This article was inspired by a book on autograph collecting called Chats on Autographs by A. M. Broadley. You can read the book online thanks to Google Books.
The article begins as the book does, exploding the myth that autograph collectors are just trying to get signatures:
“Those who deliberately cut signatures from important letters are in reality the worst enemies both of the autograph collector and the historian. Vandalism of this kind (often committed in happy unconsciousness of the consequences) brings with it its own punishment, for detached signatures are almost worthless.
“Many years ago a dealer was offered sixteen genuine signatures of Samuel Pepys, their owner naively remarking that ‘he had cut them from the letters to save trouble.’ As a matter of fact he had, in the course of a few seconds, depreciated the value of his property to the extent of at least £15. The letters, if intact, would have fetched from £15 to £20 each!”
The article goes on to describe the methods autograph collectors employed to get intact letters from famous people. Today, autograph hounds can make themselves nuisances, stalking celebrities for mementos to sell on eBay. And the practice can even be dangerous.
ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HUNTING FOR AUTOGRAPHS: Treasure That Is Sometimes Worth Thousands of Dollars and How It Is Obtained — Ingenious Tricks Played on Public Men — Finds in Ash-Barrels (PDF)
From October 23, 1910
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