Forgery case involves Hamsun, Ibsen

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Two of Norway’s most famous literary figures, Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen, have been the unwitting subjects of a major forgery case that resulted in indictments this week. The National Library, literary experts and collectors claim they’re deeply shaken by the case.

Handwriting attributed to Knut Hamsun is believed to have been forged. PHOTO: Nasjonalbiblioteket

It involves allegedly forged memoranda and other writings attributed to authors Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen among others. Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week that Norway’s special economic crimes unit Økokrim has indicted collector and film director Geir Ove Kvalheim of Nøtterøy for allegedly forging Hamsun’s and Ibsen’s handwriting in a variety of cases.

The indictment charges that Kvalheim turned over various items to antique book dealer in Oslo, among them a pocket almanac containing notations by Hamsun. Police believe the notations were forged, however, including one where Hamsun allegedly wrote that he was heading off on a trip to Germany to meet Adolph Hitler in 1943, when Norway was under German occupation.

Prosecutor Hans Tore Høviskeland also believes that Kvalheim forged drafts of an allegedly unknown play written by Henrik Ibsen. The new Ibsen play might have changed Norwegian literary history and would have been a sensation, reported Aftenposten, but prosecutors believe Kvalheim falsified it as well.

The case has been under investigation since 2008, when suspicions arose over the authenticity of 18 items allegedly containing the handwriting of Ibsen and Hamsun on which Kvalheim had profited. He had turned them over to the respected second-hand book dealer Norlis in Oslo, which in turn sold them further to buyers including the National Library (Nasjonalbliblioteket). Kvalheim reportedly earned NOK 472,500 in commissions on the sales of the documents, which Økokrim investigators now claim are false after consulting handwriting experts and reviewing alleged former ownership of the documents.

Hamsun researcher Lars Frode Larsen was among those who raised suspicions of forgery. Kvalheim also reportedly tried to peddle other documents to another specialist in second-hand and antique books, Cappelen, but officials there doubted their authenticity and declined.

Rolf Warendorf of Norlis second-hand sales told Aftenposten it was “embarrassing” to have been swindled by Kvalheim. Larsen said he’s glad there’s an indictment. Warendorf cautions that more false documents may be on the market, since Kvalheim sold “many more” than those mentioned in the indictment.

Both Warendorf, Larsen and prosecutor Høviskeland call the case “unique” and “outstanding” in both Norway and Europe. “We have never seen an attempted swindle using historic documents in this way or of this magnitude here in Norway,” Høviskeland told Aftenposten.

Kvalheim’s defense lawyer, Thomas Berge, told Aftenposten that he hadn’t read the indictment closely enough to comment. Aftenposten reported that Kvalheim himself, also convicted of fraud in another case involving a film he was supposed to make, failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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