The Legalities of Certain Autographs -- MLK Jr Edition

There’s something I’ve often wondered about when it comes to buying autographs. The idea that they may have come in a way that is illegal. Let me explain. When I was around 20, I was looking at buying a contract that a famous actor had signed. It ended up being a bit out of my price range, but...I noticed it had their address, social security number, and other info that I’m sure the star wouldn’t want out there.

There was a company that was selling checks (a popular item among autograph collectors), signed by The Doors keyboardist, Ray Manzarek. Now, I had interviewed him a few times and wrote a radio show he narrated (Legends A to Z). I brought this to his attention, and he acted all weird about it. That’s when I realized...he probably sold his old cancelled checks to this company. I do know there was some musical equipment he made money off of from a company that sold it for thousands (somebody on this website has it). It included a letter from Manzarek saying that Jim Morrison sat on that amplifier, as if Morrison’s butt made it more of a collectors item.

I thought about this all again because something came up for auction recently. It’s the Birmingham jailhouse logbook, that has 12 different pages signed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The dates on the pages are all between March 4, 1963 and November 27th. That’s around the time he wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which is a big part of history.

So here’s what I can’t figure out. These pages were saved by a jail employee who was told to destroy the ledger. He kept it. This is what Hakes Auctions says. Well, wouldn’t that be “stealing”? Sure, it might not be the same as stealing $1,000 from your work, but if you’re taking something that doesn’t belong to you, even if it’s something that was supposed to be destroyed, well...I’d think that the jail could sue this guy and get the item back; or they could let it sell for the thousands and thousands it will surely bring in, and then claim that money.

Aside from all the King signatures, another famous activist jailed at that time, Ralph D. Abernathy, has signed the book three different times.

The logbook was passed down through the family of the original jail employee.

In case you’re wondering what King was jailed for, it was after his group was denied a parade permit and they marched despite that. This resulted in him spending eight days in jail.

The auction is going until February 24th so if you’re interested, you better hurry. It’s currently over $20,000.

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Tags: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Ray Manzarek, The Doors

Comment by Etienne on February 19, 2021 at 10:21am

This is an interesting discussion point, Josh. I have a signed contract by Montgomery Clift that he signed for a film for Selznick's producing company in 1950 that was also signed by a rep. of the company...a legal document (albeit for a company that no longer exists).  I've wondered how it came to be in the marketplace. Did someone snatch it before it met a shredder when the company was being disolved?  Obviously never meant to be a collectible such as a signed photograph or album page.

Comment by Josh Board on February 19, 2021 at 10:36am

Exactly! And 30 years ago, when I first gave this topic some thought -- I even considered some production company isn't around, the actor isn't around, but their kids or family are. And stuff in a contract might not be things that should be out in the public. Not just an address (which the family of the estate might still own), but...for example, I was in this incredible sports bar in Salt Lake City. It was owned by Hot Rod Hudley (sp?) a former player, and was a current broadcaster for the Utah Jazz. One of his contracts he put on the wall, said that he'd be fined $15 for each pound over 160 pounds that he weighed during the course of the NBA season (something like that). So that shows that, contracts might have personal things that weren't meant for everyone else to see. Even if they died 50 years ago.

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