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Drake's Plate of Brass

Drake's Plate of Brass

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The so-called Drake's Plate of Brass is a forgery
Forgery
Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

 that purports to be the brass
Brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 plaque that Francis Drake
Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...

 posted upon landing in Northern California
Northern California
Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The San Francisco Bay Area , and Sacramento as well as its metropolitan area are the main population centers...

 in 1579. The hoax
Hoax
A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences or April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.-Definition:The British...

 was successful for forty years, despite early doubts. After the plate came to public attention in 1936, historians immediately raised questions regarding the plate's wording, spelling, and manufacture. The hoax's perpetrators even tried to tip off the plate's finders as to its origins. But many presumed the plate to be real after an early metallurgical
Metallurgy
Metallurgy is a domain of materials science that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their intermetallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are called alloys. It is also the technology of metals: the way in which science is applied to their practical use...

 study concluded it was genuine. Then, in the late 1970s, scientists determined that the plate was a modern creation after it failed a battery of physical and chemical tests. Much of the mystery surrounding the plate continued until 2003, when historians finally advanced a theory about who created the plate and why, showing the plate to be a practical joke
Practical joke
A practical joke is a mischievous trick played on someone, typically causing the victim to experience embarrassment, indignity, or discomfort. Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks in that the victim finds out, or is let in on the joke, rather than being fooled into handing over money or...

 by local historians gone very awry. The plate was acquired by—and until 2005 was on display at—the Bancroft Library
Bancroft Library
The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library of the University of California, Berkeley. It was acquired as a gift/purchase from its founder, Hubert Howe Bancroft, with the proviso that it retain the name Bancroft Library in perpetuity...

 of the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

.


The historical plate


It is known that Drake landed somewhere north of Alta California
Alta California
Alta California was a province and territory in the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later a territory and department in independent Mexico. The territory was created in 1769 out of the northern part of the former province of Las Californias, and consisted of the modern American states of California,...

 in 1579. According to a contemporary account by Francis Pretty, a member of Drake's party, Drake left behind "a plate of brasse" as "a monument of our being there" that claimed "her maiesties, and successors right and title to that kingdome." The memoirs also say that the plate included the date of the landing, Drake's name, and the queen's portrait on a sixpence coin, showing through a hole in the plate.

Pretty's detailed description of the plate became the recipe for the prank that became the Drake Plate hoax.

The found plate: description and text


The plate that came to light in the 1930s matched the description in historical record in many ways. It was made of brass, with lettering that appeared to have been chiseled into its face. There was the hole for a sixpence coin, and the text contained all the content that Pretty described:
BEE IT KNOWNE VNTO ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS.
IVNE.17.1579
BY THE GRACE OF GOD AND IN THE NAME OF HERR
MAIESTYQVEEN ELIZABETH OF ENGLAND AND HERR
SVCCESSORS FOREVER, I TAKE POSSESSION OF THIS
KINGDOME WHOSE KING AND PEOPLE FREELY RESIGNE
THEIR RIGHT AND TITLE IN THE WHOLE LAND VNTO HERR
MAIESTIEES KEEPEING. NOW NAMED BY ME AN TO BEE
KNOWNE V(N) TO ALL MEN AS NOVA ALBION.
G. FRANCIS DRAKE

Origins: a practical joke gone awry


The origins of the found plate have been a matter of debate and rumor for much of its history. Historians have only recently painted a clear picture of the beginning of the hoax. Over the space of a decade, a team of four researchers pieced together a complete narrative of the out-of-hand joke. The four – Edward Von der Porten, Raymond Aker
Raymond Aker
Raymond Aker was a U.S. historian who was noted as an authority on the voyages of Francis Drake in the late 16th century. Aker served as president of the Drake Navigators Guild in California, which promotes Drake and his explorations...

, Robert W. Allen, and James M. Spitze – published their account in California History in 2002.

Creation



According to this account, the plate was intended to be a joke among members of a playful fraternity of California history enthusiasts, the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus
E Clampus Vitus
The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus is a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western heritage, especially the history of the Mother Lode and gold mining regions of the area...

 ("ECV"). Charles Wheat and G. Ezra Dane, ECV leaders, initiated the hoax as a joke intended for fellow "Clamper" George Bolton to find. Wheat and Dane's fellow conspirators in creating the plate, George Barron, George Clark, Lorenz Noll, and Albert Dressler, were not members of ECV, but were all active in the California history community.

Wheat was the leading figure in reviving ECV as a fraternity of (exclusively male) historians and Western lore enthusiasts. ECV describes itself as "dedicated to the erection of historical plaques, the protection of widows and orphans, especially the widows, and having a grand time while accomplishing these purposes." Pranks at fellow Clampers' expense were a regular part of the group's activities.

The target of the hoax, Herbert Eugene Bolton
Herbert Eugene Bolton
Herbert Eugene Bolton was an American historian and one of the most prominent authorities on Spanish American history...

, had a special interest in the plate. Bolton was a distinguished professor of California history and director of the Bancroft Library at the University of California. Over his long career, he was known to have exhorted generations of students to look for the plate – and contact him if they ever heard of an artifact matching the historical description.

According to the 2002 account, Dane initiated the plot. Barron, a former curator of American history at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, designed the plate and bought the brass at a nearby shipyard, where a worker cut the plate from modern brass with a modern guillotine shear. George Clark, an inventor and art critic and appraiser, hammered the letters into the plate with a simple cold chisel. Clark told his wife that the "C.G." – interpreted later to stand for 'Captain General' – before Drake's name was essentially his signature. And, as a final mark of the gag, Noll and Dressler painted "ECV" on the back of the plate in paint visible only under ultraviolet light.

Discovery and loss


Von der Porten, Aker, and Allen surmise that the conspirators probably planted the plate in Marin in 1933, not far from the supposed location of Drake's landing. William Caldeira, a chauffeur, found the plate while his employer, Leon Bocqueraz, was hunting near the shores of Drake's Bay
Drakes Bay
Drakes Bay is a small bay on the coast of northern California in the United States, approximately 30 miles northwest of San Francisco at approximately 38 degrees north latitude. The bay is approximately 8 miles wide...

 with a companion, Anson Stiles Blake. Bocqueraz was a banker, while Blake was a prominent and active Berkeley alumnus. Both were members of the California Historical Society
California Historical Society
The California Historical Society is California's official state historical society and is located in San Francisco, California at 678 Mission Street -History and collections:...

.

Caldeira showed the dirt-covered plate to Bocqueraz, then stowed the plate in the car to investigate later and then forgot about it. Some weeks later, he found it again while cleaning the car on the San Rafael Ferry and threw it away on the side of the road in San Rafael
San Rafael, California
San Rafael is a city and the county seat of Marin County, California, United States. The city is located in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area...

 – several miles from its original location, but still in the Marin
Marin County, California
Marin County is a county located in the North San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. As of 2010, the population was 252,409. The county seat is San Rafael and the largest employer is the county government. Marin County is well...

 area. This was the first of a series of events that ultimately spun the joke out of the conspirators' control.

Re-discovery and publicity


The plate was found again three years later in 1936 by Beryle Shinn, a shop clerk. Shinn showed it to a friend, a Berkeley student, who suggested he take the plate to Bolton
Herbert Eugene Bolton
Herbert Eugene Bolton was an American historian and one of the most prominent authorities on Spanish American history...

. In February 1937, Shinn brought it to Bolton, which to Bolton was fulfillment of a decades-old professional dream. Bolton compared it to Francis Pretty's contemporaneous description of the plate. He alerted Robert Gordon Sproul
Robert Gordon Sproul
Robert Gordon Sproul was eleventh President of the University of California serving from 1930 to 1958....

, the University of California president, and Allen L. Chickering, the president of the California Historical Society
California Historical Society
The California Historical Society is California's official state historical society and is located in San Francisco, California at 678 Mission Street -History and collections:...

, to the possibility of a major find. Chickering and Bolton negotiated to buy the plate, offering to pay $2,500 and to assume all risk regarding the authenticity of the plate.

Then another series of events took the hoax to the next level. One day after agreeing in principle to sell the plate, Shinn took it back from Bolton, saying he wanted to show it to his uncle and then return it. Bolton and Chickering did not hear from Shinn again for four days. Apparently frightened that they might lose this major opportunity, Chickering moved to quickly buy the plate for $3,500. The plate was then donated to the University's Bancroft Library.

Bolton soon announced at a California Historical Society meeting on April 6, 1937, "One of the world's long-lost historical treasures apparently has been found! . . . The authenticity of the tablet seems to me beyond all reasonable doubt." Now, having only minimally investigated the plate, Bolton and Chickering had publicly committed themselves, personally and professionally, and their institutions to the authenticity of the plate.

Early doubts


Skeptics pointed out many suspicious elements of the plate. Reginald B. Haselden, a specialist in Elizabethan literature, published a critique of the plate in the September 1937 issue of California History, outlining a list of problems. The spelling seemed modern. The wording did not match normal Elizabethan forms; for example, the plate reads "Queen Elizabeth", not "Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England". Physically, the plate seemed too uniform and the patina
Patina
Patina is a tarnish that forms on the surface of bronze and similar metals ; a sheen on wooden furniture produced by age, wear, and polishing; or any such acquired change of a surface through age and exposure...

 suspect. Yet none of these elements by itself seemed to determine the matter, alternative interpretations of each being available. Haselden's points were immediately disputed. Chickering published a defense of the plate in the same issue of California Monthly.

The conspirators' warnings


The joke, originally intended as an internal Clamper affair, had quickly and suddenly broken out into the public eye. Rather than unveiling their prank at an ECV dinner among friends, revealing the hoax would now be a very public and painful proposition for all involved. As Von der Porten and others wrote: "Private confession could not be kept private, and public confession was fraught with great peril."

The conspirators found a number of ways of trying to tip off Bolton without actually coming forward themselves. V. L. VanderHoof, a fellow Clamper and Berkeley professor, actually created a spoof of the plate only a few weeks after the announcement of the find, hoping to show Bolton that modern tools could make a plate that looked remarkably like the "real" plate. Clamper Edwin Grabhorn, a Western history publisher, published a spoof letter from the "Consolidated Brasse and Novelty Company" offering a "special line of brass plates" guaranteed to "make your home-town famous."

Finally, ECV produced a small press run of a book, Ye Preposterous Booke of Brasse, detailing problems with the metal content, wording and spelling. The book even instructed the reader to look for the "ECV" in fluorescent paint on the back and stated outright "we should now re-claim [the plate] as the rightful property of our ancient Order", meaning ECV.

'Confirmation'


While Bolton
Herbert Eugene Bolton
Herbert Eugene Bolton was an American historian and one of the most prominent authorities on Spanish American history...

 and Chickering continued to defend the plate, doubts and rumors continued to circulate. Sproul, the University president, had become concerned as well.
Bolton selected Professor Cohn Fink, chair of the Division of Electrochemistry of Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, to authenticate the plate. While the California history community, and certainly Bolton, would have been aware of the Clampers' book of clues, Fink may not have been. In any case, in 1938 Fink and his colleague E. P. Polushkin confirmed the plate as genuine in no uncertain terms: "[I]t is our opinion that the brass plate examined by us is the genuine Drake Plate."

For most observers – and certainly for Bolton and Chickering – this was the definitive statement on the plate's origins. Photos of the plate appeared in textbooks. Copies were sold as souvenirs, and a copy was also displayed in the library of Sir Francis Drake High School
Sir Francis Drake High School
Sir Francis Drake High School is a secondary school located in San Anselmo, California. It was named for English privateer and naval hero Sir Francis Drake, who purportedly landed in the area in 1579. The school's mascot is a pirate named Petey....

 in San Anselmo
San Anselmo, California
San Anselmo is an incorporated town in Marin County, California, in the western United States. San Anselmo is located west of San Rafael, at an elevation of 46 feet . It is located about north of San Francisco. Neighboring towns include San Rafael to the east, Fairfax to the west, and Ross to the...

 (the only high school named after the explorer). On several ceremonial occasions, copies of the plate were presented to Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

. Yet rumors of E Clampus Vitus involvement in the plate continued to circulate.

Forty years later, science sheds new light


In the early 1970s, physics caught up to Haselden's original findings. Professor James D. Hart, director of the Bancroft Library, assembled a re-testing plan in preparation for the 400th anniversary of Drake's landing. Hart reached out to Research Laboratory for Archaeology, the History of Art at Oxford University, and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory for a detailed analysis. The tests included x-ray diffraction, stereo microscopy
Microscope
A microscope is an instrument used to see objects that are too small for the naked eye. The science of investigating small objects using such an instrument is called microscopy...

, and additional metallurgical analysis. X-ray diffraction and gamma-ray absorption tests revealed the plate to be too smooth, made by modern rolling equipment, not hammered flat by a sixteenth century hammer. Dr. Frank Asaro
Frank Asaro
Frank Asaro is an Emeritus Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory associated with the University of California at Berkeley...

 at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, working with colleague Helen Michels, used neutron activation analysis
Neutron activation analysis
In chemistry, neutron activation analysis is a nuclear process used for determining the concentrations of elements in a vast amount of materials. NAA allows discrete sampling of elements as it disregards the chemical form of a sample, and focuses solely on its nucleus. The method is based on...

 to study the plate and found that it contained far too much zinc and too few impurities to be Elizabethan English brass, while containing trace metals that corresponded to modern American brass. Prof. Cyril Stanley Smith
Cyril Stanley Smith
Cyril Stanley Smith was a renowned metallurgist and historian of science. Smith is perhaps most famous for his work on the Manhattan Project where he was responsible for the production of fissionable metals....

 of MIT
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 examined the plate under a stereo microscope and found the edges to be consistent with modern cutting equipment.

No paint visible under ultraviolet light has been detected on the back of the plaque.

See also

  • Hoax
    Hoax
    A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences or April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.-Definition:The British...

  • E Clampus Vitus
    E Clampus Vitus
    The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus is a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western heritage, especially the history of the Mother Lode and gold mining regions of the area...

  • Forgery
    Forgery
    Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

  • Francis Drake
    Francis Drake
    Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...

  • Drake's Bay, California
    Drakes Bay
    Drakes Bay is a small bay on the coast of northern California in the United States, approximately 30 miles northwest of San Francisco at approximately 38 degrees north latitude. The bay is approximately 8 miles wide...

  • Marin County, California
    Marin County, California
    Marin County is a county located in the North San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. As of 2010, the population was 252,409. The county seat is San Rafael and the largest employer is the county government. Marin County is well...

  • University of California, Berkeley
    University of California, Berkeley
    The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

  • New Albion
    New Albion
    New Albion, also known as Nova Albion, was the name of the region of the Pacific coast of North America explored by Sir Francis Drake and claimed by him for England in 1579...

  • Drake Navigators Guild
    Drake Navigators Guild
    The Drake Navigators Guild is the historical research group which has used multi-disciplinary methods to research Francis Drake’s visit to the west coast of North America in 1579 and related maritime explorations. Founded in 1949, the Guild’s research supports the long-standing conclusion that...


External links