Celebrity autographs are perhaps the most valuable piece of memorabilia you can have of your personal idol. Most of the times, they are freebies. You simply approach them and ask for their John Hancock. It might seem like nothing more than a scrawled piece of paper, but any true fan knows how to appreciate it. Every now and then, the piece of paper, book, photo, or who knows what other item they might have signed makes the doodle much more valuable.
John Hancock was an early American politician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His signature was the first, the largest, and the most readable, which is why his name will forever remain in history, giving birth to the famous idiomatic expression “to give your John Hancock.” Whenever a famous person writes down a word on paper with their own hand, there will be people wiling to lighten their wallets to buy that valuable piece of history.
While most autographs go under the hammer as soon as they are discovered, there are some doodles that might not leave the museums anytime soon. Such is the case of William Shakespeare’s autograph, estimated at $5 million as only six copies are known to exist in the world. Fidel Castro is the man of the hour when it comes to living autographs, with a single signature selling for $7,500 and there are many others whose handwritten words are selling for thousands, if not millions.
10. John F. Kennedy Signed Newspaper: $39,000
Yet another piece of history has been brought to light to remind us of the assassination that scarred 20th century America. On November 22, 1963, a woman from Dallas asked John F. Kennedy to sign the front page of the Dallas Morning News, which featured a cover photo of him alongside Jackie Kennedy. It is the president’s last known autograph. Two hours later, he was assassinated. The date is printed on the front cover of the magazine he signed for the woman in Dallas. Joseph Maddalena, and avid art collector, is the one who dropped nearly $39,000 for the late president’s autograph, sold by Heritage Auctions.
9. Jesse James Signed Photo: $52,000
Let’s go back in time to 19th century America, when all corners of the cities to the south of the U.S. were invaded by the photo of a wanted criminal. Jesse James, with his cold eyes, high forehead, and slicked back hair had a high ransom on his head. The notice read “Wanted: Dead or Alive”. He and his gang robbed numerous banks and trains. Nevertheless, he was and still is considered by many a 19th century Robin Hood, as he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. The only known autographed photo of the outlaw from Missouri gazing away from the camera is signed J.W. James, as his full name was Jesse Woodson James, and was sold in 2011 for $52,000.
8. Jimmy Page Signed Guitar: $73,000
Founder of ahead-of-its-time English rock band Led Zeppelin, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, Jimmy Page is one of the most influential guitarists in history. In 1963, Gibson introduced their EDS-1275 model, a doubleneck guitar popularized by the likes of Jimmy Page and John McLaughlin. Later, in the 1990’s, Gibson introduced a limited edition of Jimmy Page signature guitars. The price tag for a guitar signed by legendary guitarist and leader of Led Zeppelin? How does $73,000 sound for you? Keep in mind that the guitar is functional, and maybe the autograph might work its magic and bring out the best in your musical talents.
7. Albert Einstein Signed Photo: $75,000
In 1951, Arthur Sasse from the United Press International news agency took a photo of Albert Einstein at Princeton University on the occasion of his 72nd birthday. The photographer tried to persuade Einstein to smile at the camera, but what resulted soon became one of the world’s most famous portraits, which will forever be associated with the scientist’s mad genius. Einstein himself was very pleased with his look in the photo, and requested a bunch of copies be sent over to his home. Many tried to forge his signature, but in the end the original signed photo was sold in 2009 for $75,000, setting a new record for a photo of one of the world’s greatest geniuses.
6. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe Signed Baseball: $191,200
A baseball signed by legendary New York Yankees player Joe DiMaggio and his wife at the time, Marilyn Monroe, fetched $191,200 at a Heritage auction in 2006. The valuable autograph was obtained by a New York photographer in the spring of 1961. Signed baseballs are sport fans’ favorite piece of memorabilia, and when they’re doodled by both Hall of Fame member Joe DiMaggio and Hollywood’s most adored blonde, it is bound to set new records. In 2006, it became the most expensive signed ball ever sold, but the record was broken in 2012.
5. Jimi Hendrix Signed Contract: $200,000
Just like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix was doomed to die young. In 1970, the legendary guitarist and singer died at the tender age of 27, and his death remains covered in mystery and controversy to this day. In 2009, his earliest known signed contract went under the hammer and fetched a stunning $200,000; the highest price ever paid for a contract of any sort. Signed on October 15, 1965 between the icon and PPX Enterprises Inc, the document stands to show that the guitarist was the victim of the biggest ripoff of the century. According to the contract, Jimi Hendrix would receive $1 and 1% of royalties.
4. Babe Ruth Signed Baseball: $388,375
Also known as “The Bambino,” Babe Ruth memorabilia is among the priciest in the world of sports. In the summer of 1926, 11-year-old Johnny Sylvester fell off a horse and injured himself. He received a baseball signed by Babe Ruth with a promise to hit a home run, which went to become the most famous signed baseball in history, fetching $250,600 in February 2014. However, it did not break the record, as the most expensive Babe Ruth autographed baseball which was sold in 2012 for $388,375. The single-signed, clean, white ball was given to Red Sox batter Ted Williams in 1927. It is the highest-graded Babe Ruth signed ball, in exceptional condition, unlike any other collectible baseballs out there.
3. John Lennon’s Murderer Signed LP: $525,000
The last Double Fantasy LP ever signed by the Beatles legend has a morbid story to tell. Ironically, the album cover was signed by John Lennon for Mark Chapman. That’s right, for his own murderer. On December 8th 1980, John Lennon left his home in New York and was approached by Mark Chapman, who asked him to sign his copy of the singer’s latest Double Fantasy LP. Five hours later, when Lennon returned home, Chapman shot him four times in the back. He later declared that a voice in his head told him to kill the singer. The signed album was used as evidence in Chapman’s trial, who was sentenced to life in prison. It is very rare that such a historically significant piece goes under the hammer, and it was bound to fetch thousands. The most valuable record cover ever was sold for $525,000 in 2003, the equivalent of $700,000 today.
2. Abraham Lincoln Signed Emancipation Proclamation: $3.7 Million
The 16th president of the United States of America signed 48 copies of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1864 for fundraising purposes. Out of all the signed copies, only 26 are known to have survived, most of which are exhibited in universities and museums. In 2010, one of the signed copies sold for $3.7 million, the highest price ever paid for a single autograph. It was sold to an anonymous buyer, and was previously owned by Bobby Kennedy. In 1991, another copy sold for $750,000, and in 2012, another signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation sold for $2 million to billionaire David Rubenstein.
1. George Washington’s Signed Acts of Congress: $9.8 Million
The precious volume entitled Acts of Congress was custom-bound in leather for George Washington in 1789. It contains America’s first president’s personally annotated copy of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the First Congress, with his signature visible on the pages. Sold by Christie’s New York in 2012, the lucky buyer was Ann Bookout, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association regent of the board, a nonprofit and privately-funded association that operates George Washington’s Virginia estate. Ann Bookout dropped a whopping $9.8 million for the signed volume, ending the bidding in just five minutes, and setting a new record price for an American presidential historical document. She plans to return the volume to the president’s library where it rightfully belongs.
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