Famous recluses with valuable autographs
When a famous figure becomes a recluse, they gain an air of mystique. Which translates into increased demand for their autograph. An autograph they're reluctant to sign.
And there you have it - desirability and rarity. The perfect conditions for a valuable autograph.
Howard Hughes-signed photos auction for around $6,000 (Image: Heritage Auctions)
Millionaire at 18 (thanks to his dad's drill bit business), Hughes gained fame as an aviator, film director and businessman – setting a new round-the-world flying record in 1935 and discovering actresses Jane Russell and Jean Harlow.
Hughes' mental health went into decline in the 1940s; he infamously spent four months on a film set sitting in a darkened room, surviving on nothing more than chocolate and milk. From then on, obsessive-compulsive order took an ever greater hold of his life.
A growing phobia of germs saw Hughes spend the last 30 years of his life in almost complete seclusion - living in a series of darkened hotel penthouses, while wearing nothing.
When he died in 1976, his body was almost unrecognisable from the dashing aviator of 40 years previously.
Fascination with his story endures. Signed photos – all from his pre-seclusion days – auction for $6,000.
A rare appearance from Lee as she receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Harper Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was published in 2015 – 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird made her famous. In the intervening years Lee had kept a low profile, making public appearances but seldom – once to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W Bush in 2007.
With a print run of only 5,000, first edition, first impressions of To Kill a Mockingbird are rare and valuable. Good condition copies still containing their dust jacket achieve around $15,000, while those signed by Lee are worth double that figure. A rare presentation copy signed by Lee made $45,600 in 2005.
Later editions of the book also have value, so long as Lee has signed them. A signed 32nd edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book from 1999 made $1,000 – a testament to the scarcity of Lee's autograph.
Lee died in 2016.
Garbo died during her 49-year temporary retirement (Image: Westlich Photographica / Heritage Auctions)
In 1941, a 36-year-old Garbo announced she was taking a "temporary retirement". Fans were still awaiting her comeback when she died 49 years later in 1990, in the Manhattan apartment where she lived by herself.
Even before her retreat from the public eye, Garbo was famously reclusive – encapsulated by her famous line in 1932's Grand Hotel: "I want to be left alone", which became a running gag in her films.
She disliked signing autographs. Which is bad news if you are trying to find one today, but great if you already own one.
Expect to pay at least $1,000 for a good quality Garbo-signed cheque or photo.
Salinger asked for his face to be removed from the back cover of 'Catcher in the Rye' (Images: Wikimedia Commons / PBA Galleries)
Be careful what you wish for. The Catcher in the Rye author, who courted fame in the early years of his career, spent most of the last decades of his life holed up in Cornish, New Hampshire, steadfastly refusing interviews, and even asking his face to be taken off subsequent editions of his famous 1951 work.
He never replied to a single piece of fan mail, in fact he asked his agent to burn it all. That makes his signature scarce.
Unsigned first edition, first impression copies of "Catcher" from 1951 can sell for $13,500, according to the PFC40 First Edition Books Index, while signed first edition copies from those early days can achieve $30,000.
The few handwritten letters that exist regularly make north of $10,000.
Did you know? Patricia Arquette demanded Nicolas Cage present her with a JD Salinger autograph before she would agree to marry the Con Air star. He managed it, tracking down a letter from the author. The pair broke up nine months into their marriage.
An early photo of Pynchon, who saved his appearances for The Simpsons (Image: Wikimedia Commons / 20th Century Fox)
Acclaimed as America's greatest post-war novelist, Pynchon doesn't do publicity. Hiding in the obscurity of New York City, the Gravity's Rainbow author has managed to avoid nearly all attempts to track him down since the 1960s.
Only The Simpsons coaxed him out to play. He voiced his own character, which appeared with a bag over his head.
Pynchon's signed books are even rarer than Salinger's. Expect to pay at least $20,000 for a signed first edition of Gravity's Rainbow. Signed letters make around $3,000.
Bon vivant turned hermit, Marcel Proust (Images: Wikimedia Commons / Bonhams)
For the last 14 years of his life, from 1914-1927, Marcel Proust incarcerated himself in a soundproof Parisian apartment. The formerly outgoing author was up to something, but few knew what.
Luckily for us, he wasn't idling his days away. Proust was, in fact, doing a spot of writing. Seven volumes-worth in fact. What emerged was A la recherche du temps perdu or In search of lost time – his most famous work.
His autographed letters can achieve around $4,500.
Signed books are your best bet if you want a Fischer autograph (Image: Wikimedia Commons / Heritage Auctions)
Bobby Fischer's world championship win over the USSR's Boris Spassky in 1972 was a huge coup for the US government, and made a global superstar of Fischer. But three years later Fischer refused to defend his title, and disappeared from public view.
He reappeared in 1992 to give Spassky a rematch in Yugoslavia – a move that contravened US sanctions on the country and made a fugitive of Fischer. He further cemented his unpopularity in the US with another appearance in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11, to claim the attacks "wonderful", and to add that he wished to see the US "wiped out".
$300 should get you a Fischer-signed chess book.
Dickinson corresponded mostly by letter - making such pieces desirable but not particularly rare (Images: Wikimedia Commons / Bonhams)
A writer who makes Salinger look almost gregarious. So reclusive, she reportedly attended her father's funeral by listening to it from her bedroom, Dickinson (1830-1886) would rush upstairs if company called and rarely left her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Dickinson published only a small number of her 1,700 poems during her lifetime.
Dickinson mostly communicated by handwritten letters, which makes such items of considerable interest to collectors, if not particularly rare. Auction prices range from $12,000 to $20,000, depending on content and condition.
Roger Barrett returned to his original name after leaving Pink Floyd (Image: Heritage Auctions)
The dazzling creative force behind Pink Floyd's debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Barrett left the band soon afterwards. He walked the 50 miles from London to his mother's house in Cambridge as drug-induced mental health problems took their toll.
He seldom left the house again, devoting his time to art and gardening while Floyd went on to achieve global fame, and musical mediocrity, with The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall.
As you'd expect with a man so briefly available to the public, genuine examples of Barrett's signature are difficult to come by. Expect to pay up to $3,000 for a signed photo in top condition.
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