Autographs have been in the news this week.
And the headlines featured the dreaded word I'm sure you know well.
More precisely, Bob Dylan's autopen.
Fans discovered their $500 limited-edition signed copies of his new book were in fact signed by a machine, when they compared their copies and realised the autographs were identical.
Dylan swiftly confessed and apologised for the matter, and I can sympathise a little with his situation.
Because Dylan is 81, and suffers from both arthritis and vertigo, so a signing session of any length is difficult for him these days.
(The question of what his publishers and P.R team knew before they sold the books is another matter...)
But this isn't a new problem. Autopen machines have been in use throughout the industry for more than 60 years.
Rage against the machine
The dreaded Autopen machine has been in use for over 60 years.
Almost every famous figure, from Hollywood stars to political leaders, has used one to sign their name at some point.
When so many people want to own your autograph, there just aren't enough hours in the day.
These days some use multiple autopen machines, each one with a slight variation of their signature. Which only makes life more difficult for collectors.
With the automated autographs on the market often far outnumbering real ones, knowing the difference becomes an art form in itself.
There are certainly a few basic things every collector can look out for. And you can find my beginner's guide to spotting an autopen autograph here.
But at the end of the day, it's vital you buy from an experienced dealer who knows the difference.
Over the past 45 years I've built up an archive of signatures to run comparisons against. Hand-signed, autopen, secretarial, famous fakes...
I've seen them all, and you'll never find anything but the genuine article for sale on my site.
The 'time-machine' touch
The pleasure of owning an item touched and hand-signed by a hero like Bob Dylan is impossible to recreate.
The high-profile Dylan story brought the issue of autopens to a wider public.
And if it educates collectors and makes them more wary before they buy, so much the better.
But for me, the real message of the story was this:
It highlighted the true value and rarity of genuine hand-signed autographs.
In this increasingly digital age, fans still desperately wanted to own a book Bob Dylan had held and touched as he signed it.
They weren't simply paying for a name on a page.
That touch gave them a personal connection to their hero. A special feeling that's impossible to recreate.
And that's the very essence of why we collect rare autographs.
So as you build your collection, always remember how remarkable it is that we can still reach back through time... sometimes across hundreds of years...
And make that same personal connection.
The figures that have inspired you, changed the course of history and shaped the world we live in.
It's a joy and a privilege you should never take for granted.
Because as Dylan fans discovered this week, it's rarer than you might think.
As always, if you have any questions about the rare collectibles market please feel free to get in touch.
Email me at email@example.com.
Or call me on +44 (0) 117 933 9500.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for reading,