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1) Who has signed autograph? The key words here are "demand" and "scarcity." If a particular person's autograph is in high demand and it happens to be a scarce autograph, then you can expect it to have good value. This is why an autograph of Marilyn Monroe sells for over several thousands of dollars. She remains popular and her signature is in great demand. Her autographs are scarce when compared to those of entertainers George Burns, Jimmy Stewart or Joan Crawford, all of whom were around many decades longer to sign autographs for fans.
2) What item has been signed? A simple signature on an album page, menu, airline ticket or piece of paper is normally worth less than a signed document, signed photo, typed or handwritten letter. This is because it is most common type of autograph. All things being equal, a handwritten signed letter demands a premium since not only does it have a name signed at end but may also reveal something interesting, historical, or personal about writer. Thus, you're getting more than just a name signed on paper.
3) Is signature in ink, pencil or otherwise? Ink is worth more than pencil. Pencil can fade over time and usually isn't as dark and bold as a nice ink signature. Many collectors prefer and will pay more for ink signatures. But don't take this to mean pencil signatures don't have value. The great Apache Indian chief Geronimo signed pencil autographs at 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Today those pencil signatures on small cards can sell for at least $5,000. Today, most collectors prefer that photos and non-flat items be signed in sharpie or paint pen.
4) What is condition of autograph? Any damage to autograph, photo or paper will lower value. Smears, stains, creases, smudges, fading, tears, holes or other damage will always drop value of an autograph. To get top dollar and maximum value autographs must be in excellent condition.
There are several other small variables that can come into play when attempting to place a value on an autograph, but these four important questions are regarded as most basic factors that determine an autograph's value.
These are just a few of questions we receive from autograph collectors. If you have a question, feel free to contact us.
Lon Strickler has authored several nationally published articles on Baltimore sports & social history and currently writes a monthly autograph collector's newsletter at Tias.com (The AutoGram). Member of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC) and The Antiques and Collectibles National Association (ACNA). Owner of Strickler's Celebrity Autographs at www.stricklersports.com