Autograph Collecting hints

Unknown [Found at Bookride 2010 -our first site, this wise piece about autographs.] Try to avoid forgeries! To my mind the ‘blink’ test is a good start in testing for authenticity. If on very first seeing it the autograph doesn’t feel right don’t touch it. As Malcolm Gladwell details in over 300 pages of his book Blink. The Power of Thinking Without Thinking the unconscious mind often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and protracted ways of thinking. If the seller doesn’t pass the blink test either, drop it like a hot brick. Kenneth Rendell, purveyor of manuscripts to the great and the good, advises avoiding the kind of dealer who brushes you off when probed, he adds: “The real expert will bore you with answers.” I also like what he says about how forgers often fail to get the feel of a signature right -the “flying starts and endings of the pen”.

Avoid signatures that look more like a drawing than writing and ones that seem to have stops and starts. Also signatures in cheap editions of books can be suspect, most forgers will not risk screwing up a signature in a four figure book. Forgers often stick to a plain signature so a date or sentiment is useful (belying the tiresome ‘flat signed’ schtick.) Also beware the desirable signature that is seriously underpriced, you may be lucky but it is often a sign of a grifter at work. If it is very cheap, of course, it may be real but unrated or unrecognised. Age is no guarantee of authenticity, forgers have been around since Heraclitus stood in the river. Ebay is a minefield. Bad Salinger forgeries appeared there after the writer’s death and usually made a few hundred dollars. Like the curate’s egg they were ‘good in parts’ but if it is wrong it’s worthless, if it’s right it’s a few thousand. In one of the online signatures Salinger appeared to have misspelled his own name…a bad start.

Salinger was of course a notoriously difficult and elusive signer and Thomas Pynchon is even more difficult. We considered who were the most common signers – but who are the most difficult? People like Joyce, Fleming, Tolkien are very valuable but they did sign quite a bit. Kafka isn’t easy, the cult writer Richard Powers signs absolutely nothing, even an acquisitve and well funded collector like the artist Richard Prince lacks a signed Powers book in his modern literature collection. I have only seen one Alan Turing signature (in a computer manual.) Does Bezos give out his autograph or our own Abramovich? Highbrow writers tend to sign less than airport writers. There was a dealer around earlier this century who dealt in signed books by fearsome intellectuals–mostly European- guys like Derrida, Anna Akhmatova, Paul Celan, Godel, Cioran, Habermas, Wittgenstein, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Barthes, Perec, Walter Benjamin, etc.,. It always seemed an odd model for a business because the potential collector for these is likely to be someone with contempt for autograph collecting.

Difficult signers? In the celebrity world Marlon Brando was said to be a very reluctant signer, Bob Dylan is fairly unapproachable, Metallica are snotty types, Madonna is too important to sign anything but a contract and our own Sherriff of Nottingham Alan Rickman was known to forcibly repel advances from auto-hounds. Online research reveals the sad story of a collector who had to wait 28 years for the signature of Sultan of Brunei. There are also pointers as to favourite restaurants used by stars for signature hunters to hang about outside. That explains the motley crew one sees outside ‘The Ivy’ in Covent Garden. One thing you hear all the time is the reluctance of stars to sign autographs for dealers and resellers. Some dealers have to use their children to get autographs. A good approach might be to be up front about it -‘Can I have your autograph, I want to put it on Ebay tonight? Frankly I’m broke…’   [Above the very valuable signature of Button Gwinnett, the rarest of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence]

3 thoughts on “Autograph Collecting hints

  1. Roger

    There’s a story in Goodbye to all That about Thomas Hardy receiving a letter which began “I want to know why the devil you haven’t answered my request for an autograph….”
    The obvious solution would be to forge your own signature badly.

    Years ago I met an American book-dealer with a signed Pynchon first-edition. When I burst out laughing, he explained that it was who Pynchon gave the book to – TP always inscribed dedication copies to their recipients and it had a provenance – that confirmed its veracity. There weren’t many computer manuals around in Turing’s lifetime and – like Kafka – he wasn’t known except in a small circle then, so most of their autographs would be on letters.
    Wasn’t there someone who signed books worldwide via a machine? The real challenges would be rubber-stamp signatures, though I suppse they can be distinguished and assistants and secretaries probably provide quite a few of the more mundane autographs – the first requirement of a military aide was to copy perfectly their superior’s signature, and it’s probably true of civilians too.

    1. Jot 101 Post author

      Thanks Roger. I heard that Hardy had a room full of books sent to him to be signed. He used them to give to friends and visitors. It was Margaret Atwood who signed books remotely via a computer using her live signing 1000s of miles away. She invented the system which has been used in business to sign contracts etc.,

  2. Ali

    I think your advice at the start about how it ‘feels’ is spot on – there’s a lot to be said for trusting your gut instinct!!


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