Bob Dylan and publisher Simon & Schuster have apologized for selling books they claimed contained Dylan’s handwritten signature after fans realized the autographs were not genuine but automatic reproductions.
A collection of essays by Dylan, entitled The philosophy of modern song, was released in early November. About 900 copies of the book were marketed as a special edition signed by the musician and sold for $600, containing a letter of authentication from Simon & Schuster. However, collectors quickly took to social media after receiving the new version, pointing out the similarities between the signatures.
Signatures made by autopens — automated autograph machines — are flimsier than genuine signatures and typically contain machine-made pressure points at the beginning and end of each stroke, said Justin Steffman, an autograph authenticator at AutographCOA Authentication. Fans have found at least 17 different variations of auto-signatures in Dylan’s book, he said.
Dylan isn’t the first celebrity to be called out for using automated signatures. Autopens have become a widespread practice for books and CDs marketed as authentically signed in recent years, Steffman said. Fans have also accused stars like Brian Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Dolly Parton of using auto-signing machines. “Where is the quality control at these companies? Where is the integrity?” he asked.
Simon & Schuster initially balked at Dylan’s claims, said Steffman, who also runs an autograph collection group on Facebook. “The first day, everyone started emailing them asking for refunds,” he said. Collectors who contacted the publishing company to express concern that the signatures were created with a fountain pen were assured by Simon & Schuster representatives that this was not the case, according to comments on autograph forums.
But by November 20, the publisher released a public statement admitting the use of autopens. “To those who bought The philosophy of modern song limited edition, we want to apologize,” Simon and Schuster wrote in a tweet. “As it turns out, the limited edition books do not contain Bob’s original signature, but in a typed replica form.” The publisher added that it would offer refunds to customers.
Dylan apologized for the signatures days later in a Facebook post, where the musician said he started using autograph machines in 2019 after a severe case of vertigo and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dylan said autographs were ‘an error of judgement’
“With contract deadlines looming, the idea of using an automatic pen was suggested to me, along with the assurance that this sort of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the artistic and literary world,” Dylan said. “Using a car was an error of judgment and I want to rectify it immediately.” In addition, he admitted to using a pen to sign recent prints of his artwork and said he was working with gallery partners to resolve the issue. Castle Gallery, a UK gallery that sells Dylan’s prints, said it was unaware of the auto-signatures and would issue refunds to buyers, according to a Nov. 26 statement.
“People bought the books, $600 was a good price for Dylan,” Steffman said, adding that Dylan’s autographs are especially valuable because the musician rarely signs autographs in person. He estimated that while authentically signed books would have sold for $2,000 to $3,000 on the second-hand market, automated signatures bring the value down to $100. Ebay posts selling signed versions of The philosophy of modern songwhich have since been unlisted, included prices as high as $6,000.