Facsimile Autograph: How to Detect Printed Signatures December 17 2021



In an earlier blog article, we mentioned that “the most frequently asked question when authenticating historical autographs is how to tell if an autograph is real?” The article went on to pinpoint eleven fundamental rules a potential purchaser could apply to spot a fake autograph.

One specific type of fake autographs are those photos or documents with printed (or facsimile) signatures on them. They nowadays abound on eBay, sold as "Reproductions" or copies, or simply RP.

Today we focus upon how to determine whether a signature that might initially appear to be an authentic handwritten signature is in fact really a printed COPY of a genuine signature and not a real one - in other words, they are part of the photo or image.

To help avoid purchasing a printed autograph, here are 8 explicitly visual clues to help determine whether a signature is a printed one or a real autograph.



1 - Ink Color

When the ink color and tone of the autograph exactly matches either the color and tone of the printed text (or at least some of it), and/or the image on the same page, that is a sign that they were all printed together.

First page of a printed Score and autograph

A first page of a printed score with the title and the autograph text in totally different colors


In that case, you are most likely seeing a printed autograph and not a real hand-signed one. When examining the ink color, you should always be certain to look quite carefully at the colors and tones of all of the elements of the page containing the autograph.

Program cover with a photo showing a printed signature

Cover of a concert program, with a facsimile signature of the conductor over his image. Note that the color and tone of the signature exactly matches those of certain parts of the image.


2 - Ink Shine

To examine this issue, you should perform a similar process to the one described above. However, in this case, you would also need to look at an angle of around 45 degrees and move the paper surface so that you get the light shining on it to move while you are folding the paper.

Example of a real ink signature

The amount of light shine can reveal the contrast between live ink and the image of the photo. To properly see this, you will need to position the photo near a source of light, and move it so you can find - or not - adequate contrast between the ink and the image below, belonging to the photo itself.


The autograph ink usually has a different shine or reflection of light than the paper and the image on the photo or text. This process is best performed by rotating the image under a magnifying glass.

Example of a real ink signature, in more detail

Example of a real ink signature, in more detail


3 - Paper Indents

The pressure of the pen on the paper usually leaves a small groove or indentation on the paper surface (as a metal stamp would do). This groove is rarely very deep and follows the trace of the pen.

If you closely examine the dots over the letter “i,” and to separate sentences, they will tend to be made with much higher pressure and the indentation would be more evident in them.

Paper indent - Autograph Eddi Arent

How Paper indent looks like - Autograph of actor Eddi Arent

Printed text rarely leaves any indentation on paper, but that could happen, so be careful when determining this. Any indentation made at printing will be very regular in depth. You should also look at the back of the paper – with the light in the front – and see if you can detect any indentation especially if it is irregular.

Indentation left by hand will be irregular, visible in some parts of characters where the writing pen left grooves or marks, and others where there is absolutely nothing visible.


4 - Ink Crossings

This is one of the most important ways to determine the authenticity of a signature and requires a high level of magnification.

In some letters and numbers, a trace needs to run over an already existing trace, which means that a second layer of ink is laid on top of a first layer. This would normally result in a darker spot.

Higher magnification of a crossing point

A trace crossing point, in high magnification, where one trace goes over an already existing one, the crossing point has a bit higher intensity due to the double layer of ink


For example, the letter “X” has a crossing point right in the center. If you use a magnifying glass with a decent amount of power and look at the crossing point, you should be able to see also a darker crossing point.

Enlarged section and detailed view of an autograph

Red arrows indicate crossing points, by observing them closely, you can, in some cases, clearly see darker spots


This would not occur if you were looking at printed text - and would therefore indicate that the text you are analyzing is in fact written text, and not printed or a facsimile.


Trace over trace example

This does not automatically mean that we have a hand-made autograph since some machines called autopens can also produce this result, but their trace is very regular and easier to spot with a trained eye.


[Image] An autograph with a felt tip pen clealy reveals traces of ink laid on top of existing traces, this is not so easy to replicate in copies


Farley Granger Felt tip pen Autograph

A non-magnified view of the autograph


5 - Comparison with Other Books or Photos

This particular process is particularly crucial as it can often by itself determine whether the signature you are examining is either printed or a real one.

When examining a signature contained on either a book or photo, try to find another copy of the exact same book or photo and see if the signature you are analyzing is also present in these other copies. This works best for books, just try to find another copy of the same book, and see if the autograph is there.


Front Cover with Facsimile Signature

If it is, you can clearly determine - on this basis alone - that you are encountering a printed autograph and you would not need to apply any other of the criteria described in this article.


[Image] By searching online the name of this song and its creator, tenor Enrico Caruso, one can easily find other copies of this score for sale. They all have the exact same facsimile signature on the same place of the front cover.


In fact, the analytical process involved in comparing multiple copies of books and photos containing identical or near-identical signatures is one of the easiest ways to determine whether your autograph is real or not.

As printed books and signatures on photos are produced in large amounts of copies, it is therefore highly probable that if what you have in front of you is a mass-produced autograph facsimile, there will be many more in distribution.


6 - Signature Readability

Printed signatures always appear as “beautiful and perfect” - with all the letters perfectly readable and very clear and attractive. By contrast, a genuine hand-written signature will tend to have parts that are hard to read and does not look so “perfect”.

Photo of actress Linda Darnell with a printed signature

Photo of actress Linda Darnell with a printed signature, a very clear text (Signature Readability)


7 - Pressure Uniformity

Pressure Uniformity - Autopen-made autograph of Sally Forrest


Printing methods and autopen machines create very evenly distributed ink layers on signatures and/or text. The human hand does not - and this, in fact, can be easily observed on either/or both the ink distribution and the paper indentation.


[Image] Autopen machines create beautiful, perfect-looking signatures with very even pressure all over the signature, many time with a little bit
of shakiness and at a slow pace - the human hand, however, starts confident, creates traces fast and easy.


Therefore, if the ink layer on your autograph is quite evenly distributed and the grooves are all the exact same depth, you are most likely seeing a printed or an autopen-generated - rather than live - autograph.


Autopen-made autograph of Sally Forrest - DetailPressure Uniformity - Autopen-made autograph of Sally Forrest (Detail )


8 - Smudging

This is a last resource since it is a bit destructive of your signature, so it should


be used with caution. You can employ a cotton micro-qtip, like one of those in the photograph, wet it with water, and try to carefully touch the end of a signature´s tail, for example, or any other less important part of the text in question, and see what happens.

Live ink will most probably smudge in presence of water, while printed ink almost never will.



Finally, the following points are essential to keep in mind: when determining the authenticity of an autograph signature, you must be certain to examine both the front and back end of the item and also be aware that – with the occasional exception of point 5 – none of the 8 criteria detailed above would alone be sufficient to reach a definitive verdict.

You would need to employ at least several of these tips in combination to provide a clear indication as to whether you are in the presence or absence of a printed text or signature (or facsimile signature).

However, as you develop greater experience examining signatures on paper, your eye will become more well-trained and allow you to more easily and quickly recognize facsimile signatures - you would not necessarily be required to apply all eight of the criteria discussed above.



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