The $20 Million Autograph


During his term as U.S. President, Herbert Hoover received a letter from a young autograph collector requesting two of Mr. Hoover’s signatures. “You see,” wrote the youngster, “I want to trade them for a Babe Ruth autograph and it takes two of yours to get one of his.”

Hoover obligingly forwarded the two autographs and chuckled over the letter for years. One wonders how he’d feel if he knew that it now takes seven or eight Herbert Hoover autographs to get one of the Babe’s. Hoover’s ink signatures are worth around $100 while Ruth’s signature can sell for $800 or more.

Wild West figures are valuable too: Annie Oakley,
Wild Bill” Hickok, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp
and “Buffalo Bill” Cody have all left signatures on
documents that can sell for thousands of dollars

Dark ink signatures in excellent condition from
Walt Disney, Charles Lindbergh, Betsy Ross, or Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. can sell for $500 to $1,000.
And those of Indian fighter George Armstrong Custer,
ballplayer “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Sigmund Freud,
and Apache legend Geronimo are worth even more.


Today some of the autographs most in demand are those of Hollywood’s great film stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Signed photos of Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, or Marilyn Monroe
are among the most valuable and will cost
a collector $1,000 and higher. In fact,
Marilyn’s signed 8- by 10-inch photos
are now worth a whopping $5,000.

If a fan writes to a big star today and
requests a signed photo, chances are – if one is
received at all – it will either bear a machine-imprinted signature or it will be signed by a secretary.

Yet there was a time not long ago when one of
Hollywood’s biggest stars took time out of his busy schedule to answer a young boy’s letter.

Back in the 1950s, one of my younger collector friends wrote to John Wayne and mentioned that other kids teased him because his first name was Marion. The “Duke
replied that he too was named Marion, and that John Wayne was just a stage name. Then to my happy friend’s surprise, the letter was signed with Wayne’s full birth name: Marion Michael Morrison.

Because of its rarity, this unusual John Wayne autograph would be worth at least $2,500 if it could be pried from the happy owner’s hands.

Now if you want a signature by William
Shakespeare you’ll need some very deep
pockets. The English playwright has the most
valuable existing autograph in the world. Only six of his signatures are known to exist. Experts predict one could sell for as much as $20 million dollars.

Ironically, if you were to see an actual William Shakespeare signature, you might not be able to read it. Same goes for Napoleon Bonaparte, Salvador Dali, and King Henry III. All tended to scribble when signing their names.

On the other hand, if awards were to be given for autographs that were simple, clear, and easy-to-read, then American Wild West figures Jim Bridger and Calamity Jane would win hands down.

Each signed with an “X.”

Autograph expert Tim Anderson’s articles have appeared in many national magazines including The Saturday Evening Post.
He may be reached at

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