Men and women of great principles, of extraordinary achievements, of profound consequence and inspirational leadership, with human feelings and emotions, come alive in the autographs they left behind. It is the product of their hands, minds, and even souls, and portrays their very essence. In their writings, they clearly reveal to us the intimate details of their public and private lives. So autographs are, in Madigan’s words, “The true living word shadows of the great,” and the inclination to collect and to treasure them is a very natural one. The British literary figure Dr. Samuel Johnson, concurred, saying that a man's writings are the mirror of his heart, that in his letters "his soul lies naked." He is seconded by the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said "There can be no doubt that the handwriting of a man is related to his thought and character, and that we may thereby gain a certain impression of his ordinary mode of life and conduct.” Edgar Allan Poe pondered this subject and offered his own thoughtful hierarchy and visualization – "Next to the person of a distinguished man of letters, we desire to see his portrait; next to his portrait, his autograph. In the latter, especially, there is something which seems to bring him before us in his true idiosyncrasy in his character of scribe."
After decades in the autograph field, I am convinced that these great authors were right. The moving documents, significant manuscripts and revealing letters that regularly arrive at our office have a voice, a true and personal voice, and speak eloquently of their brief moment in time. To hold them is to have the privilege of feeling that moment ourselves.