Authenticity: Secretarials, Machines

One issue we deal with quite frequently is people looking to sell or receive appraisals for Presidential Land Grant documents (in later years sometimes known as Homestead Certificates.) Land Grant documents can be beautiful documents, which collectors often choose to frame and display. Also, depending on the signatory, they can be worth some money. For example, an authentic James Madison Land Grant might sell for $1,500, an authentic John Quincy Adams example might sell for $1,000, and an authentic Andrew Jackson example might sell for $2,000. The problem arises sometime in 1833, during Andrew Jackson's 2nd term as President. Jackson made the decision that the President would no longer sign Land Grants and from that date forward, they were signed in proxy by a secretary. To the trained eye, this can be spotted quite easily for a few reasons. Simply knowing that after Jackson's 2nd term as President the President did not sign them is key. However, if you do not know that, here are a couple tips to spot them or prove the point:

Let's take a look at the FDR land grant pictured. In a secretarial document such as this, in the signature portion there is a space that says "By the President" where people initially get fooled. As we can see, it is signed, "Franklin D. Roosevelt." To a trained eye, it is apparent that this is not his signature. However, another indication is that directly underneath, there is a space denoting "By ______ Secretary." That signature is actually the signature of the secretary that has also signed for the President. On an authentic Land Grant we do not see this portion. I have shown an authentic signature portion of a James Madison Land Grant document to show the difference. It features the same "By the President" portion, but the space for the secretarial signature does not exist. The other signature we see is the signature of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, who would sign all of these documents.

Sometimes secretaries went to great lengths to mimic the signature of the President. I have also pictured the signature portion of a Ulysses S. Grant secretarial Land Grant to illustrate this point. The secretary here has done quite a good job of copying Grant's signing style.

The most important knowledge when authenticating a Land Grant is remembering that Land Grants signed after Jackson's 2nd term are all secretarial. However, you can easily prove this point by using these tools.

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