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Collecting Info: Collecting the Autographs of Authors

Collecting the autographs of authors is one of the more serendipitous connections of autograph collecting. You have the both writer you admire and a snippet of his very work. Autographs bring a direct link to the Author that almost no other collectible item can give. It is an intimate link between you and the past. The author held the item in her very hands and wrote upon it; you simply cannot get a more direct connection that is so easily verifiable.

There are as many reasons for collecting as there are myriad different things to collect. What do you want to collect? Who has influenced you? Perhaps you had a childhood favorite? Was there something that changed your life when you first discovered it? Perhaps you would like a 'complete set' of a specific favorite author's work? Maybe you want to limit yourself to the top ten authors of your favorite genre?

While cannot verify your autograph for you, these pages are intended to help you in your collecting efforts by providing images of examples for comparison.

In order to validate an unauthenticated autograph you need to become somewhat of a handwriting analyst.

Autographs and signatures evolve over time -- and often they devolve into sloppier versions -- but usually they still retain a similar style. The speed of the signature can affect its clarity. Check for similarities, especially in the initial capital letters: most people start the word more clearly and get sloppier at the end, so your analysis should allow for more variance at the rear of the signature than the front. Look especially at the loops, the trailing ascenders and descenders. Try to compare multiple examples and look for similarities among the group.

If a truly duplicate identical sample is found, be wary of a possible autopen signature. If a sample is not available, examine the item which has been signed and check for obvious inconsistencies such as an item published or created after the death of the signer.

Look at what type of implement was used to sign. While Sharpies (indelible markers) are quite common today, they were not mass produced until 1951 and were not in common usage for signatures until the 1980s. Although a version of the ballpoint pen was patented as far back at 1888, problems with the ink kept them from mass production until around 1945.

Get out your magnifying glass or loupe. Check for smooth ink or dots. Most printing processes use screens which place dots of ink on the page so that a light area of the signature, such as the trailing end of the name, will show up as dots rather than a smooth wash of ink. Look at where the strokes overlap: is the ink darker there? It should be because there should be two layers of ink. Or is the color uniform, as a printed or stamped signature would be?

Check other copies of the same book to see if that title was issued with the signature printed on it. Libraries are a good place to check. Is the author's name printed on the title page? If you see only the title and the signature that would indicate that the signature was printed as part of the page.

Was the item inscribed to someone? A forger is less likely to add an inscription: not only does that make more work but it is generally of slightly less value than a simple signature.

A note of caution: be wary of auction sites. If the item for sale looks like too good a deal, ask questions. Check carefully for mention of a preprint. Remember that Certificates of Authenticity are no more than fancy pieces of paper: like paper money they have no more value than the word of the person or organization who issued them. Most fears about authenticity can be assuaged by the simple expedient of contacting the dealer.

Some Autograph Terms
  • Signature/Signed = someone's name written in their own handwriting.

  • Autograph = something written by someone's own hand. A book with "To Claire, with the best wishes of the Author" is autographed but not signed. All signatures are autographs, but not all autographs are signatures.

  • Inscription/Inscribed = a short message dedicating the item to someone or something. If it is from the author, and perhaps to a notable person, it can increase the value of the book. If it is from the former owner's ex, or someone equally dismissible, it usually decreases the value. An inscribed item is not necessarily signed or autographed. Although the term is sometimes used to denote a signed item, it would be more correct in the above example to state that the item was autographed and inscribed to Claire

  • Autopen = a writing machine used to create facsimile autographs from an original template. Autopens are mostly used by political figures and astronauts to sign large numbers of items. The result is technically a copy of the signature, not an original. A good website about autopens is Autopen Library.

  • Preprint = when speaking of signatures, mostly on photographs, a preprint is a previously signed item which has been reproduced and contains the signature within the image. Not a 'real' signature in any collectible sense.

  • Secretarial signature = an apparently authentic signature which in reality has been made by a secretary or assistant who signs for a celebrity. This is a somewhat common practice. While not a copy, it is also not technically an original signature, since it is not the name of the signer.
Recommended further reading, books by Mark Allen Baker, or George & Helen Sanders.
Content provided by Once Read Books.

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