What's My Autograph Worth?
What makes an autograph valuable?People have collected autographs of notables for hundreds of years. The desire to have a personal memento from a famous and/or important person drives the autograph collecting field. The first, and most important aspect is the person whose signature is being collected.
The top rung of the ladder, in terms of popularity, is a relatively small group of people who can be called "icons". These are people whose names and images stay with us, appearing with regularity in our culture. They are known, often admired and intensely sought after. In Sports, we have Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as prime examples. Within American history, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington fit this description. From the world of Entertainment, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart deserve this title. Within the Arts, Charles Dickens, Mozart and Cervantes command attention. There are many other areas of interest, which have their own "icons"; the foregoing are meant only as illustrative examples.
Next in order of value determination is availability of the person's autograph. This collecting field exemplifies the term "Supply and Demand". We can use a few of the names above to illustrate: Babe Ruth's signature has strong and continually appreciating value, yet it is not rare. Here, the supply is not the driver — it's the intense demand. James Dean's autograph value, on the other hand, is driven by good demand.... and an extremely small supply resulting from his premature passing.
The next aspect of autograph value is the format. In ascending order of value, the base price of a person's autograph typically is on a small piece of paper, from an autograph album, a small card or a "cut" from a larger document. Next is a document — a legal agreement or contract, even a check — followed by a typed letter signed (TLS). After this comes a signed photograph (SP) and, normally, at the top of the value chain, a handwritten and signed letter (ALS). The nature of the document or the content of the letter can greatly affect value. Babe Ruth's signature on a signed check, for example, can be $5,000 or more. His signed contract to play baseball for the Yankees is worth many times this amount. Using a letter to illustrate, Albert Einstein accepting a dinner invitation might be valued at $2,000; his letter to a scientific colleague regarding the Theory of Relativity would command much, much more.
Condition of the autographed item is a significant factor, too. A document in pristine condition, signed boldly in ink, is far more desirable than one bearing obvious damage, or with a faded signature. A signed photograph of a famous actor "in character' — James Dean in "Rebel without a cause" for example — will have a value much higher than a signed "generic" image.
Finally, societal trends can impact autograph values. For example, the hit movie "The Aviator" created more demand for the autograph of legendary personality Howard Hughes and values appreciated measurably in a short timeframe. Whether a new and higher value structure will be established, or whether the values return to levels in place prior to release of the movie remains to be seen.
How do I know if my autograph is authentic?If you saw the person sign your autographed item, you know it's real. If you did not see it signed, you must rely on the representation of the seller, the judgment of a qualified authenticator or your own knowledge, if you have thoroughly studied the signing patterns and habits of the signer.
Many are concerned with purchase of an item, in fear that it is a "fake". While there are many forgeries in existence, especially when the particular autograph is of real value, the most common examples of non-authentic autographs are not created to mislead or defraud the collector. Most of these came from an earlier time, when autographs had very little value. In Sports, it was common practice for a clubhouse attendant to sign baseballs on behalf of a star player, just to save him time; these are commonly referred to as "clubhouse signatures". In other fields, especially Entertainment, fans would write to obtain autographs of their favorite stars on pictures or letters. It was common practice to send out items with preprinted signatures or an original signature signed by one of the star's staff members; these are commonly referred to as "secretarial signatures". Finally, it was common practice for many years to have the notable's actual signature applied to the paper with a mechanical device known as an "autopen". These mimicked the signature of the person perfectly and can be difficult to determine without knowledge. This practice was extremely common with famous politicians and business people.
Determination of an autograph's authenticity is part science and part art. It requires knowledge and great attention to detail. Purchasing an autograph on your own, especially from an unknown source and without supporting documentation from a respected authenticator can be a risky proposition. Autographs purchased from Heritage are reviewed by our own experts and then passed on to independent third party experts such as PSA/DNA for final authentication.
As a registered Heritage customer, you have instant access to our vast autograph image archive. We urge you to compare your autograph with the authenticated examples shown.
If you would like a knowledgeable opinion on the likelihood of authenticity for your autograph, you can send good, clear images to MichaelR@HA.com. However, in many cases, it does require a personal, "hands-on", review of the autographed item(s) to be sure.
How do I find out what my autograph is worth?There are a few autograph guides available on the market. They provide a fair understanding of value but they cannot be considered completely accurate. They can be materially overstated or understated, and many important names are routinely omitted. The other aspect is timeliness — they are typically updated and reprinted every few years. The autograph market is dynamic and values can fluctuate measurably.
Due to staff limitations, Heritage does not have the capability of reviewing, evaluating or providing informal opinions on authenticity for contemporary Entertainment or Sports figures. In most instances, these autographs will be valued in the $25 to $50 range and we simply cannot devote proper attention to them.
For a current estimate of the value of your autographed item(s), contact Heritage by email at MichaelR@HA.com — there is no cost for this collector service.
Sell now or consign to a Heritage auctionWe are always looking for quality autographs from virtually all fields to purchase or auction to our worldwide collecting audience. To hear how Heritage can work for you in developing the best possible options for your collection, please email us today at MichaelR@HA.com.
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