Investing in autographs
Collecting autographs is both a hobby and a popular form of investment. Signatures by famous or noteworthy individuals are being increasingly acknowledged as globally-recognised tangible assets.
Collectors investing in autographs will usually look for the rarest and finest examples. These are the signatures which are most likely to appreciate in value over a period of time.
Investing in autographs also offers the pleasure of owning unique historical items, and the process of building a collection can be extremely rewarding. Publishing tycoon and famous collector Malcolm Forbes once stated:
“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. In my view, they are the most undervalued of all areas of collecting, especially when you consider what people are paying for even second-rate paintings.”
Autographs can be included in alternative investment portfolios, and the values of many autographs over the last ten years have risen at rates beyond the stock markets.
Between 1997 and 2007 the value of some signatures rose by more than 1,000%, and the value of the top 40 celebrity signatures by an average of 335.9%.
There are currently two autograph indices which have tracked the value of the most popular signatures over a number of years to determine their investing potential. They are:
These indices offer growth-rate figures over a 10 year period for popular signatures such as the Beatles or Marilyn Monroe, including the autographs' overall appreciation and their average compound increase per annum.
For example, the value of a photo signed by all four members of the Beatles rose during this period from £5,500 to £22,500, an increase of 309.1%. The value of a photograph signed by Andy Warhol also increased from £195 to £1,950, a rise of 900%.
Size of markets
There are currently estimated to be around three million autograph collectors worldwide, with the figure increasing every year as the emerging economies of the "BRIC nations" - Brazil, Russia, India and China - create a large number of new collectors.
How to invest
Autographs can be purchased from a number of different places such as dedicated dealers, auction houses and online auctions. Companies specialising in autographs, such as RR Auction, can offer a guarantee of authenticity and in many cases a detailed provenance for their items which some online auctions cannot.
There are a number of reputable online dealers and auctioneers, but it is ill-advised to verify the authenticity of an autographed based on an online photograph.
According to an F.B.I report, over 70% of autographed items sold online are fake. Because of this, research into both the item and the dealer in question is a vital precaution when investing.
Main article: List of autograph dealers
Most valuable investments
The most valuable signatures are the rarest, due to limited supply and continuing/growing demand. Two of the rarest living signatures are those of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong and golfer Tiger Woods.
Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, stopped signing autographs in 1994 which has boosted their values as rare assets. Woods has famously signed very few autographs in his career. Consequently, both individual's signatures are more valuable than those of more prolific signers.
Impact of death on investment values
If the famous figure in question has passed away, the value of their signature will often rise rapidly soon after their death (this is sometimes known as the 'James Dean' effect).
Autographs are commonly seen as long-term investments, as their value is directly linked to their rarity. Once new examples of the signature are no longer available, the value of the remaining signatures will begin to appreciate at a higher rate.
Researching the markets
For anyone investing in the area, extensive research plays an important role in both the accurate valuation and authentication of an autograph.
The prices for autographs can vary depending on details such as the item itself (ie a photograph, postcard, letter, etc), its condition, the size and placing of the signature, the date of the signature, its legibility and even the quality of the ink used.
For anyone considering autographs as an investment as opposed to a simple hobby, these factors are essential in identifying investment-grade examples.
Issues of authenticity
The authenticity of autographs is crucial to their viability as investments.
For instance, throughout the years many famous figures have used a device called an ‘autopen’ to sign their autographs for them. An autopen is a machine which automatically reproduces an autograph using any type of pen, and can sign up to 3,000 signatures in one day.
It can often be difficult to spot an autopen signature, which has little or no value compared to a real one, but with some research it is possible. Comparing the signature to a known authentic example can help, along with some information on the person in questions: are they known to use or have ever used an autopen? If so when, and on what kinds of items?
Role of clubs and associations
Over recent decades, increasing numbers of autograph clubs and associations have been established to help and advise collectors and investors on spotting the difference between a genuine signature and an autopen signature.
This is proven especially beneficial to the autograph investment markets, as authenticity can mean the difference between a valuable asset and a worthless piece of paper.
Main article: List of autograph collectors' clubs and societies
Professional authentication services
In addition to organisations, there are a number of professional autograph authentication services available. These companies are staffed by experts with knowledge on both the famous signees in question and the intricacies of their signatures and handwriting.
These organisations are often used by auction houses and other companies to authenticate their items. In some cases, autographs with an authentication from a certain company can be more valuable than one without. The price for this service can vary depending on the company and item in question.