Autographs: 2017 auction review

This year was all about Einstein. While the great man has long been a popular fixture at major auctions around the world, we saw a huge amount of growth in his market.

Science and technology was well represented overall.

Does this feed into some innate hunger for progress? Who knows for sure, but these results have left us feeling curiously hopeful for the future…

Top autograph sale of 2017

Einstein Japan

Einstein gifted this note to a courier

Einstein spent some of 1922 in Japan. One day he received a package at his hotel. Unable to give the courier a tip (as tipping is taboo in Japan) Einstein instead decided to write a couple of short notes with some cheerful aphorisms on.

He then handed these to the courier, whose family treasured them for nearly 100 years.

Those notes came to market in Israel this year, where one sold for an extraordinary $1.8m. That’s against an estimate of $8,000.

It reads: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness”.

2017’s most important autograph sales

Hamilton essay


















Interest in Alexander Hamilton is at unprecedented levels thanks to the popular musical

Hamilton remained the most popular musical on Broadway in 2017. An essay by the real Alexander Hamilton reaped a little of that success, selling for $262,500.

Martin Luther King jr was one of the most powerful orators in history. His We Shall Overcome speech (a phrase that rallied the civil rights movement) achieved $382,500 at Goldin Auctions in May.

Had it not been for Bletchley Park codebreaker Alan Turing, it's thought the second world war would have lasted two years more. A 1953 postcard from a holiday in Corfu, a rare glimpse of the man behind the legend, realised $33,000 at RR Auction in February.

As we said before, Einstein was the big name this year. A major auction of his letters to  close friend Michel Besso featured one that referenced the cosmological constant, one of Einstein's biggest errors (we won’t attempt to explain why here). It made £293,000 ($376,866).

The most unusual autograph sale of 2017

Mao autograph

Chairman Mao had a strong interest in Chinese poetry

One of our favourite pieces from this year was a set of notes taken by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), during a series of lessons he took with a professor of Chinese literature in the 1970s.

The text is shaky. Mao was in the last years of his life. The text (which references poetry) displays a level of sensitivity we rarely associate with this towering 20th century strongman.

It was a breakout year for…

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is one to watch for the future

2017 was the year when Steve Jobs’ market exploded. This signed copy of Newsweek made $50,500 - an extraordinary sum for a business figure.

It was a year to forget for…


We hope to see this remarkable piece again soon 

We would have loved to have seen this Galileo signature, supposedly the first known, cross the block at Nate D Sanders. It was offered with a $1m estimate. No takers sadly. Better luck next year. 

One you may have missed


Truman rarely spoke about the bomb in his letters

This President Harry S Truman letter made $11,136 in August. What makes it so special? It includes a reference to the nuclear bomb - one of the most important moments in Truman’s presidency and something he rarely mentioned in his letters. 

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