Ensuring you buy real authenticated autographs: basic to advanced

You’re online, indulging your love for the minutiae of 1970s rock music. 

And you’d love to buy that David Bowie signature. 

But how do you know that it’s a real, authentic autograph, grabbed from the Thin White Duke?

An image of David Bowie's autograph on a white background in black ink 

The real thing. But how do you know this is David Bowie's signature?

Read on, and we’ll tell you how to do the checks that mean you only hand over your card details to people with the real thing.

This guide will give you everything you need to know to buy real, authenticated celebrity signatures of all sorts. 

As Paul Fraser Collectibles autograph expert Daniel Wade says:

“Expert advice is the gold-standard for authenticating your autographs. But there’s a lot that enthusiasts and collectors can do to safeguard themselves.” 

Where to begin with authenticated autographs

Let’s start with the simplest steps you can take.

Those are the sort of precautions you should be taking whenever you’re shopping online. 

You need to know that you’re dealing with a legitimate entity. 

That they have a good reputation. 

That they actually have what they are promising to sell you. 

That there are avenues for you to get redress if you do have a bad experience. 

Most of us know what we need to look for:

  • Good quality websites, 
  • Real, checkable street addresses, 
  • Contact details that work, 
  • A range of legitimate payment methods - you should be cautious of anyone who uses only crypto currencies, for example.

It’s never a bad thing to be dealing with a legal entity that is in the same legal jurisdiction that you are in. 

Why are we telling you all this? 

Because, sadly, autographs are relatively easy to fake. 

Many of them are very high value. 

So you do need to be cautious. 

Fortunately, something as lucrative as selling autographs also builds up an infrastructure dedicated to making sure the trade is legitimate. 

There are experts. There is a lot of information freely available. There is a community where you’ll find advice. 

A photograph of the Apollo 11 astronauts signed by all 3

The First Men on the Moon: their signatures will always be in demand. If they're real.

Make use of these resources. Ask questions. 

And shop at established dealers. If you use secondary markets make sure you use highly rated sellers. 

That’s the simple stuff sorted. 

Authenticate autographs: spotting the real thing

Now, let’s look at the actual autograph. 

How do you know an autograph is real? 

Does your autograph look right? 

Most people who collect autographs are also somewhat expert, but we all have to start somewhere. 

I could scribble “Mick Jagger” down on a piece of paper right now. 

It wouldn’t be very convincing - if the person I’m trying to sell it to knows what Jagger’s signature should look like.

That’s the person you need to be. 

It’s fairly easy to find good quality images of most signatures online. 

Check that it matches a signature from the right period. Plenty of stars have redesigned their autograph over their careers. 

An image of Mick Jagger's signature.

Mick Jagger regularly changed his signature. 

And check it against known “fakes”. 

Many non-genuine signatures are produced innocently enough. 

Fakes and forgeries

Anyone who faces a constant demand for their signature, particularly by letter, is likely to get bored of signing fairly quickly. 

Secretaries or other staff - for The Beatles it was the fan club staff - may take up the pen on their behalf. 

And if the demand is high enough a handstamp might be produced. These are very often used on handout photographs. 

Autopens are machines designed to reproduce a signature from the signer’s own autograph. They’re basically a perfect facsimile. 

You should be able to find examples of these “fakes” for popular signatures online. 

Authenticated autographs: looking at your own signature

Once you’ve established that the autograph looks as it should you should ask some more questions.

For example, does it look natural? 

An image of the signatures of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, The Beatles

Look at the flow and ease of these signatures. 

Most of us sign our names without thinking. 

It’s usually done as continuously as possible. There shouldn’t be a lot of stopping and starting. 

And because we’re human, we will almost always sign with pressure variations. 

That’s something that handstamps don’t do. 

And tracing and drawing over a signature also usually produces a more uniform ink coverage than the real thing. 

Autopens too are likely to produce a too-good result. 

And, machine signatures will always be exactly the same, even the same dimensions.

Authenticated autographs in context

Then you should look at the context of your signature. 

What is it on? 

Is it something that the signer could conceivably have signed? 

When you’re being told they signed it? 

And is that medium real? 

Has it aged appropriately? 

Counter-intuitively some older papers look less aged than recent ones.

We can thank the introduction of wood pulp paper in the middle of the 20th century for this. This is the stuff that goes brittle and brown and destroys your paper backs after a few decades. 

A military commission signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Official documents come on the quality parchment and last well. Abraham Lincoln held and signed this paper in May 1864.

Authenticated autographs require provenance

Now let’s look for some positive context. 

What is the provenance? 

Provenance is the documented history of a signature. 

If you’re lucky, it will start the moment the autograph was grabbed. 

Some people do have pictures of themselves collecting a star signature. 

Many autographs come from people who are close to a celebrity: members of their staff, friends, family. 

Ideally, the initial owner of the autograph will have written a detailed and dated account of how they got it. 

Of course, a good deal are on documents that tell their own story: letters, contracts, even state documents. 

These documents bring another challenge to the authentic autograph hunter. 

A document signed by Queen Elizabeth I.

A document like this, signed by Elizabeth I, has an extensive paper trail.

Clever forgers might well use the apparent heft of a historical document to give weight to a faked signature. 

A relatively cheap but authentic historical document can easily be hoisted into the high-value category by adding a faked name.

Look for good quality authentication by experts on any documents. 

Most genuine old documents come with a paper trail of some sort. The lives and works of most significant historical figures have been comprehensively crawled over. 

It’s not impossible for a new document to be discovered by someone who doesn’t really know what it is and who has to sell it quickly for a low price.  

But it’s not very likely. 

Only as good as what can be proved

You should ask for as much documentary proof as you can get with your autograph. 

We guarantee everything we sell. And we give you a document to travel with the piece you buy from us. 

The money-back guarantee is completely waterproof, and it’s also something that will help you sell on should you wish to.

Finally, there is professional authentication and expert opinion. 

Should an autograph ever pass through a well-known dealers hands, or over an auction block then that adds weight to its authenticity. 

Like everything else it needs to be in writing of course. 

There are subject experts who will inspect and authenticate signatures for you. Often for a fee. 

You can’t beat expert advice, whether you pay for it or not. 

And that’s the most advanced authentication you can get for your autographs.

A little common sense goes a long when shopping online for autographs. 

Authenticated autographs without fear

But no-one is immune to the very best forgeries. It’s quite possible there are some out there in the most famous collections. 

If you’d like to buy from a respected autograph dealer with decades of experience then I’d love to hear from you. 

That’s whether you’re buying or selling. 

All you need to do is drop me an email on info@paulfraserecollectibles.com or call (0)1534 639 998. 

Let's get started! 

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