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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Autograph of Martin Luther.
Actor Eric Bana autographing and posing with fans at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

An autograph (from the Greek: αὐτός, autós, "self" and γράφω, gráphō, "write") is a document written entirely in the handwriting of its author, as opposed to a typeset document or one transcribed by an amanuensis or a copyist; the meaning overlaps with that of the word holograph.

Autograph also refers to a person's signature. This term is used in particular for the practice of collecting autographs of celebrities. The hobby of collecting autographs is known as philography.



autograph in Punjabi by Anwar Masood

An individual's writing styles change throughout the lifespan of a person; a signature of President George Washington (c. 1795) will be different from one when he was an 18-year-old land surveyor. After British Admiral Nelson lost his right arm at the Tenerife sea-battle in 1797, he switched to using his left hand. However, the degree of change may vary greatly. The signatures of Washington and Lincoln changed only slightly during their adult lives, while John F. Kennedy's signature was different virtually every time he signed.

Other factors affect an individual's signature, including their level of education, health, and so on. Blues singer John Lee Hooker had a limited education, and such is reflected in his handwriting. Composer Charles Ives and boxer Muhammad Ali both suffered from Parkinson's disease, and their handwriting show the effects of that condition as well. Native American Chief Geronimo had no concept of an alphabet; he "drew" his signature, much like a pictograph.

Many individuals have much more fanciful signatures than their normal cursive writing, including elaborate ascenders, descenders and exotic flourishes, much as one would find in calligraphic writing

For one of the most foremost collections of autographs look up Tommy Scullion; a calligraphic artist in his own right.

As an example, the final "k" in John Hancock's famous signature on the United States Declaration of Independence loops back to underline his name. This kind of flourish is also known as a paraph.[1][2][3] John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence is so unique and well-known that the phrase "John Hancock" has become a synonym for "signature" in American English[4][5], and a prominent piece of American iconography.

Categories of celebrities

A rugby ball signed by all of the All Blacks 2006 Tri Nations Series squad

Some of the most popular categories of autograph subjects are Presidents, military figures, sports, popular culture, artists, social and religious leaders, scientists, astronauts and authors.

Some collectors may specialize in specific fields (such as Nobel Prize winners) or general topics (military leaders participating in World War I) or specific documents (i.e., signers of the Charter of the United Nations; signers of the U.S. Constitution; signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; signers of the Charter of the European Common Union; signers of the WWII German or Japanese Surrender documents).

Sports memorabilia signed by a whole team can often be sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars.


A Manly Sea Eagles NRL player autographs a fan's arm

Some celebrities still enjoy signing autographs for free for fans, keeping it an interesting hobby. Art Carney also enjoyed signing autographs until his death in November 2003.

Many people who will stand outside premieres etc and ask for autographs are actually professional autograph traders, who then sell the autographs for full profit, rather than fans interested in the star itself or in even keeping the autograph. This is one reason why some celebrities are not willing to distribute their signature unless paid to do so. Others only give autographs to children. Hilary Duff has sometimes refused to sign autographs.{{[1]}} Joe DiMaggio was able to command more money on signing fees than he made in his playing career, though he also gave individual autographs.[6] Bill Russell does not sign at all in public, and only sparingly at private sessions. Michael Jordan reportedly did not sign for most of his career because of safety concerns about frenzied attempts to get his signature, which is worth hundreds of dollars. Jordan has frequently signed at more peaceful events, such as golf tournaments. Pete Rose was paid to sign 30 baseballs with the inscription "I'm sorry I bet on baseball."[7] Other personalized items were signed for free, such as a baseball prankishly signed "Fuck Yogi" by Mickey Mantle.[8] Actor/comedian Steve Martin carries business cards which he hands to fans requesting an autograph; the cards read "This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny."[9]

Realizing the potential profit in the sale of pop culture autographs, many dealers also would wait for hours for a celebrity to emerge from a location, present several photos for the celebrity to sign and then sell most of them. Michael Jackson's experience was typical; he often signed just a handful of autographs as he rushed from his hotel to his vehicle. Some collectors take note of which celebrities are the most gracious or the least forthcoming.[10] Some dealers would locate a celebrity's home address and write to them repeatedly asking for autographs. The celebrities soon grew tired of the practice and limited their responses. Because of the many autographs a celebrity might sign over time, some check requests against a record of past requests. Boxer George Foreman, for instance, records the names and addresses of every person requesting an autograph to limit such abuses.

Secretarial signatures

Celebrities sometimes authorized secretaries to sign their correspondence. In the early months of WWII, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall felt obligated to sign every condolence letter sent to the families of slain soldiers. But as the death rate increased, he was forced to assign an assistant to "forge" his signature to the letters. The surrogate signatures were hard to distinguish from the originals. General Douglas MacArthur rarely signed a WWII condolence letter personally and all of his letters to families were signed by one of two assistants who tried hard to duplicate his signature but the "forgeries" were distinguished by an unusually high letter "l" and a skinny "D". MacArthur's Korean War-period condolence letters had pre-printed signatures.

In the 1952 Presidential Election, General Eisenhower often had secretaries forge his name to campaign letters and "personally inscribed" autographed photographs.

Autopen signatures

Since the early 1950s almost all American presidents have had an autopen or robot signature-signing machine sign their letters, photographs, books, and even official documents. The Signa-Signer can even write out in ink an authentically looking handwritten message that has been typed into the machine. One book detailing the use of this machine by President John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) is The Robot That Helped to Make a President.

Since the 1960s, the practice of using an autopen has spread to U.S. Cabinet members and to U.S. Senators, and many other personalities who have a high volume of correspondence with the public.

Astronaut Alan Shepard acknowledged that NASA used the autopen machine to sign the astronauts' voluminous correspondence. Many large corporations also use these machines for signing business letters. One might think that autopen signatures would constantly match one another. However, even autopen signatures will eventually change as the signature drum becomes worn and thereby alters the signature. Due to these professional imitations, one must be wary of buying presidential or astronaut signatures from unknown sellers.

In December 2004 a controversy arose when it was revealed that the United States' Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was using an autopen to sign letters-of-condolence to families of American military members who had died during Gulf War II. Shortly thereafter, Rumsfeld announced that he would start to personally sign such letters.

Forged autographs

Autograph collecting is an enthralling hobby to collectors, who enjoy assembling a series of historical documents, letters or objects that have been signed or autographed by a notable person as a way of capturing a piece of history. However, collectors must be aware that the hobby is fraught with documents, photographs and sports items that were signed by forgers seeking to profit by selling forged items to unwitting buyers. Sometimes just the signature has been forged, in other instances the entire document has been fabricated. Forged autographs of nearly all famous personalities abound. Differentiating forged from authentic autographs is almost impossible for the amateur collector and a professional should be consulted.

One method commonly seen on eBay is called "preprinting" by many sellers. The item is only a photocopy of an actual autographed photo, usually printed on glossy home photo paper. Since this is almost always disclosed to the buyer, some may not consider these actual forgeries.

Forgers go to great lengths to make their forgeries appear authentic. They use blank end papers from old books upon which to write their fake signatures in an attempt to match the paper of the era in which the personality lived. They have researched ink formulations of the era that they want to replicate. One book that explores the production of impressive fake manuscripts pertaining to Mormons is: A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey.

One must know the era in which American presidents signed their documents. American presidents previously signed "land grants" until President Andrew Jackson (c.1836) became bored with the time-consuming task. Since then secretaries of the president have mimicked their master's signatures on these documents (known as "proxy" signatures). Virtually all movie stars have their secretaries sign their letters and photographs for them. When President Ronald Reagan was an actor during the 1940s, he had his mother sign his name to much of his fan mail.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the president of the Confederate States of America was Jefferson Davis. Due to his extensive correspondence, Davis' wife frequently signed his name to his dictated letters. As she duplicated his signature so well, she usually placed a period after the signature so that he could discern her signatures from his own.

All of the Union and Confederate generals from the American Civil War have had their signatures forged. Many were faked during the 1880s, a period that included the fad of aging soldiers in collecting Civil War autographs. Most deceptions were of mere signatures on a small piece of paper, but extensively written letters were forged as well. Autograph collectors should be cautious of clipped signatures. The bogus autograph is glued onto an authentic steel-engraved portrait of the subject. Some steel engravings may have reprinted the autograph of the portrayed subject; this is known as a facsimile autograph, and to an uninformed buyer it may appear to be real.


Deceptive devices

Some personalities have used a rubber or steel hand-stamp to "sign" their documents. American President Andrew Johnson (c.1866) did so during his tenure as a senator prior to assuming the presidency, since his right hand was injured in a train accident. This is why his autograph as President differs from previous autographs. President Warren Harding frequently used a rubber stamp while he was a senator. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt used them, along with President Woodrow Wilson (c.1916). England's King Henry VIII and Pennsylvania colony founder William Penn used a deceiving hand stamp.

Joseph Stalin had several rubber signature stamps which were used on awards and Communist party cards. Nikita Kruschev and Lavrenti Beria, the KGB Chief, used similar stamps.

Quality forgeries have been made for all of Europe's past rulers. The French nobles had their secrétaires de main sign their documents. Many forgeries of Napoleon's (c.1800) war orders exist; he was so busy with battle concerns that he barely had enough time to sign promotion orders for generals, so his scribes applied his name to lesser documents.

Many famous scientists, astronauts, Arctic explorers, musicians, poets, and literary authors have had forgeries of their epistles and signatures produced. False signatures of the aviator Charles Lindbergh were clandestinely signed onto real 1930-era airmail envelopes bought at stamp shops and then re-sold to unwary buyers; the same has occurred with Amelia Earhart and the Wright brothers. "Mickey Mouse" creator, Walt Disney (1955), had several of his cartoonists duplicate his artistic signature on replies to children seeking his autograph.

Texan paper currency was signed in ink by Sam Houston, though not handwritten by Houston himself.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine explored the "melting timepieces" artwork of the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. It quoted one of his secretaries as claiming that she signed the artist's signature to postcard depictions of his paintings.

Some deceivers cut pages from books that American President Richard Nixon (c.1970) signed on the blank flyleaf, typed his letter of resignation from the presidency on that signed page, and then sold the doctored item as if Nixon had personally signed a scarce copy of the historical document. The miscreant has changed the value of a lower-priced signed book quite easily to a much more lucrative item; changing a mere signature into a signed manuscript. This practice has expanded to include quotations from George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton, John F.Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although now marketed as "souvenir" signed copies, they are, by definition, fraudulent creations.

World War II (1939–1945)

Many of the autographed documents allegedly signed by the German leaders of the Nazi government have been forged. Spurious documents and postcards claiming to be signed by Adolf Hitler are extant. Many were written on blank Nazi stationery that had been purloined by Allied soldiers from the desks in the Führer's bunker in Berlin. German Fieldmarshall Erwin Rommel has had many bogus signatures penned in his characteristic green pencil that he used (ink dried too quickly in the hot North African climate). Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's signature has been forged on authentic documents actually signed by King Emanuel—this helps to make the phony Mussolini signature appear real, since it is on an otherwise genuine document.

Any serious autograph collector must be alert for the WWII blitzkrieging General Guderian autographed document: it may be signed by his son who became a German general after the war. The same confusion can exist in trying to differentiate between the signatures of the sons of Rommel and the American Admiral Nimitz (1945).

Other authenticity issues

Forgers buy real Revolutionary War-era documents and surreptitiously pen a famous patriot's name between other real signatures in a manuscript in hope of deceiving an unsuspecting buyer. Others will use tea or tobacco stains to brown or age their modern missives.

It has been estimated that over 80 percent of the autographed items of famous American sports players being sold over the Internet are fakes. Baseball legend Babe Ruth, for instance, has had his signature forged on old baseballs, then rubbed in dirt to make them appear to be from the 1930s.


With the recent enormous growth of autograph sellers on eBay, and the appearance of a multitude of new galleries and retailers offering expensive autographs, casual autograph collectors and one-time buyers have in many instances sought "certificates of authenticity" issued by the seller at the time of sale. As with any guarantee, these certificates are only as dependable as the seller issuing them.

In many instances, sellers will use a professional authenticator to determine the authenticity of the material they wish to bring to market. The autograph industry is currently contentiously split between two types of authenticators: those who rely upon their professional expertise and experience personally having collected and/or sold large inventories of autographs over a period of many years, and "forensic examiners" who rely on academic credentials. Disputes have led to court actions, most notably gallery owner American Royal Arts vs. Beatles autograph dealer Frank Caiazzo.

Potential autograph buyers uncertain of the legitimacy of the seller or authenticator should carefully research both parties, and should always check any dealer who claims membership of any association. PADA, the UACC and AFTAL all include a list of dealers on their websites for anyone to view.

In Poland and Eastern Europe in theme of signed documents and autographs the most known is Jaroslaw Pijarowski - organizer and promoter of AutografExpo and forensic expert. His Certificate of Authenticity (COA) is made with a special unique security marks and hologram.


Under United States Copyright Law, "titles, names [...]; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring" are not eligible for copyright[11]; however, the appearance of signatures (not the names themselves) may be protected under copyright law.[12]


In autograph-auction catalogues the following abbreviations are used to help describe the type of letter or document that is being offered for sale.

  • AD: Autograph Document (hand-written by the person to be collected, but not signed)
  • ADS: Autograph Document Signed (written and signed by same individual)
  • AL: Autograph Letter (hand-written by the person to be collected, but not signed)
  • ALS: Autograph Letter Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AMs: Autograph Manuscript (hand-written; such as the draft of a play, research paper or music sheet)
  • AMsS: Autograph Manuscript Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AMusQs: Autograph Musical Quotation Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AN: Autograph Note (much shorter than a letter)
  • ANS: Autograph Note Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AQS: Autograph Quote Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual; poem verse, sentence, or bar-of-music)
  • DS: Document signed (printed, or while hand-written by another, is signed by individual sought to be collected)
  • LS: Letter Signed (hand-written by someone else, but signed by the individual sought to be collected)
  • PS: Photograph Signed or Postcard Signed
  • SP: Signed Photograph
  • TLS: Typed Letter Signed
  • TNS: Typed Note Signed
  • TTM: Through The Mail
  • folio: A printer's sheet of paper folded once to make two leaves, double quarto size or larger.
  • octavo(8vo): A manuscript page about six-by-nine inches. (Originally determined by folding a printer's sheet of paper to form eight leaves.)
  • quarto(4to): A manuscript page of about nine and one-half by twelve inches. (Originally determined by folding a printer's sheet of paper twice to form four leaves.)


  1. ^ Paraph has a Wiktionary entry.
  2. ^ Paraphe, also spelled parafe, is a term meaning flourish, initial or signature in French (Paraphe entry, reverso translation software, based on the Collins French-English Dictionary, Harpercollins, Flexible edition, August 1990, ISBN 0062755080).
  3. ^ The paraph is used in graphology analyses.
  4. ^ Dictionary definition of John Hancock, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
  5. ^ An alternate expression commonly used as a synonym for "signature" is "John Henry":

    JOHN HENRY/JOHN HANCOCK – "As every schoolboy knows, the biggest, boldest and most defiant signature on the Declaration of Independence was scrawled by John Hancock of Massachusetts. So completely did it overshadow the autographs of the other founding fathers that the term 'John Hancock' has become synonymous with 'signature' and each of us at the one time or another has spoken of 'putting his 'John Hancock' at the bottom of a document. In the West, a half century and more later, the phrase became altered to 'John Henry,' and nobody knows quite why. Suffice it that, in the words of Ramon Adams's excellent collection of cowboy jargon, 'Western Words': 'John Henry is what the cowboy calls his signature. He never signs a document, he puts his 'John Henry' to it!' Incidentally, there seems to be no connection between the John Henry of cowboy slang and the fabulous John Henry of railroad lore, who was so powerful that he could outdrive a steam drill with his hammer and steel, This legend has been traced to the drilling of the Chesapeake and Ohio Big Tunnel through West Virginia in the 1870s – substantially later than the first use of John Henry by cowpokes of the Old West."

    (John Henry/John Hancock, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, William and Mary Morris, HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988, ISBN 006015862X );

    Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (Jonathon Green, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc, 2006, ISBN 0304366366) states that this usage of the phrase "John Henry" dates from the 1910s, and other synonyms for signature include "John Brown", "John D", "John Esquire", "John Handle", "John Q", "John Rogers", "John Willy" and "John Smith".
  6. ^ Joe Dimaggio's rings bats and thee shots, New York Times
  7. ^
  8. ^ Deadspin
  9. ^
  10. ^ BBC NEWS
  11. ^ Copyright Office Basics
  12. ^ Spilsbury, Sallie (2000). Media Law. Cavendish Publishing. p. 439. ISBN 185941530X. "An individual's signature may be protected under law as an artistic work. If so, the unauthorised reproduction of the signature will infringe copyright. The name itself will not be protected by copyright; it is the appearance of the signature which is protected."  
  • Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents by Kenneth W. Rendell, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994, 173 pages. This book was written by one of America's most-respected autograph dealers. It discusses the materials (paper and ink) used by forgers; shows comparisons between fake and real signatures; discusses famous forgers; provides an analysis of major forgeries; details the equipment used in examining questionable documents; and provides a bibliography of almost 100 books written on the subject of either autograph collecting or documenting forgeries.
  • Great Forgers and Famous Fakes by Charles Hamilton, Crown Publishers, 1980, 278 pages. A legendary autograph expert provides hundreds of illustrations of fake versus real signatures. He discusses the manuscript forgers and how they duped the experts.
  • Making Money in Autographs by George Sullivan, 1977, 223 pages. As the title suggests, this book presents strategies as to how one can maximize the value of one's collection by investing in prime autograph documents in various collectible fields. A wonderful analysis of the scarcity and resale appeal ability of the holographic material of all U.S. presidents and many other prominent personalities. Shows presidential proxy and autopen samples. He confirms that most astronaut materials have passed through the autopen. Nice lists and dates of: U.S. presidents, wives of the presidents, vice presidents, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and early manned space flights.
  • Collecting Autographs and Manuscripts by Charles Hamilton, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1961, 269 pages. It is illustrated with more than 800 facsimiles and other reproductions of historical documents signed by nobility, political leaders, American Wild West sheriffs and badmen, military, and worldwide literature fields.
  • Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector's Manual edited by Ed Berkeley, Charles Scribner's Sons Pub., 1978, 565 pages. Contains some 40 articles by famous autograph dealers and collectors who discuss how to detect fake autographs; how to care for your collection; and details different ways of how to collect autographs by different topics: science, religion, literature, politics, etc.
  • Scribblers & Scoundrels by Charles Hamilton, Eriksson Pub., 1968, 282 pages. A lively and entertaining book discussing the forgers and their techniques that the author encountered when they attempted to sell their forgeries to him at his manuscript shop.
  • Manuscripts: The First Twenty Years edited by Priscilla Taylor, Greenwood Press, 1984, 429 pages. A compilation of over 50 articles reprinted from publications of The Manuscript Society. It primarily details how to assemble autograph collections by different topics: medical notables, literary authors, scientists, etc. It slightly discusses the art of detecting forgeries.
  • Autographs: A Key to Collecting by Mary Benjamin, 1963, 345 pages. Written by the great female autograph dealer. Provides a historical summary of: collecting, terminology, evaluation in pricing a document, famous forgers, how to detect forgeries, confused identities, care and preservation, and two nice tables detailing the names of Napoleon's marshals and family members.
  • Big Name Hunting: A Beginners Guide to Autograph Collecting by Charles Hamilton, Simon & Schuster Pub., 1973, 95 pages. A short, enjoyable book advising teenagers how to start their collections. But with some helpful knowledge about identifying autopen signatures and other tidbits about collecting that are useful even to the professional collector. Good revelations about the copycat signatures by presidential secretaries. How to identify lithographs and steel-stamp signatures. Concise, but still choice!
  • The Signature of America by Charles Hamilton, Harper & Row, 1979, 279 pages. A book for those who specialize in American autographs: the Old West, authors, presidents, women, artists, criminals, musicians, entertainers, and many others.
  • Word Shadows of the Great: The Lure of Autograph Collecting by Thomas Madigan, Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1930, 300 pages. One of the early books discussing the excitement of autograph collecting, and presents nice facsimiles of old European autographs.
  • Collecting Autographs For Fun and Profit by Robert Pelton, Betterway Pub., 1987, 160 pages. A fun, breezy book about autograph collecting. Many facsimiles of sports autographs, but also shows 12 different variations as to how Napoleon signed his name. Explains what factors influence the price of an autograph.
  • From the White House Inkwell by John Taylor, Tuttle Co., 1968, 147 pages. Presents many facsimile letters from U.S. presidents and discusses rubber-stamp and proxy signatures used by presidential secretaries.
  • Autograph Collector's Checklist edited by John Taylor, The Manuscript Society, 1990, 172 pages. While unfairly low on this book list, it is THE reference book of seldom-seen lists of those in the collectible fields of: the Stamp Act Congress, Justices of the Supreme Court, the War of 1812, Unionists & Confederates, First Ladies, financiers, cabinet members, composers, scientists, unsuccessful presidential candidates, military participants, and a few other fields. Many nuggets of tidbit factoids about most of these people, and dates of their service or work.
  • The Autograph Collector by Robert Notlep, Crown Pub., 1968, 240 pages. For its time, a nice display of autograph facsimiles, with interest to youngsters in starting an autograph collection. Interesting name lists of : attendees at the U.S. Constitutional Convention, Revolutionary War generals, signers of the United Nations Charter, Napoleon's marshalls, and Napoleon's immediate family and relatives by marriage. A nice book of autograph trivia.
  • The Complete Book of Autograph Collecting by George Sullivan, 1971, 154 pages. This is another book for collectors. It discusses the spry efforts of autograph hounds in stalking sports and movie autographs, but also reviews the standard political and historical items that teenagers really can't afford.
  • A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey, Simon & Schuster, 1988, 397 pages. It reveals the criminal forging techniques of one of the greatest forgers of historical holograms, and why he killed two people to hide his fakes.
  • Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Re-Appraisal by H.K. Thompson, Amber Pub., 1976, 198 pages. Contains the facsimile signatures and biographies of some 350 worldwide military personalities of World War II. The author wrote to each of these notables and asked each to give their thoughts about the convening of war-criminal trials for military personnel, specifically for the German GrossAdmiral Dönitz; many very illuminate opinions.
  • Leaders and Personalities of the Third Reich by Charles Hamilton, 2 vols., Bender Pub., 1984 (Vol. 1) and 1996 (Vol. 2). Two volumes of almost 1,000 glossy pages providing biographies and the reproduction of hundreds of facsimile letters and autographs of Germans (military, political, religious, spies, etc.) involved with the short-lived Thousand Year Reich.
  • The Guinness Book of World Autographs by Ray Rawlins, 1997, 244 pages. The title pretty much says it all: hundreds of worldwide facsimile autographs and identifications.
  • The Robot that Helped to Make a President by Charles Hamilton, 1965. Reveals the different proxy signatures produced by the autopen machines used by Pres. John Kennedy.
  • War Between the States: Autographs and Biographical Sketches by Jim Hayes, Palmetto Pub., 1989, 464 pages. Your guide to the hundreds of autographs of both Union and Confederate personalities from the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865).
  • American Autographs by Charles Hamilton, 2 vols., Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1983, 634 pages. For the specialist who needs almost 2,000 facsimile documents of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War Leaders (including British and French) and other patriots. The second volume: contains copious samples of all presidents; reveals Pres. Eisenhower use of the autopen even before his presidency; presents dozens of secretarial proxy signatures for the modern presidents; lists Watergate participants; displays First Lady items; and shows facsimiles of assassins or would-be assassins from John Booth to John Hinckley. Perhaps this should really be the second book listed, but listed low here only because of its cost. It is simply superlative with its autopen minutiae and facsimiles. You shouldn't be a buyer of modern presidents without having these tomes at hand for reference.
  • Autographs of Indian Personalities by S.S. Hitkari, Phulkari Pub., 1999, 112 pages. Provides wonderful autograph facsimiles and biographies for some 250 literary, medical, political and music notables from the land of the Taj Mahal: India.
  • Ieri Ho Visto Il Duce: Trilogia dell'iconografic mussonliniana ed. Ermanno Alberti. High glossy photo book of many items relating to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini; including 24-page analysis of his autographs. (Italian)
  • Who's Who series; Who's Who in America, etc. Provides mailing addresses for thousands of individuals involved in: science, music, space, sports, military, politics, world leaders, etc.
  • Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography ed. By James Wilson, 6 vols., 1888. Provides the biographies of thousands of American notables, and dozens of steel engravings with facsimile autographs.
  • '"Autograph, Please" by Santosh Kumar Lahoti, Reesha Books International Pub., 2009, : India.

See also

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

AUTOGRAPHS. Autograph (Gr. aur6s, self, ypac5av, to write) is a term applied by common usage either to a document signed by the person from whom it emanates, or to one written entirely by the hand of such person (which, however, is also more technically described as holograph, from 3Xos, entire, ypa4 etv, to write), or simply to an independent signature.

The existence of autographs must necessarily have been coeval with the invention of letters. Documents in the handwriting of their composers may possibly exist among the early papyri of Egypt and the clay tablets of Babylonia and Assyria, and among the early examples of writing in the East. But the oriental practice of employing professional scribes in writing the body of documents and of using seals for the purpose of "signing" (the "signum" originally meaning the impression of the seal) almost precludes the idea. When we are told (1 Kings xxi. 8) that Jezebel wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, we are, of course, to understand that the letters were written by the professional scribes and that the impression of the king's seal was the authentication, equivalent to the signature of western nations; and again, when King Darius "signed" the writing and the decree (Dan. vi. 9), he did so with his seal. To find documents which we can recognize with certainty to be autographs, we must descend to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods of Egyptian history, which are represented by an abundance of papyrus documents of all kinds, chiefly in Greek. Among them are not a few original letters and personal documents, in which we may see the handwriting of many lettered and unlettered individuals who lived during the 3rd century B.C. and in succeeding times, and which prove how very widespread was the practice of writing in those days. We owe it to the dry and even atmosphere of Egypt that these written documents have been preserved in such numbers. On the other hand, in Italy and Greece ancient writings have perished, save the few charred papyrus rolls and waxen tablets which have been recovered from the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. These tablets, however, have a special value, for many of them contain autograph signatures of principals and witnesses to legal deeds to which they were attached, together with impressions of seals, in compliance with the Roman law which required the actual subscriptions, or attested marks, of the persons concerned.

But, when we now speak of autographs and autograph collections, we use such terms in a restricted sense and imply documents or signatures written by persons of some degree of eminence or notoriety in the various ranks and professions of life; and naturally the only early autographs in this sense which could be expected to survive are the subscriptions and signatures of royal personages and great officials attached to important public deeds, which from their nature have been more jealously cared for than mere private documents.

Following the Roman practice, subscriptions and signatures were required in legal documents in the early centuries of our era. Hence we find them in the few Latin deeds on papyrus which have come to light in Egypt; we find them on the wellknown Dacian waxen tablets of the and century; and we find them in the series of papyrus deeds from Ravenna and other places in Italy between the 5th and 10th centuries. The same practice obtained in the Frankish empire. The Merovingian kings, or at least those of them who knew how to write, subscribed their diplomas and great charters with their own hands; and their great officers of state, chancellors and others, countersigned in autograph. The unlettered Merovingian kings made use of monograms composed of the letters of their names; and, curiously, the illiterate monogram was destined to supersede the literate subscriptions. For the monogram was adopted by Charlemagne and his successors as a recognized symbol of their subscription. It was their signum manuale, their sign manual. In courtly imitation of the royal practice, monograms and other marks were adopted by official personages, even though they could write. The notarial marks of modern times are a survival of the practice. By the illiterate other signs, besides the monogram, came to be employed, such as the cross, &c., as signs manual. The monogram was used by French monarchs from the reign of Charlemagne to that of Philip the Fair, who died in 1314. It is very doubtful, however, whether in any instance this sign manual was actually traced by the monarch's own hand. At the most, the earlier sovereigns appear to have drawn one or two strokes in their monograms, which, so far, may be called their autographs. But in the later period not even this was done; the monogram was entirely the work of the scribe.

(See Diplomatic.) The employment of marks or signs manual went out of general use after the 12th century, in the course of which the affixing or appending of seals became the common method of executing deeds. But, as education became more general and the practice of writing more widely diffused, the usage grew up in the course of the 14th century of signing the name-signature as well as of affixing the seal; and by the 15th century it had become established, and it remains to the present time. Thus the signum manuale had disappeared, except among notaries; but the term survived, and by a natural process it was transferred to the signature. In the present day it is used to designate the "sign manual" or autograph signature of the sovereign.

The Anglo-Saxon kings of England did not sign their charters, their names being invariably written by the official scribes. After the Norman conquest, the sign manual, usually a cross, which sometimes accompanied the name of the sovereign, may in some instances be autograph; but no royal signature is to be found earlier than the reign of Richard II. Of the signatures of this king there are two examples, of the years 1386 and 1389, in the Public Record Office; and there is one, of 1397, in the British Museum. Of his father, the Black Prince, there is in the Record Office a motto-signature, De par Homont (high courage), Ich dene, subscribed to a writ of privy seal of 1370. The kings of the Lancastrian line were apparently ready writers. Of the handwriting of both Henry IV. and Henry V. there are specimens both in the Record Office and in the British Museum. But by their time writing had become an ordinary accomplishment.

Apart from the autographs of sovereigns, those of famous men of the early middle ages can hardly be said to exist, or, if they do exist, they are difficult to identify. For example, there is a charter at Canterbury bearing the statement that it was written by Dunstan; but, as there is a duplicate in the British Museum with the same statement, it is probable that both the one and the other are copies. The autograph MSS. of the chronicles of Ordericus Vitalis, of Robert de Monte, and of Sigebert of Gembloux are in existence; and among the Cottonian MSS. there are undoubtedly autograph writings of Matthew of Paris, the English chronicler of Henry III.'s reign. There are certain documents in the British Museum in the hand of William of Wykeham; and among French archives there are autograph writings of the historian Joinville. These are a few instances. When we come to such a collection as the famous Paston Letters, the correspondence of the Norfolk family of Paston of the 15th century, we find therein numerous autographs of historical personages of the time.

From the 16th century onward, we enter the period of modern history, and autograph documents of all kinds become plentiful. And yet in the midst of this plenty, by a perverse fate, there is in certain instances a remarkable dearth. The instance of Shakespeare is the most famous. But for three signatures to the three sheets of his will, and two signatures to the conveyances of property in Blackfriars, we should be without a vestige of his handwriting. For certain other signatures, professing to be his, inscribed in books, may be dismissed as imitations. Such forgeries come up from time to time, as might be expected, and are placed upon the market. The Shakespearean forgeries, however, of W. H. Ireland were perpetrated rather with a literary intent than as an autographic venture.

Had autograph collecting been the fashion in Shakespeare's days, we should not have had to deplore the loss of his and of other great writers' autographs. But the taste had not then come into vogue, at least not in England. The series of autograph documents which were gathered in such a library as that of Sir Robert Cotton, now in the British Museum, found their way thither on account of their literary or historic interest, and not merely as specimens of the handwriting of distinguished men. Such a series also as that formed by Philippe de Bethune, Comte de Selles et Charost, and his son, in the reign of Louis XI V.,. consisting for the most part of original letters and papers, now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, might have been regarded as the result of autograph collecting did we not know that it was brought together for historical purposes. It was in Germany and the Low Countries that the practice appears to have originated, chiefly among students and other members of the universities, of collecting autograph inscriptions and signatures. of one's friends in albums, alba amicorum, little oblong pocket volumes of which a considerable number have survived, a very fair collection being in the British Museum. The earliest album in the latter series is the Egerton MS. 1178, beginning with an entry of the year 1554. Once the taste was established, the collecting of autographs of living persons was naturally extended to those of former times; and many collections, famous in their day, have been formed, but in most instances only to be dispersed again as the owners tired of their fancy or as their heirs failed to inherit their tastes along with their possessions. The most celebrated collection formed in England in recent years is that of the late Mr Alfred Morrison, which still remains intact, and which is well known by means of the sumptuous catalogue, with its many facsimiles, compiled by the owner.

The rivalry of collectors and the high prices which rare or favourite autographs realize have naturally given encouragement to the forger. False letters of popular heroes and of popular authors, of Nelson, of Burns, of Thackeray, and of others, appear from time to time in the market: in some instances clever imitations, but more generally too palpably spurious to deceive any one with experience. Like the Shakespearean forgeries of Ireland, referred to above, the forgeries of Chatterton were literary inventions; and both were poor performances. One of the cleverest frauds of this nature in modern times was the fabrication, in the middle of the ,9th century, of a series of letters of Byron and Shelley, with postmarks and seals complete, which were even published as bona fide documents (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 19,377).

There are many published collections of facsimiles of autographs of different nations. Among those published in England the following may be named: - British Autography, by J. Thane (1788-1793, with supplement by Daniell, 1854); Autographs of Royal, Noble, Learned and Remarkable Personages in English History, by J. G. Nichols (1829); Facsimiles of Original Documents of Eminent Literary Characters, by C. J. Smith (1852); Autographs of the Kings and Queens and Eminent Men of Great Britain, by J. Netherclift (1835); One Hundred Characteristic Autograph Letters, by J. Netherclift and Son (1849); The Autograph Miscellany, by F. Netherclift (1855); The Autograph Souvenir, by F. G. Netherclif t and R. Sims (1865); The Autographic Mirror (1864-1866); The Handbook of Autographs, by F. G. Netherclift (1862); The Autograph Album, by L. B. Phillips (1866); Facsimiles of Autographs (British Museum publication), five series (1896-1900). Facsimiles of autographs also appear in the official publications, Facsimiles of National MSS., from William the Conqueror to Queen Anne (Master of the Rolls), 1865-1868; Facsimiles of National MSS. of Scotland (Lord Clerk Register), 1867-1871; and Facsimiles of National MSS. of Ireland (Public Record Office, Ireland), 1874-1884. (E. M. T.)

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