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Royal Collectibles - Advice From an Expert Dealer

Jun 18, 2008
With many years experience dealing in ephemera and royal ephemera in particular, I have had the pleasure of handling many beautiful examples of rare royal stationery. However, it is not always easy for collectors to spot whether an item is genuine. So, if you are new to collecting ephemera, I have the following words of advice.

If you ever contemplate buying a royal letter, it is always advisable to buy a complete letter as "cut outs" can very often be easily forged. You should take great care to ensure you are not buying either a facsimile, (copy), hand stamped document (a stamp engraved with the signature), or auto-penned signatures (a signature reproduced by a printing process). I am afraid that the only way you can tell for sure if a signature has been auto penned is to compare it to an original signature.

Queen Victoria was a very prolific letter writer, to the extent that for those she corresponded with regularly, she would have envelopes printed. Although they would have been printed on her official stationery and hence would have her embossed cypher, they are extremely good reproductions of her handwriting. This process has caught out many collectors and in particular there is the famous letter of 1887, when Victoria wrote to thank members of her household for the present that they gave her to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. Even a major London auction house was caught out some years ago when they listed one of these items as being written in her hand.

From the reign of George V, you will find many commissions and civil awards which have been endorsed with a printed hand stamp.

When King Edward Vlll came to the throne in 1936, after the death of his father, many of his signed documents were also hand stamped. He simply would not have had enough time to sign personally the huge amount of documentation that went out from his office.

The auto pen process was first used by the Royal Family in the early 1960's, whereby Queen Elizabeth's signature (Elizabeth R) would be reproduced automatically. In particular, this applies to her Christmas cards, signed Elizabeth R and Philip, and care must be taken not to pay large sums for what are quite common items. When Prince Charles married Princess Diana, they also used the auto pen process for their Christmas cards, and there are unscrupulous dealers who do not differentiate between the auto pen and original signatures. Needless to say, there is a vast difference in the value of these items.

In certain circumstances, you will be parting with a substantial amount of money for rare royal ephemera. If you take the time to research them item before you agree to buy, you may save yourself both money and heartache. And once you have ascertained that you are dealing with reputable dealers, don't forget to ask them to provide a written guarantee of authenticity. If you do purchase an authentic item, you will almost undoubtedly have an asset which will increase in value in the future.
About the Author
Jim Hanson is a royal ephemera collector and dealer who has advised well known London auction houses. He has produced a set of 6 royal ephemera newsletters, featuring monarchs from Queen Victoria to Princess Diana. These are available from his website: http://www.royalephemera.com
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