written by Alexander Bitar
If you're asked to think of an autograph, you may think of your parents' signatures or maybe someone else close to you. But from a larger perspective, there are some autographs that are so striking and iconic due to their importance.
Nowadays, with everything being digital, several days or even weeks could pass without you writing anything with a pen. The importance of handwriting has decreased a lot. But something we do need from time to time is a signature. And hopefully, it's at least somewhat aesthetically beautiful. Autographs and handwriting have been of interest to me from a very young age since I've been an autograph collector. For that reason, I often show interest in other people's handwriting, especially their autographs. Surprisingly, it's not rare that I hear people say, "I don't have an autograph."
The hobby of collecting autographs gained a great deal of popularity at the beginning of the 19th century, and it increased during the upcoming years when the number of famous people began increasing. A celebrity gets people's interest, especially if that celebrity is someone you admire or enjoy. Therefore it's reasonable that you'd want their autograph. Handwriting, especially one's autograph, could be compared with someone's identity. It's a verification. For that reason, a signature is very personal. That's why it's collectable since it connects you with a celebrity that you like. Whether the autograph is on a piece of paper, a business card, a movie poster, a photograpåh, or whatever, it's very personal since the person in question has, most likely, put their hand on the item and signed their name. Autograph collectors feel they're close to the celebrity while having their signatures, and I fully understand that.
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The single biggest problem with autographs is that they can easily be forged. I write "easily", because, let's face it, all you need is a pen and paper – and we all have that at home. Obviously, it's difficult to imitate someone else's autograph, but again, all you need is a pen and paper. That's why the vast majority of all autographs that are being sold are fake. Then again, a George Washington autograph written with a sharpie is pretty self-explanatory. But without knowledge, it's easy to buy forgeries. Because you just don't know.
If you're a long-time collector, you get a "trained eye", meaning you know what to look for while examining an autograph. There are many elements that determine authenticity, and they vary due to which person has signed. So it's definitely not easy. But if you've spent years collecting autographs, it's easy to spot forgeries, especially if they are bad. But if you don't have the experience and the knowledge, then you can end up buying forgeries in the hope that they are authentic. And why is that? Well, often you see that autographs are accompanied by so-called Letters of Authenticity (LOA) or Certification of Authenticity (COA). Such documentation could be necessary, but they're, in many cases, simply worthless. As easy as it is to forge an autograph, as easy is it to print a document with the heading "Certification of Authenticity". It's all about who the letter is from. There are a few respected third-party authenticators, such as PSA/DNA, JSA, and Beckett. Having signed material accompanied by a letter from any of those three companies means that the item is highly likely to be authentic. Obviously, there's always a tiny possibility that the item is still fake, but that's rare with the world's greatest third-party authenticators.
Everyone can submit their autographs to, let's say, PSA/DNA. It will cost some money, and it will take some time, but you eventually get noticed if your item is authentic or not. If it's genuine, you get a letter stating the authenticity. With that letter, the value of your item also increases since potential buyers would be more comfortable buying the item with good documentation rather than without.
Take a moment to just think about what famous autographs that you know of. If you're British, then you may think of Winston Churchill, while if you're American, then you may think of Abraham Lincoln. There are indeed many famous autographs. I'd like to highlight three of them: William Shakespeare, John Hancock, and Walt Disney.
The world's most valuable autograph is the one of William Shakespeare. The English playwright was born in 1564 and passed away in 1616. He's one of the most important and well-known human beings in the history of humankind. However, there are only six known autographs of Shakespeare that still are known today. Making it extremely expensive, with a value close to 10 million pounds.
Read More: The World’s Most Expensive Autograph
The second person – John Hancock – may not be as well-known as Shakespeare, but he's highly associated with one thing, namely his autograph. A "Hancock" is another word for an autograph; that's how strongly he's connected to autographs. One of the world's most famous and important documents is the Declaration of Independence from July 4, 1776. The document lays the foundation of what became the United States of America. Although there are 56 signers of the document, there's one that stands above all. It's written at the top of all other autographs, it's centred, and it's by far the biggest – the signature in question belongs to John Hancock. That's why Hancock, a man that isn't well-known outside America, has one of history's most famous signatures in history.
In contrast to John Hancock, I'm sure we all know the name of Walt Disney. The American animator and film producer Walt Disney is a global icon, mainly because his name is connected to one of the world's most famous and beloved brands – Disney. The mass media and entertainment conglomerate makes some of the world's best-selling movies and are highly culturally relevant. Their logo is probably among the world's top 5 most famous logos. And what's interesting about the logo is that it's Walt Disney's own signature! Walt Disney has super elegant and beautiful handwriting, and his signature is, in my opinion, totally flawless. So flawless that it became his company's logo. The value of his autograph is one of the most expensive autographs from the 20th century, and I dare to say – the autograph of Walt Disney is the most beautiful autograph in the history of mankind.
Alexander Bitar is an international dealer of high-end collectables. Based in Stockholm with office in Beverly Hills, some of Bitar's specialities are entertainment memorabilia as well as autographs and manuscripts.