What is an Autograph? | Celebrity signed items memorabilia

What is an Autograph? | Celebrity signed items memorabilia

A question that’s often asked is “What is an Autograph?” An autograph is where a celebrity (famous person) signs their name as a memento for a fan. Mainly Celebrity signed items and memorabilia.



An autograph is a person’s own signature or handwriting. The term used particularly in connection with the collecting of autographs of celebrities; the hobby of collecting autographs known as “philography”.

What might considered the oldest “autograph” is a Sumerian clay table from about 3100 BC which includes the name of the scribe Gar.Ama. No ancient written autographs have been found, and the earliest one known for a major historical figure is that of El Cid from 1098.

“Autograph” can refer to a document transcribed entirely in the handwriting of its author, as opposed to a typeset document or one written by an amanuensis or a copyist. This meaning overlaps that of “holograph”.


Categories of celebrities

Some of the most popular categories of what is an autograph subjects are presidents, military soldiers, athletes, movie stars, artists, musicians, social and religious leaders, scientists, astronauts, and authors.

Some collectors may specialize in specific fields (such as Nobel Prize winners) or general topics (military leaders participating in World War I) or specific documents (i.e., signers of the Charter of the United Nations; signers of the U.S. Constitution; signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; Charter of the European Common Union).

The collection of autographs is in decline with fans preferring selfies instead.


Secretarial signatures

Celebrities sometimes authorized secretaries to sign their correspondence. In the early months of World War II, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall felt obligated to sign every condolence letter sent to the families of slain soldiers. But as the death rate increased, forced to assign an assistant to forge his signature to the letters. The surrogate signatures were hard to distinguish from the originals. General Douglas MacArthur rarely signed a WWII condolence letter personally and all of his letters to families signed by one of two assistants who tried hard to duplicate his signature but the forged signatures distinguished by an unusually high letter “l” and a skinny “D”. During the early stage of the Korean War, MacArthur personally signed condolence letters. As the fatalities increased, the General began to use letters with pre-printed signatures.

In the 1952 U.S. presidential election, General Dwight D. Eisenhower often had secretaries forge his name to campaign letters and “personally inscribed” autographed photographs.

Player signatures on baseballs and footballs that are actually signed by coaches and ballboys are called clubhouse signatures.


Autopen autographing

Since the early 1950’s almost all Presidents have had an autopen or robot machine for the automatic signing of a signature as an what is an autograph machine for their letters, photographs, books, official documents, and even memorabilia items such as baseballs and golf balls. Some former presidents even have continued to utilize the autopen after they have left office. The Signa-Signer can even write out in ink an authentically looking handwritten message that’s typed into the machine. One book detailing the use of this machine by President John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) is The Robot That Helped to Make a President by Charles Hamilton.

Since the 1960’s, the practice of using an autopen has spread to U.S. Cabinet members, U.S. Senators, some state governors, and many other personalities who have a high volume of correspondence with the public. So now you know What is an Autograph.

Astronaut Alan Shepard acknowledged that NASA used the autopen machine to sign the astronauts’ voluminous correspondence. Many large corporations also use these machines for signing business letters. Although autopen signatures should constantly match one another, they will eventually change as the signature drum becomes worn, and thereby alters the signature. Due to these professional imitations, buyers often wary of buying presidential or astronaut signatures from unknown sellers.


autopen autograph machine, what is an autograph

Forged autographs

Autograph collectors enjoy assembling signed historical documents, letters, or objects as a way of capturing a piece of history. However, forgers seek to profit by selling forged items. Sometimes just the signature forged, in other instances the entire document fabricated. Differentiating forged from authentic what is an autograph is almost impossible for the amateur collector, but a professional may be consulted.

One method commonly seen on eBay called “preprinting” by many sellers. The item, a photocopy of an actual autographed photo, usually printed on glossy home photo paper. Since this is almost always disclosed to the buyer, some may not consider these actual forgeries. In October 2012, Chad Richard Baldwin of Gresham, Oregon, sentenced to two years in prison for the sale of forged Babe Ruth and Beatles autographs. Baldwin a highly skilled forger of sports memorabilia.

Forgers may go to great lengths to make their forgeries appear authentic. Additionally, Some use blank end papers from old books upon which to write their fake signatures in an attempt to match the paper of the era in which the personality lived. They have researched ink formulations of the era that they want to replicate.

Collectors should know the era in which US presidents signed their documents. American presidents signed land grants until President Andrew Jackson (c. 1836) became bored with the time-consuming task. Since then, secretaries of the president have mimicked their employer’s signatures on these documents (known as “proxy” signatures). Furthermore, Many movie stars have their secretaries sign their letters and photographs for them. When Ronald Reagan was an actor, he had his mother sign his name to much of his fan mail. George Harrison of The Beatles did the same. So next time someone asks What is an Autograph? You’ll have a great answer or send them here.