Collecting Music Autographs: An Appealing Hobby January 19 2024
Collecting music autographs has universal appeal, making it the most dynamic field in autograph collecting. This specialization is unique in its universal appeal; while assembling collections of signers of the Declaration of Independence or American presidents might not interest most German or Japanese collectors, they are likely to share with their American counterparts an interest in collecting autographs of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Mozart.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Richard Wagner Signed Carte-de-Visite
The musical autograph market is the only field of collectibles with such a widespread following, rivaling only the art world. Despite its importance, it remains an inexpensive field to invest in, with an abundance of opportunities for collectors.
To fully understand the autograph world, it is necessary to look at its many components. The most rarified of these components is the collection of autographs of composers, as their rarity and the historic and musicological significance of many examples lead to high prices. However, despite their reputation for outlandish prices, autographs of classical composers are seriously underpriced considering their rarity and desirability.
This is related to the aging of the public interested in classical music and opera, and that younger generations are not jumping into this kind of music in masses, so there is certainly less public for this today that there was 30 years ago. And even less if we compare to 100 years ago.
While a major part of W. A. Mozart's symphonic output recently sold in London for four million dollars, fine autographs of master composers can be obtained for under a thousand dollars. Giacomo Puccini's letters, for example, one of the most popular composers of all time, sell for as little as $500, always depending on content. Letters with fabulous content of the great German symphonic master, Brahms, are routinely sold for values in the high thousands.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Signed photographs of superstar Greek-American soprano Maria Callas in La Gioconda
The value of a composer's autograph increases with the fame of the work. Autograph manuscripts of a composer's works are particularly valuable and can make excellent investments due to their limited availability.
One popular form of musical autograph is the signed autograph musical quotation. It provides collectors the pleasure of owning music written by the composer at a more affordable price than a manuscript. Examples often include quotes from famous operas like Puccini's “Un Bel Di” from Madama Butterfly or Verdi's Miserere from II Trovatore.
Music quotes from pieces that were more popular of a certain composer are always more valuable than autograph quotes from the same composer, but with music from less popular works. For example, a music quote handwritten by Verdi with music from La Traviata would sell for quite more than a music quote also by Verdi, but from Falstaff.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus in Performance
The custom of collecting music autographs began in the early 19th century. Autographs by earlier famous composers, including Bach, Handel, Mozart, or Beethoven, are unlikely to be found, yet are still desirable. This is mostly because a very long time has passed since these era, and most of the material has already been purchased by archives, libraries and institutional buyers. That material is most of the times accumulated forever, never coming back to the market.
Some composer requests are impossible, such as a signed photo of Chopin, something requested by one of our customers. While there is at least 1 known original picture of Chopin, it is not signed nor available for purchase.
If not signed autograph musical quotations, early composers like Bach, Handel, Mozart or Beethoven are best represented through letter form or musical manuscript fragments. Even unsigned musical manuscript fragments from these musical giants are quite valuable.
Alternatively, there are signed printed scores, which offer considerable value for money. A William Boyce autograph, for instance, sold inexpensively in a recent London auction, whereas signed Haydn scores are unbelievably affordable. This makes signed scores a very good choice for musical autographs.
Most classical composers existed before the age of photography, though some signed photos of Rossini, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, and Strauss exist. These are popular among collectors. Including a bar of music on a signed photo makes it even more interesting.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Autograph music quote of the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi himself, dated 1881.
Finally, music collections are not limited to composers only. A range of performers like conductors, opera singers, pianists, and violinists offer a rich subspecialty for collectors. There are avid collectors who specialize in one or more of these areas. For example, some collections might include only pianists or violinists, and others might include Paganini, Liszt, Clementi, and others.
Although collecting the autographs of opera singers is popular, few areas within the performing arts have inspired the phenomenon to the extent of this subspecialty. The most in-demand autographs are those of singers who have recorded music. Interestingly, many collectors appear to be more interested in the decorative value of autographs or signed photographs, rather than their written content.
Although the trend is changing, high-content letters remain undervalued and can be a great buy. An example of the potential interest and value of such letters is a fascinating Caruso letter that reveals his fear of a rival tenor, Alessandro Bonci. In the letter, Caruso instructs his manager to ensure he does not perform roles that the rival Bonci would sing, fearing unfavorable comparisons. Despite damage to the letter's signature, the content was so compelling that it commanded a premium price.
While a few classic opera stars remain highly sought after, such as Maria Malibran and Rubini, whose careers predated recordings, smaller stars like Janina Korolewicz-Wayda, who recorded rare records in 1904, have surprisingly high demand for their autographs. In fact, Wayda's autograph can sell for more than that of Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Rossini’s favorite soprano who died in 1863 and did not make recordings.
It is rare to find forged opera autographs, although there have been cases of forgeries of Caruso's famous caricatures as well as rubber-stamped signatures from famous American divas and tenors.
Nonetheless, the field of musical autographs is wide and offers a great opportunity for collectors.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Appraisal Letter
Currently, the most popular opera autographs are those of Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas, others such as Jussi Bjorling and Fritz Wunderlitz also remain popular. Despite the increase in value for Caruso's autographs over the years, those of Callas have skyrocketed to an unprecedented level until the early 2000s.
Nowadays they have come down quite a lot. In any case, the demand for Callas's autograph will always be high. If you have any questions about this fascinating field of autograph valuations, we are happy to help.
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