'How to authenticate autographs: my 33 tips for collectors'
'How to authenticate autographs: my 33 tips for collectors'
Paul's tips on 'How to authenticate autographs': they're relevant to other collecting areas, too...
Billionaire Malcom Forbes (Forbes Magazine) once said:
"None of my other investments give me the joy that autographs do, because they make me feel that I am holding a piece of history in my hands"
I share the same belief.
Over the past 35 years I have handled tens of thousands of autographs.
I know all the pitfalls new collectors can fall into... andI wasn't suprised to read that, according to an FBI report, 70% of all sports autographs on eBay are forgeries.
But if you can escape the forgeries you will have a hobby that will reward you personally and financially.
I've learnt all the tricks to how to authenticate autographs, andI'm happy to share them with you...
Talk to the seller and find out any known history or provenance that accompanies the item.
We recently sold Robert Burns' personal Bible. The previous owners of the Bible had kept a documented history of the item, including press cutttings from when it was last seen in public at an exhibition in 1896.
The last owneralso commentedthat he had wonthe Biblein a poker game.
Provenance is essential and an interesting story adds to the appeal of an item.
30. Try and date the item to within its lifetime.
This sounds obvious, and don't laugh,but you'd bestaggered how many obvious forgeries there are on the market.
A John Lennon signed photodated 1981? Amazing...he was assassinated in 1980.
29. Consider the flow of the signature or writing.
Forgers often keep the pen on the page after the stroke, which creates a dot or 'blob' of ink, where it would be more normal to lift for a lighter finish. Sometimes it is easier to look at the signature upside down, as it is easier to see a different flow.
28. Check the size of the signature.
Whatever the size of the overall signature is it still normal for all the individual letters to be proportionate in the normal way throughout the entire signature?
27. Traced signatures
If someone has traced the signature it is usually shaky or sometimes there are pencil marks or indentations under the ink.
It wasn't until the 15th Century that accomplished people started to sign their own name, preferring to let those trained in the art of writing to do it for them. Be very wary of items from this period.
Check that the style of the signature is contemporary to the period stated.
24. Paper types
Different paper existed pre-1750 - wove paper without grid pattern, visible when held up to the light was post 1750.
23. Watermark clues
Watermarks in paper sometimes contain dates.
Water soluble ink came into use in 1860.
21. Is the pen right?
Steel pens were introduced in 1780 with two furrows of pen nibs, seen with ink flow in between.
Biro came in during the Second World War to enable pilots etc, to be able to write upside down if necessary and in the air rather than on a surface.
19. Felt tip
Felt tip pens were introduced in 1955.
18. And contemporary?
You get a feathery spread of ink when the signature is not contemporary with the medium used.
17. Make sure it's not an autopen signing
Autopens were introduced in the 1950's. As the name suggests; they are basically automatic-pens that can replicate signatures - often used bya celebrity's fan-club to cope with the demand for autographed pictures.
(See 24 for more details)
16. Personal style
Look at the idiosyncrasies of the writer; familiarise yourself with the scope and style of the individual characters in the signature.
Does it all add up?
The paper, the ink, the pen used, and the method of signing should correspond to the date.
15. Build your own reference library
Archive 'in person signatures', bank cheques, documents and contracts etc that are known to be 100% correct. They'll be a valuable reference point as you build your collection.
14. Auction catalogues and dealers lists
Add reference books showing authentic examples and catalogues from leading Auction Houses and top dealers where they display genuine copies of rare signatures - use them as comparisons.
13. Ink absorption
Look out for abnormal absorption of ink - India ink has a sheen; printing ink does not.
12. A natural signing?
Check that the flow of the pen is uninterrupted, that it has varying degrees of heavy and light pressure and thickness of strokes.
Individuals normally retain the same angular relationships throughout their handwriting life.
11. Avoid the secretary!
'Secretarial' or proxy signatures are either written too slowly displaying too much attention to detail OR too quickly with the opposite effect, where neither represents the real signature.
10. The obvious autopen
An autopen will normally produce a squiggle as it finds straight lines difficult.
9. Correct sized signing?
Check the size and position of the autograph - most people tend to keep the same size, position, angle etc...
8. Fighting the forgers
Forgers ultimately make mistakes with content, dates, the medium used, or the general spirit of the piece, betrayed by the complete uniformity of the imitation.
7. Does exactly what it says on the tin
'Stamped signatures' display ink shading around the characters where the ink on the pad has transferred to the paper.
6. The No No's
Check for stamped, facsimile, secretarial, autopen, lithographic and printed signatures.
5. It's only natural
Look out for distinct national characteristics, as with French script.
4. The importance of content
With letters and manuscripts, it is the interpretation of the significance and importance of the content that creates the difference of opinion in value.
This is linked to your own knowledge, and opinion,of the scarcity of the type of item you are viewing.
If the content is absolutely superb (ie Einstein discussing E=MC) then the piece will warrant further scrutiny for its increased value.
This Henry VIII document addressed to the man in charge of his wardrobe is valued at 48,000 ($79,200).
This one, Henry VIII's personal attempt to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a unique document of immense historical importance,is valued at 275,000 ($450,000).
Equally recognise that the signature is of more value if it is considered to be signed at the height of their career, or most important part of their life.
I once sold a Marilyn Monroe signature ona menu from JFK's birthday party (the night she sang Happy Birthday Mr President). Items with such a great association command top prices.
Interestingly a 'Sixth Sense' develops after years of experience and knowledge, and shows why it pays to deal with people who have a long history in their field of expertise.
1. And finally...
Please start with the premise that the item is probably wrong.
Then prove, in your own mind,that itis correct.
Otherwise 'the will to believe' will take over; especially if it is an item you have been seeking for years.
Remember... If the item is too good to be true it probably is.
I personally authenticate our entire stock ofautographs and memorabilia.
If you are looking to buy a piece of history please take a look at our stock on thefollowing link...
Stock for Sale