The problem is Colting”™s new book, 60 Years Later.

You have to go to Amazon UK to have a look at the “sequel” to Salinger”™s Catcher in the Rye, since the courts have thus far blocked publication in the U.S..

Salinger”™s reclusive nature has sparked considerable media curiosity over the years. What”™s up with that guy? Most likely Salinger, now 90, simply had enough of life in the hustling, bustling outside world in his youth. Some of us, so it seems, just aren”™t wired for playing hardball in the fast lane. (more…)

LiteratEye #29: Kidnapped by Slavers! Abducted and Tortured by Wild Savages! Worse Yet, Branded a ‘Reckless Liar’!

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters, Urban Legends

Here’s the twenty ninth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #29: Kidnapped by Slavers! Abducted and Tortured by Wild Savages! Worse Yet, Branded a ‘Reckless Liar’!
By W.J. Elvin III
September 4, 2009

Indian Peter-200Let’s say you had to choose, which would it be:

Abducted off the streets as a child, cast into the dingy hold of a sailing ship and, when it got filled with other unfortunates like yourself, carried off to a foreign land to be sold into slavery “¦ or “¦ captured by merciless wild Indians, witness to the brutal slaughter of numerous of your own people – men, women and children, and cruelly tortured for the mocking amusement of your captors?

Well, if you happen to be as lucky as Peter Williamson of Aberdeen, Scotland, back in the mid-1700s, you could have all that, plus a few other horrors and terrors for good measure.

Williamson, known later in life as “Indian Peter,” made the best of it. He wrote a book that sold well in his own day and remains an oft-quoted classic among tales of Indian captivity.

It’s quite the yarn, as some of the chapter headings indicate: (more…)