How can you tell if an autograph is real? Is that ink signature on the publicity photo in front of you really Marilyn Monroe’s or not? Did President Lincoln actually sign your great-grandparents’ land grant? What about the autograph you bought on eBay?
Here are five tips to help you determine if your prized autograph is fake or real:
Look for authentic autograph facsimiles on reputable web sites and compare them with your example.
Does yours look like the illustrated sample? If it does maybe yours is authentic, maybe not. Celebrities’ autographs often change at different times in their lives and under different circumstances. Although, the basic character of a signature usually does not change, details do.
Look at the whole autograph as a unit. Although individual letters may not compare well, what about the whole autograph as a single figure? Could the same hand have written both yours and the illustrated facsimile?
Check out the websites listed at the end of this article and pull up examples of real autographs and fake autographs of your celebrity or notable. Compare accepted authentic facsimiles with the autograph you have.
Marker-pen signatures are nearly impossible to authenticate.
Right about here I should tell you that I am both a collector and dealer of vintage autographs. So, if you are reading this article hoping for clues to the authenticity of some current television personality or rock band star,
I’m afraid I am going to have to disappoint you. But, read on please and I’ll tell you why.
It’s just too confusing to try to authenticate most autographs penned within the last thirty years. These days celebrities use ink markers which mask details so that major characteristics of most modern day autographs are lost. The features which make an individuals autograph unique simply can’t be seen when thick markers are used.
Vintage ink signatures, however, were signed with a fountain pen which required that the signer stop, use some kind of rigid backing, and with some care sign whatever was put before them. No on-the-run autographs were possible years ago. If the signer didn’t take care the ink would run or smear.
Also, these days it’s rare to find a celebrity who takes the time to actually write out a signature. Instead, celebrities often sign with a hurried scribble. Those indeed are autographs but hard to distinguish from other autographs. Al Pacino, a single squiggle. Kevin Kostner, two squiggles.
Try to determine if your autograph is printed or stamped.
Examine your autograph under a magnifying glass . Printed? Stamped? If its penned with ball point ink, fountain pen ink, or marker– it will appear to stand up on the surface of a photo, or piece of paper. If it doesn’t you’re in trouble.
Is it a secretarial?
Secretaries or others often sign for a celebrity. Some do a good job of imitating their boss, sometimes not. Most Frank Sinatra autographs, especially on photos, are not Frank’s. They are secretarials. The same with Marilyn Monroe’s. Secretarials are more difficult to weed out because they are in ink, not printed, and designed to fool you.
Study the authentic examples at legitimate autograph web sites like those at the end of this article.
However, you may still need professional help to sort out a real Elvis from a fake Elvis.
If possible, document the provenance of your autographed item.
Provenance is the history of the autograph. Let’s say you yourself got the autograph from a celebrity in person or someone gave it to you who saw the celebrity sign the piece. It’s therefore an in-person autograph. In that case, hand-write a note to include with the signature which notes when, where and under what circumstances you obtained the autograph. Do the same if someone else witnessed the signing. Keep the note with the autograph. A John Kennedy autograph is valuable but more so if it is somehow documented.
The best tip is to find a reputable dealer who will authenticate the piece for you.
If the autograph is authentic the dealer will document that it is real. Be ready to accept a negative report on a fake autograph. Don’t get angry if you are told your autograph is fake. Worse, don’t argue with a professional because you so want it to be authentic.You should be disappointed but now you know. It is what it is.
But, rejoice and dance if the evaluation comes back: It’s real!. Mom did meet Elvis!
You’ve read the hints that can help you authenticate your autograph. But, now lets look at how many autograph collectors get in trouble in the first place. They buy autographs they so want to be real (but aren’t) and later try to sell them.
A quick story to illustrate how your own psychology can cloud your ability to use common sense when faced with faked autographs:
You are at a flea market looking for collectibles, especially autographs. One seller displays some large photos of vintage movie stars, claiming they are authentic, “real autographs.” But you’re not so sure. Are those autographs or fakes?
The guy is offering icons of movie stardom: John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean…and OMG: Marilyn Monroe! Your heart beats faster. But you begin to hear an annoying sputtering in your brain which says, “Are they real?”
The seller brings out another album full of signed photos of sports figures. There’s Jack Dempsey, Nolan Ryan, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth. You are beginning to hyperventilate. The voice in your head reiterates: are the autographs fake?
You’ve never seen authentic signatures of any of these celebrities, but these are all in ink and sure look good. And the prices are great!
Stop, right there! If you don’t know what John Wayne’s signature looks like don’t throw your money away, even at flea market prices. Just because an autograph reads “John Wayne” or “Ronald Reagan”” doesn’t mean that it’s real. Unfortunately, a fake autograph is no autograph at all.
Compare your prized autograph with facsimiles of real, authentic autographs by starting with one of the following sites:
www.autographworld.com – a ton of classic and contemporary facsimiles at this site.
www.galleryofhistory.com – tens of thousands of examples of celebrities and notables..
ww.richardsomonsports.com – These people know their vintage sports figures.Some facsimiles are illustrated. The fee for their services is listed at their website.
(The author has been a part-time autograph dealer for twenty-five years and is past regional director for a national autograph club. He has published articles in the Pen and Quill, the quarterly of the UACC.)
www.uacc.info -Be sure to check out the UACC list of over 250 registered dealers of autographs and manuscripts. Simply a great site which discusses fake autographs versus authentic material.