Tuesday, August 13, 2013

12 Interesting Historic Signatures

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm fascinated by graphology, the study of handwriting (which might more aptly be named "brainwriting"). While graphologists believe that handwriting reveals a lot about our personalities, they say that our signatures reveal how we want to be seen.

So I thought it would be fun to present a dozen rather elaborate signatures from history. While each of these is unusual in its own way, I think you'll agree that the whole grouping makes quite a dance!

I'll present them in alphabetical order .  .  .

The Duke of Alba, Ferdinand Alvarez de Toledo (1508-1582). A Spanish soldier, he suppressed the Netherlands with great cruelty.

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa (1475-1517). A Spanish navigator, he discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513.

Boris III (1894-1943). The king of Bulgaria from 1918 to 1943, he brought his country into World War II on the side of Germany.

Sir Noel Coward (1899-1976). A British playwright, actor and composer, he was celebrated for his wittiness.

Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938). The Prince of Montenevoso, he was an Italian writer, poet, journalist, playwright and soldier.

Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970). The creator of Perry Mason, this American detective-story writer would dictate up to 10,000 words a day.

Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989). As President of the Philippines from 1965-1986, he initiated reforms but also embezzled billions of dollars. His wife is the noted collector of shoes.

Jan Van Riebeeck (1618-1677). This Dutch colonial administrator founded Capetown.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1743-1812). This German Jew, who lived his entire life in very humble circumstances, was the founder of the banking house of Rothschild. His signature reminds me of the art of Saul Steinberg.

Johann Strauss, the Elder (1804-1849). While he was known as "The Father of the Waltz," his son was known as "The Waltz King."

Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1877-1923). A former bandit who became a Mexican revolutionary leader, his name was actually Doroteo Arango.

Wilhelm II (1859-1941). Emperor of Germany from 1888 to 1918, the Kaiser was defeated in World War I and lived in exile thereafter in Holland. His signature is very similar to his father's, Wilhelm I.

And because that was so much fun, I'll give you a baker's dozen! Graphologists and forgery experts alike will tell you that the hardest signatures to forge are actually the simplest, primarily because such signatures tend to vary very little. A prime example is the unusual signature of King Louis XVI of France, below.

This unusual signature, which to my mind resembles the aftermath of an execution, was so consistent that the king's secretaries never attempted to copy it.

All signatures in this posting can be found in
The Stein and Day Book of World Autographs,
by Ray Rawlins


  1. Replies
    1. Hello, Steve,

      I think you would feel much better if you saw how many great souls had beautifully plain signatures — A. Lincoln comes to mind.

  2. Dear Mark, So, where is your signature? Maybe your signature is the no 12 at the top of this most interesting post. I see a very confident and artistic person behind that no. 12.

    1. Dear Gina,

      That 12 is indeed my own handwriting. I wrote it very small with a gel pen and then enlarged it many times over.

  3. Not a single one of these signatures revealed anything to me about their professions. But most of them are quite florid. Where is YOUR signature and what would it tell us about you? Or can we deduce that from the signatures you chose for the blog? Delightful. Ann

    1. Hello, Ann,

      I'm reluctant to put my own signature on the Internet, but it too is somewhat florid and with an underscore. If these have anything in common, I would say that they all show big egos and perhaps physical energy.

      Graphologists would look at certain things particular to each of these signatures. For example, it's noteworthy that the Duke of Alba essentially crossed out his name, perhaps indicating a personality at odds with itself. The loops of Balboa's signature reveal a person physical and intellectual in equal parts.

      Having said that, a graphologist would be quick to add that any positive or negative trait ascribed to an individual would need to be made in context to the full handwriting.

  4. This is an interesting subject Mark. The ones you show are very flamboyant, I am surprised that they can remember all of the curls and swirls every time they need to sign something.
    I have seen 'Mark' written several times on your posts which to my eye is bold, clear and confident in its execution.
    The signature I can always remember most is that of Queen Elizabeth l - she could give the ones you have shown a run for their money.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      The Rawlins book includes a sample of Elizabeth I's signature, and it has so many flourished underscores that it looks a lot like a repetitive penmanship exercise!

      Incidentally, I understand that (American) schools are no longer teaching handwriting in the early grades. Perhaps at some point we'll all just sign documents by pressing our thumbs onto screens.

  5. Cool post! I quite like all the curlicues in Jan Van Riebeeck's signature. They just go on and on and on...

    1. One of the things that's interesting about signatures from Van Riebeeck's era is that such elaborate underscoring was more the norm.

  6. It's interesting that most of the signatures resemble mine. Ha. Not Louis's.

    Or may I should say that my signature resembles most of those you've shown. I find D'Annunzio's the most interesting. Wasn't he the little man who was know for his charm and success with women though he was not handsome and not very imposing to look at?

  7. I think King Louis' writing really interesting on slant nd unencumbered by curlicues etc..

    Louis was interested in science and exploration and on the day of his execution supposedly asked if there was news of Comte Ld Perouse whom he had sent to explore the Pacific. La Perouse arrived in Sydney the same time as the English First Fleet ie convict ships in January 1788. However after leaving Sydney the Comte and his two ships were lost

    errived in Syndey s u slnt rrelfects his interest in the sciences.. g in iys irLousi K thin

    1. Dear smr,

      I did know that Louis XVI was interested in science, and that locksmithing was his hobby. There is a story that he was shown the initial design for the guillotine and suggested that the blade be angled (but that seems almost too ironic to be true!).

  8. thats so cool! Love seeing Louis 16ths.....