What to look for when purchasing Autographs

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What to look for when purchasing Autographs

When looking to bid on or purchase autographs over the internet, you should exercise some degree of caution and follow some guidelines to ensure, what you are purchasing is in fact genuine.

Firstly, be aware that some people may list their product as an Autographed item and whilst technically this is true it does not always mean that the item was signed ‘in-person’ or by the sports person in question.

There are various forms of autographs and whilst there is an interest amongst some collectors to still consider all of these types as collectable, there are other collectors who can be disappointed when they received one of the following when expecting an ‘in-person’ autograph.

The main autograph types are

This autograph type is understandably the preferred version by the majority of collectors and as implied is known to have been signed by the celebrity or sports person in question.  The best way to know that you are getting a genuine in person autograph is to obtain it yourself or to purchase through a trusted source or eBayer that you know and know their methods of obtaining. 


A Pre-print autograph is a manufactured image whereby the autograph is included in the printing process that is the autograph is part of the picture and does not overlay the celebrity’s image as would an ‘in-person’ autograph.  On a preprint, the signature often appears to be below the surface gloss of the photo and the signature is often very "flat." To test, hold the photo up at an angle to a light source, a real signature is written on the surface of the photo and should have a different level of reflectivity than the rest of the surface. Unfortunately with the advances in printing techniques some pre-prints can be extremely difficult to detect, whilst others are quite obvious.  One way is to compare items that you see on eBay and if the signature appears in the same place on the same image and in the same style on each occasion the odds are that it is a preprint, stamp or autopen.

Stamped Signatures
A stamp is exactly like what we used as children or received for good work at school. The celebrity has a stamp produced using his signature.  The stamp is then simply inked and pressed onto the photo. If the celebrity is using a stamp to make their signature, then the autograph will usually flake off pretty easily if you run your fingernail across the surface of the signature. 

Autopen machines are similar to pantographs, whereby a celebrity’s signature is broken down into a matrix and fed into the autopen machine which then uses a mechanical arm to replicate that signature while holding a pen, pencil, sharpie or other writing instrument which in turn transfers the tracked signature matrix to paper or photo.
Autopen signatures have a couple of giveaway flaws: First, they are often done in Sharpie, which hides the fact that the machine signatures are of a consistent line width from beginning to end, due to the unchanging pressure-- not often the case with actual signatures, which will show some variance of line width, particularly at the end of strokes. Indeed, autopens will often show a wider spot, or "dot" at the beginning and end of the signature, where the pen was placed on the paper, and where it stopped and was lifted off the paper.
Second, autopen signatures will be EXACTLY the same every time, from a given matrix. This is sometimes disguised by movement (intentionally or not) of the paper. Still there will be the same spacing, height of letters, length of signature, etc. Autopens can be sniffed out and confirmed if two signatures are identical. Humans aren't that precise. It's impossible for a live person to generate identical signatures even if they try.

Secretarial autographs are autographs signed by the celebrity’s assistant or another nominated person.  These can be difficult to detect as if the celebrity has sent out numerous autographs all signed in this manner, even comparing on other websites does not allow a thoughtful judgment to be made.  The best advice is to try to and locate examples of known ‘in-person’ autographs and then compare.

Other Points
Not all sellers that list non genuine autographs as genuine are being dishonest, as they may have sourced these autographs through other means and honestly believe that the product they are offering is legitimate.  They may have unwittingly received a secretarial or autopen through the post and believe it to be genuine.  Do not feel shy about asking a seller the history of their autograph.

The old saying that is something is too good to be true, and then it usually isn’t, applies to autographs.  A collector may have to wait hours and try several times to actually obtain an ‘in-person’ autograph of a current and popular celebrity, this will be reflected in their asking price.  You have to ask yourself how an Australian based seller could be selling the latest A list Hollywood star at such a low price if they have sourced the signatures ‘in-person’.  However it is common for local sportsman and entertainment figures to be quite accessible and these can be located at a very reasonable price.

I hope that this information can be of use for members looking to enter into what can be a very rewarding hobby and wish you all the best with your endeavours to accrue a collection you can be proud of.

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