Autographs - Tips to avoiding forgeries.

We sell autographed books so this is a topic that is very important to us as well, for just as you do not want to buy a forgery-- we definitely do not want to sell you one.

So how can you avoid falling victim to a forgery?

Well, nothing is 100%, unless the author is signing the book in front of you or someone you trust, or it has trusted credentials from the publisher by way of being a special edition, etc.

Experts have been duped, and a guaranteed certification will certify a great forgery just as well as it will certify an authentic signature. Even a picture of an author signing a book can be pulled off the Internet; are they actually signing the book you are buying?

What I'm trying to say is when you are contemplating buying a signed book doing your own research will go a long way in helping you avoid forgeries if it is not signed in front of you or someone you trust.

There are a lot of resources and more in-depth information on this topic out there, but if you are contemplating a signed book, here is a little crash introduction of things to think about:

1. How famous is the author? 

As a general rule of thumb if a criminal is going to go to the lengths to of trying to pass off a forgery, they are probably not going to do it for lesser known authors. I mean, they might, but you reduce the chance if your book is signed by Simon Greenblat versus if it is signed by Ray Bradbury.

2. How ornate is the signature and how did it change over time?

An author that has a very consistent ornate signature is obviously harder to forge than one that scribbles initials in the cover of thousands of books. Additionally, you can usually find out how a author's signature changed over time. For an example we have a famous author's autograph where they included a married initial at the beginning of their career that they stopped using later.  This is helpful because depending on when the signed book was released it may give you some indication as to if the signature was indicative of how the author signed books at that time.

 3. Is there an inscription?

"Flat signed" books where the author does not add a personal note for the recipient of the book are of more value to collectors so forgers will often only try to replicate the signature or include a small sentiment such as, "Best Wishes". Keep in mind the longer the inscription the more consistent a forger would have to be to how the author would write in a book. Nuanced characteristics can be picked up on by trained eyes so the forger probably will not risk it by trying to write a sentence or two before forging the signature.

4. Is it signed with a felt tip marker?

While many authors like signing books with a marker because it is takes to the paper with little effort, forgers love marker because it can hide little movement mistakes the forger may make. As the maker bleeds out onto the page it becomes more uniform in the final appearance and obstructs many of the deviations that a pen may not. ALSO, it is a somewhat common practice to faintly copy or even trace a signature  onto a page with light pencil, then the forger will use that as a guide and go over it with the marker producing a very compelling forgery.  If you have a marker signed book with a signature on a page... one thing you might try is to hold that page up to or over a light. Even a very faint pencil line will sometimes leave a very, very light impression in the page or you may be able to see hints of where the marker did not take to the page evenly because of the little bit of lead left by the pencil since it is traced over. It is very hard to see, but it is possible.

5. Certifications and stickers are not your friend.

There are legitimate certifications and "Signed by Author" stickers out there. For example, if you pick up a signed book from say a Barnes and Noble with a "Signed by Author" sticker that is almost guaranteed to be authentic because authors will sit at a table and sign a bunch of books for the publisher to sell at a higher retail price. However, anyone can go and buy a whole roll of a 100 gold foil authentic looking "signed by the author" stickers for about $16.  A forger then slaps one of those on the cover to add to the air of authenticity and help them sell you a $15 book for  $400 "signed" by them. The same goes for certificates; I mean we can print you out a very offical looking certificate saying we guarantee the signature, because it may seem less likely that someone would "stand behind" a forgery.... but if it gives you piece of mind to be a little less scrupulous about the authenticity, a forger may gladly volunteer some sort of certification or even a forger certificate from a reputable authentication or appraisal company.

6,  Sticker signature cards are just practice runs to the forger.

It is our pet peeve, but sometimes author's can't be bothered to open and sign a book themselves because they have so many to sign. So, the publisher gives them stickers. They then autograph the stickers and those are stuck inside the book. Honestly, this is so impersonal we hate these, but criminals love them. If you can forge a publisher's sticker (or you may not even need too) a forger can practice the forgery and/or sign it over a light box... then stick it inside a book. This is a more recent practice though. 

7. Condition and printing matters.

Unless they have a perfectly forged sticker to put in a book forgers often will not use pristine copies and first printings that are very valuable for fear of ruining them with a bad forgery. They are a lot more likely to take a later printing, or a popular title or  even one that has some damage, and forge it, and put it on ebay. Your average book lover probably isn't going to have an $80 signed book, in good condition, to an expert for evaluation. However, a serious book collector may take a first edition, first printing they paid $1,500 for to  and expert who may likely spot a forgery. A good forger doesn't usually want to draw any attention to their forgeries. 


This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways to look out for forgeries, but hopefully it helps you. Probably the easiest thing you can do  is trust your gut, if a seller doesn't seem to have a legitimate story for how the book came into their position, the signature seems odd, or the price doesn't seems correct... you may just want to walk away. There will probably be other copies eventually and you will eventually get the signed book you are looking for.

Happy Book Hunting.

Your Friend in Books,