When it comes to autographs, is less more?
Pretty much everyone agrees that an author's aotograph in a book is a desirable feature that adds interest and value to the book. Some autographs can add a lot of value if they're from authors who possess the dual qualities of being collectible and averse to signing. (Thomas Pynchon comes to mind.) Other autographs may be nice to have but add little or no value. Some authors were so eager to sign their books that it's rare to find one unsigned.
What collectors don't agree on is whether it's best to have a book that is merely signed, or one that is inscribed, like the one above by Hemingway. Some collectors -- like our co-owner John -- would rather just have the autograph, and maybe the date -- the closer the date to the time of the book's release, the better. Their belief is that an inscription too narrowly weds the book to a previous owner, and therefore makes the book less desireable. Others, like our co-owner Dan, want more. They believe that the more handwritting from the author, the better. And while a book with an author's inscription such as "To Mary Smith, Denver, September 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald" doesn't seem special, an inscription like "To Ernest Hemingway, my favorite drinking buddy, from F. Scott Fitzgerald" would be special indeed. This later kind of an inscription is known as an "association copy." The Mary Smith example is known as a "presentation copy."
How much does a signature add to the value of a book? There’s no rule. If a book is signed by the author, it may be worth more than an unsigned copy. The difference could be large, moderate, or negligible, depending upon the book in question.
Here's where supply and demand come into play. If the author is very popular, but signatures are scarce, the signature will be in demand. Factors to consider are whether the author is living or dead (and thus not signing any more books!), if the author signed many books or few, and of course the desirability and collectibility of the book in question.
Books signed by heavily collected authors are much-desired. For example, every one of the thousands of collectors of Beat Generation literature would love to have a signed book by Jack Kerouac -one of the most influential and highly regarded writers of the 20th century. Consequently, such books are in high demand and hard to find (Kerouac wasn’t a very prolific signer of his books anyway), and they fetch grand prices.
For modern novels with authors still living, a signature will add somewhat to the price – perhaps ten to twenty-five percent. If the signature is very scarce, it may be worth more. The amount will vary depending upon the particular book and author and how easy that signed book is to find.
However, the cookbook your Aunt Jane wrote, self-published, and signed is worth little, if anything, more than an unsigned copy. That’s because Aunt Jane’s signature, and her cookbook, are likely not objects of desire for book collectors.
Denise Enck contributed to this story.