In LDS circles, Mark Hofmann is most well-known for the Salamander Letter, a forgery that threatened the founding stories of the LDS Church. What gets lost on the conversation is an even more audacious forgery, Oath of a Freeman. In 1985, Mark Hofmann attempted a Million-dollar con. Shannon Flynn describes this document.
It is the first known printed document in what is now the United States of America. A printing press was brought from England over to America, and it was operated by a guy named Stephen Crane. He was the first professional printing press printer in the United States. The first item that he printed was a single sheet of paper called the Oath of a Freeman. The fourth one is actually known, and there are copies available, and it is called Bay Psalm Book.
The Oath of a Freeman is very interesting because what it does is it was printed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony and it is a way for the people that were participating in that Massachusetts Bay Colony that religious organization to essentially sign an oath of fidelity to the new group, and say I’m here, and I’m part of this group. It starts out, “I,” and then the letters “ab,” which are supposed to be for your name, and you say, “I will follow the rules of the group.” I’m just paraphrasing it. You can find it and read it. The interesting part was it said nothing about England. So it turns out in a strange way, it is the first seed of revolution.
Shannon describes how Mark made the document, planted it, and then tried to sell it to the Library of Congress for $1.5 million documents. It was the most expensive document at the time, although the LDS Church just purchased the Printer’s Manuscript from the Community of Christ for $35 million. Don’t forget to learn how he started forging coins to this audacious forgery. Check out our conversation…
In our last conversation, Shannon Flynn told us that Mark Hofmann started forging coins as a teen. How was he able to fool so many experts for so long? Was he a charismatic person? What’s it like to work with a master forger?
Shannon: Nowadays you would kind of see him as a computer nerd. He was not charismatic in the least. He kind of had poor social skills. I remember on at least one occasion going with Lynn, some friends of Lynn, my wife and I and were going to have a barbecue dinner at the Hofmann’s house, a lot of chatting and so forth. We got there a little bit late. We go in the house and Mark has already made his dinner and eaten it. You would have thought a normal person would have waited. He didn’t know and didn’t care.
Like I said he was not a good host or those sorts of things, but he was a very personable person. I don’t ever remember a time seeing him, he never suffered from depression or those sort of things. He was not a down kind of a person. Of course at that time if you had any interest in Mormon history or collecting, he was the person to know because he was always in the middle of this thing and that thing and buying and selling.
The prosecutors, they interviewed him after his plea agreement and didn’t record it but took notes of it. That was one of their first questions was how did you do all of this stuff? He said, “Well it’s really not that hard to figure out.” Again I’m paraphrasing. “He said it’s really not that hard to figure out. What do you do for a living?”
He said, “We’re attorneys.”
He said, “Are you any good at it?”
“Well yeah, we think so.”
He said, “I cheat people. That’s what I do for a living. I’m good at it. I’m a good forger.”
Shannon Flynn worked closely with Mark Hofmann and knows him better than most other people. In this conversation, we’ll talk about Hofmann’s Teenage Forgeries. How old was he when he started?
Shannon: His first coin forgery was when he was 12 years old. I believe the first time he ever uttered a forgery, in other words other than something for doing himself was when he was 14 years old. He had learned through a process of trial and error how to add mint marks to legitimate coins. He would buy a legitimate coin, maybe a penny or something that had no mint mark on it, and then was able to put a mint mark on it that would significantly increase its value. The penny was real and legitimate. The only thing that wasn’t was just that little mint mark.
Don’t forget to check out our Curt Bench Interviews on Mark Hofmann. (See Part 1 here.) Check out our conversation…..