Autographs are my bread and butter.
They’re how I got started in the collectibles industry. Back in the late 70s, I co-owned a record store in Bristol, UK. One day I bought a signed copy of a Beatles album from a customer.
A few weeks later someone offered me a substantial sum of money for it (a lot less than it would be worth today, mind you).
I was hooked.
Soon I was dealing exclusively in autographs.
The most important of my job is determining authenticity. I scrutinise every autograph before offering it for sale in my store. If I'm not 100% sure it's genuine, you will never see it. Here’s a little insight into what I'm looking for.
Provenance simply means “history”. Many of the autographs I sell are offered to me by ordinary people. Sometimes they will be related to the signer. More often, they’ve been left an item by a relative.
This Churchill signature has cast-iron provenance
If someone has a large stock of letters from - let’s say, Winston Churchill - addressed to their father, that’s a really good start.
I’ll talk to the seller, digging deeper into their history to learn more about the relationship. I’ll also examine supporting documents to match up dates.
This is a best case scenario.
Often provenance can be much trickier to determine. But either way, I now need to...
Examine the signature
Here’s a useful trick. Place your prospective autograph next to one you know to be genuine...
Then turn them both upside down. This way you aren’t reading them. You’re able to focus all your attention on the way each has been signed.
Autographs really are as individual as fingerprints.
I’ve seen some excellent forgeries in my time. But few have captured the specific motion people make when signing their own signature. Differences in flourish and speed are easy to spot with a little practice.
This is an autopen, designed to mass produce signatures
Contrary to popular belief, it’s very difficult to fool an expert with a fake autograph.
Forgers make their money ripping off people without that expertise. This is why you always have to buy from a reputable dealer. It’s just not worth the risk.
Some crooks (and several US presidents) use autopens. These are automatic signers, used to mass produce autographs.
But autopens are relatively easy to spot using a magnifying glass - because the pen is static when it hits the page.
They start with a dot and end with another one. You don’t get that with a freehand signature. The ink also looks different under magnification and you can usually see minute vibrations from the machine.
I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but you’d be amazed how much ink can tell you.
Colour is a big one. If you hold a signature up to the light and it has a purplish tinge, chances are it was stamped.
Stamps are sometimes used to fake signatures
Does the ink have a silver tint? This could have been traced from a negative.
Age is another big flag.
Is the signature from before the 1940s and signed in Biro? Likely a fake. Biros weren’t mass manufactured until after world war two. Felt tip pen before 1962? Definitely fake.
There are countless more little indicators that I’ve spent decades learning.
They all add up, allowing me to make an informed decision.
It’s not one I arrive at lightly...
Looking for the next autograph for your collection?
Each and every one of my autographs has been through this rigorous process. Why not take a look at my latest stock?