“Don’t you want my autograph?” he asked.
Keurajian did. And a passion was born.
“Collecting autographs puts me in touch with times past,” Keurajian writes in the preface of his new book, Collecting Historical Autographs: What to Buy, What to Pay, and How to Spot Fakes (McFarland; paperback; $45; 406 pages). This is the second book about autographs by Keurajian, a commercial banker and attorney from Michigan who also collects and deals in autographs. His first book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, was published by McFarland in 2012.
In his latest book, Keurajian expands his focus beyond sports, although he still pays attention to some of the bigger sports autographs. The chapters in his book zero in on autographs from the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I and World War II and presidents of the United States. Other chapters analyze the signatures of Supreme Court justices, scientists, authors, composers, royalty and cultural icons. In sports, Keurajian focuses on baseball and golf autographs, although other athletes find their way into the book. Autograph descriptions are accompanied by a photo (or photos) of actual or fake examples.
It’s an eclectic mix, and all genres are covered. You have to like an autograph expert who gives equal time to the signatures of George Washington and The Three Stooges.
Keurajian’s writing style is direct and informative. He takes great pains to throw in a little bit of history for every autograph he examines. And he doesn’t mince words: when he sees a fake, he is quick to identify it. That has not always endeared him to authentication services, but his honesty is a boon for collectors.
Keujarian advises new collectors to “take it slow and easy.”
“Don’t throw around big money, because there are a lot of forgeries out there,” he writes.
Keurajian really shines when he analyzes the signatures of these famous people. These are not cursory observations, either. He describes the flow of the author’s signature, the construction of the letters and the autograph’s legibility. He also takes into account that people age, and their handwriting could be affected by palsy to the hand. Sports fans who view an autograph of Hank Aaron from 2016 know it belongs to the Hammer, for example, but it lacks the firmness that characterized a signature in say, 1974. Age does that to us all.
He also discusses demand and market value. My favorite section of the book is the one about the presidents. John Adams, for example, signed “in a very structured and meticulous hand,” while his son, John Quincy Adams, signed in “a very confined and tiny hand.” The signature of the younger Adams is the easiest to forge among the presidents, Keurajian writes.
And while he may be known as one of our worst presidents, James Buchanan’s signature “is one of the finest.” “Letter construction is superior. The hand is very legible. Buchanan’s signature has maximum eye appeal,” Keurajian writes. The president whose signature has the worst eye appeal? John F. Kennedy. Because Kennedy had a sloppy signature, his is one of the easiest to forge.
“I estimate over 90 percent of all Kennedy signatures in the market are forgeries,” Keurajian writes.
Rutherford B. Hayes signed in “a very poignant and demure hand,” Grover Cleveland’s penmanship was “choppy,” and Benjamin Harrison signed in “a very rustic and heavy hand.” While this book went to press before Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, Keurajian does weigh in on Barack Obama, whose term ends on Jan. 20, 2017, noting that he signs “in a fast and sloppy hand.”
“His signature is illegible, and most letters have been pushed aside in favor of scrawls,” Keurajian writes.
As an added twist, Keurajian throws in the signatures of presidential assassins in this chapter, so John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald get equal attention.
This attention to detail is evident throughout the book, which makes it a wonderful reference for autograph hounds.
Some quick transparency as I write this review: Keurajian does mention me on Page 286 of his book, in a nice paragraph about journalists who have written about collectibles. Keurajian also wrote a nice review of my book, Never Fear: The Life and Times of Forest K. Ferguson, last year for Sports Collectors Digest. We have talked on numerous occasions over the phone and via instant message about collectibles issues.
Keurajian, a Cobb aficionado, stubbornly sticks to Ty’s original .367 career batting average and 4,191 career hits, although both have been “officially” readjusted to .366 and 4,189. He also slips in a plug for Bobby Veach as a “potential Hall of Famer” on Page 287 (Keurajian is leading a crusade to get Cobb’s outfield contemporary elected to baseball’s shrine via the veterans committee).
Keurajian notes that Cobb’s signature is one of the most forged autographs, “baseball or otherwise,” and claims that 90 percent of all of his signatures on the market are forgeries.
None of that affects my analysis of Collecting Historical Autographs. This is an important book and a valuable resource for collectors. Keurajian has put together a detailed, analytical and straightforward look at collecting autographs. He offers fine insight and offers some good suggestions for novice and veteran collectors alike. If you’re going to dabble in autograph collecting, this is a book needed as an impartial guide.