They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a signature can be worth thousands of dollars.
Though stamps marked the beginning of modern collectibles, valuable autographs date back as early as 3100 B.C. That’s right, even thousands of years before the modern age, the rich and famous have adorned their names on things like scraps of paper and clay tablets. Nowadays, it doesn’t take a hardcore collector to know that autographs can bring in the big bucks, but not all proverbial John Hancocks are created equal. Popular celebrities may sign anything their fans put in front of them, but other historical figures were not so generous. And as we know, the less of something there is, the more fans and collectors are willing to pay to have it.
Below are ten of the rarest autographed items ever made, and you won’t believe your eyes when you see just how much some of these have sold for at auction. Or maybe you will, but either way, the following items are still pretty ridiculous.
10: Jimmy Page (literal) Signature Guitar
There are many con artists selling phony guitars “allegedly” signed by Jimmy Page, which makes sense when you realize just how much the authentic product can be worth.
As one of the most influential guitarists in the history of music, it should be no surprise that a genuine Jimmy Page signature guitar has sold for upwards of $73,000.
9: Albert Einstein’s silly signed photo
When one thinks of the word “genius,” chances are Albert Einstein’s name will come to mind. How ironic that this silly photo of the man sticking his tongue out would become his most iconic, and the original signed copy would have Einstein’s name entering the record books for autographs.
At a 2009 auction, the famous autographed photo sold for no less than $74,324.
8: Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe’s Baseball
While a single celebrity’s autograph can be worth a pretty penny, getting two autographs on the same item can potentially make headlines. In the case of Marilyn Monroe and her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, finding the two together and willing to sign an item amidst their tumultuous relationship was believed to have been an extremely rare opportunity. Let’s just say it was proved to be true.
This baseball signed by the bombshell couple made history by selling for $191,200.
7: Jimi Hendrix’s PPX Contract
A contract may not be the most glamorous form of an autograph, but Jimi Hendrix’s PPX Contract is no ordinary contract. As Hendrix was known to sign just about any contract that came his way, PPX notoriously managed to rope the legendary guitarist into three years exclusivity while forfeiting to them the rights of all his future material – all for an advance of one dollar.
Long thought to be lost, the infamous PPX contract was in fact found within the last two years, and its current value is estimated to be around $200,000.
6: Babe Ruth Signed Baseball
As arguably the most famous name in baseball, it’s hard to think that Babe Ruth autographs in good condition are scarce. However, considering that nearly a century has passed since Ruth was at the peak of his career, it’s easy to see how a lot of memorabilia could be corrupted by the passage of time.
This might explain why TRISTAR Productions President Jeff Rosenberg saw a 9.5 graded Babe Ruth baseball at auction and took the plunge for $388,375. As the highest graded Ruth baseball known to exist, it’s extremely likely that this collectible will only get more valuable as time goes on.
5: John Lennon’s final album signature
One of the most morbid twists of fate we’ll ever have the displeasure of covering is how one of John Lennon’s final autographed albums would be given to Mark Chapman, the man who would shoot the Beatle five times less than six hours later. There’s no denying this copy of Double Fantasy marks a tragic reality for Beatles fans, yet it goes without saying this specific signature is in a class of its own in terms of its significance in music history.
Though the album was used as evidence in the trial against Chapman, it wound up selling for $525,000 in 2003. Were the album sold today, the value would likely be much higher.
4: Button Gwinnett’s Long Lost Autographs
The Declaration of Independence was signed by many famous men, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Button Gwinnett. What’s that, you’ve never heard of Button Gwinnett? Well, we’re here to change that, because this is one signature that you should be especially on the hunt for.
Gwinnett was not known for much; he was an unsuccessful small business owner, and he died in a duel only one year after signing the Declaration of Independence. However, he is still one of the founding fathers. His family line came to an end in the 1800s, which meant his personal belongings were lost having no one to inherit them. With roughly 50 Gwinnett signatures known to exist to this day, the man’s signature has sold in auctions for as much as $722,500!
3: Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation(s)
Stating that “all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforth, shall be free,” the Emancipation Proclamation marked a most prominent moment in Abraham Lincoln’s time as president. Even Lincoln himself realized its significance, saying “if my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” Naturally, he would sign roughly 50 copies of the Emancipation Proclamation to be used for fundraising, and those exact documents are among the most valuable antiques known to man.
Since 2010, these autographed copies have sold for $2 million and $3.7 million. You read those numbers right.
2: William Shakespeare’s Elusive Signatures
Would you believe that William Shakespeare’s signature has somehow been preserved since the 1600s? There are six documents that are believed to have belonged to the world-famous playwright and to say that they are extremely sought after and valuable is an understatement.
In fact, if you were to find an authentic autograph and sell it today, you could make an estimated $5 million. In other words, make sure to double-check if you think you spot a really old copy of Romeo and Juliet.
1: George Washington’s Acts of Congress
Some might call this cheating, but the most valuable autograph of all time would undeniably be George Washington’s leather-bound Acts of Congress.
Containing the president’s personal copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, this elusive volume bares both Washington’s signature and his own annotations on some of the most important documents in the United States. When it was featured in a New York auction in 2012, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association regent Ann Bookout closed the auction in less than five minutes by purchasing it for $9.8 million. That said, lest you think Bookout merely wanted a trophy to hang upon a wall filled with priceless collectibles, she instead showcased it as the centerpiece for Mount Vernon’s Washington Library. You could theoretically go and see this treasure right now if you’re so motivated!
At the end of the day, an autograph’s true value is not necessarily determined by its monetary value at an auction. The value is in the prize of having that one signature you sought out for yourself, which adds a unique story to your personal collection. Even if the likes of Billy Dee Williams and Lindsey Stirling aren’t on this list, those signatures are still awesome in their own right and are deserving of accolades. Acts of Congress may never be in our collections, but money can’t buy the satisfaction of a celebrity’s custom signature made especially for you.