What does Autograph Mean? and Other Burning Autograph Questions March 19 2021
WHAT IS AUTOGRAPH / WHAT DOES AUTOGRAPH MEAN?
Autograph is a person's own handwriting or signature, it comes from Greek, meaning “Self-Written”.
The word autograph is used as a synonym of
someone's handwriting, but it is also used meaning handwritten FOR someone (“he autographed it to me”, meaning he signed it to me, most probably with my name on top of his signature) usually on request.
Autographs can be on regular paper (letters, documents, etc), photographs, books, and on a variety of objects (dance shoes, musical instruments, garment, watches, conductor's baton, a cigar box, and more!). Pretty much anything that can be written on.
Example shown here is an autograph music manuscript by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Autograph is also the name of an American rock and roll band, and a name of a hotel chain.
WHEN WERE AUTOGRAPHS INVENTED?
The oldest autograph is from a Sumerian scribe, Gar Ama, who signed a clay tablet over 5,000 years ago!. Picture shows an example of a Sumerian tablet.
However, he wasn't an historically significant character himself, so probably the first historical figure, as far as we know today, comes from El Cid, dating back to the late 11th century.
Named Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043/48-1099), a Castilian knight and warlord in medieval Spain who dominated the east of the Iberian peninsula at the end of the 11th century.
WHEN WERE PHOTOGRAPHS INVENTED?
The first ones appeared in the mid-1820s, an invention
by French inventor Nicephore Niepce, but it was not until the mid-1830s when Niepce´s associate Louis Daguerre created the first commercially viable photographic process.
The photograph shown here depicts Robert Cornelius's famous 1839 image. This is known as the first self image of a person.
The first photographs required long exposures and individuals had to stay still for several minutes.
AUTOGRAPHS vs. SIGNATURES - WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
If autograph means a person's own handwriting, the signature is the person's own NAME in handwriting, in a certain style that only that person can replicate (or supposed to). It is a particular case of autograph.
The word signature is also used to mean something characteristic or distinctive of a person: his “signature” role was....meaning that role in operas or theater was the one he or she was most famous for. Signature is sometimes used to mean distinctive, special.
HOW CAN YOU TELL A FAKE AUTOGRAPH? HOW IS AUTOGRAPH AUTHENTICITY DETERMINED?
The short answer to this is that one can tell this with a very high degree of certainty by using a combination of things, including signature comparison with known authentic examples, analysis of the media, and provenance.
The best provenance is when it was obtained in person by the autograph collector (such as this signed photo of violinist Janine Jansen shown here).
A much longer answer to this can be found in our article How to Know When an Autograph is Authentic.
HOW DO YOU GET AUTOGRAPHS AUTHENTICATED?
This means you submit an autographed item to an expert, and he issues a verdict on its authenticity as a Certificate of Authenticity (or CoA, looks like a diploma) or a longer, more detailed document called Letter of Authenticity (LoA).
We wrote a full article about this, “Autograph Authentication: Where to Get Autographs Authenticated...and More”.
It is important to note that collectibles autographs as a business involves 2 separate main businesses, one is 1) autograph dealers, like us, who sell autographed items, and the other 2) is autograph authentication, that is, companies that analyze autographs and issue a certificate if they think they are authentic, or a short letter without certification if they think they are not.
WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE AUTOGRAPHS? WHEN DID AUTOGRAPHS BECOME A THING?
People love autographed items for several reasons, the
most important one is that they provide a direct connection with the admired artist, and it can be personal if the autograph was created in-person (with the both signer and recipient present at signing), and the autograph has the recipient's name (it is inscribed to the recipient).
Shown here is a photograph of super star tenor Luciano Pavarotti, shown signing autographs for his fans!.
Autographs inscribed or made by a person to another on request became common in the early 19th century, when famous people started to sign autograph albums on request, sometimes writing the recipient's name, text and music quotes, and more. Later on, photographs appeared in the 1830s but it was not until the second half of the 1860s (when they started to be made on paper and cheaper) when they also became a vehicle for autographs.
ARE AUTOGRAPHS A GOOD INVESTMENT? DO AUTOGRAPHS INCREASE IN VALUE?
They could be - as it happens with all other collections.
It depends on what you buy or get, how much you paid, and the condition it is when you want to sell.
For the most part, people don't buy autographs as an investment but for fun and as a hobby, since there are better, more predictable and sound investment instruments.
Not all autographs increase in value with time, some stay flat, some go down, and like with all investments, you need to know well what you are doing in order to make it work as an investment.
ARE AUTOGRAPHS WORTH MORE AFTER DEATH?
For the most part yes, prices depend (among other things) on scarcity, and if someone passes away, there will be no more production of authentic autographs from that person, so the instant reaction of the market is that prices go up a bit right away since there is a temporary higher demand. What happens in the long run varies, and is a different story.
WHERE CAN I BUY AUTHENTIC AUTOGRAPHS?
This can be done from collectors, dealers, via direct sale
or auction-style sale, marketplaces or you can also get them directly from the source, artists, and this is usually for free.
To help all collectors, we created a more detailed article covering this subject, entitled “Where to buy authentic autographs”.
WHERE CAN I SELL AUTOGRAPHS?
You can choose a variety of channels: dealers, or directly to collectors (via auctions or online marketplaces). Each one of those 3 have many options, so you need to first define the answer to these questions: do you want to sell fast, do you want to sell all the autographs as a whole or would you sell them individually, to different people? Do you want to put time and effort into selling, or would you prefer the easy way for you?.
The answer to those questions will define which way to go!. Faster and easier is to a professional dealer like us, you will just need to take some pictures and email us or any other dealer of your choice in order to get a quick answer. The other options are directly to collectors and involve more time from your part, and a slower, more complicated process.
Read our article "Where to Sell Autographs: Things to Keep an Eye On".
HOW CAN I PROPERLY STORE MY AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION?
This requires a longer answer, since there are many ways to do it. Please read our blog articles about this topic:
WHY IS SHIPPING AUTOGRAPH PHOTOS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN SHIPPING A LETTER?
This is because autographs should not be shipped as letters. The United States Postal Service considers that letters can be (and many times are) folded, and any envelope that is rigid, packed with hard cardboard protecting the contents is not a letter but a package. No professional dealer will ever send autographs without protective cardboard, in a foldable envelope, autographs should always be sent as packages and not as letters. And shipping rates for packages are quite more expensive than regular mail letters.
Interested in authentic autographs?