I worked at a publication for years with a music writer/photographer that was always a blast to share stories with. He met a number of rock stars (mostly in the punk scene), and had some great photos and autographs. The best autograph in his collection came as a fluke. He was working a part-time job as a librarian and they were doing one of their book sales. We’ve all seen those; books and old VHS tapes for $1 each. Well, as he was looking through the stuff he saw a Martin Luther King, Jr. book. It had an inscription. He doubted it was real, but bought that with a handful of other books. Turns out it was real, and the guy that authenticated it for him offered him a thousand bucks. He said he’d never sell it.
The man that owns the Kameron Kephart Pawn Shop in California got a slightly better score. A man came into his shop needing cash fast. He showed him a document that he claimed had Abraham Lincoln’s signature and he wanted $50 for it. Kephart was skeptical, obviously. He had no way to know if it was authentic, but I have a sneaking suspicion, he had no doubts. I think when you run a pawn shop, you can tell when somebody comes in, needing quick cash for a drug fix or something. Really, that’s the only thing I could think would cause the guy to sell the piece at such a low price. The seller even explained how he found it in the bottom of a box his late grandmother had. The document was also signed by the Secretary of the Treasury, and it isn’t the usual “ALincoln” but his full name. At auction, he was told it could get between $20,000 and $50,000.
A month ago, somebody found Lincoln’s handwriting in a book about racism and how it’s sometimes justified. Historians speculate that Lincoln may have wanted to see how his opponents thought on such matters.
A lot of the news agencies were reporting this story, but the weirdest thing I heard came from NPR. Somebody was on their station saying that the signature is worth less if it’s signed before the President becomes President. I call BS on that. If anything, it would be worth more. There are a lot less signatures of you in your young days. Would somebody rather have a Cassius Clay, or Muhammad Ali signature? A Lew Alcindor or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (well, maybe those were bad examples because they were people that changed their names).
Would they rather have a signature on a piece of John F. Kennedy stationary from before he was President, or after? Especially since after he became President, his signature seemed to get messier and messier.
It reminds me of a debate I had with a sports writer at Autograph Magazine about 15 years ago. He claimed that a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and only Ruth, would be worth more than a baseball signed by Ruth and his teammates. I told him he was nuts. Absolutely nuts. I said, “If a baseball had Ruth in the sweet spot, and none of the other signatures were over his name…I guarantee you the ball would be worth more, and would sell for more at auction. Mostly because…hardcore baseball fans would love seeing other teammates autographs on it. Signatures of players that are probably so rare, they’re valuable even if they weren’t all-star players.”
He kept arguing with me, saying that Babe Ruth is the signature the sports fan would want, not the other players. I gave him this analogy. Most music fans would love an album by The Doors, signed by Jim Morrison. His name easy to read, right on the cover of the record sleeve, in good condition. Yet…if that album had the signatures of the three other band members…sure, most people don’t know the names John Densmore, Robby Kreiger, or Ray Manzarek…but the album would easily be worth a lot more. He disagreed with that, too. Yet I give him credit in the debate. He shot back with, “Would you want an Elvis album signed by him, as well as the studio musicians that were on the album?”
I said, “Well, actually…yes. I’d rather have that album, again, as long as his bassist and drummer didn’t sign over Presley’s signature. The more people that sign a piece, if they had something to do with that piece, the better.”
We finally agreed to disagree.
Now, where were we? Ah yes, the 16th President.
The one thing they said on NPR that I agreed with was…with the Lincoln movie, it puts his name back on peoples minds, and makes the signature more valuable.
I have a few Presidents in my collection, but I’m not a big collector of them. I’m sure others can talk about autopens in relation to signed letters and documents, or how hard it is to get close when you have those pesky secret service folks keeping autograph seekers at bay.
There is also the rarity of each President. For example, Jimmy Carter would easily be the cheapest Presidential signature to buy. That’s because he’s always doing book signings, he’s lived a long time (meaning he’s signing more things daily), and lastly…he wasn’t a very good President.
I have to think that when this Lincoln story gets a bit more traction, the guy that sold the document will go back into the pawn shop and ask for more money or threaten to sue. If the pawn shop owner was smart, he’d say “I’ll give you another $500, but you have to sign this.”
It would be a typed out letter, explaining exactly what happened. How he already purchased the autograph but decided to give the guy a bit more money per his request, and the guy is signing this, to prove he isn’t entitled to more money but is getting it anyway. It can state that he can’t sue for any other money from the piece, etc.
It would certainly be a lot cheaper for him to give an additional $500, since he took a chance and found out it was authentic, and would save him on legal fees.