Collecting Historical Autographs

Collecting Historical Autographs

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A Book Review by Stephen Koschal

Every autograph collector or dealer will tell you the most important element of collecting or selling is the knowledge or facts about the item you are purchasing or marketing.

In this book, author Ron Keurajian, shares his nearly fifty years of vast knowledge of autographs with the International Autograph Community.

Needless to say, author Ron Keurajian became nearly a household name after he published his award winning book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs, A Reference Guide.

Nothing close to this book has been written since Charles Hamilton wrote his 269 page book Collect-ing Autographs and Manuscripts in 1961.

Keurajian’s lifelong study covers most of the popular subjects in the hobby. It includes a full page of Acknowledgments which includes many of the well-known and respected names in the autograph hobby. Hence, the lack of errors in this volume.

The long table of contents include: Building A Collection, Forgeries, The Shot Heard Round the World: The American Revolution and Beyond, The Blue and the Gray: The Civil War, Presidents of the United States, The Supreme Court of the United States, Pax America: An American Timeline, From the Fields of Kitty Hawk to the Rings of Saturn: Space and Aviation, Mechanics, Medicine, and Molecules: Science, Signatures from Cooperstown: Baseball, From the Links: Golf, From the Pages of Literature: Authors, A Symphony of Signatures: Composers, and Kings, Queens, and Other leaders of the World, Their Supporters and Adversaries. The book ends with “Recommended Reading” and a very useful eleven page index.

The author begins with “we who collect are much more interesting people than those who don’t”. Not much to argue there! He continues: “Not only do you collect an object but also the memory that comes with it…..autographs, like many collectibles, stir warm memories of times since past”. He adds: “Collectibles remind us of a gentler and simpler time in our lives”. How true! The author is a dedicated researcher and truly believes that “unearthing something that has never been seen before is exciting”. The author claims that the intent of this book is to advance the autograph hobby and this he does extremely well.

Keurajian describes two types of collectors. The first being the sophisticated collector with cash. They purchase rare and valuable signatures and letters with historical content. The other type are the au-tograph hounds, those who collect signatures for the pure fun of it. The early autograph hounds are responsible for the many vintage signatures that exists today.

The author is a no-nonsense writer. Political correctness has no place in this book. As one example before entering the first chapter Keurajian writes: “I have witnessed a transformation of this hobby like no other and it is not pretty.” “Authenticating companies, with numb-minded experts, certify countless forgeries as genuine.” A powerful yet true statement.

In “Building A Collection” the author wisely states: “a person becomes fascinated by a particular item and deserves to possess it. He or she then becomes a collector. It is a powerful bond and can lead to a lifelong quest (or obsession).” A reader doesn’t get half way through the second page of Chapter One where they are reminded for the second time: “Many forgeries are wrongfully certified as genu-ine by major authentication companies, so proceed with caution.” This valuable warning will be re-peated 23 more times as you absorb the educational information provided in this thick volume.

Keurajian will delve into certain areas of collecting including Letters, Photographs, Bank Checks, First Day Covers, Crossover Signatures, Sports Equipment, Trade and Exhibit Cards, Contracts, Fantasy Au-tographs, TV Shows, Doodles, Crime and Return on Investment. In each segment the author teaches the reader the basics built on his vast knowledge of the hobby.

The Chapter on “Forgeries” is priceless. The author states: “A skilled forger is a rather sophisticated criminal.” “A skilled forger can wreak havoc in the world of autographs.” Truer words have never been spoken. As of today some forgers practicing their trade for decades have been successful of selling hundreds of thousands of dollars of spurious autographs (of their own creation) each year. The author goes on to say: “Just because a dealer is honest and has been in business a long time does not necessarily mean he or she is a competent seller.”

The author hits the nail on the head a bit harder regarding forgeries. “There are many well-executed forgeries in the market and they fool all but the trained eye. God knows the authentication compa-nies, with their slab-headed experts, have wrongfully certified hundreds of thousands of forgeries as genuine.” Correctly the author states: most experts in this field are full of hot air and their hallowed opinions are tantamount to guesswork. They usually end up as autograph authenticators.” How true are these words of wisdom.

In this chapter as well as most chapters, the author teaches us little tidbits of wonderful information. Most of us have read about iron-gall ink. How many know what that actually is and where gall comes from? Do you know where and when the watermark was invented? This and dozens of other facts are described in this volume.

The author writes about purchasing items in slab holders. He states thousands of facsimiles are sold in these holders and urges collectors to avoid these items.

There are still many people who believe the following statement. “The only way to know if a signa-ture is 100% genuine is to witness it being signed.” Keurajian’s response is “This statement is utter nonsense and made by those who don’t understand the science of handwriting. They should probably find another, more simplistic hobby.” “Examination of handwriting is a science, not an art form.” This statement will make the wanna-be authenticators cringe!

This Chapter alone may cause you to read it twice just to absorb what the author is saying. He covers “Provenance” where some dealers and authenticators will rely before offering their guess on wheth-er something is genuine or not. The author states: I cannot tell you how many times a collector buys an autograph based, in part, on the story behind it: It has ironclad provenance! The signature later turns out to be a forgery.” Elsewhere in the book the author states: “You will find that many histori-cal facts are exaggerated, half-truths, or just plain lies.”

Any collector even thinking of purchasing a signature or any signed item from the birth of the United States should not do so until they read the chapter: “The Shot Heard Round the World: The American Revolution and Beyond.” Many thousands of dollars may be saved by reading this and studying the illustrations. The same goes for the chapter “The Blue and the Gray: The Civil War.”

The section “Authentication Companies – Authentic but Not Genuine” is one not to be missed even by the seasoned collector and dealer. The author begins by saying “In recent years the forgers have found themselves a great ally in the form of authenticating companies….” Ron Keurajian goes on in detail and pulls no punches. He has little sympathy for the ignorant and shakes his head at collectors who purchase a signature because of a certificate of authenticity.

In the next several chapters the author explains which items to avoid, who had secretaries, who used the Autopen machine and explains which signatures are being sold regularly where only few genuine examples exist.

Many collectors are very excited about the chapter on the Supreme Court of the United States. This chapter alone may be worth the price of the book and will most likely start a new wave of collectors in this already popular field. The illustrations are outstanding.

Do you know whose signature is one of the most forged 19th century autographs or who is the most forged of all American autographs? The answer is in the chapter “Pax Americana: An American Timeline.”

Studying the chapter “From the Fields of Kitty Hawk to the Rings of Saturn: Space and Aviation” is like taking a mini college course. Even if you are not a buff of this field you will enjoy reading this chap-ter.

The same goes for the chapter: “Mechanics, Medicine and Molecules: Science”. Tips on sleepers and learning which common signatures are often forged is an engaging read.

If you have any interest in collecting signatures of baseball related celebrities, in the chapter “Signa-tures from Cooperstown: Baseball” there’s a lot to be learned in the thirty-nine pages. It’s refreshing to see many rare authentic signatures illustrated. In addition learn what popular member of the Baseball Hall of Fame had his sister sign checks. This information alone will save you a pile of cash.

The last four chapters, “From the Links; Golf”, “From the Pages of Literature: Authors”, “A Symphony of Signatures: Composers”, and “Kings, Queens and Other Leaders of the World, Their Supporters and Adversaries” is chock full of information, recommendations, values, pitfalls and much more all backed by numerous illustrations. This is typical of the entire book.

Do you know which British King made liberal use of a stamp bearing his signature? His documents can sell for $35,000 to $50,000. Purchasing a document with a stamped signature from an uneducated seller could end in disaster. This is one mistake you don’t want to make.

Ron Keurajian has amassed a huge amount of data over the decades and combined it with his obser-vations, personal comments and recommendations. Anyone serious about collecting or selling auto-graphs will find this new book indispensable. Once you pick this book up you will find it very hard to put it down. One just wonders what this author will say next. Personally, I went through two yellow markers reading this book.

I would highly recommend reading this book. Collecting Historical Autographs, What to Buy, What to Pay, and How to Spot Fakes will undoubtedly create many new informed collectors.

McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2017, Large 8vo. Soft cover, 416 pages, 1369 illustrations.
Price $45.00. Orderline 800-253-2187


  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 416 pages, 1369 illustrations

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