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As both a collector and dealer I am always on the lookout for anything signed by Churchill, so I do a weekly search for items signed by Winston Churchill on ebay and other sites, and each week I come across the same signed "authentic" letters that are a lot less than "authentic" than the sellers makes them out to be! They may have come from Winston Churchill’s office, but they were certainly not written or signed by him.
Here is a very typical example…
Now without having the letter and your trusty magnifying glass in front of you (you do have one don’t you?), you could easily assume that it is indeed authentic, and well worth bidding on, as the seller has started it at just £4.99! However, it is a high quality printed copy of an original letter, and therefore not worth anywhere near what you might consider as an expert to be a good selling price at around £1500
This letter and many like them were sent out by Churchill’s office at various times during his lifetime to satisfy those people who wrote to him with gifts or letters of appreciation of which there were many, and they are very well done, certainly the best printed letters I have ever seen and good enough to fool many a dealer or auction house.
Common amongst all these printed letters is that none of them have any salutation i.e. ‘Dear Mr Smith’ which is an immediate indication that the letter is printed. I have seen a few whereby a name has been added to the start of the letter, but it can normally be seen that this has been added either by typewriter or pen, possibly by someone in Churchill’s office, or maybe by someone trying to help pass the letter off as genuine!
Never underestimate the lengths that some people will go to make a fast buck! It is not uncommon to see the signature cut from the bottom of these letters and mounted up as display either, which makes it all the more difficult to spot!
The signature itself appears to be genuine and will compare very favourably with any know authentic example, but you will find a magnifying glass a big help here, because under magnification you will soon see the truth! I use a large 8x one and these are easily found on the internet or via stamp shops (if you can find one!). A printed signature such as this will be all one density of colour all the way through, whereas a genuine signature will have a varied density of colour and ink through the whole signature.
This is most easily seen by simple comparison. Find yourself a known genuine signature that has been done using a fountain pen (write one yourself if need be), and then compare that signature with the printed example under magnification.
The authentic signature will show the varied density of ink and you should also be able to see what we call the ‘bridges and tunnels’ where each line goes over the other, as this will not be visible on the printed example. Close examination of both signatures will help you here and show you what I mean.
In addition, on the printed letters, where the letter appears to be typed, you will see that there are no indents in the paper from each letter strike. But a warning here! You could well find a letter which is typewritten, but could still contain a rubber stamp signature, so never say never!
I have shown here ones in my own collection plus a couple of images sent to me by other dealers. As you can see they vary in size and style, and could be addressed from Downing Street, Hyde Park Gate or Chartwell. His printed signature can also be found on other official documents as well, and there are also known letters which bear a rubber stamp signature as well, indeed, I saw one of these being sold on ebay not so long ago! So beware, if it has a Winston Churchill signature on it, take extra care, as it may not be authentic!
These facsimile letters are still very collectible and still have a value, and I have seen them being sold at up to £100, even when the sellers are fully aware of what they are, but most only sell for around £25 so if you see one for sale at the right price, then I do recommend adding one to your collection.
You might note that the letters often have an embossed stamp for the House of Commons (other different stamps may also exist) or are on official ‘Chartwell’ ‘Downing Street’ or ‘Prime Minister’ printed letterheads.
Even the envelopes might bear the ‘Prime Minister’ label as well (see below). All in all these are very genuine looking letters, but nevertheless all are printed and none authentically signed or written.
Although these are not in chronological order, it’s useful to note the way in which his signature changes, and as these are taken directly from an original letter before being printed, they can prove useful for handwriting comparison purposes as well.
Various other letters were sent out over the years, the item below being one of them, and if anyone has other examples or similar items I would love to hear from you so that I may expand on this file.
Here is one more example of a printed signature. You will also find similar very convincing signatures on similar items from various other Prime Ministers, Kings etc. Never assume that just because it’s a legal document or Military commission or similar that the signature on it must be authentic!
And finally, even the envelope the letters came in helped to convince that you really were getting a personal letter directly from the great man himself.
So there you have it, conclusive proof that the letter you have seen on ebay which looks to be a bargain, is in fact printed and worth only between £20 and £30 but still very collectible.
I hope this has helped, and that you won’t get stung by one of these!
Copyright Autografica and Garry King January 2014 and reproduced with permission.