Collectors will know there’s a real thrill to holding an autograph signed by a great historical figure.
And it’s a thrill that gets more pronounced the further back in time you go. Don’t get me wrong, I get a buzz from Marilyn Monroe – but seeing Henry VIII’s own handwriting close up is mind-blowing.
All of a sudden a figure from the history books springs to life before you.
But what’s the furthest back you can go?
Who can claim to have the world’s oldest autograph?
I have two answers for you.
Here’s the first
The world’s oldest known signature originates from Sumeria (in modern day Iraq) and dates all the way back to circa 3100 BC. That makes it more than 5,000 years old.
The signer is a lowly scribe named Gar Ama.
His name appears on the back of a clay tablet, on which he’s laid out a list of 41 common professions.
This simple clay tablet bears the oldest known signature in history
Chances are Gar Ama just copied these words out as a simple exercise. But in a twist of fate he now occupies a unique position in history.
Personally I find it deeply satisfying that the world’s earliest signature belongs not to a great king or conqueror but to a lowly scribe.
And now for the second
We have to wait a long time until someone famous shows up in the record.
A really long time, in fact.
Around 4,000 years.
No signatures from prominent figures have survived from the ancient world. For most of history rulers used stamps rather than signatures to sign off on decrees, and scribes copied out original manuscripts.
The oldest signature of a well known historical figure is that of legendary Castilian knight, El Cid (AD 1043-1099).
El Cid's statue stands in the town of Burgos, Spain
Feared across Europe for his battlefield prowess, he’s a Spanish folk hero.
His name appears on a document dated 1096, in which he bequeaths a substantial donation to the Cathedral of Valencia.
You can see El Cid's signature at the centre right of this document
El Cid signs “ego ruderico” or “I Roderico” (his real name was Roderico Diaz).
Seeing this near mythical figure sign his name in his own hand is nothing short of extraordinary.
It’s a reminder that he was flesh and blood, just like us.
Thanks for reading,
PS. Are you looking to sell a rare signature of your own? I may be able to help. Get in touch with me today at firstname.lastname@example.org.