The 10 Most Valuable Author Signatures Of All Time

Great stories are timeless, and along with their stories, authors become virtually immortal, living on through their tomes as each new generation enjoys them. Few authors ever achieve celebrity status, but those who do most certainly stand out. Young students may not be able to name all of his plays, but they know who Shakespeare is, and even if you've only seen the movie edition of Great Expectations, you must know how important Charles Dickens and his works are. Although stories live on long after the death of their authors, as their creators, authors hold the ideas and inspiration behind great stories. And for book fans, it's as if they are the magical spark behind their favorite characters, love affairs, and fictional cities that they have come to adore.

The love of fans, and the value of great stories is the reason that author signatures hold so much value, commanding hundreds of thousands or even millions for the right article, particularly if they're attached to a rare book, historic correspondence, or maybe even just a legal document. Read on, and we'll take a look at record breaking author signature values, from Shakespeare's will to F. Scot Fitzgerald's passport.

William Shakespeare

It's hard to imagine that anyone would be surprised by this: William Shakespeare has, by a huge margin, the single most valuable author signature of all time. At $3 million, it's one of the most valuable autographs in the world, period. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that they are incredibly rare. Although Shakespeare spent a great deal of time writing, he didn't do a lot of signing. These days, it's hard to go more than a day or two without signing your name for something, whether it's a credit card purchase or a contract. But in Shakespeare's day, signatures just didn't happen that often, and in fact, there are only six Shakespeare signatures in known existence. Three are in his will, one for his house in London, another on a legal deposition, and one more on his mortgage documents. They are so rare, and so valuable, that each of the signatures is worth a cool $3 million.

Ernest Hemingway

If you own an Ernest Hemingway autograph, there's a good chance the booze-loving author was drunk while signing it, but legible (or not), Hemingway autographs appear to be a stellar investment. One of the most influential writers in the 20th century, Hemingway stands out as an incredibly beloved American author, and the value of his signature certainly reflects that. In 2000, a Christie's auction with 17 lots including first drafts, proofs, letters, and manuscripts commanded $571,000 altogether. But mass collections aren't the only valuable signed Hemingway memorabilia: An autographed, handwritten draft of The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomberauctioned for $248,000 all on its own, and according to experts, was the "highest price ever attained in a sale of an American short story, and one of the highest for any American literary manuscript." Signed Hemingway books are clearly a sound investment, however, letters are also of substantial worth. In a 1999 auction, a Hemingway letter went for $25,300, presumed to be Hemingway's last dated piece of writing. Collectors will find that the market for Hemingway autographs is fierce, with limited availability and prices going through the roof. According to one authoritative autograph collector, Mark Allen Baker, pre-1940 material is virtually unavailable, making early Hemingway signatures the most precious.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Unsurprisingly, Hemingway's friend and esteemed colleague F. Scott Fitzgerald commands a high dollar in the autograph market as well. Fitzgerald's autograph value benefits from not only his popularity, but scarcity as well, as he lived in Paris for years and was not easily accessible to fans who might have sought out his autograph. There are a few signed Fitzgerald works available on the open market, but many have been snatched up by libraries and private collectors who are not likely to part with them any time soon. Of the books that are available, perhaps the most impressive is a first edition, first printing, inscribed and signed copy of The Great Gatsby, commanding $750,000. That's 3/4 of a million dollars, not including shipping. The Great Gatsby is easily the most common (but not commonly found) of Fitzgerald's signed books, and certainly the most popular and expensive. Other offerings include a signed The Beautiful and Damned for $70,000, and a letter to legendary Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins for $47,500.

James Joyce

As one of the most influential writers in the early 20th century, James Joyce's signature commands an incredibly high value. In fact, the first 100 signed copies of Ulysses are the most valuable first editions in the 20th century at £150,000. Certainly, a good deal of that value can be attributed to the significance of the book itself, but nonetheless, Joyce's signature sure seems to be a worthy investment for the lucky few. In fact, simply an autographed letter fetches $26,500 at AbeBooks(plus $10 shipping, of course). Additionally, signed items with interesting stories fetch a pretty penny: Joyce's passport, which shows that he lied about being married, has been valued at an incredible £70,000. This particular passport was issued and used during the period in which he wrote Ulysses, when he famously moved around quite a bit.

JD Salinger

At one time, JD Salinger's autograph was on par with Neil Armstrong's, the most valuable of any living person. The root of JD Salinger's autograph value is much like William Shakespeare's: scarcity and demand. Although his novel Catcher in the Rye has touched generations, the author himself was quite reclusive and placed a high value on privacy. After the second printing of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger did not allow his photo to be printed in any of his books, and almost never signed a book under his real name. In fact, Salinger didn't seem fond of signing his real name often at all, using a pseudonym for banking and the post office. But in love, Salinger did in fact use his real name, and in 1998, a collection of love letters from the author to a female college student went up for auction and fetched $156,000. The letters were reportedly returned to Salinger by the purchaser. Currently, signed letters and books are available for purchase, including a signed first edition (reprint) of The Catcher in the Rye for $55,000.

Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved stories of our time, and Frank Baum wrote the best-selling children's book that launched it all. Oz lovers place a high value on a Baum signature, and it shows. According to experts, a Frank Baum signature by itself is worth $1,924. Signed documents tend to fetch about $3,000, and hand-written letters in the neighborhood of $6,500. Of course, when that signature is on a rare book, for example, that price tends to go up. In 1998, a Christie's auctionrealized $152,500 for a signed first edition, first issue, second state binding of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, inscribed warmly to Elizabeth Hubbard, the daughter of Baum family friends, a courtesy Baum typically reserved for immediate family members or those close the Baum family. In this case, an author signature makes a special book even more special, and even more astoundingly valuable.

Charles Schulz

Novelists aren't the only authors with celebrated signatures, as Charles Schulz proves. The creator of Peanuts is easily one of the most celebrated cartoonists in the world, and the value of his autograph sure seems to indicate that. In 2007, a signed Peanuts Sunday comic strip from 1955 took in a whopping $113,525 at auction. Another from 1961 took $15,820 in 2011, and a Snoopy sketch from the title page of You Can Do It, Charlie Brown took $3,883 in 2010. In 2008, two hand-drawn Peanuts comic strips sold for $85,000 each. Currently, there is a signed sketch of Snoopy available for £25,000 for those interested in making a Schulz investment.

Charles Dickens

Although Charles Dickens lived in the 19th century, his works still live on as some of the most popular even into the 21st century, and the value of his signature reflects that popularity. His most popular works, including Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, andTale of Two Cities have never gone out of print, and his signature has never gone out of style. A Dickens signature often commands at least $5,000, sometimes more. One particularly valuable and interesting piece was a quotation from David Copperfield, the final sentence of chapter one in the book. It sold for £27,500. Another piece of correspondence with a publisher regarding a collection of Christmas stories Dickens had solicited and edited is currently valued at $22,500. Although Dickens couldn't have known it at the time, he made it very easy to trade his autographs, or at least spot their authenticity: he favored blue fountain pen ink, so Dickens signatures with other colors are typically forgeries, or very early pieces.

JK Rowling

JK Rowling's signature is easily one of the most sought after in the world. The author of the incredibly popular Harry Potterseries, Rowling is nearly as reclusive as she is famous, and she does not grant autographs on a regular basis. The hunt isn't easy for Rowling collectors, not just due to her reclusive nature, but as forgeries and outright fakes abound. In 2005, the author herself spoke out against eBay users selling "signed" books, posters, and even unauthorized biographies that she most certainly did not sign herself. By Rowling's estimation, at the time, there were six to ten fakes for every genuine article, and she advised serious collectors to buy only from reputable, authorized dealers to avoid being duped. Although "signatures" abound, the real deal is much more rare than eBay might impress upon new collectors. A Rowling signature alone is worth about $1,875, much higher if it's on a collectible book. For example, the first 500 signed hardback copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were picked up for £10.99 in 1997, but have recently sold for £27,370. Of course, without Rowling's signature, the value drops significantly to £7,200.

Samuel L. Clemens

Most people know Samuel Clemens by his pen name, Mark Twain, which he attached to his popular Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and other works. His novels are beloved to both readers and collectors, and unlike so many others, his autographs were valuable from their origin. Of course, they do seem to have appreciated in value over time. But much like JK Rowling, Mark Twain collectors, and even appraisers, can be easily fooled: one book lover picked up a $10 "signed" work, which was appraised at $1,000, only to find out that it was not rare or valuable, but fairly commonplace. Experts also warn that books with signatures, including first editions ofHuckleberry Finn, A Tramp Abroad, and Puddn'head Wilson, as well as collected works, all have mass produced printed signatures. It is for this reason that the most typically valuable Clemens/Twain signatures are not on books, but rather, letters. Simple letters can fetch in the neighborhood of up to $25,000. Of course, if you do happen to find a genuine signature in one of Twain's books, you can expect it to be worth considerably more. One interesting fact about a Clemens signature is that he often signed his pen name, Mark Twain, right underneath it. How's that for buy one get one free?

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Story by Emma Taylor