Guideline to be aware of forgeries

on Freitag, 14 Januar 2011. Posted in Autograph forgeries

„if it seems to good to be true – It’s propably is !“

Help and Hints for autograph authentication

The only 100% way to ensure that a signature is genuine is to have obtained it yourself from the person concerned. However, here some basic guidelines which we hope will assist you in your search for the genuine article.

All signatures have a character to them; forward or backward leaning or other style unique to the individual concerned. People's signatures also tend to be of similar size each time, depending on what they are signing.

Signatures can differ for the same person and can be better if obtained in a relaxed atmosphere rather than on premiere or race day or other pressured environments.

When you have a proven signature, photocopy it for future reference and comparison. Spotting forgeries is the most difficult but most important part on every serious autograph collection. 

Whenever possible buy from a well established and reliable source - you may pay more for the signed piece but at least you can be reasonably sure that it is correct and genuine. 

Signatures applied before 1960 were mostly done in ball pen, pencil or fountain pen. Felt-tip pens became popular in the 60ies and indeed, there is a photograph of Jim Clark holding one. Autographs in ball pen are the most vulnerable and likely to fade if is not cared for, while pencil, although perhaps less attractive than the stronger pen & ink, can last longer.

Signatures applied with pen & ink or other usually have a sheen which is not present on printed signatures. Printed autographs appear to be under the surface. 

A signature in pen & ink applied many years ago has had plenty of time to dry! If an autograph applied in fountain pen, supposedly long ago, now smudges with the lightest encouragement of a damp cotton bud, then it probably isn't genuine. 

Ask for the history of the item. Serious sellers can nearly always provide further backround on an item like the date and place where it has been signed.

Finally - if in doubt don't buy! Sometimes a signature arouses suspicion, an uneasy feeling,it is the best to leave it alone then. 

General informations

Rubber stamp

The rubber stamp is a piece of rubber that has been carved out in the impression o a had-drawn signature. When dipped in a pad of ink, the stamp is then applied to any flat surface (paper,photograph), leaving an ink impression that reproduces an original.

The first stamped signature known to exist is from William H. Harrison (Reference from Manuscript Society) in the year of 1841 but it became mostly known when  Abraham Lincoln used it. 

They are very common and below you could see the BEATLES rubber stamp they used very often on Fan-Club postcards.

thumb leitfadenartikel beatles Stempel 1 1 thumb leitfadenartikel beatles Stempel 2 1

Rubber stamps became very common especially in the entertainment field when when Mary Pickford and Rudolp Valentino were using it in the early 30s. (see in our reference library)

A large percentage of “signed“ photographs of Rudolf Valentino that surface in the autograph market today are in fact these rubber-stamped examples. They are mostly used on dark photographs where the ink is difficult to see.

On a surface allowing better contrast between the signature and pape, a rubber stamp signature is much easier to detect.

Stamped signatures have a “drawn” look, and will have inconsistent ink distribution.

A trick sometimes employed these days is to send printed signatures with secretarial inscriptions.  Be very careful in examining your autographs for this.

Secretarial autographs

are autographs for a celebrity done by another person like a family member or secretary and it imitates the “boss’s“ true signature

They are existing thousandfold and are very difficult to identify without knowledge and examples of reference.

The first secretarial autograph known to exist is from Louis  XIV (1638-1715), king of France (1643-1715). His personal secretary Toussaint Rose (1611-1701) („secrétaire de la main), signed for him all offical documents. Ludwig XV, Ludwig XVI and her majesty Marie Antoinette kept on this tradition with the secretary signing for them but they have been getting very famous especially by US presidents in later years.

On land grants, secretaries of Pierce and Buchanam did a really excellent job, and one of Chester Arthur’s was an absolut master at duplicating the president’s real signature.

Harding, Coolidge and Hoover and Waren G.Harding had at least one secretary each who could do a very credible job of signing the master’s name. Harding’s secretary (George Christian) was excellent and is maybe the most difficult one to identify.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had at least 9 different secretaries, Truman at least one, Eisenhower two or three, John F. Kennedy perhabs a dozen and from Lyndon B.Johnson on each President seems to have had severeal secretaries who could forge their signatures.

Once the secretary learns to sign , they almost invariably sign the same way each time. Consequently, if there is a dissimilarity between the secretary and the genuine signature, the secretarial will show that same dissimilarity every time.

When you spot even a little dissimilarity once, you can spot it every time from then on. Like autopens, there is no foolproof way of telling a secretarial signature without references at hand, although since most secretaries in this century have been women, a feminine-looking signature of a male celebrity can be a tip off.


Because of the demand in their autographs an popularity the stemped, facsimilie and secretary autographs are most common in this collecting field.

Personally, I can recommend to keep the following rules in mind.

Forgeries on

- 4x6 postcard photographs

are most common since the fact that these photographs were the “cheapest“ and sent out in large quantities. Very popular are secretaries also on German postcards and famous examples are Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Liz Taylor and many many others. Sometimes they are even written from the same hand but written under different names of famous movie stars L

- 5x7 Vintage photographs

a large quantity of 5x7 autographs have been sent out by the Studios and often came with a letter promoting their next movie. 

- 8x10 Vintage photographs

are 70% authentic especially if they are inscriped.

Most of the collectors were young fans who wrote to the celebrity and those who bought a 8x10 photograph to enclose it with there mail request were very interested. Maybe the photos cost what they earned a month and therefore I believe the celebrity knew that as well and personally authentic signed photos were a result of that and much more common as on smaller sizes photos.

- 11x14 inch photos

are mostly genuine because they were very expensive during these days and mostly given out just for personal friends, members of the movies or special gifts and invitations. You will very rarely find a uninscriped photograph. Be careful if you decide to take a uninscriped photograph in this size.

Secretary autographs came generally from the really top stars, who were many times simply too busy to sign them. 5x7 photographs were often used as promotion and send out thousandfold. Only actors and actresses who were really minor had the time or inclination to sign them on a regular basis. By the way the 5x7 photos came usually with a letter signed by the same secretary to push their next movie.

After 1950 authentic and secretarially signed photographs were both almost always 8x10 inches making analysis more complicated.


The Autopen is a machine which signs an autograph in the celebrity's handwriting.   It was developed in the early part of this century but only became popular in the late 1940's.

The process of creating an autopen signature is as follows--a celebrity signs his name once on a piece of paper, and a pattern or template is created for the machine at the Autopen company. When the template is installed, the Autopen machine is then able to recreate the autograph. The item to be "autographed" is inserted under the arm, the motor is turned on, and the pen moves according to the matrix design. The signature that is produced is identical to the celebrity’s own signature, but it now can be produced at a rate of hundreds per hour by a secretary. Since the resulting signature is in the handwriting of the celebrity and is drawn with an actual pen, the only sure way to tell if a signature is an Autopen is to compare it to a known sample of the pattern.

leitfadenartikel Autopen

There are several tips that may enable one to suspect that a signature is an Autopen. Look for these signs:

  • - Look if the signature has perfectly even ink flow throughout (an autopen  characteristic)

  • - Look if the sig had even ink flow even at the beginning and end of the signature (i.e. no lift-off effect with pen)

  • - Look for odd squiggly lines that are un-natural

  • - Try to match with other autopenned sigs of same person

  • - a shaky signature, which indicates movement while the machine is in operation

  • - a light signature, especially one that does not have variation in pressure as seen by an indentation in the paper when viewed in the proper light

  • - abrupt pen stops

  • - look to the signature

Remember however that the only way to tell for sure that a signature is an Autopen is to compare with a sample known to be an Autopen. Don't be fooled by minor variations between the pattern and your signature, since these variations may be produced by moving the paper while the machine is moving. If any part of the signature matches precisely, it is an Autopen signature.

Other mechanical devices have been used that are similar to the Autopen.  Thomas Jefferson invented a machine called the polygraph, which was a pen attached to a framework onto which other pens were attached, enabling the user to sign many documents at once.  Harry Truman used a later incarnation of this machine to sign checks in the 1930's.  In the 1970's there was another machine in use called the "SignaSigner" which enabled full pages of text to be mass-produced, but fortunately the company that made it went quickly out of business. Jimmy Carter reportedly was a user of the SignaSigner.

There have been many approaches determining whether an autograph has been written using an autopen.  However, technology has advanced such that if given just one single instance of an autograph, there is no way to determine it's authenticity beyond a doubt.  The key factor is having another genuine autograph with which to compare.

The traditional method to detect an autopen signature would be that an autopen would sign with a shaky signature or leave heavy ink at the bottom of the letters.  However, this autopen company source claims that this would only happen if the machine's speed was turned up higher than the normal speed -- which is about 300 signatures per hour!

An autopen is a machine that can automatically reproduce an autograph using any type of pen.  The autopen can sign up to 3,000 signatures a day. An autopen has springs and metal arms and is about the size of a school desk. The user inserts the pen of his choice into the end of the arm.

An autopen works from something called a "signature matrix".  This is the master plate that the autopen company makes from an actual signature.  The matrix is not expensive.  It can contain up to ten words, which may include a standard greeting.  Changing an autopen's matrix does not take long, so many members of an office or management agency can use one autopen machine to reproduce several different signatures.

The signature matrix is developed with a few restrictions.  There is currently no support for punctuation like periods an hyphens, although this may soon be added.  There is also about a 2 1/2 inch restriction on height for the signature too.  The matrix lasts about eight months, so the celebrity will update their matrix with their ever-evolving signature.

Many stars and/or management agencies own these machines themselves.  They may also have their fan mail handled by a professional company which handles such requests.  These companies can own their own machines with a matrix to use for each star.  It is believed that Vincent Price used such a service for a few years before his passing.

A recommendation by the autopen company is that the celebrity should use separate matrixes for the inscription and the signature so the machine can process items quicklier and therefore the two lines can be at different angles to add authenticity.

Some notable known autopenners (according to the article): 
-Every member of Congress has access to one. 
-Supreme Court Justices 
-Autographs of Presidents since Eisenhower 

Further development is being done on a new autopen that uses a CD-ROM and computer technology that can use the celebrity's handwriting for a variety of inscriptions and personalizations.  The eventual goal is the ability to write full correspondence with autopen.

With this knowledge presented, the only way to semi-accurately determine an autopen signature would be to compare it to another. An autograph will never be EXACTLY the same in angle, size, or strokes unless it was done by an autopen.  Of course, the owner of the machine can order a new matrix when his or her signature changes.  The International Autopen Company is said to even suggest that clients should use more than one signature matrix.

One should use common sense when assuming an autograph received by mail is authentic.  Consider the popularity of the celebrity and whether they're likely to own an autopen.  For instance, if you got a Madonna autographed picture in the mail today, you should suspect it's authenticity.  But, don't worry about a third-string rookie catcher for the Angels having an autopen. Of course, even with big celebrities, we can always hold to the hope that they've pre-signed pictures for their agency to send out.

Further forgeries

Shaky Writing

Signatures are usually written in a few seconds and this should be apparent in most cases. If the writing is slow and deliberate and not applied in one movement, then there is a possibility it may not be genuine. However, older persons become slower writers and their signatures can, like most of our handwriting, alter over the years.

If you are not old,but suffer from an illness like PARKINSON (Muhammed Ali) or being in a very tense situation there is no good explanation why you should write a shaky signature especially if you wrote it thousands of times before.Even if a signatue looks a bit of shaky – beware ! That is one of the surest signs of a forgery. Use a little common sense there.

Be especially careful of any signature where the first letter is shaky. The forger often gets a shaky start, then is OK. In addition, avoid autographs where the letters are oddly shaped, in a way noone would naturally write them and look labored.

Hesitations are another thing to watch out for. Sign your name. Did you stop on any but your usual places ? Of course not. It’s basically a smooth flow. Also, look at the last letter in the signature. Did you stop short, or did you kind of trail off. Propably the latter. You sign your name so many times that it’s simply a matter of course for you. It’s not different with a famous person. The forger, however, needs to be a little more careful, and often stops rather abruptly at the end of the signature he is forging. Look for a sudden stip and a little extra tiny blob of ink at the end of the signature you are questioning. If there, you propably questioned well. Also look for the same kind of abrupt hesitations anywhere within the signature breaks at places different than in authentic examples you are using your comparison. Most people break between first and last name, and some break within the signature, but still the breaks are not abrupt or inconsistent. It’s still basically a smooth flow of hand, pen and ink, with breaks at the same points in multiple examples. Try it yourself. Several times. Then try breaking your signature in an unusual place. Hard to do, and surely not something you would so sometimes and not others. Perhaps you see what I want to explain you....

Important history for autographs


Sharpie in golden and silver colour




Felt tip invented

(fine line pens, often fadded & ghosted with yello helo)


Ballpoint becomes popular


First colorized and colour photographs


Ballpoint invented but not often used


11x14 inch photographs become popular


Photographs from 4x6 inch to 8x10 inch


Letters in standart size mostly with mailing folds


Extra large letters


First photo called „carde – de visite“

History of ballpoint

Invention of the ball pen

The first applied patent for a ball pen derived from the American J.J. Loud in 1888, who described it as a holder of ball feathers in order to letter rough textured surfaces. But the patent did not have anything in common with the latter ball pen.  
The first real ball pen was already produced by the Croatian Slavoljub Penkala in 1906. Between 1914 and 1926, the Penkala was exported throughout the world e.g. Vienna, Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, even Tokyo, Singapore and Hongkong. The factory was during that time the biggest of its type and produced all kinds of stationery.
It is very hard or almost impossible for a non pro to see the difference of the type face between a Penkala and later used ball pens from the brands Biro or Raynolds. 
In 1937, the basic form of today`s ball pen (Eterpen) was first produced by the Hungarian László József Biró, which was patented 1943 and is sold since then very successfully as Biro especially in South America.
Reynolds at last changed some specifications of the Biro and brought it very successfully since 1944 to market in the United States. The Americans claim the invention of the ball point for themselves, but that is not the case.

History photographs

The first photographs of people were taken about 1845. They measured about 2x4 inch and were used in place “calling cards“ or “carte de visite“. They remained popular until about 1965 when they replaced by a larger type of photograph meant for keeping in albums which in turn were kept cabinets.

They were then called “cabinet“ photographs. Generally about 4x6 inches, they could on occassion be much larger, with various names such as Imperial Cabinet. Both the carte de visite and cabinet photographs had the actual photo mounted on a heavier board, usually with the photographer’s imprint either on the bottom front or the back. The cabinet photograph remained in vogue until about the turn of the 20th century when it was replaced by photographs with sizes pretty much as we know them now, ranging from postcard size to 8x10 inches, occasionally larger.

The 11x14 inch photo didn’t become popular until about 1920, and seldom seems to have been used except by movie stars. The earlier 8x10 photographs tended to be sepia in tone (brownish) or black/white, about 50/50. Sepia started to be phased out the 1920’s and was eventually vitually replaced by the black/white altogether, which of course, was suplemented by color about 1950. Beware the signed photograph that is out of this dating context . For example, you are not likely to see a genuine signed cabinet photograph of anyone who died before 1965.

That is the reason why buying from reputable dealers is absolutely the only way to go. The field of signed photographs is fought with peril, not only because of forgeries but from secretarial signatures on movie star photos and you should at least buy from someone who stands behind his stuff and you could at least get your money back if questioned later !

Writen by Markus Brandes



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