The History of Autographs

Chances are you have waited in line at an autograph signing, asked a local celebrity for a signature, or bought an autograph at some point during your life. Autographs are signed all over a city from the sports stars at stadiums to authors at bookstores, but where did this all originate?

This history of autographs dates back to ancient Greece. The origin of the word itself is Greek. It comes from “autographon,” which means “written in one's own hand.”  During ancient times only the very wealthy learned to read and write, so an autograph was a rare and valuable thing. Since only the powerful made their mark on documents, they were usually used to send armies to battle, sentence a prisoner, or ratify trade agreements. Usually wax seals were used, but occasionally they would sign in ink. The Greeks treasured these documents, and their libraries housed them.

The first record of someone actually collecting autographs would be Pliny the Elder (23-79) who wrote of his collection of signed letters - his favorite was Julius Caesar. Unfortunately, no autograph from the Greek and Roman era survives, and so the custom went out of favor when Rome fell in 476 and the Dark Ages began.

The Renaissance (1300-1600) saw a resurgence in the hobby. As literacy rates increased, many could put their signature to paper. AlbaeAmicorum (Friendship Books) started in Germany and are believed to be the first autograph books. They date to the 15th century, and the custom was that wealthy travelers would ask people to sign their books - the important folks were upfront, lower status people in the back. They used these books as introductions to society as they traveled - not so different from us getting our buddies to sign our yearbooks back in school.

The 17th century brought the Enlightenment, and with it an obsession with culture and science. Signatures of historical figures grew in demand for the elite. By the mid-1800’s, auction houses had sprung up from the demand for autographs.

In the 20th century, the hobby became so popular as more money entered the autograph industry and the desire for notable people expanded to include sports players, writers, artists and musicians. With the rise of monetizing the autograph business, a dark side emerged andcopious amounts of forgeries hit the market. In 1996, the FBI estimated that 75% of autograph sports memorabilia was fake. To combat this epidemic autograph authentication companies such as Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), James Spence Authentication (JSA), and Beckett Authentication Services (BAS) have been the trusted sources to deem whetheran autograph is authentic or not. But just as an umpire or referee can get a call wrong, so can these companies. We here at FameBooking recommend you see the autograph personally get signed, so why not book a signing with a FameBooking Professional (shameless plug). Autograph signings are a great way to bolster your collection through a private signing or promote your business with a public signing.

Why do people collect autographs? Their monetary value for sure, but also autographs are a way to own a small connection to some of the most fascinating and influential people of our time and times past.

Besides and standing outside at the baseball and football stadiums, a few local places in Kansas City for you to acquire autographs would be Crown Sports Auctions, which you can visit, The Baseball Card Store at 9637 W 87th St, Overland Park, KS 66212, or the upcoming Kansas City Royals Fan Fest, which is taking place on the 25th and 26th of January at the Kansas City Convention Center (be prepared for the lines).


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