Autograph vs. Signature - What Is the Difference? July 29 2022

People often use the words signature and autograph interchangeably. While they do have some overlap, when looking closer, they have two distinct meanings. In fact, both terms have various definitions depending on how the word is used in the sentence. 

Those who like to collect memorabilia such as famous signatures might be interested in the specific nuances between the two. Let’s examine the exact significance of the two words and how they’re actually different.



Autograph is a versatile word because it can be used as a noun, a verb, or even an adjective. An autograph is a person’s own handwriting (auto: self, graph: drawing or writing). It is a more general or broad term or concept than a hand-made signature.

A signature made by hand is an autograph, but not all autographs are signatures.

Giuseppe Verdi Autograph Letter Fragment

For example, a handwritten letter or document, in a person's own handwriting, without a signature at the end, is an autograph letter or document. Yet it has no signature.


 [CLICKABLE IMAGE] A fragment of a letter handwritten by the star Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi dated in Milan, 1899, addressed to his niece Maria.


When used as a verb, autograph comes to mean the act of inscribing something to someone. For example, Michael Jackson would often autograph things for sick children. To use autograph as an adjective, you add -ed to the end of the word. For instance, an autographed Michael Jackson Thriller album may be worth a lot of money.

Sometimes you’ll even catch the word autograph in a completely different context. For example, there is a well-known rock and roll group named The Autograph Band and even a hotel chain owned by Marriott called the Autograph Collection.



Sandra Bullock Autograph

The word signature is a bit more specific. It also has other meanings that are totally unrelated to autographs. 

A signature is a person’s name, handwritten in a particular style and calligraphy, in such a distinctive way that it can be used as identification.


[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Color studio photograph of the celebrated American actress Sandra Bullock (b.1969) signed by her.


When used as an adjective, signature can mean a pattern, product, role, or characteristic by which someone or something can be distinguished or identified. The most well-known example of this is a chef’s signature dish.



A signature is a particular case of an autograph, assuming that it was handwritten and not created mechanically, such as with an autopen, rubber stamp, printed, or electronically. 

Domingo & Cappuccilli Double Signed Photograph in Rigoletto

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and Italian baritone Piero Cappuccilli in Verdi's Rigoletto - A photograph signed by both artists


This means that a handmade signature is an autograph, while a signature made by a machine is not.



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