U.S. President Herbert Hoover had a great sense of humor. During his term he once received a letter from a young autograph collector requesting two of Mr. Hoover’s signatures. “You see,” wrote the youngster, “I want to trade them for a Babe Ruth autograph and it takes two of yours to get one of his.”
Friends say Hoover obligingly forwarded the two autographs and chuckled over the letter for years. One wonders if his sense of humor would still be so keen if he knew that it now takes seven or eight Herbert Hoover autographs to get one of the Babe’s.
Hoover’s ink signatures are worth around $100, while Ruth’s signature can sell for $800 or more. Early Mormon and Utah historical figures such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Butch Cassidy have all left signatures on letters and documents that can sell for thousands of dollars today.
Signed letters, documents and photographs are normally worth more than simple signatures on cards or autograph album pages.
But this doesn’t mean a simple signature has little value. Dark ink signatures in excellent condition of Walt Disney, Charles Lindbergh, Betsy Ross, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can sell for $500 to $1,000. And those of Indian fighter George Armstrong Custer, ballplayer “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Sigmund Freud, and Apache legend Geronimo are worth even more!
Today some of the autographs most in demand are those of Hollywood’s great film stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Signed photos of Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, or Marilyn Monroe are among the most valuable and will cost a collector $1,000 and higher.
In fact, Marilyn’s signed 8 x 10” photos are now worth a whopping $5,000. More affordable are the signed photos of Salt Lake City-born actress Loretta Young which can be purchased for around $100. But if you want a signature of William Shakespeare, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper in the pockets. The English playwright has the most valuable existing autograph in the world. Only six of his signatures are known to exist.
If one of the six autographs were to be sold today, experts predict it could sell for as much as $20 million dollars! Ironically, if you were to see an actual William Shakespeare signature, you might not be able to read it. Same goes for Napoleon Bonaparte, artist Salvador Dali, ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev, and King Henry III. All had a tendency to scribble when signing their names.
On the other hand, if awards were to be given for autographs that were simple, clear, and easy-to-read, then American Wild West figures Jim Bridger and Calamity Jane would win hands down. Each signed with an “X.”