by Sarina Rosenbusch börse einfach / Issue 08/23
Courtesy of börse einfach of Börsenmedien AG. Translated from german with DeepL.
Autographs of historical celebrities sell for sometimes horrendous sums. But what good is the hunt for signatures really as an investment?
It's just a simple signature that the favorite singer quickly scribbles on the autograph card as he or she passes by. Nevertheless, the attraction for fans is enormous. But how much money can the sale of such a signature really bring in and is it even suitable as an investment? einfach börse sheds light on what autograph hunters should pay attention to when buying and selling.
That increases the value
The value of an autograph, like any other commodity, is determined by supply and demand. A handwritten signature is only worth as much as another collector is willing to pay. Authenticity, provenance (i.e., origin) and provability, condition, substrate and legibility, as well as the context in which the signature was written, all play a major role. For example, is it an illustrated autograph card or a handwritten letter with historically significant information? But information about the personality behind the author can also enhance or detract from the value of an autograph.
If, for example, the person rarely gives autographs, the few copies are automatically more desirable. By the death also a crucial factor comes: The procurability of new autographs ends. A Beatles album with a badly readable John Lennon signature on four album sheets costs approximately 2,000 euro, betrays Markus Brandes, which specialized with its autograph store Markus Brandes Autographs in the purchase and sales of autographs, in the discussion with simply stock exchange. A completely signed Vinylplatte with signatures rich in contrast, a verifiable background history as well as further certifications would be against it fast 50,000 euro with air upward worth.
Antiques dealer David Suppes from Wiesbaden, known from the TV show "Bares für Rares", illustrates the factors that are significant for the value of an autograph for einfach börse with an example: In 2018, a historical security with a signature of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was auctioned off. Historical securities are shares that were issued before the age of computers and are no longer traded on any stock exchange. "We have a high rarity factor here, since Goethe signed only about a dozen such securities during his civil service career," Suppes explains. Authenticity and provenance were assured, as the share's whereabouts had been fully documented since it was issued in the 18th century. The decisive factor that determined the value of the autograph in this case was the context: "The fact that this is a document from Goethe's professional career is the decisive factor, as it can be used to document part of his career," says Suppes. The historically significant document went for a hefty 21,000 euros.
Dos and don'ts in the autograph trade
If one is interested in a signature, it can be procured in a structured and largely predictable manner. But how can you be sure that it is not a forged autograph? There are several ways to check the authenticity of a signature. The first step is to obtain comparison samples and superimpose the signatures. During the analysis, attention is paid, among other things, to the thickness and consistency of the lines, from which it can be deduced how quickly the author put his signature on the paper. However, since this does not provide 100 percent protection against a forgery, the second step should be to research the origin of the autograph. Perhaps one finds photographs of the moment of the signature or already documented authenticity checks or exhibitions in museums? Nevertheless, a certain risk of a forgery remains. For this reason, interested autograph hunters should turn to specialized auction houses. Here, the trade goes safely for both buyer and seller, because an authenticity check takes place before the sale.
"However, a certificate is only as good and valuable as the company or expert who issued it and whose reputation is recognized by collectors and dealers," says Brandes. His autograph store therefore has over one million comparative signatures to check the authenticity of the manuscripts. The catalog currently includes 8,000 original autographs and autographs of personalities from contemporary history, purchased through auctions, estates and well-kept private collections. Within the last 30 years Markus Brandes Autographs traded nearly 100,000 autographs.
What you should urgently avoid as a private buyer, on the other hand: online auctions or classified ad portals. "Here, the authenticity of the pieces cannot be guaranteed," warns Suppes. This also applies in the reverse case, i.e. if you want to part with an autograph. The big advantage of an auction house over a private auction is that a large and solvent audience haggles over the autograph there. Here, top prices are regularly achieved for pieces. Due to the lack of authentication possibilities, buyers at private auctions, on the other hand, are more likely to hold back with their bids.
In addition, the right time to sell should be waited for. "As a rule, a resale is worthwhile after ten to fifteen years or when demand suddenly increases," advises Brandes. Perhaps the person is particularly present in public right now because he or she is the star in a current motion picture. But also autographs of deceased persons can experience at any time increases in value. If, for example, one of Albert Einstein's theses is taken up again in science and hotly discussed, social attention is focused on the scientist, whose autograph becomes even more sought-after and thus more valuable, Suppes illustrates. The price of signatures of world star Diego Maradona, for example, has increased tenfold since his death in 2020, Brandes also confirms:
The Top 40 Signatures
How the value of autographs evolves each year can be seen in Paul Fraser Collectibles' PFC40 Autograph Index. This covers the 40 most sought-after signatures worldwide since 2000. The average annual growth of the index between 2000 and 2022 is 32 percent. The most valuable autographs are on books or sound recordings, for example. For example, the most expensive signature in the index comes from Steve Jobs. The story behind the autograph suggests its desirability: In 1988, Newsweek featured the young Steve Jobs, who was still running his company Next Computer at the time, with "Mr. Chips" writ large on the cover. During a visit to Lotus Development Corporation in Cambridge, the head of the purchasing department, Diana Williams, asked Jobs to sign her copy of the magazine. Jobs refused, saying that he did not sign autographs. Williams therefore asked him to "write something from the heart," whereupon Steve Jobs is said to have smiled over both ears. Finally, he signed "Steven Jobs, I love manufacturing.
The magazine could be bought for two dollars at the time, and the autograph catapulted it to entirely different heights. In 2017, it was sold at auction for $50,000. The fact that Steve Jobs was very reluctant to sign autographs makes it all the more rare and sought after by collectors. His early death and Apple's cult status also play into this. Plus, the combination of the signature with a picture of the prominent personality further increases the value. Assuming that the magazine was worth about $650 in 2000, according to Paul Fraser Collectibles, and that the price at the end of 2022 was just under $65,000, that equates to a 23 percent increase in value per year.
It's fascinating how global political events have affected the 2022 numbers," said Daniel Wade, head writer at Paul Fraser Collectibles. For example, a $100 autographed photo of Vladimir Putin listed in the index lost about 50 percent in value year-over-year. In contrast, an autograph of Volodymyr Selenskyj on one of his photos increased in price by 3,400 percent to $350, making it the best-performing Index member between 2021 and 2022.
Antique of the future
The market for autographs is in constant flux. The hot must-haves that autograph collectors are after are always changing. Suppes currently sees significant increases in value for historically important personalities and already deceased athletes who shone in their careers with extraordinary achievements and records. Here, the focus is particularly on the American market with its core sports of baseball and football. Simple, illustrated autograph cards with no context, on the other hand, are no longer making much profit and are losing relevance and value. Brandes is registering strong demand for the music band Queen, Audrey Hepburn and Albert Einstein. "Unfortunately, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find original autographs there," he notes. After all, once such historical works are sold, they usually remain in collectors' hands and are not offered for purchase any further. The greatest increase in value is currently experienced by autographs from the genre of rock music - for example, from Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones. Their group of buyers has mostly exceeded the age of 50 and has large capital. "We can estimate the demand from the nostalgia of the past very well," Brandes explains. The customers' search desires are known, he says, which is why the autographs offered in the store have a guaranteed demand and thus a large margin for price increases.
Although autograph dealers like Brandes do not invest in the future, the autograph cards are in any case an antique of the future. If one recalls that writing by hand is dying out, the original sources, i.e. books, speeches or letters written by hand in the first draft, represent the author's thinking and personality most authentically. For this reason, these autographs will remain interesting and unique in the future, Brandes predicts. In contrast, demand for occasional autographs from the modern world will wane, he says, as today's generation seeks a very different connection to their stars through the presence of social media.
For the PFC40 Autograph Index, the behavior of younger buyers is also likely to affect the composition of its membership. The Top 40 will "almost certainly" include a new star next year, according to predictions from Paul Fraser Collectibles: Amy Winehouse.
Quote: "You can hardly own anything more personal than the unique signature of a personality." Markus Brandes is a passionate autograph collector and has been running the autograph store Markus Brandes Autographs for almost 30 years.