Autograph authentication: Apply Your Common Sense

Did you ever write to a president about one of his policies and get a thank you letter back?  Probably 50,000 Americans wrote a similar letter about the same policy and received the same response. Could the president take the time to sign all these authentically? Of course not. Could Mark Twain have written a letter from New Orleans while he was in England?  Don’t laugh, I saw one; it was a decent job of forgery as far as the writing was concerned. Would Lincoln have written a letter referring to the Battle of First Bull Run as such before the second battle had been fought there? Think about the circumstances of an autograph. Forgers sometimes get the signatures and/or writing down fairly well, but lose sight of the larger picture.

A while ago two forgeries further illustrating this point came to our attention. One was a Gone With the Wind program supposedly signed by Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia DeHaviland, Ann Rutherford, Evelyn Keyes and George Reeves. Now individually, Reeve’s signature is the most valuable of all those of the cast, but that is because of his popularity as TV’s Superman and his early, violent death.  If you remember him at all from GWTW, it is only because he had the very minor part of one of the Tarleton twins at the very beginning. All the other signatories of the program were major stars in the film, and it was signed by no other bit players.  Now ask yourself why, back in 1939, anyone would have selected Reeves to be the only signatory among the bit players. Talk about gilding the lily.

The second was an item I received for authentication. Lee Bolton played a cop on some of the Three Stooges shorts, and later in life attended Three Stooges conventions, taking with him photographs produced just for him to sign at such venues. There was a large image of Bolton, and at the bottom were small pictures of all of the Stooges – Curly, Larry, Moe, Joe Besser and Shemp. These small photos were each supposedly signed by the five above named Stooges.  Curly had a severe stroke in 1947 and died in 1952. Shemp took over but died in 1955. Joe Besser was chosen to replace him, so by the time Besser became a Stooge, and qualified to appear on the picture, Curly and Shemp were dead. Impossibility never stops the forgers.

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