By definition, I’ve never heard of any truly successful forgers. The best forgery is one which is never detected. A close second, however, would have to be one which is detected and then celebrated it in its own right. Things don’t work out nearly so well for most skilled forgers. Tom Keating, who forged over a thousand paintings, including more than a dozen spurious Samuel Palmer watercolors, was reduced to making videos. John Drew, who forged Giacomettis, is in jail. But the great forger of Vermeers, Han van Meegeren, found himself hailed as a national hero when, on trial for collaborating with the Nazis, he revealed that he had sold Göring a fake (and rather wooden) Christ and the Adultress. After being found out and serving a jail sentence, Elmyr de Hory, one of the twentieth century’s most prolific great forgers (Modiglianis, Picassos, and Jackson Pollocks were among almost a thousand fakes he created over his lifetime), became famous in his own right. He was the central character of a biography by Clifford Irving and Orson Welles’ F for Fake; today his fakes can command five figure prices. In the age of mechanical reproduction, when it can be impossible for a layman to distinguish a van Gogh from a Wacker or a Schuffenecker, why not just collect the forgery? Regardless of their appeal to collectors, literary forgeries fascinate some scholars; regardless of the theoretical stance one takes (1 | 2), forgeries are just interesting. Like hoaxes, they reveal much about the tenor of the times. What is a modern reader to make of the fact that William Ireland‘s Shakespeare fakes, including Vortigern and Rowena initially passed as authentic? Ireland forged Shakespeare to please his father. James Macpherson would today be remembered as only a minor poet were it not for his invented "translations" of the Welsh bard Ossian. However, most forgers, like Vrain-Denis Lucas, who forged the personal correspondence of the famous (including Julius Caesar and Joan of Arc) in nineteenth century France and sold them for huge sums, are in it for money.
And the money, by and large, comes from collectors. There are enough book and manuscript collectors to provide a tempting target for forgers. But collectors are interested in work that is rare and interesting and good; they are not necessarily interested in work that is rare, interesting, good, and authentic. A forged gigantic land grant might not be aesthetically pleasing, but it would certainly qualify as both rare and interesting. Generic forged stamps may not be interesting, but forged stamps used by the OSS in propaganda operations against the Nazis? I can see why a collector’s market exists. Thomas J. Wise and H. Buxton Forman were the two most extensively documented forgers of Victoriana. Wise was a hugely knowledgable collector and bibliographer who specialized in creating bogus early editions; he was found out in his own lifetime, but his creations are now highly collectible in their own right.
Ignoring the class of people one has to deal with, the work of truly famous and talented forgers — when recognized as such — seems like a natural for the collectors market, a de Hory Picasso being an order of magnitude cheaper than a Picasso Picasso. And a collectors’ market might satisfy the pride of those forgers not driven by monetary concerns. Keating and van Meegeren both delighted in showing up the critics and collectors who had dismissed the work they did under their own names. An Australian curator, speaking about William Blundell (who claims that he painted "innuendos", pastiche works in the styles of specific artists not meant to be sold as originals), says
[h]e thinks some art forgers are motivated by the tall poppy syndrome and "get some fun out of fooling the experts". But, he cautions: "It is not so funny when you think that people will get burnt who have spent their savings on what they thought was an investment."
When there is no deception, there’s no crime. So why not cut out the middleman? Enter J.S.G. Boggs, perhaps the most efficient forger in the history of the world. Boggs forges banknotes, signs them as his own work, and attempts to convince what is essentially the audience of a long-running performance art act to buy his art for face value. He claims that collectors of Boggs originals are then willing to swoop in and buy both the fake bill and all the accoutrements of the transaction for a significant premium. The fanatical collectors of Boggsiana may be largely be his creation and the Secret Service is apparently unamused, but when you buy a Boggs, you know what you’re getting: something worth whatever you’re willing to spend on it, whether that’s thousands of dollars, nothing, or a buck.