Knowing What an Autograph Is Worth
Some autographs are very valuable. Again, that means that somebody's willing to pay a lot of money to own a scrap of paper, photograph, or document with another's signature or handwriting on it. There are only six verified examples of William Shakespeare's autograph in existence. If you are one of the ultra-lucky ones, you've got a pretty valuable collectible there. Hold on to it and protect it with your dear life.
If you want to get involved in the autograph hobby, join clubs and visit Web sites and forums devoted to the art of collecting signatures. Listening to the experiences of others will help you immensely in your own collecting efforts. Learn from others' mistakes, but also from their successes.
It's probably a safe bet that you don't have one of the Shakespeare Six, so let's address the autographs that you do own, and what determines their desirability—and value—in the hobby. In the following section, I cover some of the significant factors that determine an autograph's overall worth.
Scarcity in autograph circles, like everywhere else in the collectibles world, enhances an autograph's value. It's the law of supply and demand again. Needless to say, a scarce autograph from a nobody that nobody wants is not valuable, even if it's as scarce as scarce can be.
For certain, any person's death enhances the value of his or her autograph. Why? Because the deceased are not ever going to put pen to paper again and scribble a signature or write a letter. Immediately after a celebrity dies, there is a finite supply of his or her autographs in circulation.
What your autograph rests on plays an important part in its ultimate value. Generally speaking, an 8- × 10-inch signed photograph is worth more than a 3- × 5-inch photograph. A signature on a scrap of paper, on the other hand, is worth less than one on a 3- × 5-inch photograph. This is because the most common autograph is usually scribbled on something thrust at a celebrity somewhere. Hence, they are ordinarily more plentiful than, say, a photograph—and less valuable because of this.
The most priceless autographs are often intact documents. Signed handwritten letters from the famous folks throughout time are prized, and especially so if there's some fascinating content in the document or letter, or something of historical significance.
Signatures or handwritten materials that are bold and dark are worth more than their hard-to-decipher, light counterparts. Pencil signatures are obviously less appealing than are their brothers in ink. Pencil marks, for one, fade away through time faster than Douglas MacArthur's “old soldiers.”
Regardless of the item that your autograph's attached to, it's better that it be in good shape than bad shape. (Now that's a startling pronouncement!) Taking care of your autograph collection and avoiding, as best you can, the pitfalls that befall autographs will greatly enhance both its value and eye-catching appeal. Tears on autographed photographs and documents diminish their overall value, even if it doesn't impact on the writing itself; so do creases and staining of any kind. Then, of course, there's the signature and writing proper and how it's held up with time. Any smearing or fading in it diminishes its desirability to fellow collectors, never mind to you.
Fan letters mailed to the late Cesar Romero's home on San Vincente Boulevard in Los Angeles were always answered. One fan sent Mr. Romero a “Bat Laffs” trading card—featuring Romero as the Joker—in hopes of having it autographed. To his surprise, he received a postcard from Maria Romero, Cesar's sister, informing him that Cesar would be happy to sign his card when he returned from appearing in a dinner theater production in Texas. Now that's going beyond the call of duty!