Collecting Presidential and Historical Autographs

Rare George Washington Signed Survey - Raleigh Amyx Collection

As a seasoned collector of autographs of over 35 years, it still excites me to pick up long desired rare autograph signed by someone I admire.  You see, unlike most things, a complete set of autographs cannot be acquired any day or night.  It has to be built over time or acquired intact when the rare opportunity presents itself.

James Madison Signed Land Grant

This is the major draw to collecting scarce and popular collectibles like presidential or historical autographs....It's the thrill of the hunt and studying your acquisitions that makes it a challenging and thrilling vocation.

When starting to collect autographs, the first thing to do is research the area that interests you the most - The Colonial Wars, American Revolution, Presidential, Science, etc.   Also, study and learn about autographs that interests you..  As with any considerable purchase, know the market.

When I see overpriced items sell, it alerts me two things occurred: 1) The buyer really wanted that particular item at any cost and needed it now, or 2) The buyer didn't know or study the market.  If it's a very rare item, #1 takes play, but if it's a fairly common autograph or document, #2 was the more likely the reason.

When buying autographs, know your source.  For example, the reputation of the seller is a huge factor.  When researching internet auctions, I have noticed many questionable autographs for sale.  Most of the time, the seller prices the item below market to entice the buyer.  

A friend of mine, who is a collector, purchased a George Washington signature from an unscrupulous dealer I have seen. After showing him proof of it being a forgery, he filed a claim and received a refund.

You can ignore the feedback on an auction site when it comes to buying autographs online. Either the buyer doesn't suspect fraud or after the buyer gets a refund, an agreement is reached between buyer and seller and the negative feedback is usually withdrawn as desired by the seller.  In the above case where the seller had many obvious forgeries listed, his feedback was 99%, because it is assumed agreements were reached with the buyers.

Try to avoid buying clipped signatures (autographs on a slip of paper).  Unless there is provenance attached to it or it was sold from a known vintage autograph book, the item can possibly be a fake.  Think about it this way, it's easier to forge an Abraham Lincoln clipped signature than 20 $100 bills.  Get it?

When it comes to historical autographs and documents, stick to documents, autographed letters, notes and items with solid provenance.  Just avoid clips unless it has strong provenance and it's a rare signature.

Assembling a collection of autographs or documents from Presidents or Signers of the Declaration of Independence is very popular, yet challenging.  A document or letter signed by William Henry Harrison as President is very rare.  One prior to his presidency is not rare.

An autograph of Button Gwinnett, a very rare signer from Georgia, is also very hard to come by.  His items can go from the lower six figures (recent clipped signature at auction brought over $300,000) to a July 12, 1776 signed letter brought $600,000. If you are assembling a complete set of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, you need Button Gwinnett to accomplish that.

Content is key to valuations.  Strong, important content brings considerably more than a routine letter or signature with no important content.

A letter signed by George Washington accepting a dinner invitation is far less costly than a letter signed by Washington discussing the Constitution.

This is one field where you need to have patience, know how and some money, depending on the depth of your endeavor.

In the end, you will be surprised when you build a little fortune from a collection of historical and presidential autographs.