FlatSigned or Inscribed?

by Tim Miller

#53, 10 October 2005

The FlatSigned Side of the Story

Can you believe that salt is still available over the counter, without even a doctors prescription required? Everyone knows that salt causes many health problems and has absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. Why then is it that salt has not been outlawed or at least removed from easy access to children and to those who are harmed by this terrible substance?

This argument about the legality of salt is reminiscent of the ongoing argument about whether an autographed book should be just signed (FlatSigned) or personalized to a specific person like "To Billy Bob." There are those who say that to ask an author to just sign a book may be rude because the author may think you are just going to make a profit by reselling the book. But some argue both this point and that a book which is personalized has more value. Of course, the two points collide, and more importantly, most often authors either enjoy autographing books or they do not.

There are classic examples of each, and these examples also contradict the apparent logic that authors who think you are going to sell a book want to inscribe. Stephen King, who originally coined the word FlatSigned, does not like the idea of people selling his autograph yet does not insist on inscribing when he does sign. Ken Kesey, on the other hand, used to sign books for me and he always signed them in plain, ordinary pen. This bothered me greatly since I knew he was famous for signing his name very flamboyantly, with multiple colors, large and beautiful. One day I asked him why he didn't sign my books with his usual style. He said, "Well, they wouldn't be FlatSigned if I signed them in color would they?"

Like is so often the case, a lack of understanding and lack of knowledge was causing problems. First, Ken was kind enough to be happy to sign books either way, and the most important thing to him was to sign the way the owner of the book wanted. This problem was compounded by Ken not understanding the true meaning of FlatSigned. He thought that FlatSigned autographs had to be in black ink, without any of his usual flare. For anyone to presume they know what an author is thinking is by definition presumptuous and is probably the result of an over-active ego since most authors just want those of us who collect autographed books to simply leave them alone and are not concerned about the personal habits nor autograph tastes of their fans.

This presumptiveness and lack of knowledge about what FlatSigned is and what FlatSigned is all about exemplifies the current argument over FlatSigned versus Inscribed books. Once anyone is educated, they all agree that FlatSigned is the best! Part of the education process in the driving of automobiles or the use of salt first requires some transfer of information from those who know to those who do not. Otherwise, you are going to have either a wreck or poorly prepared food. The first lesson to learn about this argument of FlatSigned or not is to know that with like almost everything else in life, there are exceptions. Given the option of having a full page inscription from Ernest Hemingway to his mother (whom he hated) or just having a Hemingway autograph, only an uneducated person would say they preferred to have just the autograph of Ernest rather than a letter to mom. Even more, when it comes to a Hemingway or a Steinbeck, the argument that inscribed books are better does have some merit, but when it comes to a John Grisham or even a Stephen King, the argument is lost.

The marketplace has spoken, and when it comes to contemporary authors, there is little affection for a simple inscription. At least in the case of Hemingway or Steinbeck, an inscription may be a slight plus for the value of a book, but even in these extreme examples, I promise you that when it comes time to sell your signed book, it may will be more difficult to sell because it is inscribed and many people simply do not like the idea of owning something that has someone else's name written on it - especially a collectible book!

What something is worth is all about what you can get when you offer that item to the open market. Well, you say, Grisham and King are living now but are likely to be leaving us one day, and for the logic to be consistent then are we to believe that a Grisham or King inscription will be more desired fifty or more years from now? Yes, if that inscription is to a mother or even to Bill Clinton. But there is no reason to believe that inscriptions from Grisham or King will be worth more than their simple signatures even after we are all dearly departed. This is especially true considering that both Grisham and King have collectively signed their names close to a million times.

It is entirely a different story if it is your desire to treasure books which have been personally inscribed to you, if that is your only goal - to personally enjoy them. In this case there is no argument. Only you know what you prefer, and you should do what makes you happy. So, if you have no interest in preserving value and are only thinking of what makes just you feel good, then by all means have all your books signed that way and see how fast your children throw them away after you see Grisham and King in the hereafter.

As to the argument that having an inscription helps to determine if an autograph is authentic or not, there is some merit to this argument but very little. The really bad forgers of the past couldn't get even the signature right, but the better ones of today are so good it matters little whether they also forge someone's name which itself is always different and blows the argument away! If we were talking about having the same words written over and over again, one could make the argument that having inscriptions would give us more evidence to evaluate. But when we are talking about different names, then the argument makes little sense. The best way to avoid forgeries is to avoid one-person sellers on eBay and anywhere. Forgers must keep their illegal activities secret. You can't keep secrets when you buy from a company with multiple employees and on upon which livelihoods depend upon the legal running of a business.

In his recent article, Tim Doyle made the above point that inscriptions help you to determine forgeries and then went on to say that he liked for authors to add a date, also that he would add a promotional flyer to the book. How does one know that flyer came with that book? Also, the easiest thing in the world to forge would be numbers!

So it all comes back to salt. Some things are good, some things are bad, and some things are both good and bad. The key to any good soup is having the knowledge to stir in the right proportions and to not over use any one ingredient. A little common sense goes a long way and information can change your life! I wish I had asked Ken Kesey much sooner why he kept signing my books without his famous multi-colored pens. My lack of presumptiveness and concern over what I thought were his feelings caused me to miss out on having many more great autographs from this American icon.

Seek out information and combine that new knowledge with what your personal tastes. Let authors know what you prefer and be happy with your autographed book collection whichever way you decide to go. Life is to short to have too many rules and absolutes. Know that when anyone tells you what you should or should not do, question that and ask yourself what it is that you prefer. This isn't rocket science or even food preparation. Do what makes you feel good about yourself and your collection. Live a long life and enjoy your autographed books, FlatSigned or not, but know that FlatSigned books are usually more popular - which translates into more worth!

Tim Miller maintains two websites: FlatSigned Rare Books and FlatSigned Press.

>>>>> Read Tim Doyle's view on the topic >>>>>

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