Glossary of Autograph Terms December 10 2020

Including Document and Photo Damage



A dictionary that will help the collector understand the most important terms in collecting autographs, and better interpret the description and abbreviations used for our products.



AUTOGRAPH DEFINITION: an autograph is a person's own handwriting, could be his/her signature, inscribed or not for another individual, or a handwritten letter or document (autograph letter and autograph document, respectively).


An autograph or personal mark is unique to every individual, it is a general term that includes a signature and other things, such as any text or drawing done in the person´s own hand.








Autograph Document Signed. Usually an official document, entirely handwritten and signed at least once by a personality.



Autograph Letter Signed


Autographed Letter Signed or autograph letter signed.


A letter, handwritten by a personality, and signed (usually at the end). To be considered an autograph letter signed, it must have more than 5-6 lines, fully handwritten, and must be signed at least once (otherwise, it is just called AL, or autograph letter).

See example (left), ALS by Fromental Halevy.




Autograph Manuscript Signed. A handwritten creative work, with text (essay, novel, poetry, etc), signature usually at the end. It could be complete or incomplete, but it is not intentionally incomplete. This is also called the original manuscript of a work, could be a final version or a sketch/notes.




Autograph Music Manuscript Signed. This is an original manuscript of a music piece, could be complete or not, and is signed at least once.




Autograph Music Quote Signed. This is not a complete piece, but just a few bars of music, normally less than 10, handwritten by the personality to give as a gift to a fan or admirer. It could be inscribed or not, with date and location or not, many times the author writes the name of the music piece where the quote comes from. 


Ettore Panizza - Autograph music quote signed



Example: Ettore Panizza - Autograph music quote from his opera "Medioevo".




Autograph Note Signed. Similar to ALS, but the content is usually less important and much shorter, could be up to 5-6 lines, just a short message about an appointment, or other business. It is handwritten by the personality, and it is signed as well, usually at the end.




Autograph Quote Signed. A brief handwritten text, part of an opera, novel, or any other work, also known as a text quote. No musical notes, just text. It could be a famous phrase from a book or a saying or an aphorism, and signed below by the personality that wrote it by hand.




See at the top.




It means made by the person´s own writing, can be used as a synonym of signed. Term is also used to refer to what is handwritten for another person, a fan or admirer.




Book with blank pages, filled with signatures, text, and/or music quotes from personalities. They were very popular in the second half of the 19th century, slowly lost popularity in the 20th century, pretty much disappearing after the 1950s. Some albums may have photographs and/or newspaper clippings attached to pages. Also known as Autograph Books. Read more HERE - See our blog posting about Autograph Books.




Autopen machine


Autopen machine is a mechanical device used to automatically sign, reproducing the signature of a person. It is said that Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, started using them back in 1804. Autopen machines have been around for many years, they have a quite distinctive trace on paper that can be detected with a trained eye.



A pen that dispenses ink (usually dissolved in oil or light paste) via a small metal ball at the end of the pen´s tip. They are also known as “biro”. Read more about Ballpoint Pens.





blind stamp

Text and/or images that are imprinted in relief on the paper, by hard pressing a metal or wood stamp without ink. It is also called a blind stamp, see example.


Read more about Blind stamps.










A type of paper that has rusted due to age, and has become easily cracked if not handled properly, very carefully.



Cabinet card - G. DavidovA mounted photograph, very popular format from the early 1870s through the early 1910s, the card or cardboard where the photograph is mounted on usually has the photographer´s name printed, sometimes on both front and back, with or without extra information (address, city, etc).

Most cabinet photographs are 4.25 x 6.5 inches, but there are larger ones, as well as a mini version (similar in size to CDVs). Most cabinet photos are larger than CDVs, and they are much stronger and thicker.

Example shows a Russian cabinet photo of singer G. Davidov.

Read more about Cabinet Cards.




A small card used for social purposes, usually when in the past someone visited a person who was not at the location, leaving a short message on a calling card or just the card. 


calling card



They are also called visiting cards, they are the precursor of today's business cards. See more HERE.






A mounted photograph format, very popular between the late 1850s through the early 1880s, when they were completely replaced by cabinet cards.


CDVs are usually mounted on thinner cardboard, sometimes displaying the photographer's name on front and/or verso.


They are usually the size of today's business cards, approximately 2.5 x 4.25 inches, most are in sepia color, could show beautifully decorated logos on the back, or be entirely blank.


Read more about Cartes de Visite.










Certificate of Authenticity. A CoA is a document that certifies that the issuer of that document declares the accompanying autograph is authentic. It is a written endorsement of an item´s authenticity. These certificates are only as good as the reputation of the issuer, and have very little to no value today, hence are almost never required by an experienced collector.




Attached blank pages to a letter or document that has been folded in half, these extra blank pages are sometimes used by collectors to write useful information about the letter, in pencil, but they are an original part of the letter.



Crack or tear on paper


Also called Tears. A type of physical damage involving the separation of paper fibers to form a crack or cut with beveled area (not a vertical, 90 degrees straight cut) that usually can be carefully repaired with the help of acid-free adhesives for paper conservation.

A 90 degrees vertical cut with respect to the paper surface, inflicted by scissors, is known as a cut, and is not a tear.

See example, with a crack after the handwritten “19”.




Crease or fold on paper

Wrong manipulation of photographic paper can leave a damage called crease, which is a mark or line of damage on a paper item that appears as a consequence of a fold. Creases can sometimes be minimized with careful ironing and proper humidification, yet marks could be still seen after treatment.





Cut on paper


A straight separation of the paper surface, normally inflicted by scissors or other sharp blades, and at a 90 degree angle respect to the surface of the paper.


Just like tears (see below), another type of paper damage with separation, they can be repaired but by a different procedure. See example on the right.








Depression on the surface of paper, caused by a hard object. It could be pointy or blunt. It is usually a permanent damage that can´t be completely eliminated by restoration, and it is rarely noticeable in a scan of the paper item (photo, manuscript, etc), sometimes it is even difficult to see in the actual item.




Short handwritten note, indicating who sent a letter, date received, if responded and when, etc. It is usually written by the recipient or someone connected to the recipient (assistant, secretary, etc). Sometimes collectors and dealers write notes on letters, indicating in pencil some information about the letter - these notes are not considered actual dockets.



Document signed


Document Signed. Abbreviation usually refers to a printed document, with a signature by hand.


See on the left an example, a document signed at the bottom by Edward Elgar, with printed parts in black, and typed parts, in blue and red color.


Printed documents are usually less desirable for collectors than entirely handwritten documents, and many times documents also contain handwriting by other people (assistants, secretaries, etc).







Material from everyday life that was created without the purpose of being kept or collected. Typically printed, examples are ticket stubs, calendars, newspaper clippings, advertisements, product packaging on cardboard or paper (cigarette boxes, matches, etc). Many of these items eventually become collectible. Read more about Ephemera.



A copy of an autograph or a document or any other handwritten material. Facsimiles are printed and there are several ways to distinguish them from live ink / real autographs. Some books have printed signatures of the authors, and are confusing to new collectors, this also happens with photo postcards, which sometimes have printed signatures.




When the colors or ink grows faint and tends to disappear. This loss of contrast happens to old images and sometimes to old ink as well.




Also known as Marker Pen, is a pen with both the tank or ink source and the tip made of pressed fibers (felt). They are also called texta, markers, sketch pens, Sharpie markers, highlighters (with bright colors and broad tips). Permanent markers have an aluminum, glass or plastic container of ink, with a core of absorbent material as ink carrier. Ink is usually pigments (many different colors are available) dissolved in alcohols, and the tip is available in a wide variety of thicknesses. Read more about Felt Tip Pens.



paper fold over


A small portion of the paper is made to rest over another part of the same paper item. This is usually reversible by careful manipulation so this small piece does not come off or separates.


Example shows a corner of a printer booklet with a fold over.





A fold occurs when one part of the paper is made to rest over another part, this often results in a crease or folding mark, that is normally much more serious in photographic paper.




An individual leaf of paper or parchment, around 11 x 14 inches, numbered on the front. Term could also refer to a sheet of paper folded to form 4 pages, or the page number of a book.



Fountain pen


A writing instrument with a metal tip or nib (gold, steel, gold-plated steel, iridium, etc) with an internal reservoir or tank holding ink that feeds the nib. Ink is water-based and not oil- (ballpoint pens) nor alcohol-based (felt tip pens). Shown is the writing end of a fountain pen (the "section" and the "nib").




Age deterioration of paper that causes brown-reddish spots, and can be the consequence of cellulose degradation and oxidation of metal ions in the paper pul, or biological agents such as mold.

Also known as rust, foxing is not easy to remove, sometimes not even possible.

See example on the right.











Neil Armstrong signed photo

Printing technique that simulates a photograph by using small dots of different shapes and sizes. It is usually employed for magazines, book illustrations, and other printed materials that reproduce actual photos but on regular paper instead of light-sensitive, photographic paper. Half-tones are the pictures reproductions we see in publications, and can be clipped (or not) and signed by personalities.

See example of a photograph from a magazine article, signed by Neil Armstrong, cut and glued to an album page.





Carolina Otero signed hand-colored photo postcard




A term that refers to a method of manually adding color to a paper object (print, photo, etc) that originally was either color-less or has a different color. This was done in order to reflect the reality of the image closer, and was done by hand.

See on the right a hand-colored photo postcard of singer Carolina “La Belle” Otero.

Read more about Hand-colouring of Photographs.





A larger size format of the cabinet cards or cabinet photos, in approximately 6 x 9 inches. And Imperial Photo is usually larger, approximately 8 x 13 inches.




INK LOSSRachmaninoff signed photo - detail - INK LOSS

The type of damage by which part of the ink of an autograph or handwriting either comes off the paper surface or is erased by external agents.

See on the right a detail from a photograph signed by Sergei Rachmaninov, with noticeable ink loss in both signature and handwritten sentiment.






Attached or mounted by the edges to a larger sheet of paper or cardboard that has an opening (usually rectangular). The paper that is attached could be a picture, a document or a letter.

This was sometimes used in the late 19th and early 20th century in order to store a valuable piece of paper and see both sides of it.




Terms used by sellers, meaning that they declare they obtained the autographs themselves from the signer or personality, and was not purchased from someone else or obtained via another individual.




Irene Welsh signed photo

The name of a person is written down, and is not the signer, this is normally the person the autograph is written for, and most of the time is the person who requested the autograph. It could be a fan or admirer, or an acquaintance of a fan.


Sometimes, the autograph is inscribed to an important person or someone with an important connection to the life and/or career of the signer, and this could have an important positive effect on the price.


See example on the right, a photograph handwritten by Irene Welsh, inscribed "To Mr. Brennan".






The 4th and last page of a folded paper sheet, normally a letter or note, with the letter´s recipient address. This allowed the folded paper sheet to be used as the envelope itself.



A document issued by a monarch or government official which grants a right or title to a certain individual.




Letter Signed. Usually refers to a letter handwritten by another hand (secretary, assistant, or else) but authentically signed by a celebrity. An ALS, or autograph letter signed, would be a letter that is both handwritten and signed by the celebrity.




Manuscripts are pieces written by hand, and not typed or printed. It usually refers to a letter, text or else. It also refers to a still unpublished work by an author.



Manuscript Document Signed.

A handwritten text (not printed) signed by a personality who did not write the text. It usually refers to official or administrative manuscripts, not to a personal letter.



Mat burn example


A rust stain left by the inner edge or the entire body of an acidic mat that was on top of an autograph item (photo, manuscript, document, letter, etc).


A mat should always be acid-free, and can be used to hide previously existing mat burn (or other defects) in the collectible´s borders.


In the example on the right, this ALS has mat burn over the right and lower borders. In many cases, a new mat can actually help hide previous mat burn, and display the piece without showing the damage.




A picture or poster made from a scan of an original photo or poster, and printed on photo paper for printers. Term could also refer to a print made on photo paper for a printer, out of an original digital photograph, not from a negative nor a scan of a printed item.




A fungus growth that thrives in damp or humid paper, and should be taken care of as soon as possible since it can seriously damage the item. Mold can grow in many things, including loose paper and books.




Attached to a larger sheet or piece of paper, with either adhesive, paper hinges or photo corners. Mounting can be sometimes easily reversible, with no or very little traces left on the autographed item, or could be hard or impossible to revert without some serious damage to the collectible piece.



mounting traces on verso - example


Remnants of another paper object the paper was attached to, that are left after their separation (between paper object and mount). It is normally on the back of a photograph, document, paper clip or any other piece of paper, and usually consists of pieces of the mounting board or album where the item was attached, it could also be a paper hinge used to attach the paper to an album.



No date specified, it was signed but no date is indicated with the signature.




No place specified, it was signed without indicating where it was signed by the personality.




A size of book that results from folding each printed sheet into 8 leaves or 16 pages. In terms of size, this usually refest to a page with a size between 4 x 6 inches and 5 x 7 inches.



Name usually refers to a photograph that is first generation from the original negative, and not a copy of another photograph. It could be signed, ink stamped or blind stamped by a photographer, or not.



The process by which a piece of paper is treated so its deterioration stops, in order to preserve the normal lifespan of the paper object (bound volume, paper, parchment, document, photo, etc). Professional conservators try to keep all their treatments reversible.


Autographed items should never be retouched in the ink but only on the paper portion, fixing cracks, creases, folds, stains, and other paper problems.


Read more about Paper Conservation.




Paper loss - example


Or loss of paper, is when the original document or piece of paper has lost a piece, could be in borders, corners or even in inner parts. Professional paper restorers can substitute the missing piece with a similar, acid-free piece of paper in a reversible way. See example.





The process by which a piece of paper is taken to the original condition or as close as possible to its original, normally done by a professional paper restorer. There are many techniques to do this. It is not the same as paper conservation (see definition above). Professional paper restorers try to keep all their treatments reversible.




A decoration, drawing or flourish at the end of a signature, for the purpose of embellishment and/or as a precaution against forgery.




A printed document, with blank spaces that were filled with handwriting. Can be confused with a regular DS or document signed, since these are also documents and can be signed.




Playbill - example

A playbill is usually a piece of paper or leaflet that has been created for the purpose of advertising a concert, recital or event, and is distributed free of charge in advance of the event. It is not given to people who attend the event, but to people in the street or in the theater or venue´s lobby. Playbills normally contain a lot less specific information about the event than a program, most playbills are one single page, no covers. 






program - example


A brochure or booklet provided to attendees to a concert or event, with paid tickets (if it was a paid event). It normally lists the specific date and time of the event (concert, theater play, recital, etc), the content (music played, name of the play, etc) and the performers. Sometimes it also has detailed notes about the content and advertisements. Do not confuse with Playbill, a term that sometimes is used to refer to programs, but is also used with a different meaning (see PLAYBILL above).





Hilary Hahn signed promo photo

A photograph printed by photomechachical procedures in large quantities, to advertise an artist. They normally have printed at the bottom the name of the recording label, studio or company that created them, sometimes they also show the photographer name. Unlike a regular photograph, made on photographic paper, these promo photos are mass produced and are on a different type of paper. See on the right an example, a promo photo by record label Deutsche Gramophone, signed by violinist Hilary Hahn.



A page with a size between 6 x 8 inches and 8.5 to 11 inches.



The side of a page or photograph that is considered the front. The back side can be called “verso”. These terms apply to any flat paper object, be it a print, letter, photo, map, etc.




A pen with a small metal ball at the end of the tip, that gets in contact with the paper, and has an ink reservoir based on water, making it less viscous. A rollerball has the same tip than the ballpoint pen, but it puts more ink on the paper and the ink is based on a more liquid and fluid solvent (ballpoint pens usually have oil-based inks), that resembles fountain pens. Rollerball pens are an option between fountain pens and ballpoint pens, having the advantages of the rolling ball at the end of the tip, while maintaining part of the smoothness of fountain pens.

Read more about Rollerball Pens.



photo scratch - example

A type of mechanical damage that can happen to paper, especially to photographic surfaces, when part of the top surface is affected by a sharper object causing loss of material.


A line or scratch may become visible and show high contrast respect to the surrounding areas.


Scratches can be visually minimized by careful manipulation with a pencil of the appropriate color, this is a reversible change that will affect the look of the photograph without affecting the print itself.






A short text sentence many times written just above a signature, such as “with best wishes”, “in remembrance of”, “in souvenir of”, etc. A sentiment adds very little monetary value to the autograph, but makes the autograph gift from signer to recipient much warmer. And it could also be more personal, if it is inscribed (with the recipient's name).





sepia tone photograph

A light-brownish color found normally in older photographs such as many cabinet-style photos, CDVs or carte-de-visite, and other older photographic formats.


Sepia tone is also the color of many mounted photographs from the 1800s, especially cabinet photos.


Shown here as an example is a Bing Crosby signed photograph from the 1930s.




A handwritten name of a person, or nickname, or other personal mark that is a proof of the person's identity. It is usually written in a certain calligraphy style and decorated, to make it more unique and more difficult to replicate. It is not simply the person´s handwritten name, by the individual, but a stylized form of it.



Alexander Borovsky signature


Piece of paper that only contains the signature of a certain celebrity, and has been cut out of a larger piece of paper, usually the end of a letter or the bottom of a document, autograph album page or from a poster. A signature cut is also known as a signature clip.



Or also sign autograph, means the signature (a person´s name in a special calligraphic style) written by the person´s own hand - and not by a machine or else.



Pablo de Sarasate - signed photo


A form of photo damage that happens to silver-based emulsions. They can be distinguished by the metallic mirroring effect on part of the photo´s surface.


It usually happens near the borders of the photo, and continues expanding into areas progressively more distant from the borders.


See example shown, a photo postcard signed by violinist Pablo de Sarasate, with extensive silvering around borders. Read more about Silvering in Photos.




Giuseppe Mule composer - detail of autograph photo


Smudging is a type of ink accident that normally happens on recently ink-written paper, and when the ink is not yet completely dry before it is handled/gets in contact with an object.


This can be caused by a finger or any other part of the hand, or an object such as another photo put on top or envelope. It is also called a smear.


See example, detail from an autograph by Italian composer Giuseppe Mule.




Signed Photograph.




A mark of dirt, ink, water damage, mold, or any other agent, that changes the original color of the paper in a limited area (the “stain”). It could be a small spot, or a larger area, the term is not applied when the entire surface is uniformly affected by a color change.






Tape damage

The loss of part of the paper due to the removal of any kind of tape that was attached to the original document or photo.


This type of damage usually consists in the thinning of a small area, normally only visible on the back of the document (tape is most of the time used on the backside of photos, not the front), but could be visible from the front in more serious cases.


In the case shown here, the tape was attached to the corner of the photograph´s front, and has been removed causing tape damage. 




Tape stains

Coloration observed in the place where the was or there still is a piece of tape attached to the paper, normally these are reddish color stains that are the result of the acidic changes in the tape adhesive.


These stains tend to be of very difficult removal. If needed, acid-free tape for paper conservation should be always used for all collectibles. See example.







Ticket Stub for a concert


A smaller piece of the admission ticket that is given back to the attendee to a concert, recital or theater performance.


Tickets are considered an ephemera collectible, and many times they come inside programs, there are collectors who are exclusively interested in them.



Area of stain characterized by a dark edge, like a wave of water moving into the paper along the surface. This is normally caused by damage by water or other liquids, as the spilled liquid dries and leaves behind deposits that form the distinct coloration.



In the example above, see the tideline over the right, caused by water damage.




Typed letter signed


Typed Letter Signed. A letter that has been typed with a typewriter, and signed by a personality by hand.


It usually has less value than a fully handwritten letter with the same or similar content and signature.


Example: Edward Johnson typed letter signed, 1938.





When a handwritten text is copied over onto another page, by someone else, not the signer, without any changes and in the same original language (otherwise it would be a translation). A transcription is usually typed, and is done for the purpose of clarity, especially when the original (letter or document) is handwritten with an unclear/difficult to read handwriting. Availability of a transcription provides a little extra value to the autograph.



Victor Capoul cabinet photo


This simply means that the original size was larger, and has been reduced by cutting some of the borders.


It is a type of modification that normally reduces the value of the piece.


Example: unsigned cabinet photograph of famous tenor Victor Capoul, trimmed at the top, there is also a small loss of paper on the 2 lower corners due to wear.




This is the backside of a sheet of paper or photograph, opposite to the “recto” or “front”.











Type of paper deformation or damage that involves many sharp, irregular mini-creases and folds. This is normally caused by mechanical factors, or aging.




When an autograph has faded and it was written over by another hand, exactly over the original signature, trying to make it more visible. This obviously is a fake autograph over an original, authentic one, and very much decreases the value of the piece.


Gustav Mahler - example of a write-over


In the above example, composer Gustav Mahler´s signature was clearly written over, after the original signature below has faded.

Alternatively, it could also be a write over by the original signer, due to pen problems (not enough ink flow, or a mistake was made, and the original signer decided to go over what was written). This second case is somewhat less common, it is also a bit detrimental of value.





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Created and copyrighted by Tamino Autographs, 2020.






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