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The Powell & Pressburger Images

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Powell & Pressburger Images - Autopen Signatures

4.4     AUTOPEN Information

***Basic tips when looking for an Autopen:***
- Look if the signature has perfectly even ink flow throughout (an autopen
- Look if the sig had even ink flow even at the beginning and end of the
signature (i.e. no lift-off effect with pen)
- Look for odd squiggly lines that are un-natural
- Try to match with other autopenned sigs of same person
- Person's position (politicians, high-demand celebs/athletes, executives, etc.
would be much more likely to have an autopen than an "ordinary" athlete)

***More detailed info on autopens***

This is a review of the article "The Elusive Autopen" by Kevin Martin.  It appeared in _Autograph Collector's Monthly_, Oct 1994.  In respecting his copyright, I have chosen not to include it verbatim.  This article was written with the assitance of an "inside source" at an autopen manufacturing company.  This is my "report" on the article.  -- (FAQ Editor: Eric Rager

There have been many approaches to determining whether an autograph has been written using an autopen.  However, technology has advanced such that if given just one single instance of an autograph, there is no way to determine it's authenticity beyond a doubt.  The key factor is having another genuine autograph with which to compare.

The traditional method to detect an autopen signature would be that an autopen would sign with a shaky signature or leave heavy ink at the bottom of the letters.  However, this autopen company source claims that this would only happen if the machine's speed was turned up higher than the normal speed -- which is about 300 signatures/hour!

An autopen is a machine that can automatically reproduce an autograph using any type of pen.  The autopen can sign up to 3,000 signatures in a day. An autopen has springs and metal arms and is about the size of a school desk.  The user inserts the pen of their choice into the end of the arm.

An autopen works from something called a "signature matrix".  This is the master plate that the Autopen company makes from an actual signature.  The matrix is not expensive.  It can contain up to ten words, which may include a standard greeting.  Changing an autopen's matrix is fast, so many members of an office or management agency can use one autopen machine to reproduce several different signatures.

The signature matrix is developed with a few restrictions.  There currently isn't support for punctuation like periods an hyphens, although this may soon be added.  There is also about a 2 1/2 inch restriction on height for the signature too.  The matrix lasts about eight months, so the celebrity will update their matrix with their ever-evolving signature.

It has also been found that the better autopen machines can be used to sign items like bats and balls.

There are two models of these autopen machines:  The M80 costs about $3,000; the M350 costs about $9,000; and an extended service agreement costs about $500.

A strong claim of this article is that autopens are used much more than suspected in the entertainment industry.  Much of Mr. Martin's information has come from a "secret source" in a manufacturer of autopen machines.

Many stars and/or management agencies own these machines themselves.  They may also have their fan mail handled by a professional company which handles such requests.  These companies can own their own machines with a matrix to use for each star.  It is believed that Vincent Price used such a service for a few years before his passing.

A recommendation by the autopen company is that the celebrity should use separate matrixes for the inscription and the signature so the machine can process items quickly and so the two lines can be at different angles to add authenticity.

Some notable known autopenners (according to the article):
-Every member of Congress has access to one.
-Supreme Court Justices
-Autographs of Presidents since Eisenhower

Besides manufacturing these machines, this company also offers autopen services.  An example of such a service would be running a batch of signatures for their customer.  A represtentative from the company says this is rare, but they have done this for Jimmy Stewart because of his stroke.

Further development is being done on a new autopen that uses a CD-ROM and computer technology that can use the celebrity's handwriting for a variety of inscriptions and personalizations.  The eventual goal is the ability to write full correspondence in autopen.

With this knowledge presented to us, the only way to semi-accurately determine an autopen signature would be to compare it to another. An autograph will never be EXACTLY the same in angle, size, or strokes unless it was done by an autopen.  Of course, the owner of the machine can order a new matrix as his or her signature changes.  The International Autopen Company is said to even suggest that clients use more than one signature matrix.

One should use common sense when assuming an autograph received by mail is authentic.  Consider the popularity of the celebrity and whether they're likely to own an autopen.  For instance, if you got a Madonna autographed picture in the mail today, you should suspect it's authenticity.  But, don't worry about a third-string rookie catcher for the Angels having an autopen. Of course, even with big celebrities, we can always hold to the hope that they've pre-signed pictures for their agency to send out.

One of my best recommendations would be to post successes and suspicions to the alt.collecting.autographs newsgroup!

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