Michael Jackson – Remembered in Autographs

By KIMBERLY COLE
Autograph August 2009

Photo signed in 2009. Courtesy PSA/DNA

Photo signed in 2009. Courtesy PSA/DNA

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Order the August 2009
special issue of Autograph
for the 8-page Michael Jackson
cover story with 22 full color photos.
 

On June 25, AOL’s instant messaging system crashed for 40 minutes from spikes in usage. Google News dispatched error messages to users searching for stories on Michael Jackson because so many people were searching, the system mistook it for an automated attack. Yahoo’s front page story, “Michael Jackson Rushed to the Hospital” generated 800,000 clicks in 10 minutes. On June 25, at the age of only 50, Michael Jackson died.

The Internet crackled and almost cracked from the worldwide response to Jackson’s death, and a similar tsunami has swept the world of autographs. Within hours, dealers were fielding calls from collectors, some with material to sell, most who urgently wanted to buy. In the days following, music autograph dealer and authenticator Roger Epperson of Signed, Sealed Delivered and REAL told Autograph, “This is the craziest I’ve ever seen. Before he died, I was happy if I could get $150 for Jackson-signed albums. Today you can sell them for $1,000 so fast, your head will spin.”

Jackson

Jackson’s signed Motown Center I.D., circa 1969. Courtesy of Ed Kosinski & Gotta Have It!

Epperson assessed the fan fervor. “I compare it to Elvis. The difference with Elvis was there weren’t many autographs out there. Elvis didn’t sit there and sign 100 autographs the night before he died.”

And, according to many reports, Jackson did.

The Jackson 5

1979 8x10 photo vintage signed and inscribed by all five Jacksons. It sold on July 1 for $2,620 with buyer premium at Christie’s in London. © Christie’s Images Limited 2009

1979 8×10 photo vintage signed and inscribed by all five Jacksons. It sold on July 1 for $2,620 with buyer premium at Christie’s in London. © Christie’s Images Limited 2009

The Michael Jackson many remember best is the little boy who blew audiences away in the late ’60s as the lead singer of the Jackson 5. A black and white signed photograph of The Jacksons signed by all five brothers sold for ?1,300 plus buyer’s premium on July 1 (about $2,620 total)—several times the presale estimate. Christies was restrained in their comments, saying only, “It is too early to ascertain the effect of today’s news on the value of Michael Jackson memorabilia; this will be felt over time and dictated by the supply of items to the market.”

Jackson signature circa 1971

Jackson signature circa 1971

Michael Jackson’s Solo Career

We asked Epperson how Jackson’s autograph changed over the four decades of his career, “He always had a beautiful autograph. It’s very flashy, very cool, very large. You can tell he was very confident and proud of himself, and proud of his signature, by the way he signed. When he was younger, there were simply more letters that you could make out, like the ‘h’ in Michael, where now they’re just bumps. It’s still pretty much the same, just larger. As he got bigger, he started signing bigger.”

The Jacksons, plus father Joe Jackson, signed this Peacock Music Publishing Contract in 1977. Courtesy of PSA/DNA

The Jacksons, plus father Joe Jackson, signed this Peacock Music Publishing Contract in 1977. Courtesy of PSA/DNA

And Jackson did get bigger. He began his solo career in 1971, while still a member of the Jackson 5. He and his brothers left the Motown label in 1975, signing with CBS Records. From 1975-81 Michael Jackson produced six more albums and toured internationally with the renamed group, “The Jacksons.” He starred as the Scarecrow in the Broadway musical The Wiz. This role brought Jackson into partnership with Quincy Jones and a joint production of his 1979 album Off the Wall.

Mid-1970s photo probably signed in the 1990s. Courtesy of Roger Epperson/REAL

Mid-1970s photo probably signed in the 1990s. Courtesy of Roger Epperson/REAL

In 1982 Jackson released Thriller, the best selling album of all time. He debuted his Moonwalk in 1983 in a live performance on Motown 25. And in 1984, in addition to headlining the Victory Tour to more than two million Americans, Jackson was honored by then-President Ronald Reagan for his support of charities.

Michael Jackson was crowned the King of Pop. But instead of a scepter, he ruled with a single white glove.

Jackson wore the iconic white glove on this issue’s cover, emblazoned with bugle beads, Austrian crystal rhinestones and fitted with 50 small lights, with his “Suit of Lights” on the Victory Tour. The glove was one of only two made by Ted Shell and gifted to Shell by Jackson in 1986. On display at Profile in History’s Comic-Con booth in San Diego in July, the glove will be coming up for auction in their October 1-2 sale.

In 1977 The Jacksons toured Europe as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. This invitation envelope was signed by Jackson, Dolly Parton and other performers at the May 17 performance of The Royal Show in Scotland, attended by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Courtesy of Kerry Peck, all rights reserved.

In 1977 The Jacksons toured Europe as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. This invitation envelope was signed by Jackson, Dolly Parton and other performers at the May 17 performance of The Royal Show in Scotland, attended by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Courtesy of Kerry Peck, all rights reserved.

“The glove is the ultimate piece of Jackson performance memorabilia,” said Joe Maddalena, president of Profiles in History. “It’s truly priceless.”

Scams on eBay

The day Jackson died, the number of Jackson-signed items listed on eBay swelled from 163 to more than 600 in just five hours. Of those, the vast majority were forgeries.

Epperson warns, “There are a lot of scams out there. Stay away from eBay if you can. If you do buy on eBay, make sure the item is authenticated by either my firm, Roger Epperson Authentication Limited (REAL), PSA/DNA or James Spence Authentication. We’re about the only authenticators that really know Michael Jackson material. Forgeries and secretarials are very common.”

Pricing

Signed Thriller album. Courtesy of PSA/DNA

Signed Thriller album. Courtesy of PSA/DNA

Prices shot through the roof with the scramble for Jackson-signed material, and have continued to climb. Albums are in the $1,000 range with Thriller and Bad the most desirable. Signed Thriller albums are the most expensive, bringing $1,800 to $3,000. Signed guitars can bring up to $1,000 or more. Vintage signed 8×10 photos can sell for $3,000 or more, with contemporary photos typically bringing $500 to the thousands.

“Autographs and items from Michael’s prime will prove to be the most valued and cherished by fans looking to collect anything related to the legendary singer,” said Doug Norwine of Heritage Auctions. “Something to keep in mind, however, is the inevitable trend of Michael Jackson collectibles flooding the market. Rare, authenticated pieces such as Thriller-era autographs, video and concert worn costumes, and personal mementos will always be prized.”

“One example of this is a Michael-signed Thriller RIAA platinum award that we sold at auction last October for $1,195,” continued Norwine. “If that same lot came up for auction today it would easily bring $4,000-$5,000. That means in select cases where the item is rare, authenticated and signed, prices could increase by as much as two, even three times.”

Authenticating Jackson

Jackson Autopen signature. Courtesy of PSA/DNA

Jackson Autopen signature. Courtesy of PSA/DNA

Epperson offers a few authentication tips:

1. Steer clear of signatures that look like they’re signed slowly and carefully, that don’t flow. Jackson signed his whole life, and signed quickly. And they shouldn’t be shaky.

2. Jackson held the pen near the cap so he didn’t get ink on his hands. That means he couldn’t “dig in.” Look for lighter strokes on the tall letters, where the pen started to rise from the paper.

3. When forgers attempt to copy the “bumps” that make up the smaller letters in Jackson’s name, they’re often too exact, like they’re drawn, not signed. The real signature has higher and lower peaks, and irregular spacing.

Jackson the Songwriter

Signed Bad album. Courtesy of Roger Epperson/REAL

Signed Bad album. Courtesy of Roger Epperson/REAL

As Jackson’s solo career took off, so did his reputation as a songwriter, with chart-topping hits like “The Girl Is Mine,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” Like John Lennon, Jackson’s handwritten and signed lyrics are among his most prized autographs, and quality examples of popular songs would bring well in the tens of thousands of dollars today. They seldom came to market before, but you can bet forgers are hard at work honing their skills and you’ll see many offered soon.

Run…don’t walk…away from lyrics or any autograph offered with authentication by a “court approved forensic document examiner.” Industry experts Autograph consulted consider these a sign of forgery—not authenticity. The examiners with the worst reputations are Christopher Morales and Donald Frangipani, but we’ve seen a growing number of autographs authenticated by a Florida newcomer, E’lyn Bryan. Our experts haven’t considered one they saw genuine.

Final Days of Signing

Jackson was always a generous signer and probably signed well over 100,000 autographs over his career, but in the last months of his life he took it to a new level. “He was signing like a madman in L.A. and Las Vegas since October,” Epperson said. “If you caught him leaving tour rehearsals at Staples Center you could hand him 50 things and he’d sign them all.”

A professional collector reported, “It was the best kept secret among the pros. They really exploited the guy. Some got hundreds of items signed. They’re selling them now for $1,000-$2,000 each.

This signed guitar sold at auction in June for $598. It might fetch 2-3 times that today. Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.

This signed guitar sold at auction in June for $598. It might fetch 2-3 times that today. Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.

“Jackson was a sweetheart. You could knock on his limo window and hand things to his driver and Jackson would sign them in the car. These guys were handing him boxes of stuff.”

In-Person Memories

Swiss dealer Markus Brandes forwarded an email to us from a French collector:

“I had the luck to meet the great Michael Jackson on Rodeo Drive in October 2008. He was with his children and signed a picture for me leaving a store, and we saw him drive to a nearby antique shop. By the time he left more than 100 people were out front, so his bodyguards took him out the back. Luckily, that was where we were waiting. Michael clasped our hands, got in the car, opened the window and signed and signed. I told him we loved him in France and missed him. He said, ‘I love you, too!’ I think if I had 30 pictures, Michael would have signed everything.”

“He was very nice and really tall—very different than I thought he’d be,” said Epperson. “He had long hands, big George Bush-like hands. George Bush Sr. has hands that almost engulf you. The first time I met him, I had three things and he signed them all. The second time, I had ten and he signed them like it was nothing.”

“Michael was great with fans,” reported Pete Siegel of Gotta Have It! in Manhattan. “He’d come into my shop to look around and talk, and sometimes stayed for a good long time. He was always looking for two things, Shirley Temple photos signed as child and The Three Stooges. When he’d go to leave, a crowd would have formed outside and he’d stay as long as he could to talk to everyone and sign every autograph. Sometimes he was outside for hours. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.”

Jackson signed this in-person autograph for Joe Kraus in 1989.

Jackson signed this in-person autograph for Joe Kraus in 1989.

Longtime collector Joe Kraus founded Autograph and owned it into the 1990s. He told us about his own in-person Michael Jackson experience:

“In the late 1980s my wife Karren and I were manning our booth at a paper show in Pasadena, displaying autographs and promoting the magazine, then in its infancy. A dealer from Washington came over and said someone wanted to talk to me. He lead me to a semi-private area with two chairs and sat me down next to someone in dark sunglasses, a high school letterman’s jacket and baseball cap. It was a good disguise, but once he started talking the mystery was over.

“Jackson was told that I had one of the largest collections of child star autographs around. He wanted any information I could provide on some autographs he had with him, and asked if I could help him build a better collection. We agreed to do some heavy trading, his extras for my extras. He had autographs from current stars and ones dating back to the silent film days.

“Alas, neither of us followed up on that meeting. I’m sure we both felt we’d get around to it someday.

“I’ve often been asked what he was like. He was very friendly, but also very shy, soft spoken and interested in our conversation. He will be missed.”

About Steve Cyrkin, Editor

Steve Cyrkin is the editor & publisher of Autograph, and focuses mostly on forgery, market and consumer protection issues.

Comments

  1. I have a Jackson Five Victory Tour program, signed by all five of the Jacksons. Can you assist me with a value. Thank you.

  2. Hi met Michael and spent about 4 hrs with he gave a little love note how could i sell this and give some of the money to children charities.

  3. Hello, My name is Kimberly and I had the honor and the privilege of meeting Michael Jackson back in 98 when he was in Detroit, MI campaigning along side Business man Don Barden for a Casino, well to make a long story short I have an autograph that Michael Jackson signed on a page of paper from one of those portable date planners binders and I would like to know how much it wold be worth today? Thanks

  4. Caroline Maberly says:

    Thanks Steve, great article.

    I wish! I wish! I am going to contact Roger Epperson Authentication Limited before I go any further with the Dangerous ebay jacket purchase. I wish I knew for sure, but I guess that is what makes it so exiting.!!!

    Kind regards

  5. Bravo!! A very well written article with a large portion of grace and goodwill. Thank you for sharing yet another facet of this gem whom we lovingly called Michael.

  6. I have a picture of Michael that he signed to me in 1982 after Thriller was released. May I send it to you?

  7. I have 2 sets of autographs of Michael Jackson and Paul MCcartney on the same paper.
    One on note paper and the other on the back the directions to the film location of Say Say Say.

  8. i have an autograph from michael personally to me , my mom work at honolulu international airport, she drove a shuttle bus that brought the people from the plane to the gates , and he was on her bus and she got it for me. how much do you think it is worth? it was i believe jan. 18,1980

  9. jennine cavanagh says:

    I recently bought a first edition Moonwalk. It says it was signed by Michael but looking at it it looks a bit different from his other signatures. Did he always sign his ‘h’ in Michael the same cause this is different. I would appreciate any help. Thankyou.

  10. Mr. Rajesh Gaur says:

    Autograph magazine is great and caters to everything that a collector could imagine about. all your issues are simply. great. I live in far away India, or else I too would be getting them at the newstands. But thanks to the stories we get to read here there is atleast something to be thankful for. Autograph icreases the knowledge levels of even an amatuer collector. The Michael jackson story is fantastic. A great man a wonderful singer who passed away young. A man who was gernourous to his fans with his autograph. lucky are the ones who have it. It will go up in price probably more in the coming years. Could you give us a story which includes actors like Jerry Lewis, burt reynolds, tippi Hedren, Jon Voight, and the newer lot of actors. Also the onews who are very rude to fans like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold S. Of late thankfully after his second marriage paul mccartney is giving a lot of in person autographs. does he sign through the mail?
    Thanking you once again and all good wishes to your fand from Mumbai, India.

    Rajesh V. Gaur

  11. I am playing to a Michael Jackson song right now. Talk about natural talent! I actually miss him a great deal – wish he was still here to produce the beautiful tunes he’s so well known for.

  12. Great article, I love the way you point out the various changes he made to his autograph throughout the years. & what a humble person he was to have signed so many away generously.

    Thanks for the read.

  13. I have a rare photo that was taken in about 1970 of the Jackson 5 sign by all the Jackson boys. It was given to me by Tito Jackson’s mother in law (at the time). I lived in Los Angeles at the time and my Mom worked with Tito Jackson’s Mother in law. It would be cool to find out how much it’s worth and what a regular person like me, has to do if I want to I wanted to sale this photo (maybe). Please contact me.

  14. I have an autograph from Michael Jackson when he was in Russia, Moscow.