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The most valuable autographs of living people

Posted by mandyf on January 12, 2012

For autograph collectors the general rule of thumb so far as value goes is “The deader the better” as harsh as that may sound. The fact however is that is not always the truth. What we look at here briefly is autographs of living people have begun to skyrocket in some cases, as well as which signatures of living people are the most valuable right now.

The hobby of autograph collecting has changed radically over the past thirty years due in large part to sports memorabilia collecting. Somewhere around the late 1970’s to early 1980’s these fans started demanding more from hobby shows. In an attempt to provide them with more the promoters began contracting athletes, mostly retired, to appear to sign autographs. Before long the quality of shows started being gauged in part according to who was appearing to sign and the competition for bigger names drove the prices for autographs up not only for sports figures, but for everyone.

Eventually companies began getting involved in the process inking deals with high demand athletes to exclusive autograph deals further increasing their signature prices. The trend began expanding to entertainers as well. It didn’t take long for the hobby to hit a tremendous boom period in which the demand for autographs of any person of public significance began finding them self swamped by requests for autographs, often via the mail. Some of these people began turning to pre-printed “Autographed” photos, rubber stamping, or the age old practice of having an assistant sign the bulk of their requests, Joe DiMaggio was well known for this. Some however simply began refusing to sign anything, and therein lies what drives much of the value for most of the  most valuable autographs of living people.

With the history lesson out of the way, it should be noted that this listing was compiled according to known and accepted prices for true authentic signatures which bear irrefutable evidence of being genuine. As with any commodity, some do vary geographically as well in relation to the item the signature appears on, personalizations, and things of that nature. Now on with the list.

Actor Russell Crowe slides onto the list with an estimated value of around $2200 for his signature. In part this is due to his popularity, but for the most part it has to do with his simple refusal to sign. Normally a celebrity of his caliber would sell far below this benchmark, however as word spread of how difficult his signature was obtain the demand increased creating what many consider a false ceiling. It is however said that on the right setting (Such as when he is performing with his band or sitting in with another) he is actually fairly accommodating to polite requests.

Potter…..Harry Potter? No, Harry Potter is not on the list, but his creator J.K. Rowling is. Rowling is still signing autographs although she is far more selective about it than she was early in her career. This selectiveness did not appear out of the blue but rather in response to the unbelievably high volume of requests for her signature from her fans. Currently her signature has sold for as much as $2600, but can be found for as low as $2000.

Singer, poet and icon Bob Dylan chimes in with a current value for his signature hovering around $2400. A few years ago demand was higher and the price was a couple hundred dollars more. Dylan is known as one of those guys that just doesn’t believe in signing autographs and is rather put off by requests for for them. The value of his autograph fluctuates depending on how in the public eye he is at any particular moment. Despite his huge international fan base, all that is holding the value of his signature up is the fact that he’s no spring chicken anymore and that Dylan fans will pay exorbitant prices for his signature once he dies.

Anything related to the Beattles is always going to carry value, and the signature of Paul McCartney is no exception. The trick to Paul McCartney autographs is which one you get. For the majority of his life he signed Paul McCartney to any request, however after his knighting some signatures as Sir Paul McCartney have appeared as made by special request. These of course are known to carry more value, but how much more is really unknown as they simply do not appear for sale. Due to the unimaginable high volume of requests and his desire to be more private in this stage of his life, Sir Paul simply does not sign more than a tiny fraction of requests, usually on those made in person in just the right setting. Currently an authentic signature can range for as much as $2800.

No surprise to anyone that has followed this young sports phenom, the signature of Tiger Woods can easily demand a price tag of $3000. Tiger simply does not sign as was made abundantly clear several years ago when he refused to sign a golf ball that was to be sold as a part of a set to raise money for charity. Woods has also been noted to publicly refuse to sign for children at events which further proves he is serious about his sign for pay only policy. The uproar over that never changed his mind regarding this policy or his contract with his marketing agency which makes this a ridiculous price to pay. Still, he is popular despite some scummy behavior in his personal life, and the belief that no matter how old he gets his view on this will never change keeps this signature inching up in value. It should also be noted that it is felt by many that right now Tiger’s signature is one of the most forged circulating and that this is rampantly evident on auction sites like eBay. If you see a Tiger Woods autograph opening for less than $2000 or so be very suspicious.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong is always in demand due to his historical significance, age, and the fact the he stopped signing autographs around 1995. As such, Armstrong’s signature hovers in the range of $7,000 or more slowly climbing in value by a little more than about $150 per year. While there are plenty of authentic signatures of his floating around as he was a prolific signer earlier in his life, supply simply is not meeting demand that continues to increase with each year.

Surprising to many is that number on the list is an American novelist named Thomas Pynchon. His latest work is Inherent Vice (2009) although he is better known for Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, Vineland, and Against the Day. His name is constantly floated as a potential winner for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The thing with Pynchon is he abhors personal publicity (Is a rumored agoraphobic), and his true place of residence and appearance at this time are known to very few people. This has been his practice for over forty years. With only a few people sure of where he lives, what he looks like, and what name he is using (it is rumored he lives under a string of aliases), his autograph is nearly impossible to obtain. As such, if you can find one that is truly authentic, and likely from the early 1960’s, you can expect to pay at $35,000 for it.

Topping the list is also an American author, none other than J.D. Salinger. Salinger was never much of a believer in signing autographs, usually most examples of his signature on appear on limited bits of correspondence he exchanged with women he tried to seduce via letters sent in the mail. While those who know for sure are not speaking up, it is believed his practice was to sign the first letter or two and then few if any thereafter. Furthermore Salinger’s constant battle to remain as far removed from people in general as possible has resulted in making him a man nearly impossible to contact in person or by mail. Currently, authentic Salinger autographs range in the area of $40,000 or more assuming one can be located.

While the market is ever changing, currently and traditionally over the last few years these have been the most valuable autographs of living persons. The values change as does the ranking, but the people remain mostly constant. Please also remember that these values are based solely on the signature as it would appear on nothing more than an index card or slip of paper. Signature prices tied to things like trading cards, first edition books, in conjunction with others, etc… have not been considered when compiling this list.


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