Fake Autographs, How to Tell if a Signature is Real

Fake Autographs, How to Tell if a Signature is Real

The primary concern for any autograph collector is authenticity. Nothing else even comes close. Unfortunately, there are a number of ways that autographs can be faked that go beyond simple forgeries. Besides deliberate forgeries done to deceive consumers, there are a number of ways to reproduce autographs that collectors need to be well aware of. They can look quite convincing, so it is important to be able to tell forged signatures from authentic autographs.

Pre-printed Autographs

Side-by-side comparison makes these two different photos easy to identify as pre-print signatures.
Side-by-side comparison makes these two different photos easy to identify as pre-prints.

Pre-prints are a type of facsimile autograph that is printed simultaneously with the photo. Agencies will often send these when the signer is not available or chooses not to sign. Although the above photos of Harrison Ford appear identical, they are actually two separate photos. Because they are printed from a file with a digital signature already on the photo, they will look identical every time.

So, what if you don’t have two preprints to compare to each other? You can tell that an autograph is printed by holding it under the light at an angle. It should look flat, where as live ink will be lifted. This way you should be able to tell that the signature is a part of the printed photo rather than ink that has been laid on top of it. Additionally, the ink used to print the photo and the pen ink should look distinctive when held under the light and closely examined.

While getting a preprint will come as a disappointment to most collectors, some will be delighted. Simply getting anything back from one’s favorite celebrity can be a fun experience. Especially when it comes to kids. At the very least, it’s a kind gesture to fans, but if you ask me, any response at all beats a return to sender in my book.

Secretarial Signatures

A secretarial signature on an 8x10 photo signed as "Clint Eastwood".
A photo signed by a secretary as “Clint Eastwood”.

Some agencies will have secretaries sign for the celebrity. To be clear, this is essentially and authorized forgery. Sometimes, secretaries will sign photos provided by the agency or the photo that collectors send in. Secretarial signatures are not a well liked in the autograph collecting community. As it is not an authentic signature, it ruins whatever item that has the forgery placed on it. It can also feel disingenuous for the collector.

This kind of signature is done with live-ink by a human hand. It’s therefore hard to tell that its fake unless you know what you’re looking for. The only way to tell that it is fake is to compare it to known authentic examples. This can be tricky if you don’t have any to reference, or you are not familiar with the signer’s signature. The best advice in this case is to find a source you trust to help make your comparison. You can also pay an authentication to do the analysis for you for a small fee.

Stamped Signatures

Mark Hamill's stamped signature.
Mark Hamill’s stamped signature.

Stamped signatures are similar to a secretarial signature in that they are done by a third party. However, instead of being done by the hand of a secretary with live-ink, they simply use a rubber stamp. The stamp reproduce the signer’s signature on the photo which looks good at first glance but there are giveaways.

The telltale sign of a stamped signature is the uneven application of ink. Sometimes the ink appears spotty or ghosting will occur around the signature. This happens when unintended parts of the stamp make contact with the photo. Also, like pre-prints, these should match other examples that were imprinted with the same stamp.

What is an Autopen Signature?

Unlike an autograph done by a human hand, an autopen signature is produced by a machine called an autopen. Autopen machines have been around for a long time which means they’ve become very good at mimicking a signature. These machines use real pens guided by programing or a template that reproducers pen strokes using motions preset motions.

The signatures can look authentic and have deceived even experienced collectors at times. The only tells they have are spots at the beginning and end of letters. These occur when the machine pauses and ink is allowed to slightly pool. The best way to determine if a signature is done by an autopen, though, is again to compare examples. Signers will usually have multiple templates that vary the look of their autopen signatures. However, if you can find two identical signatures done with live ink, then you can bet that you’re looking at an autopen.

Autograph Authentication

Autograph authentication

At this point, you are likely questioning the authenticity of the autographs in your collection—as you should be. Before you make any autograph purchase, your first consideration should always be authenticity. At a minimum, you should seek out known examples of real autographs to compare the one you’re trying to authenticate to. You can find those by asking collectors on the Tales From The Collection Facebook group or by going to one of the many online forums dedicated to autograph collecting.

If you don’t feel confident enough to assess the authenticity of an autograph yourself, you can always turn to the experts. Third party autograph authentication services not only allow you to send your items in for authentication, but also offer opinions on authenticity online. For an affordable price, Beckett’s Signature Review or PSA’s Quick Opinion allows collectors to send in pictures of their autograph for these third party authenticators to render an opinion about weather the autograph is likely to pass a full authentication or not. This should give you some piece of mind before buying or when considering the authenticity of an autograph that you already own.

Start Collecting Autographs Through the Mail

If you’re interested in starting out in the hobby of through the mail (TTM) autograph collecting, check out the complete guide here. Learn how to write your fan letter, gather your materials, find addresses and more!

Published by Tim Santens

I am a gamer and autograph collector. I love writing about both and sharing the stories I find.

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