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 TomFolio.com 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
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
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
Recommended further reading, books by
Mark Allen Baker,
George & Helen Sanders.
- 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
- 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.
Content provided by Once Read Books.