Signed Photographs and Books

Many people collect signed photographs, and even here our concepts of content and intrinsic importance hold true. We always start with the perhaps surprising proposition that photographs inscribed to a named individual are best. One reason this is preferable is that the more handwriting there is on the photograph, the more certain the determination of authenticity can be. However, the added writing is also laden with possibilities for content. Perhaps the inscription will reveal something significant about the writer, as when Harry Truman signs the famous photograph of him holding the Chicago Tribune (with its premature headline ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’), with his written statement that “this was a memorable moment.” It may also illustrate something interesting about the relationship between the signer and the recipient, as in a photograph we once had that was inscribed by Warren Harding to his corrupt Veteran’s Bureau administrator, Charles Forbes. It was full of expressions of trust and praise, emotions that showed Harding’s view of the mens’ relationship, but which were repaid by Forbes with betrayal. Signed photographs with such inscriptions can have medium or even good content, and are much more valuable than similar uninscribed pictures. These same rules apply to inscriptions in signed books.

With signed photographs, what they show can be as important as what they say, as the image is a form of content. A signed portrait photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt as governor of New York would be less than one as President. However, if the photograph pictures FDR signing a bill into law, that might not remain the case. A signed photograph of him delivering his first inaugural address or war message to Congress would be worth much more, if you could find a real one. The Truman photograph illustrated above is another case in point. A signed portrait shot of HST in older age would sell for not too much, one as President for a little more, and the terrific ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ much higher.

Looking at signed books, we leave aside the possibility that the book may have independent value and concentrate just on the autograph. The analogous criteria in the case of a book would be the importance of the book within the context of the author’s work. A copy of The White Company signed by Arthur Conan Doyle would be lucky to fetch too much, as few people read that book today. One of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes would be highly desireable, as that is considered his best book and Holmes remains popular. A signed copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s still-read The Great Gatsby might be actively sought. Here, too, the inscribee can be important. If the latter book was inscribed “To my astonishing wife Zelda,” the value would rise by many times.

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