Whether running a criminal conspiracy, a high-stakes theft, a professional espionage operation, or simply trying to get ahead in life, certain resources are essential: sufficient funds, official permits, counterfeit works of art, and so on. But these are all hard (if not impossible) to obtain. So quite often your best option is to make your own. But in these stakes, ordinary counterfeits simply won't cut it. You need them to indistinguishable from the real thing.
Enter the Master Forger, your expert when it comes to producing Counterfeit Cash, forged papers, or fake art. Whatever it is they forge (and don't be surprised if they specialise in several areas), they are the best.
Expect them to be getting on in years, a sign a life spent learning and perfecting their craft. If they forge practical objects (such as money or papers), expect them to be a skilled artisan but clearly a working man, potentially even in overalls. If they forge art however, expect them to be cultured, refined, and most likely a bit pedantic; they commonly see themselves as Artists equal to (or perhaps superior) those whom they copy.
In either case, expect them to be a True Craftsman and a meticulous professional (at least when working), who take great pride in their talents and do not take kindly to those who mock their skills. Don't be surprised (especially in the case of art frauds) for the question to be brought up why someone of their obvious talent spends their life making copies. Perhaps they dreamed of being a great craftsman in their youth but lacked originality (it might even be that they outright suffer from Creative Sterility); maybe their talents were ignored by an ignorant populace; or maybe forging just pays more.
The key mark of this archetype is their skill: whatever they forge is so good that only the sharpest of professional experts can distinguish them from the genuine article, and even they might be fooled. If a fake is exposed, it is most likely down to sheer bad luck.
Overall, this is a morally flexible trope: the Master Forger could be anything from a Lovable Rogue to a dangerous criminal. Due to Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness it is rare for them to be the Big Bad, more often a highly skilled underling. Quite commonly the Boxed Crook in espionage works.
See also Effective Knockoff, which the main product of this trope.
As Tropes Are Flexible, legitimate craftsmen and artists can also qualify for this trope, provided they are renowned for or shown to be able to create impressive counterfeits.
- Lupin III: In The Castle of Cagliostro:
- The MacGuffin that starts the plot and occasionally is referenced are the "Goat Bills", created in secret inside of the titular castle by the evil branch of the country's royal family with quite the Historical Rap Sheet (being allegedly one of the main reasons The Great Depression happened, among others). The operation has been going for so long that the Bills have achieved a legendary status as being virtually impossible to distinguish from the real deal (unless you are just that good at spotting them, like Lupin is).
- Lupin forges a duplicate of Princess Clarisse's silver ring, incorporating a two-way radio, self-destruct, and confetti inside as well. Count Cagliostro doesn't even notice until Lupin makes use of the radio function to reassure the Princess that he wasn't killed.
- Black Lagoon: The "Greenback Jane" arc involves the titular counterfeiter, who is allegedly the best in the business, being hunted down through Roanapur by a Carnival of Killers. Turns out that said carnival was hired by the same branch of The Mafia that hired her to produce counterfeit cash: her perfectionism cost them so much time and money that the Mafia deemed her project Awesome, but Impractical and decided to cut their losses and just kill her.
- Bookhunter: The thief "Kettle Stitch" (real name Susan Lovelace) makes a forgery of a priceless historical Bible, so when she steals the real thing from its display at Oakland Public Library, she leaves the copy behind in its place. Her forgery is good enough, the library staff don't even notice the theft until weeks later — though it's not good enough to fool a trained document analyst from the police. Then the ending twist reveals the book she stole was actually another forgery. Chief Spencer, head of Oakland Library's security, had replaced the real Bible with a copy of his own creation months before.
- Mickey Mouse Comic Universe: Being a Master Criminal, amongst his many other talents over the years, the Phantom Blot has often been portrayed as an expert forger. Usually if his plan involves stealing paintings, he will have personally painted identical forgeries to swap them for. He's also been the mastermind behind several money counterfeiting scams.
- Tintin: The Black Island: In his first appearance, recurring villain Dr. Muller is the forger of a counterfeiting ring, creating fake banknotes on the titular Black Island off the coast of Britain.
- Rex Morgan, M.D.: Rex once took his young daughter Sarah to meet an art teacher at his warehouse studio. When asked why he lived so shabbily, the man's response was that he'd been under the thumb of criminal art dealers who demanded that he paint forgeries of acclaimed works. Once the shady dealers were nabbed by the police, this artist went into hiding. He works a subsistence job and tutors vouchsafed pupils on the side.
- Girl Genius Only Mad About Art: Tarvek and Agatha are both expert forgers who rope art dealer Gilgamesh into a scheme to sell a lost and "supposedly destroyed" painting by the master painter Bludtharst:
"How much do you think you could sell Bludtharst's Castle at Heliotropolis for, if it fell into your hands?"
She goes over to the file drawers while he thinks it over. The auction buys are still sitting on top, wrapped in brown paper. Agatha starts to unfold it as Gil says, "To the right buyer - five hundred thousand? Privately, not at auction, things get weird at auctions. Why, do you have a lead on it?"
"Better. I know it doesn't exist."
"Then it can't be sold."
"Let me rephrase that." Agatha holds up the sketch. It's an architecturally improbable castle, and it looms over a spread-out sequence of roofs and streets and distant hills in that charmingly ominous way Bludtharst was so brilliant at; the sketch may be hasty and loose but the layout is perfect. "It doesn't exist yet, but I could change that. I know a man."
- Anastasia: Count Vladimir from Don Bluth's animated feature plans to escort his partner Dmitri and orphan Anya out of Soviet Russia. Vladimir has already forged their passports, but discovers during the escape that the new government has changed the design from the old czarist blue; the new ones under Stalin are in red. "Everything in red," he laments. Somehow, Vladimir is able to forge completely new passports in less than an hour aboard a moving train that pass a cursory inspection by the Soviet police.
- Lee Israel of Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a struggling biographer who takes to forging letters by famous writers and actors in order to make a quick buck, filling them with salacious personal details to drive up the price. She and her partner in crime, Jack Hock, even steal and sell original letters from libraries and archives, leaving behind forged duplicates. The film is based on the confessional memoir of the author Lee Israel, who sold over 400 forged or stolen letters in the space of two years.
- The Counterfeiters: Sally Sorowitsch is one of Europe's foremost experts in counterfeiting money. Unfortunately for him, he's also a Jewish man in Nazi Berlin. In exchange for his life, he agrees to help with a scheme to flood America with counterfeit dollars in order to destroy the US economy and prevent them from joining World War II.
- Escape to Victory: When Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone's character) requires documents for his escape attempt, he goes to a fellow POW identified only as "The Forger". He not only has made his own camera to take pictures for the documents, but he's also gotten samples for all kinds of official documents (like government death declarations — good if your cover for moving around is going to a funeral) and has hand-carved a number of fake stamps. He even jokes to Hatch that the Germans are pretty inconsiderate with their habit of constantly changing document designs to try to stop people like him.
- F for Fake: Orson Welles's documentary is about Elmyr de Hory, a forger who spent decades selling fakes of Picasso, Matisse, and others, before the art world finally caught on. The documentary had a mid-development shift to a general view of fakery when it was discovered that Clifford Irving, the reporter used for the research on de Hory, was a forger himself (he is mentioned in the Real Life examples below).
- The Great Escape: Blythe is a heroic version of this trope who forges travel passes, identity cards, etc. for the Allied prisoners of war.
- Incognito: In this 1997 film, the main character is an artist who creates fake Rembrandt paintings that his Con Man contact sells for millions on the black market. Not only is he able to recreate the style of the famous painter, he also uses effects like heat to make the paint appear aged and chipped, and sometimes damages portions of the canvas to make it more believable.
- The Ninth Gate: Double Subverted when Corso has to investigate whether a copy of an extremely rare book (which, according to legend, will allow the person who deciphers it to summon The Devil) is legitimate or a forgery. When he discusses the possibility of it being a forgery with the Ceniza twins (a pair of master bookbinders that once owned that copy of the book), the twins dismiss the possibility of it being a fake. They explain that to make a forgery that would fool the experts a forger would need to use all the materials and characteristics that were in use during the 17th century when the book was first printed, including unique inks, paper, leather, typeface, watermarks, etc., which are all extremely difficult to get in the late 20th century. In the end the book turn out to be legitimate, but a single critical page has been replaced with a fake to throw off the people trying to decipher the puzzle of the book. And who better to do that than a certain pair of master bookbinders who had the book in their possession for years?
Ceniza Brother: If this is a forgery or a copy with missing pages restored, it's the work of a master.
- The Three Musketeers (1973): The Duke of Buckingham, having met The Three Musketeers while on a secret mission in France, discovers that two large jewels are missing from his collarpiece. These were taken by the guileful Countess de Winter to keep the Duke from spoiling her machinations. The Duke visits a decrepit-looking fellow called Felton who happens to have a talent for making copies, and hires him thusly:
The Duke: Can you make two more exactly like these? [displays the collarpiece]
Felton: Eh, I'll need two, maybe three weeks...
The Duke: Two hundred crowns if you have them by tomorrow.
- Without A Trace: Mexican art seller "Ana" sells to wealthy Americans what she claims are ancient Mayan artifacts. In actually, they're modern day creations made by contemporary Mayan artists, traced over their own ancestors' artifacts and artificially aged.
- The Day of the Jackal: The titular Jackal acquires a set of false identity cards from a forger, who is not only able to make such papers but also advises the Jackal how to make himself look older (his plan is to disguise himself as an elderly wounded veteran so he can conceal a Scaramanga Special rifle in a set of crutches). The forger makes the fatal mistake of trying to blackmail the Jackal for more money.
- The Emperor's Soul: Wan ShaiLu is a master in the Functional Magic of Forgery, which transmutes objects by changing their past through Retconjuration. To manage this, she became an accomplished Polymath and studied under one of the greatest artists of the age — and then she's recruited to Forge a soul... and, against impossible odds, succeeds.
- Making Money: As part of his efforts to move the economy out of gold standard, Moist finds the forger who'd been making his own perfect versions of Ankh-Morpork stamps and recruits him to design paper money.
- The Odessa File: Klaus Winzer, a side character, was a calligrapher in his youth before being commissioned into the SS to work at forging Allied banknotes; after the war, he goes to work forging ration coupons for the black market and then forges identity papers for fugitive Nazis.
- Provenance: The Hwae people place an incredible amount of value on "vestiges", which are relics, souvenirs, and memorabilia from important events and people in their culture's history. Garal Ket, a banished criminal, tells protagonist Ingray that e was declared legally dead for forging vestiges, and gives several examples of how easily e was able to engineer history for items e forged. Subverted in that Garal Ket turns out to be Pahlad Budrakim, formerly the heir to a wealthy and important family, but Pahlad did enough research into the Budrakim family's faked vestiges that e was able to pass eirself off as a master forger.
"I specialized in invitation sheets— you find stacks of them in storage units, or just thrown away when someone dies with no heirs, so it's easy to find paper the right age. The rest is just altering them, and choosing your subject carefully. I was good at it. I sold hundreds of the things, to dozens of hopeful collectors like your brother. So when I was caught I was a repeat offender quiet a few times over, and quite a few wealthy citizens wanted me gone."
- Red Square: This Arkady Renko novel features Borya Gubenko AKA "Boris Benz", who attempts to sell a "lost" Soviet painting. In an interesting variant, the painting is genuine, but the crate and documentation that contain the painting are forged. The only way Boris could figure to sell the painting after the fall of the Soviet Union was to fake where he found it.
- Sherlock Holmes:
- The Valley of Fear, McMurdo presents himself as a forger, showing Boss McGinty several coins which "never saw the Philadelphia Mint" and look indistinguishable from real coins, managing to hide his equipment in a single small room even when the police come calling. In fact they were likely real, since McMurdo is actually a Pinkerton Agent infiltrating the Scowrers.
- The crux of events in The Adventures the Three Garridebs is the antagonist, dangerous gunman 'Killer' Evans was in a partnership five years before the story, with one called Prescot, which ended when Evans shot him. Released from prison he attempts to get hold of the fortune in Counterfeit notes Prescot had already made. When caught he even claims he should have received a medal, as even the Bank of England couldn't tell Prescot's notes were fakes.
- The Word: This 1972 mystery-thriller by Irving Wallace, is about the discovery of parchment, written in Aramaic by "James, brother to the Lord Jesus Christ." As this newest testament undergoes authentication, the protagonist, Steve Randall is hired to keep fundamentalist saboteurs from disrupting the effort, dubbed "Resurrection II." Steve is led by clues to an old derelict who had been an altar boy under an abusive priest. This man stole parchment pieces from museums and universities, and taught himself Aramaic in order to produce a phony gospel as a way to spite his former tormentor. Ultimately, the forgery passes muster, and a reprinting of the King James Bible with the Gospel of James appended goes on sale. This book was adapted into a four-episode miniseries in 1978.
- 'Allo 'Allo!:
- Monsieur Roger LeClerc is a professional forger who provides whatever papers, passports and anything else the resistance need to implement whichever Zany Scheme they are trying this episode. He is introduced in the first episode when the resistance (literally) break him out prison to exploit his talents. Whilst an utter bumbler in just about everything else (his disguises in particular are especially unconvincing, even by this shows standards), throughout the shows run not a single one of his forgeries is ever caught. A plot point in early seasons however, is that the only thing he can't forge are paintings, forcing them to look for outside help in their many schemes to steal the priceless painting 'The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies'.
- Roger's identical twin brother, Ernest, whom he switches places with in prison sometime before season six (as the prison food is better than Madame Edith's cooking) takes over this role for the rest of the series. If anything, he is better than his brother as he can also forge paintings.
- Lt. Gruber is also a master, if reluctant, forger of paintings, revealing that he had spent several years before the war studying Art. As part of one of the Colonel's many plans, he creates copies of both "The Fallen Madonna With Big Boobies by Van Clomp" and "The Cracked Vase with the Big Daisies by Van Gogh", which are stolen, confused with the originals, and generally used in the multiple bait and switch thefts throughout the series.
- Blindspot: Boston Arliss Crab, Rich Dotcom's old associate and on again/off again boyfriend, is a recurring character throughout the series. As well as being a highly capable cybercriminal Boston is an expert art forger. When initially called in to repair one of the priceless Gardner paintings which the team need for a sting operation, he not only succeeds but casually switches the real paintings; with identical copies he made beforehand right beneath the FBI's nose.
- Bottom: Parodied in "Dough" when Eddie makes extremely unconvincing (some notes are triangular) and highly pornographic pound notes, which results in him running afoul of "Skullcrusher", London's real master counterfeiter (whose forged pound notes aren't much better than Eddie's, featuring Danny La Rue instead of the Queen).
- Hawaii Five-O: One case involves a man who was a professional counterfeiter for the mob in his youth, before he faked his death to escape the lifestyle. Now a happy retiree, he learns that his facility is going bankrupt. Attempting to save it, he unearths two steel printing plates for $20 bills that he'd made in his younger days. One of his "test" printings is only detected because a bank has a policy of checking older bills with specialised computer-assisted imagine scanning. Unfortunately, the teller informs a news crew about this, which alerts the man's old mob boss that his lackey is alive and well. The man's friends are held hostage while two thugs coerce the man into printing more fake $20s.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent:
- The episode "Art" has the detectives covering a murder case involving art forgery has a renowned forger as a supporting character. His work is considered so impeccable that a number of his forgeries are still hanging in museums undetected.
- The episode "The Gift" has a Catholic charity fall prey to an expert forger who seeks to discredit its patron saint because he blames the charity for taking advantage of his mentally-ill mother.
- Leverage: Whilst primarily a computer expert, one of Alec Hardison's many talents is creating forgeries to the point that he taught himself how to create period-looking art that can hold up to close inspection.
- Lovejoy: As the series is based on wacky schemes involving antiques, it has featured several master forgers, including Lovejoy himself; both good and villainous forgers. One particularly ingenious forger had to be tracked down in Italy where he was turning out brand new genuine old Italian paintings.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: The subplot of "Notes" involves Cookie finding out about a mysterious figure called "Le Forger" who can perfectly forge excuse notes for anything, even allowing people to sleep in class, which he sells to students in exchange for Macaroons. The operation only ends when Cookie gets too greedy, exploiting his notes so much that the teachers catch on and almost follow him back to Le Forger. The ending implies he is secretly Martin Qwerly.
- Porridge: Whilst never seen, "Inky" Stevens, described by Harry Grout as "the finest forger in the country", is serving a term in Slade prison. He's so good that, when Grouty needs to arrange an inmate's escape, he has a blank passport smuggled into Slade for Stevens to forge, rather than trust his contacts on the outside.
- Private Schulz: In retaliation to the British dropping forged ration coupons, the SS recruit the greatest forgers from prisons and concentration camps, supervised by an also recruited convicted con artist (the titular Schulz), to make forged British pound notes in an attempt to wreck the British economy. The fake money turns out to be so well made they use them to pay their own Agents. Schulz spends a large part of the series trying to steal a large portion to secure his future after the war. He only succeeds in getting one five pound note, which he promptly loses to a waiter who mistakes it for a tip.
- Trial & Error: It's revealed that there's one living in East Peck who has a skill for creating forgeries. His name is Forge "Clooney" (yes, Clooney is his nickname, not Forge) and he works at the local ice cream shop. Joshua goes to him to ask about something from Jessie Ray's trial. He's later found frozen to death inside his own freezer.
- White Collar:
- Neal Caffrey is a conman who is also a master forger, capable of forging paintings, sculptures, banknotes and even rare whiskey. A number of episodes have him and the FBI go up against other master forgers or people dealing in fake artefacts. In one instance Neal and fellow forger Mozzie create a perfect forgery of a painting and then deliberately add minor flaws so the FBI lab can expose it as a fake and thus stop investigating what happened to the original.
- One episode features a document forger as the Villain of the Week and the MacGuffin of the week is a set of perfect identities he had created and wanted to sell. The Invented Individual they represented had a complete traceable "life" behind them in terms of paperwork, such as paid taxes and college courses won and everything, so all that was needed was someone actually stepping into the role.
- Heathers: This becomes a major plot point. Veronica is first accepted into the Heathers' clique when she forges a hall pass to get them out of detention, and later when JD kills Heather Chandler, Ram, and Kurt, he persuades her to forge notes in their respective handwriting styles to make their deaths looks like suicides.
- Dragon's Dogma: Mountebank sets up a shop named The Black Cat, which sells forgeries of most items. Normal items and scripts can be perfectly duplicated, but magical items such as Wakestones don't work as the originals do.
- Grand Theft Auto: Amongst his many other connections and skills, 8-ball is known to be a skilled Forger. His forging skills are called upon in Grand Theft Auto Advance when Mike seeks him out in order to obtain bogus IDs.
- Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Drew Misham made and sold forged paintings on the black market and sometimes even forged evidence. Phoenix lost his license when he was tricked into presenting one of Misham's works in court. In actuality, Misham was just the seller. The true forger was his daughter Vera, who copied the paintings while her father sold them to keep them financially solvent. This ended in Drew's murder and Vera's attempted murder when the true culprit behind the forged evidence sought to cover his tracks.
- Fate/stay night: Archer has a special ability in his Projection Magecraft ("Tracing"), in which he can create an almost perfect copy of a legendary weapon (primarily swords), including their abilities, and then use them with similar skill as their original owners. Gilgamesh calls him "Faker" because of this.
- The Order of the Stick: Though he's not a forger by trade, Redcloak commissions a master goblin craftsman to produce a forgery of Lord Xykon's phylactery. Despite not having the original at hand as a reference, he recreates it perfectly down to "every detail, every scratch" and passes it off as the original.
- The Flintstones: One episode has Betty pretending to be an old woman so she can work for a crippled old lady that needs a gofer for her grocery purchases. It turns out that the "crippled old lady" is a notorious forger who's using Betty to test her newest batch of fake dollars as a Fall Guy. Fred has to trick the police into a high-speed chase to expose the real forger.
- The Simpsons: The climax of one episode reveals that the painting that the family believed was a priceless work of art is in fact a forgery painted by one. When asked why the arts officials didn't notice it was a fake, he happily boasted that his paintings had fooled the greatest arts experts all over the world for years, and defended his habit by arguing that obsessing over the paintings value defeated the whole point of appreciating the art.
- Han van Meegeren was a Dutch painter who, distraught with his failure at following the fashions of the time, decided to make and sell fakes of Veermer and other artists from the Dutch Golden Age, which managed to fool even experts. After World War II, faced with the possibility of being shot for treason and collaborating with the Nazis (he sold fakes to Goering), he managed to make a painting whilst under guard, which caused him to be pardoned.
- During World War II, SS Major Bernhard Kruger gathered Jewish prisoners to work on the Operation Bernhard, which aimed at making false Pound notes to ruin the British economy. The results were so good it was only by a clerk noticing two notes had the same serial numbers the Allies discovered the plot.
- Mark Hofmann managed to create false rare books and sell them at a price, fooling LDS leaders and philologists.
- Adolfo Kaminsky created false identification documents for several La Résistance groups (the French resistance during WWII, various African and Latin American anti-colonial rebellions and Iberian anti-fascists) and Jewish migrants to Mandatory Palestine, without ever asking for payment.
- Clifford Irving was a novelist and investigative journalist, who made himself famous by falsifying letters from Howard Hughes to provide "proof" for his fake autobiography he claimed Hughes had contacted him to ghost write. Through painstakingly imitating letters Hughes had sent to time magazine, he and several of his artist and writer friends were able to create fakes so authentic they fooled both Osborn Associates, a firm of handwriting experts, and Hughes' companies' own representative Frank McCulloch. Irving was only caught when Hughes, who had been a recluse for over nearly two decades so no press had been able to contact him, finally spoke out against the false information Irving had published about him.