Is it signed? How to spot an authentic autograph.

Fans of Half Price Books know there are always all sorts of treasures to be found in our stores, including books, music and movies, among other unique items. But one very unique treasure you might not have thought about is autographs. The first thing to know about collecting autographs is that there is only one way to be 100% sure that a signature is authentic, and that is to get the autograph in person. Be sure to keep an eye out at your neighborhood Half Price Books as we continually have author signings. Authors like Brad Thor, Robin Roberts and Maggie Stiefvater have made it to HPB in the past and we have many exciting announcements this fall.

Back to autographs. If you don’t actually get a signature in person, be aware that there are no regulations on anyone printing their own certificate of authentication. Do your research on what companies are reputable. The two largest authentication companies are PSA/DNA and JSA. Seeing their small sticker on an item helps you know something is authentic, but anyone can make mistakes.

If you are purchasing or selling an autograph, there are several things for you, as well as our buyers at the counter, to inspect. There are many different types of fake autographs:

STAMPED SIGNATURE: This sort of fake autograph is the easiest to spot. It usually has the appearance of a rubber stamp. Look for things like uneven ink distribution and no actual pen strokes. Also, the ink tends to pool up in some areas, or there are small sections where there is no ink at all.

PREPRINTED AUTOGRAPH: The next easiest to spot is the preprint. These are photos or printed items where the item was signed by someone, then taken and mass produced. You get these quite often with big name stars who receive a ton of fan mail. Here is an example of a celebrity preprint. 

AUTOPEN SIGNATURES: These are a little more difficult to spot. An autopen machine works by tracing over a pattern of a person’s signature. When autopens are made, they tend to have the same width of line throughout the signature and no variations in width as a real signature would. There also tends to be perfect dots at the beginning and the end of the signature, as the pen goes straight down and straight back up when finished. A dead giveaway on these is to just do a little research. It is not uncommon at all to find different signatures that all match perfectly. Someone that uses an autopen we all know is President Obama himself.

SECRETARIAL SIGNATURES: These are probably the toughest to spot as some of them can be quite good. These are handwritten signatures usually done by secretaries, other family members, or people at a company.  Do you research carefully on these. Compare signatures from legit in-person signings. It also helps when comparing if you turn the signatures upside down, that way your brain doesn’t fill in the gaps to form letters. Your mind is simply comparing images.

FORGED SIGNATURE: These signatures out on the market are simply being forged and sold as authentic. A lot of the same steps are taken when looking for a forgery as looking for a secretarial signature. Elvis Presley and The Beatles are always near the top of the list as the most-forged signatures.

Our buyers at Half Price Books check over each item that has a signature, doing their best research to determine if an autograph is authentic or not.

Now that you have a background on the different types of signatures, the best advice in autograph collecting is to have fun with the hobby.

Don’t get into it to get rich. Just collect what you love. 


Jim is Art Director at Half Price Books Corporate.

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