Important Historical Autograph Terminology

Autographs come in six basic formats: letters, manuscripts, documents, signed photographs, signed books and signatures. The first three are of greatest significance in our search for quality, and we will concentrate on them. We will begin with some practical definitions. These are not meant to be dictionary definitions, but to explain how the words are commonly used in an autograph context.

Letters are communications between people, whether handwritten or typed. They will usually address someone by name, such as “Dear Mrs. Jones.” Letters have been called “frozen moments of history,” and indeed they are, as they impart information about life at the time they were written.  If a letter is entirely in the hand of the person who signed it, it is referred to as an Autograph Letter Signed, sometimes abbreviated to ALS.  If the letter is signed but the body of the letter is in a different (usually secretarial or clerical) hand, it is referred to as a Letter Signed, or LS.  In the past hundred years or so, the most common letters are typed and signed; these then are TLS’s.

Manuscripts are descriptive narratives or other original handwritten or typed materials not intended as inter-personal communications. Musical compositions, lecture notes and diaries would be good examples.

Documents (DS’s) are signed forms, contracts or official papers, such as agreements between parties, property deeds, receipts, bank checks, free franks, or appointments to government service. We will also deal here to a lesser extent with two of the other formats, signed photographs and signed books.

Signatures are usually outside of our sphere, as even if expensive, they lack quality.

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