Fortsas hoax

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Front cover of the Fortsas Catalogue Cover to the Fortsas Catalogue.jpg
Front cover of the Fortsas Catalogue

The Fortsas hoax refers to an incident in Binche, Belgium, in 1840. That year, booksellers, librarians, and collectors of rare books throughout Europe received a catalogue describing a collection of rare books to be auctioned.

Binche Municipality in French Community, Belgium

Binche is a Walloon city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. On January 1, 2006, Binche had a total population of 32,409. The total area is 60.66 km² which gives a population density of 534 inhabitants per km². Since 1977, the municipality of Binche has gathered the town of Binche itself with seven old municipalities : Bray, Buvrinnes, Epinois, Leval-Trahegnies, Péronnes-lez-Binche, Ressaix and Waudrez.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

According to the message, "Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas", had been a collector of unique books — books of which only one copy was known to exist. When he had died, on September 1, 1839, he had possessed 52 such books. His heirs, not interested in collecting books, had decided to auction the collection. The auction was to be held on August 10, 1840.

On the appointed date, numerous collectors and intellectuals gathered in Binche, hoping to bid on the books. They learned, however, that the offices of the notary where the auction was to take place did not exist — nor did the street upon which the offices were supposedly located. Notices which had been posted around Binche claimed that there would be no auction after all, because the town's public library had acquired the books; however, those attempting to visit the library to view the collection discovered that Binche possessed no public library. Later it was discovered that there had never been a Comte de Fortsas.

It was eventually revealed that the hoax had been planned and carried out by antiquarian and retired military officer Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, who enjoyed playing elaborate pranks on intellectuals.

Ironically, the original catalogue of fictitious unique books Chalon had sent to his victims has itself become a sought-after collectors' item. It has since been reprinted several times.

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