World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000118586
Reproduction Date:

Title: Autographs  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: That's Entertainment (comic shop)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


For other uses, see Autograph (disambiguation).

An autograph (from the Greek: αὐτός, autós, "self" and γράφω, gráphō, "write") is a document transcribed entirely in the handwriting of its author, as opposed to a typeset document or one written by an amanuensis or a copyist; the meaning overlaps with that of the word holograph.

Autograph also refers to a famous person's artistic signature. This term is used in particular for the practice of collecting autographs of celebrities. The hobby of collecting autographs is known as philography.


An individual's writing styles change throughout the lifespan of a person; a signature of President George Washington (c. 1795) will be different from one when he was an 18-year-old land surveyor. After British Admiral Nelson lost his right arm at the Tenerife sea-battle in 1797, he switched to using his left hand. However, the degree of change may vary greatly. The signatures of Washington and Lincoln changed only slightly during their adult lives, while John F. Kennedy's signature was different virtually every time he signed.

Other factors affect an individual's signature, including their level of education, health, and so on. Blues singer John Lee Hooker had a limited education, and such is reflected in his handwriting. Composer Charles Ives and boxer Muhammad Ali both suffered from Parkinson's disease, and their handwriting show the effects of that condition as well. Native American chief Geronimo had no concept of an alphabet; he "drew" his signature, much like a pictograph.

Many individuals have much more fanciful signatures than their normal cursive writing, including elaborate ascenders, descenders and exotic flourishes, much as one would find in calligraphic writing

As an example, the final "k" in John Hancock's famous signature on the United States Declaration of Independence loops back to underline his name. This kind of flourish is also known as a paraph.[1][2][3] John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence is so unique and well known that the phrase "John Hancock" has become a synonym for "signature" in American English,[4][5] and a prominent piece of American iconography.

Categories of celebrities

Some of the most popular categories of autograph subjects are Presidents, military figures, sports, popular culture, artists, social and religious leaders, scientists, astronauts and authors.

Some collectors may specialize in specific fields (such as Nobel Prize winners) or general topics (military leaders participating in World War I) or specific documents (i.e., signers of the Charter of the United Nations; signers of the U.S. Constitution; signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; signers of the Charter of the European Common Union; signers of the World War II German or Japanese surrender documents).

Sports memorabilia signed by a whole team can often be sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars.


Some celebrities still enjoy signing autographs for free for fans, keeping it an interesting hobby.

Many people who will stand outside premieres etc. and ask for autographs are actually professional autograph traders, who then sell the autographs for full profit, rather than fans interested in the star itself or in even keeping the autograph. This is one reason why some celebrities are not willing to distribute their signature unless paid to do so. Joe DiMaggio was able to command more money on signing fees than he made in his playing career, though he also gave individual autographs.[6] Bill Russell does not sign at all in public, and only sparingly at private sessions. Michael Jordan reportedly did not sign for most of his career because of safety concerns about frenzied attempts to get his signature, which is worth hundreds of dollars. Jordan has frequently signed at more peaceful events, such as golf tournaments. Pete Rose was paid to sign 30 baseballs with the inscription "I'm sorry I bet on baseball."[7][8] In the 1980s, actor/comedian Steve Martin carried business cards which he handed out to fans requesting an autograph; the cards read "This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny."[9]

Realizing the potential profit in the sale of pop culture autographs, many dealers also would wait for hours for a celebrity to emerge from a location, present several photos for the celebrity to sign and then sell most of them. Michael Jackson's experience was typical; he often signed just a handful of autographs as he rushed from his hotel to his vehicle. Some collectors take note of which celebrities are the most gracious or the least forthcoming.[10] Some dealers would locate a celebrity's home address and write to them repeatedly asking for autographs. The celebrities soon grew tired of the practice and limited their responses. Because of the many autographs a celebrity might sign over time, some check requests against a record of past requests. Boxer George Foreman, for instance, records the names and addresses of every person requesting an autograph to limit such abuses. Canadian sculptor Christian Cardell Corbet has his assistant research all requested autographs and also records all sent out.

Secretarial signatures

Celebrities sometimes authorized secretaries to sign their correspondence. In the early months of WWII, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall felt obligated to sign every condolence letter sent to the families of slain soldiers. But as the death rate increased, he was forced to assign an assistant to "forge" his signature to the letters. The surrogate signatures were hard to distinguish from the originals. General Douglas MacArthur rarely signed a WWII condolence letter personally and all of his letters to families were signed by one of two assistants who tried hard to duplicate his signature but the "forgeries" were distinguished by an unusually high letter "l" and a skinny "D". During the early stage of the Korean War, MacArthur personally signed condolence letters. As the fatalities increased, the General began to use letters with pre-printed signatures.

In the 1952 Presidential Election, General Eisenhower often had secretaries forge his name to campaign letters and "personally inscribed" autographed photographs.

Player signatures on baseballs and footballs that are actually signed by coaches and ballboys are called clubhouse signatures.

Autopen autographing

Since the early 1950s almost all American presidents have had an autopen or robot machine for the automatic signing of a signature as an autograph machine for their letters, photographs, books, official documents, and even memorabilia items such as baseballs and golf balls. Some former presidents even have continued to utilize the autopen after they have left office. The Signa-Signer can even write out in ink an authentically looking handwritten message that has been typed into the machine. One book detailing the use of this machine by President John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) is The Robot That Helped to Make a President.

Since the 1960s, the practice of using an autopen has spread to U.S. Cabinet members, U.S. Senators, some state governors, and many other personalities who have a high volume of correspondence with the public.

Astronaut Alan Shepard acknowledged that NASA used the autopen machine to sign the astronauts' voluminous correspondence. Many large corporations also use these machines for signing business letters. One might think that autopen signatures would constantly match one another. However, even autopen signatures will eventually change as the signature drum becomes worn and thereby alters the signature. Due to these professional imitations, one must be wary of buying presidential or astronaut signatures from unknown sellers.

In December 2004, a controversy arose when it was revealed that United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was using an autopen to sign letters-of-condolence to families of American military members who had died in the line of duty while serving under Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Shortly thereafter, Rumsfeld announced that he would start to personally sign such letters.

In January 2013 it was reported that the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, also known as the fiscal cliff bill, was signed by United States President Barack Obama's signature, via autopen, in Washington, D.C. while he was on vacation in Hawaii.[11]

Forged autographs

Autograph collecting is an enthralling hobby to collectors, who enjoy assembling a series of historical documents, letters or objects that have been signed or autographed by a notable person as a way of capturing a piece of history. However, collectors must be aware that the hobby is fraught with documents, photographs and sports items that were signed by forgers seeking to profit by selling forged items to unwitting buyers. Sometimes just the signature has been forged, in other instances the entire document has been fabricated. Forged autographs of nearly all famous personalities abound. Differentiating forged from authentic autographs is almost impossible for the amateur collector and a professional should be consulted.

One method commonly seen on

Forgers go to great lengths to make their forgeries appear authentic. They use blank end papers from old books upon which to write their fake signatures in an attempt to match the paper of the era in which the personality lived. They have researched ink formulations of the era that they want to replicate. One book that explores the production of impressive fake manuscripts pertaining to Mormons is A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey.

One must know the era in which American presidents signed their documents. American presidents signed land grants until President Andrew Jackson (c. 1836) became bored with the time-consuming task. Since then secretaries of the president have mimicked their masters' signatures on these documents (known as "proxy" signatures). Many movie stars have their secretaries sign their letters and photographs for them. When President Ronald Reagan was an actor during the 1940s, he had his mother sign his name to much of his fan mail.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the president of the Confederate States of America was Jefferson Davis. Due to his extensive correspondence, Davis' wife frequently signed his name to his dictated letters. As she duplicated his signature so well, she usually placed a period after the signature so that he could discern her signatures from his own.

All of the Union and Confederate generals from the American Civil War have had their signatures forged. Many were faked during the 1880s, a period that included the fad of aging soldiers in collecting Civil War autographs. Most deceptions were of mere signatures on a small piece of paper, but extensively written letters were forged as well. Autograph collectors should be cautious of clipped signatures. The bogus autograph is glued onto an authentic steel-engraved portrait of the subject. Some steel engravings may have reprinted the autograph of the portrayed subject; this is known as a facsimile autograph, and to an uninformed buyer it may appear to be real.

Deceptive devices

Some personalities have used a rubber or steel hand-stamp to "sign" their documents. American President Andrew Johnson (c.1866) did so during his tenure as a senator prior to assuming the presidency, since his right hand was injured in a train accident. This is why his autograph as President differs from previous autographs. President Warren Harding frequently used a rubber stamp while he was a senator. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt used them, along with President Woodrow Wilson (c.1916). England's King Henry VIII and Pennsylvania colony founder William Penn used a deceiving hand stamp.

Joseph Stalin had several rubber signature stamps which were used on awards and Communist party cards. Nikita Kruschev and Lavrenti Beria, the KGB Chief, used similar stamps.

Quality forgeries have been made for many of Europe's past rulers. The French nobles had their secrétaires de main sign their documents. Many forgeries of Napoleon's (c.1800) war orders exist; he was so busy with battle concerns that he barely had enough time to sign promotion orders for generals, so his scribes applied his name to lesser documents.

Many famous scientists, astronauts, Arctic explorers, musicians, poets, and literary authors have had forgeries of their epistles and signatures produced. False signatures of the aviator Charles Lindbergh were clandestinely signed onto real 1930-era airmail envelopes bought at stamp shops and then re-sold to unwary buyers; the same has occurred with Amelia Earhart and the Wright brothers. "Mickey Mouse" creator, Walt Disney (1955), had several of his cartoonists duplicate his artistic signature on replies to children seeking his autograph.

Texan paper currency was signed in ink by Sam Houston, though not handwritten by Houston himself.

The Oct. 1986 Smithsonian magazine explored the "melting timepieces" artwork of the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. It quoted one of his secretaries as claiming that she signed the artist's signature to postcard depictions of his paintings. Another article in the April 2005 Smithsonian noted: "In 1965 he began selling signed sheets of otherwise blank lithograph paper for $10 a sheet. He may have signed well over 50,000 in the remaining quarter century of his life, an action that resulted in a flood of Dalí lithograph forgeries."

Some deceivers cut pages from books that American President Richard Nixon (c.1970) signed on the blank flyleaf, typed his letter of resignation from the presidency on that signed page, and then sold the doctored item as if Nixon had personally signed a scarce copy of the historical document. The miscreant has changed the value of a lower-priced signed book quite easily to a much more lucrative item; changing a mere signature into a signed manuscript. This practice has expanded to include quotations from George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton, John F.Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although now marketed as "souvenir" signed copies, they are, by definition, fraudulent creations.

Other authenticity issues

Forgers buy real American Revolutionary War-era documents and surreptitiously pen a famous patriot's name between other real signatures in a manuscript in hope of deceiving an unsuspecting buyer. Others will use tea or tobacco stains to brown or age their modern missives.

It has been estimated that over 80 percent of the autographed items of famous American sports players being sold over the Internet are fakes. Baseball legend Babe Ruth, for instance, has had his signature forged on old baseballs, then rubbed in dirt to make them appear to be from the 1930s.


With the recent enormous growth of autograph sellers on eBay, and the appearance of a multitude of new galleries and retailers offering expensive autographs, casual autograph collectors and one-time buyers have in many instances sought "certificates of authenticity" issued by the seller at the time of sale. As with any guarantee, these certificates are only as dependable as the seller issuing them, and if the seller is a fraud, then your certificate, and the possibility that your signed item could be considered worthless. Any COA or similar issued by a seller should always include the sellers full contact details and any details of Association memberships, and these should always be double checked on the Associations website.

In many instances, sellers will use a professional authenticator to determine the authenticity of the material they wish to bring to market. The autograph industry is currently contentiously split between two types of authenticators: those who rely upon their professional expertise and experience personally having collected and/or sold large inventories of autographs over a period of many years, and "forensic examiners" who rely on academic credentials. Disputes have led to court actions, most notably gallery owner American Royal Arts vs. Beatles autograph dealer Frank Caiazzo.

Potential autograph buyers uncertain of the legitimacy of the seller or authenticator should carefully research both parties, and should always check any dealer who claims membership of any association. AFTAL all include a list of dealers on their websites for anyone to view. This research should not be limited to a seller's or an authenticator's website which could be prejudiced. Some dealers have been known to invent their own Association, i.e. 'The Universal Manuscript Society' to enhance their own reputation, but neither of these associations exist in real life.

Mastro Auctions, a major sports autograph auction house which used a professional authenticator to determine the authenticity of material offered for sale, was sued by a dealer in 2006 (Bill Daniels v. Mastro Auctions, Boone County, Indiana, case #06D01-0502 -PL- 0060). Daniels said that he had bought over 2,000 signed photographs of athletes from Mastro and claimed that the catalog incorrectly described them as all being in color and 8x10 in size. Daniels also claimed that some of the autographs on the photographs may have been fakes. He produced two dealers whom he said were autograph experts, but Superior Court Judge Matthew C. Kincaid excluded their testimony saying that neither Steve Koschal nor Richard Simon "possess sufficient skill, knowledge or experience in the fields in which they were asked to render opinions." The law for each state is different regarding qualifications to testify. Mr. Simon and Mr. Koschal have both testified in states where their testimony is accepted in court.[12]

Copyright status of signatures

see Copyright


In autograph-auction catalogues the following abbreviations are used to help describe the type of letter or document that is being offered for sale.

  • AD: Autograph Document (hand-written by the person to be collected, but not signed)
  • ADS: Autograph Document Signed (written and signed by same individual)
  • AL: Autograph Letter (hand-written by the person to be collected, but not signed)
  • ALS: Autograph Letter Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AMs: Autograph Manuscript (hand-written; such as the draft of a play, research paper or music sheet)
  • AMsS: Autograph Manuscript Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AMusQs: Autograph Musical Quotation Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AN: Autograph Note (no salutation or closing, usually shorter than a letter)
  • ANS: Autograph Note Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AQS: Autograph Quote Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual; poem verse, sentence, or bar-of-music)
  • DS: Document signed (printed, or while hand-written by another, is signed by individual sought to be collected)
  • LS: Letter Signed (hand-written by someone else, but signed by the individual sought to be collected, frequently handwritten by secretaries before the advent of the typewriter)
  • PS: Photograph Signed or Postcard Signed
  • SP: Signed Photograph
  • TLS: Typed Letter Signed
  • TNS: Typed Note Signed
  • folio: A printer's sheet of paper folded once to make two leaves, double quarto size or larger.
  • octavo(8vo): A manuscript page about six-by-nine inches. (Originally determined by folding a printer's sheet of paper to form eight leaves.)
  • quarto(4to): A manuscript page of about nine and one-half by twelve inches. (Originally determined by folding a printer's sheet of paper twice to form four leaves.)

See also


Further reading

  • Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents by Kenneth W. Rendell, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994, 173 pages.
  • Great Forgers and Famous Fakes by Charles Hamilton, Crown Publishers, 1980, 278 pages.
  • Making Money in Autographs by George Sullivan, 1977, 223 pages.
  • Collecting Autographs by Herman M. Darvick, Julian Messner, a Simon & Schuster Division of Gulf & Western Corporation, 1981, 96 pages.
  • Collecting Autographs and Manuscripts by Charles Hamilton, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1961, 269 pages.
  • Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector's Manual edited by Ed Berkeley, Charles Scribner's Sons Pub., 1978, 565 pages.
  • Scribblers & Scoundrels by Charles Hamilton, Eriksson Pub., 1968, 282 pages.
  • Manuscripts: The First Twenty Years edited by Priscilla Taylor, Greenwood Press, 1984, 429 pages.
  • Autographs: A Key to Collecting by Mary Benjamin, 1963, 345 pages
  • Big Name Hunting: A Beginners Guide to Autograph Collecting by Charles Hamilton, Simon & Schuster Pub., 1973, 95 pages.
  • The Signature of America by Charles Hamilton, Harper & Row, 1979, 279 pages.
  • Word Shadows of the Great: The Lure of Autograph Collecting by Thomas Madigan, Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1930, 300 pages.
  • Collecting Autographs For Fun and Profit by Robert Pelton, Betterway Pub., 1987, 160 pages.
  • From the White House Inkwell by John Taylor, Tuttle Co., 1968, 147 pages.
  • Autograph Collector's Checklist edited by John Taylor, The Manuscript Society, 1990, 172 pages.
  • The Autograph Collector by Robert Notlep, Crown Pub., 1968, 240 pages.
  • The Complete Book of Autograph Collecting by George Sullivan, 1971, 154 pages.
  • A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey, Simon & Schuster, 1988, 397 pages.
  • Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Re-Appraisal by H.K. Thompson, Amber Pub., 1976, 198 pages.
  • Leaders and Personalities of the Third Reich by Charles Hamilton, 2 vols., Bender Pub., 1984 (Vol. 1) and 1996 (Vol. 2).
  • The Guinness Book of World Autographs by Ray Rawlins, 1997, 244 pages.
  • The Robot that Helped to Make a President by Charles Hamilton, 1965.
  • War Between the States: Autographs and Biographical Sketches by Jim Hayes, Palmetto Pub., 1989, 464 pages.
  • American Autographs by Charles Hamilton, 2 vols., Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1983, 634 pages.
  • Autographs of Indian Personalities by S.S. Hitkari, Phulkari Pub., 1999, 112 pages.
  • Ieri Ho Visto Il Duce: Trilogia dell'iconografia mussoliniana ed. Ermanno Alberti. (Italian)
  • Who's Who series; Who's Who in America, etc.
  • Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography ed. by James Wilson, 6 vols., 1888.
  • Autograph, Please by Santosh Kumar Lahoti, Reesha Books International Pub., 2009, : India.
  • Play Ball, Mr. President: A Century of Baseballs Signed by U.S. Presidents by Dan Cohen, 2008, 48 pages.
  • "Signs of the Times: Autographs of luminaries: from Lincoln to Liberace", Steve Kemper, Smithsonian magazine, Nov. 1997.
  • "The Surreal World of Salvador Dali", Stanley Meisler, Smithsonian magazine, Apr. 2005.
  • "The Tumultuous Life and Love of Salvador Dali", Meryle Secrest, Smithsonian magazine, Oct. 1986.

External links

  • Shapell Manuscript Foundation
  •, Universal Autograph Collectors Club, a federally approved 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1965.
  •, UK based autograph dealer association.
  • Open Directory Project
  • IADA-CC, autograph networking site
  • The Classic Entertainment Autograph Database, the largest-known resource for confirmed-authentic exemplars of classic entertainment-related autographs
  • Entertainment Autograph Database
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.