Modern Living: Signed in Gold

It took only three minutes to sell lot No. 216 at Manhattan's Swann Galleries last week. The item, bound in two gilt-tooled morocco volumes, was bought at auction by a Philadelphia lawyer for $120,000. The price made history. The item was history: autographs of all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Autographs (or holographs), as distinct from mere signatures, are by definition documents in the author's handwriting — preferably signed by him. Their value depends on rarity, content —usually their historic significance — and the writer's eminence. With inflation and the uncertain stock market, many buyers have turned to autographs and...

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