Conduct a Forgery-Avoidance Inspection

The next step in authenticating is simply, does it look right and natural? Sign your own name a few times and look at other things your friends or relatives have signed. The signatures might be illegible, but they will all have a flow to them. The letters will not be lumpy or odd shaped (in a way no one would naturally write them), nor look labored or as if they were drawn with care. Signatures that look drawn or just unnatural should be avoided.

Then check for inappropriate irregularities in the writing. Shakiness is one of the surest signs of a forgery. There is no reason for a person’s signature to be shaky unless he is suffering from Parkinson’s or another debilitating disease (like Stephen Hopkins and, late in life, John Hancock) or is greatly advanced in age (like John Quincy Adams in the 1840’s). If a signature looks even a bit shaky, beware. Next check for signature breaks and hesitations. Sign your name a number of times. Almost certainly, you signed smoothly each time (without stopping to take stock in the middle of writing any signature), left spaces or breaks between your letters and words in the same places every time, and stopped or trailed off in the same way. It’s no different with a famous person. So watch out for hesitations anywhere within the writing. As for breaks, they should generally be at the same places in multiple examples, and thus should be consistant with the authentic samples you are using for comparison.  Most people break between their first and last names (though I do not), and some break within the individual words (Franklin Roosevelt’s autograph seems like nothing but a series of unlikely breaks between the letters). An experiment will show you how important breaks are to analysis. Sign your name a few more times. Then try breaking your signature in a few unusual places.  Hard to do, and surely not something you would do sometimes and not others. Yet it is necessary to note that there are a few exceptions – people who are consistant in having certain predictable, inconsistant breaks as part of their signature pattern (FDR again affords a fine example as he sometimes joined the “s” to the “e” in Roosevelt and sometimes did not). Endings also provide useful information. Andrew Jackson always seemed to end his signature with a flourish, while Lyndon Johnson preferred a line stretching off quite a distance. Most people have some smooth final touch. The forger, needing to be careful, often stops rather abruptly or awkwardly at the end of the signature he is forging.

Now consider spacing and angularity. Writing my first edition of this book, I had just seen two photographs on the internet. One, of Abbott and Costello, with both signatures and an inscription, exhibited numerous tell-tale signs of a forgery: the writing was lumpy and unbalanced, it looked like each word had been carefully done, one at a time, rather than there being a smooth flow of words, and the breaks failed to match those in authentic examples. But the presence of the additional handwriting enabled me to spot even more forgery factors. There were different amounts of space between the words, and the writing slanted, first at one angle and then at another. Take a piece of paper and write a sentence. The line of your writing will be straight or have a uniform slant, and the words will be evenly spaced, probably close together. The second forgery was of Lon Chaney, Jr.; it was reasonably well done but gave itself away. The forger started the signature with large, flowing letters, but as the writing came ever closer to Chaney’s image and threatened to cross over onto Chaney’s face (and ruin the pretty picture), the letters became tighter and tighter. So also beware of inscriptions which look squeezed, aren’t straight, or which have irregular spacing.

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