Prior to the passing of the Bills of Exchange Act in 1882, the English rule was conceded to be that a material alteration of a negotiable instrument, however and by whomever made, avoided the instrument. The rule was the result chiefly of three cases: Pigot's Case announced that "when a deed is altered in a point material by the plaintiff himself or by any stranger without the privity of the obligee, the deed becomes void;" Master v. Miller extended this doctrine to negotiable instruments; Davidson v. Cooper recognized, adopted and held the rule to apply to all cases where the altered instrument is relied upon as the foundation of the right of action. Such had been the rule applied to fraudulent and willful alterations by the holder. And Master v. Miller and Davidson v. Cooper were cited as authorities for its application to alterations made by strangers. Neither case presented an acid test for the application of the rule of Pigot's Case to the latter situation. In both, the defendants alleged by way of defense an alteration made by persons unknown to them. In neither did the plaintiffs explain the tampering. Perhaps it is no mere conjecture that the alterer was the holder himself. Lord Abinger, C. B., said in the Davidson case, "Suppose the distinction to be that an alteration by a stranger does not vitiate an instrument, another question is whether the fact of alteration. having been made by a stranger ought not to be replied." While it may be seriously questioned whether the rule which crystallized out of the above cases presented an accurate picture of the state of the authorities, the law apparently was settled that "no party can rely on a document which has been altered while in his custody, though he be, in a position to prove most positively that the alteration was the effect of pure accident, or mistake, or was made without his privity or consent by some person over whom he could exercise no control."

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