The University of Michigan treasured its 17th-century Galileo manuscript. It turns out it was a fake.

For nearly a century, the library at the University of Michigan had proudly displayed the so-called “Galileo manuscript” — a document believed to be written by the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei, The University of Michigan, manuscript


Now, it’s been revealed to be a forgery

The university recently announced the one-page document, described as one of the “jewels” of its collection, appears to have been written in the 20th century, rather than 1609, as previously believed.

The library launched an internal investigation after Nick Wilding, a history professor at Georgia State University and author of an upcoming biography of Galileo, expressed “serious doubts about its authenticity.” Wilding was known for exposing similar forgeries. 


The final, genuine version of the letter is held in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia and the notes on the moons of Jupiter are part of the Sidereus Nuncius Dossier at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. 

Our manuscript first came to public attention in May 1934, when the auction firm American Art Anderson Galleries was selling the library of the late Roderick Terry, a wealthy collector of manuscripts and early printed books. According to the auction catalog, it was authenticated by Cardinal Pietro Maffi (1858-1931), Archbishop of Pisa, who compared this leaf with a Galileo autograph letter in his collection. 

It was acquired by Tracy McGregor, a Detroit businessman and avid collector of books and manuscripts. After his death, the Trustees of the McGregor Fund bequeathed the manuscript to the University of Michigan in 1938, in special recognition of the services to astronomy by Heber D. Curtis, professor of astronomy. 


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