Playing name game yields good results

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today's antiques.scott davisBefore the 18th century, the concept of a celebrity was limited to a few members of royalty and perhaps an occasional great religious leader, philosopher, playwright, artist or mathematician.  While common folks may have heard of those individuals, the chance of having any personal connection to one of them was little to none.

Then in the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution started making the world smaller, the number of celebrities began to increase to include political and military leaders and writers. By the mid-19th century, greater distribution of printed material along with the advent of photography served to create even more celebrities, including performers, business moguls, athletes and other heroes of all sorts. As folks sought to be able to feel some bond with those who inspired them, the collecting of autographs came into vogue.

Why autographs? Perhaps it’s the knowing that unlike an object or possession that may have been owned or used by a particular someone, an autograph can only be produced by the hand of the celebrity him or herself. Hence, the owner of an autograph can feel some direct link to its creator.

Once the notion of autograph collecting started to catch on during the Victorian era, desire grew quickly. To give you a sense of just how popular it is today, a quick eBay search of the term “autograph” will yield about 2 million results on any given day.

Depending on many factors, including rarity, popularity of the creator, historic importance of the document or object its written on, and certainty of authenticity, autographs can fetch anywhere from a few dollars to in excess of a million dollars. An autographed 2003/2004 rookie card of Lebron James recently fetched $90,000 for example.

Now for the dark side: It is estimated that 80 percent of all celebrity autographs on the market are fake. Since the 1950s most presidential autographs were produced by a device called an Autopen.  Popular celebrities whose autographs are in very high demand simply don’t have the time to produce so many autographs manually. Then there are autographs that are reproduced by various printing methods, and finally of course there are blatant forgeries.

If you possess any authentic autographs, now might be the time to sell. The market is very hot.

Scott Davis operates Rhode Island Antiques Mall, 345 Fountain St., Pawtucket. Contact him at (401) 475-3400 or

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