The most valuable signatures in the world

Autographs and signatures of celebrities and historical figures exert a fascinating attraction. It not only has an effect on loyal admirers and fans, but also on passionate collectors and clever speculators. The signatures are unique mementos that connect fans with their idols and capture the moment of the encounter.

The enthusiasm for signatures is not a new phenomenon. Historians can trace the enthusiastic collecting of autographs of famous personalities back to the 16th century. Even the German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is said to have been an avid autograph hunter. Signatures of historical figures and important scientists and thinkers were particularly popular in his day. Today, Goethe's signature itself has become a coveted object, with autograph dealers trading for up to 45,000 euros.

Under favourable circumstances, they can become exclusive and valuable collector's items. The better known the person and the rarer their signature, the more sought-after and valuable their signatures are. For this reason, they have become coveted investment objects. In particular, autographs of famous personalities who have already passed away or collector's items with a special emotional value, such as a jersey worn by the scorer of the winning goal at a World Cup final with a signature or a signed first edition of a successful book, contribute to the exclusivity and drive up the market value of an autograph.

We know how valuable a signature can be. Every day, we treat them with the utmost care and security and provide modern companies with a legally secure way to sign contracts and agreements digitally. This is how we have brought the signature into the 21st century and into a globalised world.

We want to show just how valuable traditional autographs can be with the following top lists. The carefully researched findings reflect the last selling price realised for signed collector's items, classic autographs and signed books. In most cases, items such as the following are sold at public auction to the highest bidder. Direct sales, on the other hand, are rarer.

The ten most valuable signed collector's items

10. A signed photo of Albert Einstein - 111,000 euros

It is probably the most iconic depiction of a scientist: the photo of Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out from 1951 by photographer Arthur Sasse. During his lifetime, Einstein signed several copies of the cheerful snapshot, which he himself is said to have liked very much. One of the copies with a genuine Einstein signature was auctioned in Los Angeles in 2017 for more than 111,000 euros.

9. Jimi Hendrix's first signed record deal - 170,000 euros

The influential guitarist Jimi Hendrix was only 28 years old and died in 1970, which is why well-preserved autographs and signatures of the gifted musician are so rare. One particular signed collector's item is Hendrix's first recording contract, which he signed in 1965 and which awarded him one US dollar plus 1% of the royalties. A very bad deal for Hendrix, as one realises in retrospect.

8. A signed Marilyn Monroe baseball - 170,000 euros

A unique collector's item changed hands in Dallas in 2006 for the equivalent of more than 191,000 US dollars: A baseball with the signature of the famous actress Marilyn Monroe, of all people. The unusual object for a female artist is easy to explain, however, as the ball also bears the signature of New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio. The two were married from 1954 until Monroe's early death in 1962 and were one of the most photographed celebrity couples of their time.

7. A signed letter to a fan of Steve Jobs - 445,000 euros

Steve Jobs played a key role in shaping the digitalised world as we know it today and still has many admirers to this day. An autograph from the US entrepreneur is also something very special, as the co-founder of Apple did not like signing autographs. At least that's what Jobs said in a letter from 1983. At the time, the tech pioneer replied to a letter from a fan asking for an autograph, saying that he regretted that he never signed autographs. The trick: the typewritten reply letter with Apple Computer's letterhead ends with a handwritten signature and therefore contains an autograph after all. In 2021, the unusual letter, which is also considered proof of Jobs' fine sense of humour, was auctioned for 479,939 US dollars. This makes it one of the most valuable signed collector's items.

6. A demolished guitar by Kurt Cobain - 550,000 euros

The 1990s rock band Nirvana was known for its angry songs and stage performances. It was not uncommon for frontman Kurt Cobain to smash his guitar and other instruments on stage in front of his audience after a concert or TV appearance. One of these guitars - a black and white Fender Stratocaster with visible "signs of use" - is now one of the most valuable collector's items, as it was signed by all the band members, including Kurt Cobain, who died by his own hand in 1994. The guitar was sold in May 2023 for around 600,000 US dollars. Experts had previously estimated its value at a maximum of 80,000 US dollars.

5. John Lennon's last autograph - 830,000 euros

The tragic fate of Beatle John Lennon is well known to everyone. He died in an assassination attempt on 8 December 1980. What is less well known is that the musician had signed a vinyl disc for his killer a few hours earlier. He had mingled with fans who were waiting outside the flat of John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in New York City as usual. As John Lennon's last autograph, the signed record is particularly valuable today. It was sold for half a million US dollars back in 2003. In 2020, the record was put up for auction again and fetched the owner a whopping 900,000 US dollars - the equivalent of around 830,000 euros.

4. Michael Jordan's signed and worn Air Jordans - 1.9 million euros

Michael Jordan is not only a basketball legend, but also the figurehead of one of the most successful sneaker series in the world. A signed copy of the shoe is therefore a coveted collector's item. They become even more coveted when they have been worn. A silver signed pair, which Michael Jordan is known to have worn at the 1998 NBA Finals, was auctioned off by Sotheby's in 2023 for an outstanding 2.2 million US dollars. With this result, the collector's item is considered the most valuable pair of trainers in the world.

3.A rare Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln - 3.3 million euros

Collector's items relating to historical figures are often particularly valuable, as they have often survived for many centuries. In the USA, memorabilia relating to US presidents fetch particularly high prices. For example, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, which sealed the abolition of slavery in some southern states in 1862 and was signed by US President Abraham Lincoln, was sold at auction almost 150 years later for 3.7 million US dollars. Of the once 48 autographed copies of the proclamation, only 26 still exist today, all of which must be of similar value.

2. Shakespeare's 400-year-old signature - 4.5 million euros

Although the writer William Shakespeare left us many dramas and plays, we search almost in vain for signatures by the English master. Historians have so far only identified six genuine signatures by Shakespeare. This makes it one of the rarest signatures in the world. The documents on which the author immortalised himself more than 400 years ago are treated with corresponding value. Experts estimate that a copy could fetch around 4.5 million euros if sold.

1. George Washington's personal copy of the US Constitution - 8.7 million euros

The most valuable signature in the world has made history. It is a copy of the first constitution of the United States of America from 1789. The owner of the copy was none other than the first US President George Washington, who of course left his signature on it. The genuine signature, its historical significance and its prominent owner make the document one of the most valuable collector's items in the world. At an auction organised by Christie's in 2012, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union Foundation bought the coveted item for USD 9.8 million and it can still be viewed today in the George Washington Library in Mount Vernon.

The 15 most valuable autographs

Even traditional autographs on photos, autograph cards or an insignificant piece of paper can be very valuable, as the following list of the fifteen most valuable autographs shows. It's not for nothing that people talk about autograph hunting. Getting an autograph from a famous person requires either great luck or a lot of skill to meet the star at the right time, in the right place and at the right moment.

The most valuable signed books

Books that are signed by the author or contain a personal dedication are in most cases more valuable than their retail price. If it is a first edition of a bestseller, you can be sure that you are holding a treasure in your hands. We therefore also present a top list of the most valuable signed books. With a bit of luck, one or two copies may still be slumbering unnoticed on your bookshelf.

10. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee - 19,000 euros

The bestselling author Harper Lee very rarely signed her books. This makes it all the more astonishing that there is a signed edition of the first edition of "Who Disturbs the Nightingale" in the original English. The book has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. The signed copy is worth around 20,000 US dollars.

9. "1984" by George Orwell - 24,500 euros

A signed copy of the science fiction novel "1984" is extremely rare and there is a tragic reason for this. When the work was published in June 1949, the author was seriously ill with tuberculosis and died in January 1950. He gave the only editions he signed to his nurses in hospital. A signed copy of "1984" was last sold for the equivalent of 24,500 euros.

8. "Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen" von Joanne K. Rowling - 91.000 Euro

The Harry Potter series is probably the most successful contemporary book series in the world. A first edition of the first volume of the wizarding adventure, signed by the author, was sold at auction for £80,000. Nobody expected the huge success at the time in 1997, as the first hardcover edition was only 500 printed copies.

7. "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell - 98,000 euros

A copy of George Orwell's memoirs "Down and Out in Paris and London" with a dedication turned out to be even more valuable than a signed "1984". An unknown private bidder bought the unique book for more than 98,000 euros in 2010.

6. "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway - 139,000 euros

Ernest Hemingway is one of the most important and most widely read writers in the United States. Accordingly, signed copies of his books are traded at a correspondingly high price. A copy of "To Whom the Hour Strikes", as the title is called in German, was recently sold for 139,000 euros.

5. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald - 150,000 euros

Early editions of "The Great Gatsby" are valuable collector's items. The unmistakable illustrated cover with the eyes on a blue background, which still adorns many subsequent editions today, makes it a coveted book for collectors. It is all the more valuable if it contains a signature by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 2018, such a copy was sold at auction for 163,000 US dollars.

4. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway – 286.000 euros

A copy of Hemingway's "For Whom the Hour Strikes" was auctioned for 310,000 US dollars in 2004. Although the copy was not a first edition, it contained a personal dedication to Ernest Hemingway's third wife Martha Gellhorn. It was her personal copy, which further increased the value of the book.

3. “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens – 367.000 euros

A signed copy of Charles Dickens is a truly rare commodity, as the English author's creative period dates back more than 150 years. So anyone who can call a signed copy of "A Tale of Two Cities" their own is all the luckier. A recently sold work with a signature and dedication to colleague Mary Ann Evans (or George Eliot) fetched the seller £275,000, making it one of the three most valuable signed books.

2. “Ulysses” by James Joyce – 425.000 euros

A signed book is only worth as much as people are willing to pay. In the case of James Joyce, a buyer was found who was prepared to pay almost half a million euros. Due to its controversial content, "Ulysses" was temporarily banned in the USA and the UK shortly after publication. The editions of the first edition are all the rarer to find today and a signed copy really is a valuable stroke of luck.

1. “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” by Joanne K. Rowling – 2,2 Mio. euros

A unique edition of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by Harry Potter creator Joanne K. Rowling is not only signed, but completely handwritten. At auction, the 150-page work realised the proud price of 2.2 million euros, making it the most valuable signed book in the world.

The fascination with autographs is unbroken

The fascination of autographs and signatures of famous personalities goes beyond the mere signature on a piece of paper. These mementos have a unique ability to build a bridge between fans and their idols. Autographs allow people to express their admiration for celebrities and historical figures and create a personal connection with them, even if this relationship is usually one-sided.

The rarity and exclusivity of autographs increase their appeal. Celebrities are often hard to reach and their signatures are therefore limited. This gives autographs a certain mystical allure and increases their value. The hunt for rare autographs can become a passionate quest, with collectors trying their luck at auctions, fairs or through personal contacts.

Autographs also have an economic component. For some people, they represent an investment opportunity. When a celebrity becomes famous or passes away, the price of their autographs can rise significantly. Some collectors see autographs as a financial asset and use the market to make a profit from their collection.

Autographs are an integral part of the fan cult. They are celebrated at trade fairs, exhibitions and in collectors' circles. The appreciation for these unique mementos has endured over time and will continue to fascinate people around the world.

Methods and sources

The top lists presented have been carefully researched and curated for their relevance to the German-speaking market. Only credible sources were used, including information on objects and proceeds provided by auction houses and reporting by reputable public and specialised media. The rankings are based exclusively on the most recently realised sales prices and only in exceptional cases on estimates by experts. All sales prices have been converted into euros where necessary. The basis for the conversion is the average exchange rate for 2023.

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