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Billy & Charley’s Reliquaries

January 30, 2014
by the gentle author

Courtesy of Philip Mernick, here are more of the wonderful zany works of Billy & Charley, the celebrated East End mudlarks-turned-forgers who created thousands of fake antiquities known as ‘Shadwell Shams,’ that successfully fooled the archaeological establishment in the nineteenth century.

There is a extra level of irony to these reliquaries, once produced to contain sacred relics, such as pieces of the’ true cross’ or body parts of saints which were believed to convey special powers to the owner, since they were always fakes produced to exploit the credulous and thus Billy & Charley were manufacturing fakes of fakes.

This is a fake Billy & Charley medallion given away with a women’s magazine in the nineteen-fifties – can anyone tell us which magazine?

These are plates of medieval pilgrim badges from Charles Roach Smith’s Collectanea Antiqua, Volume II, 1848, that Billy & Charley may have used as the basis for their own designs

Plate from The Antiquaries Journal 1846

One of Billy & Charley’s ‘Shadwell Shams’ perhaps inspired by the historical engraving above

You may also like to take a look at

Billy & Charley’s Shadwell Shams

Billy & Charley’s Curious Leaden Figures

9 Responses leave one →
  1. January 30, 2014

    cosmo by any chance?

  2. January 30, 2014

    These wonderful, creative fakes are really awesome, B & C were two very clever and enterprising gents. Valerie

  3. Mo Heard permalink
    January 30, 2014

    William Smith and Charles Eaton were Victorian entrepreneurial scallywags! I am thrilled to find this piece.

    I wrote a short story about them in my children’s adventure book Leo’s Heroes (a boy goes back in time and meets unusual characters – real people – from the past.) The book is still available ISBN: 978 1846244698 from Amazon.

    Among the other people Leo meets, is Benjamin Pollock in his shop in Hoxton.

    Best wishes, Mo Heard

  4. January 30, 2014

    Beautiful “fakes” — but, who ever could tell: is it a “fake” or is it an “original”? There must have been times, when the imitations had been originals. Where is the boundary?

    Love & Peace

    PS: May PETE SEEGER rest in Peace…!

  5. annie permalink
    January 30, 2014

    They might be fakes but I really like them.

  6. Ellen in NEW England permalink
    January 30, 2014

    They sure are cute, though, with the buggy eyes and little animals running around!

  7. January 30, 2014

    I just love these, fakes or not. They embody the maker’s enjoyment of creation and a great (to my eye, not having lost money on them) sense of humor.

  8. Vicky permalink
    January 30, 2014

    To me it doesn’t matter a jot whether fake or not. They’re great, love ’em all.

  9. Katya permalink
    February 1, 2014

    As viewed by me late at night, while in the grip of a predisposition to admire the odd and crumbling, something seized my rational mind, a thing normally good at smelling sentiment, fraud’s mild-mannered cousin, many miles hence. These long gone knights and kings, saints and holy emperors, their tiny tombs pried apart, their sacred contents reduced by the ages to nothing, almost broke that other rational part of me, my heart. But peering closer at the skillfully eroded details, I sensed beneath them stalwart hearts of another time. Less rational. Less scientific. Noble and untainted. Almost beating, but not quite.

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