Autopens are still an issue in 2018 ... and always a bummer

A few days ago, I took advantage of some post-Black Friday sales of a different sort to pick up some signed books direct from the publisher via a major book dealer. The first of a couple shipments arrived today with a second set to hit tomorrow.

And what I got appears to be a bummer.

When it comes to signed books, they're often a great -- and affordable -- way to pick up an autograph from a notable person in whatever field you might like without breaking the bank and without paying a premium. Although buying signed-from-publisher copies should be safe, I always have one rule when doing this -- I always get two copies of these signed books to be able to compare signatures.

That didn't happen today as my second one arrives tomorrow with other books, but a couple of tell-tale signs of an autopen were evident when I opened my copy -- enough I needed to compare it to other signed editions on eBay. There are distinct dots on the autograph's starting and stopping parts where a machine lifted directly upward and there's no variation in the thickness of the pen strokes that happen when a hand moves laterally as the person signs. As a hand moves, you get thick and thin and heavy/light parts of an autograph. It's also physically impossible to sign two autographs with the exact same strokes in the exact same sizes and proportions to each other more than once. There will always be some minor changes in loops or sizes. Always. No matter how steady the signer's handwriting is.

The image you see up top? One is from the title page of my book and one is from a book found on eBay. Not all signed copies of Reese Witherspoon's Whiskey In A Teacup have this exact auto, but the impossibility of these two being identical is there. Even the spacing between the name and the X are the same as well as every letter. And, of course, there are the dots and the uniform thickness. These images aren't from the same exact angles, but the autographs appear to be identical -- any immensely minor difference you might see, I believe, is due to the angle.

I'll wait for my next copy to arrive tomorrow -- here's hoping it's one that also isn't identical and doesn't have the warning signs of an autopen -- but this is an example of how anything can still be possible with signed editions. Allegedly fake autos in some instances aren't all instances -- I've added a gallery of sigs below for this book for you to compare more. All are from eBay (and there were plenty more) and you can see variations among them. You can see how pen pressure, thickness and ink flow all come into play on the one full-name version, particularly on upstrokes and the long spans of ink of her last name. The rest? I'm not sure which ones might be questionable as there's plenty of variety among them -- and the images are all in different angles and brightness/darkness, which makes it harder to compare.

What will I do with my copy? Well, naturally, I'll return it to the company with a polite mention that it's definitely an autopen (in my veteran opinion, though I'm firm that it's fact -- enough that you're reading this). Will my second copy join this one in a return shipment? I'll know tomorrow. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the message will get back to the publisher -- or whether it would matter -- and unfortunately the book might go right back out to somebody else.

The exception doesn't make the rule so I'm still comfortable buying signed direct-from-publisher books -- but it's definitely a scenario where one has to use caution no matter what.

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