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Will Calibri leave Pakistan sans Sharif? »

Calibri font samples

Luc[as] de Groot’s Calibri, which entered wide use in 2007.

I answered a question on Quora early last week about the availability of Microsoft system font Calibri before its official release in 2007, and quickly found myself caught in a maelstrom centered on the family of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I have now been interviewed by both the BBC and NPR about the case, and quoted in various other places. Sensibly enough, one publication got feedback from Luc[as] de Groot, the designer of Calibri.

Pakistan has seen a high-​level corruption inquiry based on the Panama Papers leaks last year, that incriminated many public figures. Several of the Pakistani PM’s children appear to have investments in offshore companies. The question is, who owned the investments? The PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif (who purportedly has political ambitions) produced a document that purported to prove that she was a “trustee” while her less-​politically-​interested brother was the owner.

The document had a date of early February 2006, and was set in Calibri, although that typeface wasn’t formally released until January 2007.

As my writeup on Quora explains, Calibri was available in “preview” versions of what would become Windows Vista as early as 2004. But normal people were not using this for office documents before it came out in 2007. One can debate whether it qualifies as a “smoking gun,” but it is at least highly suspicious, and I have no inclination to argue that the Pakistani Supreme Court is being unreasonable to say that the burden of proof is now on the defense to explain this improbable situation.

I have testified in court about a backdated document using Calibri before—although in a clearer case where the document was dated prior to even 2004. I am pretty sure that I will again—plenty of people will not remember or hear about this case, so being the default font in both Word and Excel it will come up again in future forgeries.

Bob Hayes NFL Hall of Fame forgery »

This is a sad case, really. Bob Hayes was a fabulous athlete back in the 1960s, first as an Olympic sprinter, and then as wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys NFL football team. He set and tied various world records as a sprinter. He forced the Cowboys’ opponents to invent the new concept of a “zone defense,” because he was simply too darn fast for them to keep up using the man-​to-​man defense (previously used universally in the NFL). Even today, Hayes remains the only person to have won both an Olympic gold medal and a Superbowl.

Hayes’ career ended with drug use and other problems, which may have had something to do with why he never made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame during his lifetime (he died in 2002). Or perhaps it was racism? I’m no football historian, so I can’t say.

What I can say is that the letter from Hayes, which his purported half-​sister read on national television last weekend, when he was at long last elected to the Hall of Fame, is a forgery. Or at least, it was printed and supposedly signed by him after he was dead, so I don’t know what else to call it.

Supposedly he wrote the letter well before his death in the fall of 2002, and gave it to his half-​sister when he last saw her in 1999. The idea is that he knew his health was poor, and wanted to write up a statement to be read if he were to be inducted into the Hall of Fame post-​humously.

So in some ways the fact that it’s a forgery is kind of trivial. The only reason anybody cares is that there were touching words and it was a teary-​eyed moment for this statement to be read from this fellow long after he was gone. This letter being a forgery doesn’t—or at least shouldn’t—detract from celebrating this person’s athletic accomplishments.

In that sense, this is akin to the furore over the Bush National Guard memos, where the near-​certain forgery of those particular memos distracted from the broader legitimate questions about the president’s military service.

That being said, for those of us into typographic trivia, here are some more details. 🙂

I was in an email exchange yesterday from a reporter from the Dallas Morning News, which resulted in a brief quote from me in the article in today’s paper (“Letter purportedly from former Dallas Cowboy Hayes under more scrutiny,” access may require registration.)

The paper also kindly also gave me permission to repost the photo they sent me, which is ignificantly better resolution than the one seen in the online version of the paper. Click on the low-​res one below to see the high-​res version.


Purported posthumous letter from Bob Hayes, click for 600K high-res JPEG

Here’s my reproduction as described in my letter to the reporter below (click for the PDF).

My easy repro of purported letter from Bob Hayes, click for 28K high-res PDF

Below is the full analysis I sent to the Dallas Morning News, with just a couple of minor edits.

I am taking as given that Bob Hayes died in September 2002, and the question is whether this document could have been produced for him to sign it, whether in 1999 as claimed, or in fact any point prior to his death.

I conclude that (1) the typeface is Calibri, (2) the document shown in the photo could not have been printed when Hayes was still alive to sign it (for instance, in 1999), (3) it is highly probable that the document was set in Microsoft Word 2007 (Windows) or 2008 (Mac), which were not available while Hayes was alive.

I recreated the entire document in Word 2007 (here’s a PDF of my version) using that application’s default settings, which include 1″ margins and 11 point Calibri type. Besides the massive visual similarity to Calibri, the pattern of line endings precisely matches the purported Hayes document. By that I mean not only do the lines break on the same words, but how the letters line up from one line to the next at the end of the lines is identical.

It’s worth noting that in older versions of Microsoft Word, the default font was Times New Roman (12 point in 2003/​2004, and 10 point in earlier versions), and default margins were 1.25″. Given that the document matches perfectly with the Microsoft Word 2007/​2008 defaults compared to previous versions, and that these settings are unlike those of any major application available prior to that time, it seems highly probable that the document was created using a version of Microsoft Word that did not exist while Hayes was still alive. However, it would be possible to use other programs to set the document and get the same results, though one would have to change the default settings to more closely mimic MS Word.

Some people have commented that they have an older version of Word, yet they also have the Calibri typeface. Calibri can be installed by any of a number of Microsoft applications and updates, including the compatibility update that makes Word 2003 more compatible with Word 2007. Calibri really wasn’t available while Hayes was still alive to sign the letter.

There are other issues besides the typography. Perhaps Hayes would not misspell names such as “Stauback,” “49rs” and “Mathew” (for “Staubach,” “49ers” and “Matthew,” respectively). The family says the signature doesn’t match, either. But as far as I’m concerned, the typeface alone is sufficient to invalidate the letter.

[Updates: 07 Feb 2009, minor rearranging to improve clarity/​flow; 09 Feb 2009, more of the same]