Finding Authentic Autographs - Secretarial and machine-made signatures can cause confusion Politicians, celebrities, and sports figures are often asked for their autograph. To save time, they may authorize their secretary, agent, or even an autopen machine to sign their name for them. Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals

 

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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Books & Manuscripts > Expert Tip: Finding Authentic Autographs
 


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FINDING AUTHENTIC AUTOGRAPHS

 "Secretarial" and machine-made signatures can cause confusion



Authentic signatures of Robert F. Kennedy
Authentic signatures of
Robert F. Kennedy
Politicians, celebrities, and sports figures are often asked for their autograph. To save time, they may authorize their secretary, agent, or even an autopen machine to sign their name for them.

This poses a problem for collectors looking for genuine autographs. Is the signature authentic, a sanctioned duplicate known as a "secretarial autograph" or an outright fake?

There is the story of the US congressman whose secretary routinely signed documents for 20 years. Eventually, the congressman couldn't tell which documents he had signed and which ones his secretary had signed for him. If a congressman can't distinguish his own signature, how can the average autograph collector?
Variety of Robert F. Kennedy autopen signatures
Variety of Robert F. Kennedy
autopen signatures
 
 
We recommend Forging History by Kenneth Rendell, or Great Forgers and Famous Fakes by Charles Hamilton.

Here are some other suggestions:
  • Know the likelihood of getting a genuine signature
    Before buying an autograph, find out if a service or secretary was used to sign the name. Some celebrities are more willing to sign autographs than others. Harry S Truman signed virtually everything except for correspondence from the first few weeks of his presidency.

    On the other hand, you'll find a variety of secretarial signatures as well as machine made autographs used by John F. Kennedy's secretary. Hamilton's The Robot That Helped to Make a President provides information on Kennedy's autograph.

    Check autograph publications or ask a collectors club how often a celebrity signs autographs.

  • Don't expect personal attention
    Think twice about writing a letter asking for a popular celebrity's autograph. If you want his or her signature, you can be sure thousands of others do too. Even the most industrious celebrity can't sign each letter personally.

  • Don't necessarily trust a certificate of authenticity
    If autographs can be faked, so can certificates of authenticity, which are only as reputable as the person issuing them. Your best bet is to deal with a seller you know and trust. Ask for references if you're not sure.

    Some dealers specialize in getting "in-person" autographs. They can document and verify these signatures rather than relying solely on certificates of authenticity.

  • Check the return policy
    Beware of sellers who limit returns. If there's a question of authenticity, reputable dealers will usually take an autograph back as long as it's in the same condition as when it was purchased. Be ready to say why you think the signature is not genuine, but allow the dealer to defend the autograph's authenticity. Usually, he or she will end up taking the autograph back to maintain good customer relations.

    If the seller refuses to give you a refund, find out if he or she is part of an organization of autograph dealers or collectors. Then lodge an ethics complaint with that group. If you used the U.S. postal service to buy the autograph, you may be able to file a postal fraud complaint.

  • Keep good records
    When you get an in-person signature of someone famous, record the circumstances on a separate piece of paper. By documenting how, when, and where you got the signature, you will create a provenance or history of the autograph. If you ever wish to trade, sell, or have the autograph appraised, this document will help establish its authenticity.

 



Forging History : The Detection of Fake Letters & Documents
by Kenneth W. Rendell

Great Forgers and Famous Fakes : The Manuscript Forgers of America and How They Duped the Experts
by Charles Hamilton

Leaders & Personalities of the 3rd Reich: Their Biographies, Portraits, and Autographs, Volume 2
by Charles Hamilton

Leaders & Personalities of the 3rd Reich: Their Biographies, Portraits, and Autographs, Volume 1
by Charles Hamilton

Pen, Ink, & Evidence : A Study of Writing and Writing Materials for the Penman, Collector, and Document Detective
by Joe Nickell

The Robot That Helped to Make a President
by Charles Hamilton

Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis
by Robert F. Kennedy

Profiles in Courage
by John F. Kennedy

Robert Kennedy and His Times
by Arthur Meier Schlesinger

The Celebrity Address Directory & Autograph Collector's Guide 2001
by Lee A. Ellis

Sign This
by Tom Bunevich

The Address Directory of Celebrities in Entertainment, Sports, Business & Politics
by David R. Moore

Cosmonaut autographs : identification guide
by Stephen R. Datz

2001 Standard Catalog of Sports Autographs
by Tom Mortenson

The Official Autograph Collector Price Guide
by Kevin Martin