Following last week's Ask Paul on how to spot a fake stamp, another reader has asked how to identify an autopen autograph.
For me, identifying an autograph is one of the most exciting aspects of collecting. I enjoy the detective work that comes with discerning a fake from the real deal, and subsequently valuing the item against other examples.
Autopen signatures can be the bane of many collectors' lives. An autopen is a machine that copies a person's signature and then reproduces it at a rate many times faster than could normally be done - some top celebrities even have several autopens with slightly altered autographs, making it even more difficult to tell which is the real thing. However, follow my advice and you should be well on your way.
First off, autopens signatures are usually of the same thickness and pressure throughout, and resemble a signature in black marker pen. Uniformity is obviously something very hard to achieve when signing your own name, as you adjust the position of your hand.
Almost all of the autopen examples that I have seen are shaky, which results from the movement of the machine. Unless the person whose autograph you desire is known for being particularly nervous, I would think twice before buying one of these.
There is also a slight yellowing that I have noticed around the signature, presumably left by the printing of the signature onto the item. This is clearly visible if the signature has a white background but is very difficult to spot on most examples.
If you happen to have a magnifying glass handy, take a good look at the autograph and look for any minute tears or indentations in the paper created by the pen. As the autopen doesn't actually write, but rather prints, the autograph, it will not have damaged the paper at all.
However, my top tip would be to find an inscribed item, as these are almost never completed using an autopen. Obviously, those without a previous collector's name will look better in your collection, but it is a sure-fire way to tell that yours is genuine.