A Brief Introduction to Autograph Collecting:
“More affordable than fine art, autograph collecting literally puts in your hands letters and documents written by history’s most fascinating personalities. Autographs tell stories that draw you into the past while engaging you in a deeper understanding of civilization’s events as recorded by the men and women who helped shape them.”
– David Lowenherz, Founder and President, Lion Heart Autographs
Autograph collecting is a hobby dating back to ancient Rome. Among history’s most famous collectors are Cicero, Goethe, Brahms, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan and Malcolm Forbes.
Walter R. Benjamin is credited with establishing one of America’s first and longest-running retail autograph dealerships in the 1880s, and his daughter Mary Benjamin carried on the tradition for many years. New York dealer Charles Hamilton popularized the hobby with his books and frequent auctions at the Waldorf Astoria and old time collectors have fond memories of buying autographs from Goodspeed’s Bookshop in Boston and B. Altman’s Department Store in Manhattan.
Lion Heart Autographs was established in 1978, and although the internet has changed everyone’s business, our passion for buying and selling autographs of the highest quality and our commitment to offer the profession’s best customer service remains unaltered.
What is an Autograph?
When most people hear the word “autograph,” they imagine adoring fans waiting outside a stage door to obtain a celebrity signature. However, the word “autograph” actually refers to anything handwritten that can be collected in many forms, including letters, manuscripts, signed photographs, documents and books.
What Should a First-Time Buyer Know?
Many people advise beginning collectors to specialize in one area. We do not share that opinion. Collect what gives you pleasure — if you are meant to be a specialist, you will discover that soon enough; don’t be led by the “good investment” pitch or the fad of the moment. Always try to acquire the best example you can afford, remembering that second rate material tends to remain second rate. A collector should familiarize him- or herself with the market, and ask as many questions as necessary to feel comfortable when making a purchase. Form several close relationships in the trade — treat your dealers well, and they will go out of their way to find material to add to your collection.
How Do I Know if an Autograph is Authentic?
Authenticity is the most important part of autograph collecting. An autograph is either authentic or it is not – there is no middle ground. A number of issues need to be addressed when authenticating an autograph: including paper; ink; penmanship; and a knowledge of secretarial, printed, or forged examples. Unless a collector has expertise in these areas, it can be difficult to be certain that an item is authentic. Questions of authenticity are best left to experts in the field. If you require an authentication, please call 212-779-7050 or email us. This is a service we have provided countless customers for more than 40 years.
How Does Lion Heart Autographs Guarantee Authenticity?
We have hundreds of reference books, thousands of facsimiles and other source material used to guarantee that everything we sell is authentic. David Lowenherz, founder of Lion Heart Autographs, is knowledgeable about ink, paper and penmanship, and has a deep familiarity with the history of autographs and authentication techniques. Lion Heart Autographs unconditionally guarantees authentic every autograph it sells without time limit to the original purchaser. Additionally, we offer three more guarantees: our prices are competitive, you will receive prompt and courteous service, and you will be satisfied with your purchase, or your money back!
How are Autographs Priced?
Many factors contribute to an autograph’s value, among them rarity, demand, condition, content, and association. It is difficult to make generalizations about the value of all autographs because every piece is unique making autograph collecting exciting, but pricing challenging.
Every item sold by Lion Heart Autographs is authenticated, researched and priced based on the above criteria, decades of full-time experience and a deep knowledge of market valuations.
Are Autographs a Safe Investment?
The autograph market fluctuates like every other market and is sensitive to factors including supply, demand and the general state of the economy. The current availability, or supply, in the autograph market differs from most other markets because autograph “production” stops after the death of the individual. Because the number of collectors has increased and geographic boundaries have virtually disappeared through the internet’s growth, there has been an increase in demand for autographs around the world. Ongoing demand coupled with a limited supply leads to an inevitable rise in prices, and this is what Lion Heart Autographs has witnessed over the past four decades. It is not advisable to “invest” in autographs for financial gain (autographs are not especially “liquid” and do not pay dividends) but to buy for personal satisfaction. We believe, however, that over time autographs are a stable financial investment that should increase in value; the rate of increase, however, cannot be accurately predicted or guaranteed.
What Do You Want to Collect?
First and foremost, collect items that speak to your interests and which you find compelling. Autograph collecting offers the opportunity to learn more about history and historical figures who excite you. Some popular collecting areas include:
- American history including business leaders and financiers, Revolutionary War heroes, signers of the Declaration of Independence
- Artists including architects, photographers, cartoonists
- Civil War generals
- Judaica including Zionists, history of Israel
- Military Leaders
- Monarchs and royalty
- Music including composers
- Nobel Prize winners
- Performers including opera singers, musicians, conductors
- Literature including novelists, playwrights, poets
- Presidents and First Ladies
- Scientists including inventors
- Signed photographs
- Supreme Court Justices
- Notable women in all fields
- World history including leaders
Once you have selected a subject, you can choose among autographed letters, documents, photographs, books, and manuscripts. You may decide to focus on acquiring only holograph (handwritten) letters, manuscripts of significance, or letters with deeply moving, personal content.
Lion Heart Autographs buys and sells material in all of the above categories, and offers a selection of thousands of autographs in every price range. We have assisted numerous individuals and institutions in building collections, and are uniquely positioned to buy across various subject areas with access to sources from around the world.
How Should I Store and Display my Autographs?
Autographs are fragile by nature. Although documents on rag paper or parchment can last hundreds of years, they, along with letters written on less stable material, are sensitive to sunlight, humidity and extreme variations in temperature.
To protect the physical integrity of your autographs, always:
- Keep them out of direct sunlight.
- Monitor the climate in which they are stored and make sure they are not affected by humidity.
- Store them in archivally appropriate acid-free boxes, slipcases, or sleeves.
- If framed, use UV glass or Plexiglas and acid-free matting and mounting.
- Consult a professional paper restorer to repair an autograph.
- Never use adhesive tapes and avoid any form of presentation or preservation that is difficult to undo.
- When purchasing a document framed by Lion Heart Autographs, you can be sure that it has been matted and framed with acid-free, museum-quality materials, insuring its longevity, appearance and value.
If you are interested in framing, conservation & restoration or custom-made boxes, please refer to our list of experienced and trusted professionals and artisans.
Lion Heart Autographs works closely with a local framer skilled in presentation as well as archival and museum-quality framing practices. If you would like us to assist you in framing an autograph purchased from us, please call 212-779-7050 or email us.
How Can I Learn More About Autograph Collecting?
A great place to start is to read everything you can about autographs and the areas that interest you.
- Pen and Quill
- Fine Books & Manuscripts
- A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (1999) by Nicholas A. Basbanes
- American Autographs (1983) by Charles Hamilton
- Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector’s Manual (1978) by Edmund Berkeley, Jr.
- Autographs: A Collector’s Guide (1973) by Jerry E. Patterson
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger (2015) by Lee Israel (Describes the discovery and capture of a forger and autograph thief by Lion Heart Autographs’ owner David Lowenherz and the FBI, recounted in the book)
- Chats on Autographs: A Pictorial Guide for the Collector (1910) by A. M. Broadley
- Collecting African American History (2001) by Elvin Montgomery
- Collecting American Presidential Autographs (reprint 2013) by Paul C. Richards
- Collecting Autographs and Manuscripts (1962) by Charles Hamilton
- Cult of the Autograph Letter in England (1962) by Alan Noel Latimer Munby
- Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents (1994) by Kenneth W. Rendell
- Four Hundred Years of British Autographs: A Collector’s Guide (1970) by Ray Rawlins
- Great Forgers and Famous Fakes (1980) by Charles Hamilton
- In Search of Shakespeare; A Reconnaissance into the Poet’s Life and Handwriting (1991) by Charles Hamilton
- Notables and Autographs (1939) by Alexander William Armour
- Pen, Ink, & Evidence: A Study of Writing and Writing Materials for the Penman, Collector, and Document Detective (2002) by Joe Nickell and Charles Hamilton
- Prince of Forgers (1998) by Joseph Rosenblum
- Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places (2015) by Rebecca Rego Barry
- The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World (2015) by Anthony M. Amore
- The Autograph Collector (1968) by Robert Notlep
- The Autograph Man (2003) by Zadie Smith
- The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession (2010) by Allison Hoover Bartlett
- The Meaning and Beauty of Autographs by Stephan Zweig (Privately printed and translated by David H. Lowenherz of Lion Heart Autographs) – Contact us to purchase a copy.
- The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (2016) by Andrea Mays
- The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death (1988) by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
- The Robot That Helped to Make a President: A Reconnaissance into the Mysteries of John F. Kennedy’s Signature (1965) by Charles Hamilton
- The Signature of America: A Fresh Look at Famous Handwriting (1979) by Charles Hamilton
- Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It (2013) by Travis McDade
- True to the Letter: 800 Years of Remarkable Correspondence, Documents, and Autographs (2005) by Pedro Correa do Lago
- Visiting Cards of Celebrities (1971) by F.C. Schang
- Word Shadows of the Great: The Lure of Autograph Collecting (1930) by Thomas F. Madigan