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Wednesday 18 May 2011

Never Let Anyone Sign Your Covers!

I am looking at a photograph in the Private Treaty section of an upcoming Bolaffi sale. It shows an 1858 cover with a bisected Romagna stamp catalogued at a cool quarter of a million euros. The bisected stamp is surrounded by SIX pencilled autographs and one handstamped signature. Bottom right of the cover there is a further pencilled autograph. The catalogue lists them all: Giulio Bolaffi, A.G.Bolaffi, Emilio, Alberto and Enzo Diena, Mauritio Raybaudi and Renato Mondolfo.

I am asking myself, By how much do these signatures and the handstamp reduce the value of this item?


(1) If you try to rub out these signatures, you not only cause surface scuffing but risk creasing the item - something all dealers have done (and often do) when they rub out one pencilled price to replace it with their own

(2) You can't rub out a handstamp. If someone makes a mistake with a handstamp, it has to be crossed through in ink and a correcting note added - I have seen this often enough on the backs of stamps. Who wants a stamp or a cover which is a visible record of someone's mistakes?

(3) It can never be clear what a signature is signing. It is always ambiguous. That is why a Certficate is necessary to clarify what has been signed. But if you have the Certificate with a photograph attached, you do not need the pencilled signature or the handstamp: it's redundant

(4) A cover can be altered after it has been signed - something added or taken away to "improve" it. In that sense, the signature is strictly worthless and potentially misleading. In contrast, it's a lot more difficult to amend a Certificate. Of course, you can fake it outright - but that is generally a lot more difficult than forging a signature or even faking a less valuable (but signed) into a more valuable (but still signed) cover

(5) The cover is supposed to be a collectible object and to be preserved in the best state possible. Signatures deface the object. No one would hand the Mona Lisa over to a bunch of experts and invite them to decorate it (in felt tip?) with their signatures to "prove" its authenticity.

Conclusion? I reckon a cover decorated with signatures is worth about a quarter to a half less than a cover without them - and as part of an Exhibit, it ought to lose points in a similar proportion.

Am I wrong?

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