Collecting Autographs – Philography
“Philography” – collecting autographs – is one of the oldest forms of collecting, and one of the most rewarding. Autographs of movie stars, politicians, sports figures, authors, and musicians can sell for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. But, it is also an area where fraud or misrepresentation can easily occur, and one should always be wary of a source.
There are four points that affect the value of an autograph:
Who has signed? – The fame – or infamy – of the person who signed is the main factor. For example, the signature of Marilyn Monroe, who is just as popular now as she was when she was alive, is far more valuable than an autograph from Jimmy Stewart, who lived far longer and signed many more autographs.
Pictured right: Autograph of Marilyn Monroe
An autograph of an historic figure, such as Napoleon, is quite rare, and worth thousands of dollars. Autographs of current television stars are worth very little, simply because they are far easier to obtain. In the realm of autograph values, death is definitely a good career move!
What has been signed? – A hand-written letter has the most value, since – not only does it have the person’s signature – it also gives some insight into the person’s character. Also of value: a typed letter; a signed document; and a signed photo, the bigger the better. Once again, a napkin autographed by Mr. T is just not going to cut it.
Is the signature in ink or pencil? – An ink signature is worth far more than one done in pencil. Pencil fades over time, and is generally not as crisp as an ink autograph. However, some pencil signatures do have high values, such as those by Apache Chief Geronimo. He signed small cards in pencil at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and those can sell for $5000 now.
Pictured left: Autograph Salvador Dali
What is the condition of the autograph? – Smears, stains, and creases will devalue an autograph. Paper or photos in excellent condition bring the highest prices.
History’s Most Valuable Autograph?
Without a doubt, the signature to the right is the most valuable signature in the world. It belonged to William Shakespeare. There are only six authenticated examples of Shakespeare’s autograph – one on a conveyance for a London house, one on a deposition in a legal case, one on his mortgage, and three on his Will.
All six survive in institutions, but if one came up for sale, it would probably sell for in excess of $5 million US. Not one manuscript written in his hand-writing has ever been found, but if it were, it would sell for $50 million. (Considering his poor penmanship, one can only assume that the actors had to ad lib a lot!)
Pictured right: William Shakespeare’s signature
Some of the research for this page – including autograph examples – is courtesy of the excellent “Autographs
of America” website.