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Pearl Tytell, Examiner of Dubious Documents, Dies at 104

Pearl Lily Kessler was born on Aug. 29, 1917, in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Europe: her father, Harry, was a tailor from Austria, and her mother, Yetta (Feigenbaum) Kessler, left Poland when she was 2.

In 1938, Pearl was working in the accounting department of a company in the Flatiron Building in Manhattan when she met her future husband. He came to her office seeking a rental and repair contract and, while there, asked her to dinner. While they did not go out that night, he returned the next day and told her, “Come work for me and I’ll marry you.”

She soon went to work for him, and they married in 1943, while Mr. Tytell was in the Army.

In 1950 came a major change for the Tytells’ business.

Lawyers for Alger Hiss, the former State Department official who had been convicted of lying to a grand jury about passing secret information to a Communist agent, Whittaker Chambers, hired Mr. Tytell to prove that a typewriter’s print pattern can be reproduced. At his sentencing, Mr. Hiss accused Mr. Chambers of committing “forgery by typewriter” — making it appear that the documents had been produced by Mr. Hiss’s typewriter.

Mr. Tytell spent two years building a typewriter that had a print pattern indistinguishable from Mr. Hiss’s Woodstock model, to prove that the disputed documents could have been fabricated. Mrs. Tytell did the research on the parts and characteristics of the typefaces that had to be duplicated. Their work became the foundation of Mr. Hiss’s appeal, although it was ultimately unsuccessful.

After the Hiss case, Mrs. Tytell took courses in paper, photography ink, type styles and handwriting; in 1951, the couple opened the Tytell Questioned Document Laboratory, which became the focus of her work and eventually, her son’s. In the 1960s, she graduated from New York University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“Handwriting talks to me,” she told The Daily News. “So do typewriters, ink and paper.”