When Does a Signature become an Autograph?

Autographs: we worship them.

We cut in line for them. We spend money for them. Everyone has that person whose autograph they would do most anything for. And yet, what makes an autograph so special? Isn’t it just a glorified signature?

Yes, basically. But what is it that makes the signature glorious? Is it the fame of the person? Is it their level of skill? Is it simply a select audience’s obsession with the person?

I’m tempted to think that fame, not genuine admiration, has way too much to do with an autograph’s perceived value.

Would Prince’s autograph mean much to me? No. Katy Perry? No. (I’m aware this will ruffle some feathers.) Jane Fonda? No. I’ll refrain naming political figures whose autographs I would not covet, but believe me, there are plenty of them!

But even if I didn’t personally value any of these people’s autographs, my human weakness would still be somewhat enamored that I had one of their autographs. Maybe I don’t admire their work or careers, but my silly, egotistical side would get some boost out of possessing such an envied item. This is the concept called triangular desire: when we desire something simply because we know others desire it, not because we actually value it. And in some cases, we may not even view the person as talented—yet we would still feel pretty cool if we had their handwritten autograph.

What does this say about us?

And when do we start to consider someone’s signature worth something?

This came to mind as I was recently invited to hold my first official book-signing at a local store. I had a table and chair with a stack of books, poised right outside on the sidewalk so shoppers during my town’s fall festival could come and get their signed copy. It was a rather surreal experience, and the most fun I’d had since reading The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock to the elementary school.

Aside from the sheer excitement of seeing parents, grandparents, and kids smile when they saw and purchased the book, it was surreal to see that people assigned value to my signature. I’d signed copies of my novel before, but rarely handed them to buyers directly—and those that did receive the novel directly from me were people I know, which makes the signature feel even less like an autograph.

But even as I wrote my name over and over on the title page of each book with personalized notes, it occurred to me—it’s just my name. The same name that goes on each waiver I’ve signed. Each petition I’ve signed. Each contract I’ve signed. Each letter I’ve signed. What makes my signature more important when it’s on a title page?

I would argue that the objective value does not grow or dwindle between autograph and signature.

After all, what does a signature mean?

A signature is like a written oath. We sign formal agreements to indicate that the words in the document are binding. We sign letters to ensure that the preceding words are ours.

Your signature is a symbol of your identity and integrity, folded into one.

An autograph is the same… plus a flair.

It carries the same weight as any other signing of your name—only it represents something fully original and unique to you. It signifies that the work, the time, and the ownership of this creation are fully yours—and like an agreement, you stand behind it.

I think we would all work harder at the various tasks before us if every one of them required our autograph. You see, some people believe a signature becomes an autograph only when you accumulate a certain number of fans or groupies. I believe the difference between a signature and an autograph lies in the degree of ownership that you take over the article being signed.

What do you think?

Do you take pride in your signature?

Is there anyone’s autograph you would do just about anything for? What makes that person’s autograph so valuable to you?

Do you think there is any qualitative difference between an autograph and a signature?

Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?

Or are you just plain curious to find out where all the missing socks go? Find out one ambitious sock’s journey by ordering your copy of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock!

6 Comments on “When Does a Signature become an Autograph?

  1. I have thought about this too! When I was younger it always seemed to me that famous people had such cool, unique autographs. Not simply a cursive scribble of their name. Something unique, not easily replicable (of course that’s the point), but something beyond ordinary. Have famous people just spent more time thinking about a cool way to write their name? I’m sure they have managers / artists who can help them. At what point is it not your own signature if someone tells you how to write it. Very interesting and seems almost outdated, old-fashioned nowadays with electronic signatures. It might begin to be a thing of the past…

    • That is a really good point– an autograph (as we see done by celebrities) is probably a manicured version of something that was once originally theirs. I love your question here: once you start pulling in other people to devise your autograph, does it cease to be yours? Does our quest for uniqueness undermine our authenticity and originality? In some cases, it might.

  2. WP did this weird thing where it told me jetpack ended the connection once I hit “post comment.” So it probably didn’t make it through.

    Long story short:
    For decades I kept autographs of people I no longer remembered. They were actors from a traveling theater that came to my school. I must have appreciate them a lot then, otherwise I would not have asked for an autograph.

    I had no idea how to autograph an anthology with my story in it. Such a weird feeling. I think my autograph will change as I grow as a published author.

    I hope to have your review published this week.

      • Brilliant!!! I’m checking out that anthology! Just saw that you have an article explaining how you made that happen. I have a short story I’ve been sitting on for a while, but haven’t made the move to get it published yet. That post gave me some ideas!

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