Shocking discovery: Galileo's letter turned out to be a fake

Shocking discovery: Galileo's letter turned out to be a fake

The University of Michigan has announced that a handwritten document allegedly written by Galileo Galilei about the discovery of Jupiter's four moons is actually a forgery.

Shocking discovery: Galileo's letter turned out to be a fake

According to the published According to the library, the single piece of paper was the crown jewel of the University of Michigan library collection.

Reported by Live Science.

But an internal investigation by a history professor found it to be a fake: the watermarks on the paper date from no earlier than the 18th century, more than 100 years after the death of the famous astronomer.

“It was quite agonizing when we first learned that our Galileo is not really a Galileo,” said Donna L. Hayward, Acting Dean of Michigan Libraries.

The university has held the manuscript since 1938, when it was donated by trustees to Tracy McGregor, a Detroit businessman who purchased the document at another collector's auction in 1934. A 1934 auction catalog claimed that Cardinal Pietro Maffi (1858-1931), Archbishop of Pisa, authenticated the manuscript by comparing it with other Galileo letters in his collection.


When Nick Wilding, a Georgia State University historian, saw the image of the document, he suspected something was wrong. The ink, handwriting and some of the words seemed strange for a 17th century document. In May 2022, Wilding emailed University of Michigan Library curator Pablo Alvarez with his concerns, and the University of Michigan launched an internal investigation.

Three months later, the university announced that Wilding was right. The document was not written by Galileo, but most likely by Tobia Nicotra, a prolific Italian counterfeiter active in the 1920s and 1930s. Confirmation of the conclusion was a watermark on paper. According to the University of Michigan Library, old paper often contains watermarks identifying the paper's maker and place of manufacture.

The watermark on Galileo paper reads “AS ' are the initials of the paper manufacturer and 'BMO' is short for Bergamo, Italy. The earliest known documents bearing the BMO monogram date back to 1770, which means that the document cannot be older.

Moreover, the university has been unable to find evidence that Galileo's document existed before the 1930s. Worse, two documents that Muffey claims he compared the manuscript to to verify its authenticity turned out to be Nicotra forgeries.

According to the university, Wilding also found a similar forgery of Galileo's Nicotra (a letter believed to be from 1607) in collections at the Morgan Library in New York.

The University of Michigan Library is currently revisiting the way the Galileo document is presented. It is possible that the hoax itself can become a lesson.