What Are the Factors that Determine Autograph Values? June 04 2021

Ok, so in another article, we have described how the value of an autograph can be estimated by comparisons.
Here we discuss in a little bit more detail the factors affecting the value of your autograph item.
And the most important factor is (hear drums):

If you are a dealer or seller, this is by far the most important thing to look into.

Autograph Value - Luciano Pavarotti in Rigoletto

Since you are trying to either make a profit or get the highest price for your item, you need to keep an eye on how much you paid for it.

Dealers must always determine their prices with careful attention to all the costs involved, including the cost of purchasing the autograph material.

I list cost separately from the three pillars below, because if cost matters in your situation, it is the number one thing to look for before you price an autograph for sale, besides the three pillars.

Different costs are usually the most important reason why many times you see such a wide variation in asking prices on the internet, for autographs from a same celebrity.


Autograph collectors may not care too much about their original cost, that is, how much they originally paid for a certain piece in their collection, since they are not into autographs for a profit. This means the cost factor is probably not a top factor for them.

Additionally, the cost could have been zero if you inherited, received a gift or just found an item, or the cost may be outdated if the autograph was purchased a long time ago.

In any case, when cost is set aside or considered important, you still need to look into what we call the three pillars of autograph value:

1) RARITY. This is how many authentic autographs there are that are signed by the same signer. The scarcer a certain item is, that is, the more difficult it is to find, the higher this factor will impact on price.
With rarity we refer to availability in the open market, where collectors can buy and sell – that is, autographed items in the wild, and not those carefully kept in libraries, archives, etc., which will never go up for sale.
There are many letters and music manuscripts of composer Wolfgang Mozart, but the vast majority of them are already in dead-end places such as archives and libraries. Such institutions play a very important role in society, but they cannot be considered as publicly available for buying and selling. The amount of autograph material by Mozart that is actually available for collectors to own is relatively small, and with high demand, the prices are astronomical.

2) CONDITION of the collectible autograph itself – in a broad sense of the word, since I include a wide variety of things under this pillar, including:

  • The physical condition of the autographed item: whether it has any stains, cracks, creases, ink smudges, silvering or any other type of visible damage (see our Glossary of Autograph Terms).
  • The content: that is, the photographic image of your item. If it is an artist, is he/she doing something they are/were famous for, or it is a casual pose? If it is a letter, what is the importance of the content in the signer’s life and/or career? Consider the difference between a short letter simply arranging a meeting with a friend versus a letter of the same length with deep thoughts or referencing important works.

Yehudi Menuhin signed photo in performance

Yehudi Menuhin, signed photo in performance. For most, this would be a bit more desirable than a signed photo portrait of him, not performing.
  • The nature of the item: signed photos tend to sell at higher prices than signed programs, signed books, other signed objects, or letters with unimportant content. People like to frame and display items, so items that are easier to frame and display are in higher demand. If the autograph is on a photograph, is it signed and/or stamped by a famous photographer, or is it a regular photo or a photo postcard, printed by the millions? Is the photograph inscribed to someone? If so, that tends to lower the price a little bit, unless it is inscribed to someone important.
  • The quality of the autograph itself: Does the signature have good contrast with respect to the background? Or was it signed in a dark area of a photograph and it is now hard to see? Does it bear a great, clear and readable signature, or is it a scribble, signed in a rush – in other words, authentic but ugly?
  • The glamour factor: a sexy or funny picture, for example, usually has an impact on the desirability of the item, hence the price buyers are willing to pay tends to be higher. This factor can sometimes make a price skyrocket in auctions.

Josephine Baker signed photo in La Creole

Josephine Baker signed photo in La Creole, a certainly more desirable Baker autograph than most other, more common shots.
  • Provenance: if the provenance of the autograph can be traced back to the signed (the chain of ownership), that is a plus, especially if there is an interesting story involved during the signing or afterwards.
Anything that adds extra appeal to collectors in general has an impact on value, and the impact can be very significant.
  • Authenticity certifications: this has little to no effect on an experienced collector’s buying decision, so they are usually not willing to pay any extra money for this. It does, however, greatly influence the beginner and even the intermediate autograph buyer. A very important thing to remember are that to reach the highest prices, your credibility as a seller or source for autographs adds a lot, so you may want to consider investing in a CoA or certificate of authenticity.
3) DEMAND: A signed picture of yourself may be the only one in existence, meaning it is authentic and rare, and likely also in great condition, but but does that make it valuable? With nobody willing to buy it except maybe your own mother, you are missing the demand factor for your autograph.
The stronger these three factors are, the higher the value of your autograph item.


The Autograph Value Tripod
One way to see autograph values is to imagine the price at the top of a typical photography tripod with extendable legs, where each leg represents one of the three points listed above (rarity, condition and demand).
If all three legs are extended to their full length, the price can be as high as possible. If one is not fully extended, then the price will be lower, even when the other two are.
Yes, “condition” is a rather long and complicated set of seven things, as we described above, but the overall idea is reasonably effective to explain how pricing works.
Always remember that prices in the autograph business are an educated opinion about the autograph, expressed in numbers, and that the factors above are what shapes the final opinion. Keep in mind that there are certain things that you can do to improve the price of an autograph item, and that will be the subject of another article.
We hope you found this article helpful in understanding autograph prices.



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