Four Kinds of Fake Signatures to Know [Through The Mail (TTM) Autograph Collecting]

Stamped Mark Hamill signature on a Star Wars photo

When collecting autographs Through the Mail (TTM), there are a number of pitfalls that one should be aware of. Chiefly, among them are concerns over authenticity. Agencies send out a number of facsimile autographs. They can look quite convincing, so it is important to be able to tell forged signatures from authentic autographs.

Table of Contents

  1. Pre-printed Signatures
  2. Secretarial Signatures
  3. Stamped Signatures
  4. Autopen Signatures

Pre-printed Autographs

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. While this will come as a disappointment to many 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. If you ask me though, any response at all beats a return to sender in my book.

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

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 a preprint by holding it under the light at an angle. It should look flat where as live ink will be lifted. 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.

Every pre-print sent by Harrison Ford’s agents includes this standard note which at least refers to the pre-prints as photos and not autographs.
side-by-side comparison of pre-prints sent by Clint Eastwood.

Secretarial Signatures

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.

A photo signed by a secretary as “Clint Eastwood”.

Stamped Signatures

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.

Mark Hamill’s stamped signature.

Autopen Signatures

The autopen is a machine that has been around for a long time. It uses real pens that mechanically sign using motions predetermined by a template.

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.

Autopens from President Bush signed on photos I sent. Both have identical signatures done with live ink.
Autopen signatures from Zooey and Emily Deschanel.
Autopen from Eliza Dushku and Kristen Stewart.

Complete TTM Guide

If you’re interested in starting out in the hobby of 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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