Book signing is the affixing of an author’s signature to a page in their book, usually the title page or endpaper. Sometimes authors will sign bookplates and affix them to the page instead of directly writing on the page. J.K. Rowling has a hologram to accompany and authenticate her signatures. Bookshops and Libraries will often hold book signing events for authors to promote their book and many bookshops get copies of signed books as soon as the book is released.
The world’s oldest known signature dates back to c.3100 BC and appears on the back of a clay tablet from Sumeria. The signer was a scribe named Gar Ama and on the tablet he laid out a list of 41 common professions. The oldest signature of a well known historical figure appears on a document dated 1096, signed by Castilian Knight El Cid (a Spanish folk hero). In the document he gives a substantial donation to the Cathedral of Valencia. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the earliest surviving signature on a papyrus is that of the scribe Amen’aa, held in the Leningrad (St Petersburg) Museum, Russia and dates to the Egyptian middle kingdom, which began c. 2130 BC.
Lots of people like collecting signed books, and many authors sign their books. Often a genuine author’s signature will add monetary value to a book. However, there are cases when authors’ have signed so many of their books that their unsigned books are more scarce and therefore more valuable than the signed book. A first, signed edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses sold for $460,500 at auction in 2002. Other potentially valuable signatures include George Orwell, J.K. Rowling, Charles Dickens, and more.
I have a small, growing collection of signed books by authors that I admire; John Green, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Paolini, Sebastian de Castell, Patrick Ness and Isaac Marion. I’m sure there are more authors I will add to my wish list in the future, but realistically, I would love a book signed by Terry Pratchett, a copy of Angels and Demons signed by Dan Brown, and a book signed by Christelle Dabos.
If you’re interested in collecting signed books, be careful and look out for forgeries. It’s not easy to spot but some people have been known to forge signatures to try and increase the value of a book. You can find tips to help you here; How to tell if a signature is real | Book Collecting Guide (biblio.co.uk)
The best places to find signed books are at second-hand bookshops or online. The bookshop I work in currently has a large selection of second-hand signed books and some signed new books too, click here to see more.
The world’s oldest autograph (paulfrasercollectibles.com)
First autograph | Guinness World Records