Scripophily Signatures – Real Or Not?

How can you determine if the signatures on a collectible stock certificate are authentic autographs?

First, there’s good news. Scripophily (the collecting of antique stock certificates and bonds) does not generally have the rampant forgery or mechanized signature issues of some other collectible fields (e.g., signed sports collectibles).

The question to be answered is whether the signature was hand signed rather printed or stamped. An expensive paper and ink chemical analysis is seldom needed. The following can help in determining originality:

1. The older the document is, the more likely it was hand signed. In fact, in the 1800’s, a personal and artful signature was the norm.

2. Certificates normally have multiple signatures (President, Secretary, Transfer Agent, owner, witness, etc.). The signatures and any notations should be in different handwriting for each person and, often, different colorations and applications of ink or pencil.

3. Research the document using books and dealers’ or hobbyist’s websites (such as for railroads). You may find authentication comments or images you can compare with your document.

4. If you have more than one certificate or image for comparison, look for small variations ‘ that’s good. If the signatures would match exactly if overlaid, they’re probably reproduced.

5. Since older certificates are often on thinner paper, an original signature may appear darker than the printed portions of the certificate when it is viewed from the back.

6. Sometimes a pen signature will have left a very slight depression in the paper which can be seen from the front or back when held at an angle to a light.

7. If the placement of the signature is contrary to the layout of the print, e.g., it covers part of the design instead of being perfectly placed, that may indicate originality (though not always).

8. Early signature ink sometimes “bled” slightly out into the paper from the written lines. You may be able to see this with a magnifier.

A couple of important final points to remember: Firstly, it is possible to prove an autograph is not authentic, but it is impossible it prove it is authentic. Every statement of authenticity about a signature (be it Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jordan or George Washington) is a statement of informed (we hope) opinion.

The only way to be 100% sure is if you personally watched the person sign your item and then kept the item in your possession. That seldom is an option and never is for antique items. Secondly, because of the first point, you should always purchase collectible items from reputable dealers who offer a reasonable return policy. You should be happy with what you acquire.

Whether you even care about the signature is completely up to you, of course, but it can be one of the research paths that lead to a sense of discovery as you explore the historical background and personal stories behind your latest stock certificate acquisition.

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