Taking My Hacks

Autographs: Does Beauty Matter?

Joe Orlando

Most of us sign our name without thinking of the autograph's aesthetic appeal, but then again, our autograph is probably not considered a commodity like those belonging to sports stars, historical figures and celebrities. That said, even when you look at some of the most desirable signatures in the hobby, they are often inconsistent when it comes to their beauty.

The question is: does beauty matter when it comes to autographs?

Well, that all depends. There are a number of factors that contribute to the appeal of an autograph. Those factors may include, but are not limited to, the scarcity of the autograph or the popularity of the signer. There are collectors and fans who simply have to own a Muhammad Ali autograph, but unfortunately, most of the Ali autographs signed during the past two decades are unattractive due to his medical condition.

If these collectors are patient, they may be able to acquire a vintage Ali signature (one that is more legible) or a "Cassius Clay" version of the boxing legend's autograph. Those autographs tend to sell for a premium, however; and they also pre-date companies like PSA/DNA, who have witnessed Ali sign over the years. The reality is that most of these witnessed autographs were signed after Ali's signature started to lose some of its visual appeal, so collectors have to deal with what is and what is not available.

There are other autographs that come to mind, from both ends of the spectrum. Walt Disney's autograph looks more like artwork than a simple signature, while autographs from some of the more recent U.S. presidents, like those of George W. Bush or Barack Obama, aren't exactly a thing of beauty. Sometimes, the style and placement of an autograph provides a window into the personality of the signer. Mickey Mantle's signature went from a very simplistic style to the flamboyant appearance most hobbyists are familiar with as his career progressed and his personality evolved.

The same can be said of music legends like Michael Jackson, whose signature blossomed from a diminutive-looking autograph in the 1970s as a member of The Jackson 5 to a large, striking signature after he became a solo, mega-star in the 1980s. There are other great examples of how autographs can often represent the persona of the signer. Take Lou Gehrig, for instance, who rarely signed on the sweet spot of a baseball. Why? The private and reserved Gehrig did so, often times, to leave room for his more boisterous teammate - Babe Ruth.

When it comes to baseball autographs, beauty does seem to matter. Why? Collectibles are often driven by eye-appeal and an autograph is viewed no differently. A bold Babe Ruth autograph can be seen from across the room. A bold Greg Maddux autograph often looks like something scribbled by Link from the movie Encino Man. Yes, I just made an Encino Man reference, but I think you get the point. The last thing a collector wants to do is explain who signed the item, but if it resembles hieroglyphics or scribble, it's hard to impress your friends.

It also seems to say something about the generational differences, the pride and time that players spent perfecting their autographs. Think about it. Look at the autographs of players like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Eddie Collins, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Harmon Killebrew and Ted Williams. Compare them to modern-era signatures of 2012 rookie sensations Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Both of those guys are great young players, but yikes!

If collectors are trying to complete a "set" of autographs, they don't often have a choice between those that are beautiful and those that are not if they desire completion. However, there is no doubt that, most of the time, beauty does matter when it comes to collecting signatures.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief


Joe Orlando has been an advanced collector of sportscards and memorabilia for over 25 years. Orlando attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California where he studied communications and was the starting catcher for the baseball team. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Orlando obtained a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in Southern California in the spring of 1999. During the last fourteen years, Orlando has authored several collecting guides and dozens of articles for Collectors Universe, Inc. Orlando has also authored two books for Collectors Universe. Orlando's first book, The Top 200 Sportscards in the Hobby, was released in the summer of 2002. His second book, Collecting Sports Legends, was released in the summer of 2008. Orlando has appeared on several radio and television programs as a hobby expert including ESPN's award-winning program Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, as the featured guest. Currently, Orlando is the President of PSA and PSA/DNA, the largest trading card and sports memorabilia authentication services in the hobby. He is also Editor of the company's nationally distributed Sports Market Report, which under Orlando's direction has developed into a leading resource in the market. Orlando also contributed the foreword and last chapter to The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, a 2010 release, and to The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players, a 2013 release.