The Rise of the RoboGraph signature, part one!

Posted by 28/10/2017 0 Comment(s)


"Robographs"  (a name i have coined for want of something better) are autographs created by a robot machine.  These are now becoming the scourge of the autograph world, and are becoming increasingly difficult to spot as the forgers get more proficient. These are even now fooling some good dealers and auction houses, so beware!


I first spotted these about 6 years ago and at first was unaware of exactly what they were although i could see that something was not right. They kept cropping up on ebay, mostly top end items, but always mixed in with low end easy to obtain through the post signatures. On occasion they also turned up at the small auction houses, and were often a full set of Beatles of Stones signatures, always arousing attention but never selling at the price a genuine set might do.


One day i was shown an item that was according to the owner "100% authentic" and comes with a COA etc "so it must be genuine" At first glance it was good, and comparison with known genuine examples suggested that it was indeed good, but the price paid for this item was way below what it should be, but it still did not look quite correct to me, something was not right. So i trawled through the RR Auction sold items for the same name and lo and behold i found the exact same signature on an album page. And i dont just mean the same name, i mean the exact same signature, but without the dedication. This proved to me beyond doubt that something was wrong, but how did the exact same signature get onto a totally different item?


Further comparison now showed me that although the two signatures were indeed the same one, there were some very minor differences. These were mainly apparent in that the real version showed the variation in pressure and speed that most signatures have when done by a human hand. The suspect signature, although outwardly looking the same, did not show any of these variations, and had the appearance of an Autopen signature but without the traits that an Autopen signature had.


Now to fully understand and be able to discern Autopen from Robograph and hand signed signatures, its important that you understand how an Autopen signature is produced, so please take some time to read my own guide on this here. An Autopen signature will almost always be the same, with only very slight variations depending on the pen used and how the machine itself is set up and maintained. Early Robograph signatures were not great, often produced using the wrong pen ( i was once shown a Queen Victoria signature produced using a fine tip felt pen!) and often show the inherent faults of the machine itself. A modern Robograph signature produced by an expert will be different each time, no two being exactly the same and can be very hard to spot indeed. We will see how they can vary a signature each time they produce a new one later in part three.


Once i had realised that the signature was not done by hand but somehow machine made, i then needed to try and work out how it was done and by what kind of machine. I discussed this with a couple of people i knew who had computer controlled mountcutters and it looked as though that was what had done the job. A service engineer for the machine also confirmed that it was simple job and that the company produced an add on that will do the job required, so it seemd like we had found the answer, or had we?


When you check these Robographs they will often show very small movements of the pen in certain areas, although this does depend on the pen and the surface it is writing on. This is caused by the pen being moved by what are called "stepper" motors. These are motors which can rotate the same as any electric motor, but do this in tiny steps, so to make a straight line the motor is told to simply move X number of steps thus moving the pen (which is attached to the motor via a belt) a certain distance equal to X number of steps. Two motors are used to provide movement in an X and Y direction, and by combining the two it is then possible to create curves etc.


Although this seemed to provide the answer, i could not see anyone purchasing a computer controled mount cutter to make fake signatures as these machines cost £10,000 plus, and anyway i had now seen signatures appear on books and you cannot fit a book into one of those machines! So it had to be something else, but what? 


I warned as many dealers as i could about these signatures, some had already spotted them as suspect, but had no idea what they were, and were struggling to be able to see what they needed to see! The real problem was explaining to others how they were produced, as only by doing this could you fully understand what you needed to look for, and that did not prove easy via an email!. Some of us spotted full sets of Beatles and Stones at local auctions, and although they never reached a full market price, were making a tidy profit for the forger.


What you always need to remember is that the Robographs are copied from genuine signatures, much like an Autopen, and so at first glance they will appear very similar to the genuine item, but its only when you study the signature very closely can you see the differences. A magnifying glass (about 10X) will often show you those very tiny movements the machine has made to produce certain curves, and in most cases you will see the almost complete lack of variation in speed or pressure that a genuine signature has. 


Below is a signature of John Lennon that was shown to me for authentication some months ago, At first glance its an excellent example and even came with a letter from the person who obtained it (this kind of "proof' so often proves to be no proof at all!) The owner had also asked another expert for an opinion, and he said again, based on the image shown, its likely authentic, except its not! The real problem here is that if looked at on its own by an expert, from a scan that maybe not high enough resolution, on a mobile device, this signature could easily be said to be 'likely authentic' as it is an exact copy of a authentic example and so will initialy look like a genuine example. It is only when you look much closer that you start to notice the lack of variation in speed and pressure, the almost Autopen look of the dots at the end of each line, and very tellingly, the way in which the machine cannot reproduce very fine curves and instead turns them into sharp angles. 



I am going to leave it here for now to allow you to study this signature a little more. In the next installment i will let you know exactly how i think these are produced.


Copyright. Garry King. 2018

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