Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Signature

Collecting the works of one’s favorite author goes well beyond the mere collection of any book written by the author. Serious collectors prize first-edition copies and pre-release copies. Even within this narrow scope, signed copies are more valued than unsigned copies. Thus, greater monetary value is placed upon signed first-edition or signed pre-release copies because the demand can be high.

Verifying the signature of an author long-deceased can be difficult. There tends to be fewer samples of their signature, and with the passage of time, those who knew the author (and their signature) become fewer and fewer. As such, it is easier for forged signatures to be passed off as genuine signatures. This is just as true with Kenneth Roberts’ signed books.

Before I go forward with this post, I must make a disclaimer – I am in no way an expert on Kenneth Roberts’ signature. I have only two samples of his signature. However, I have communicated with others who have his signature and have seen (via reputable websites) images of his signature to be able to recognize a legitimate signature and a forgery.

With that said, I recently received a copy of a Roberts book that contains a copy of Roberts’ signed name and an inscription. The individual who sent me the book informed me that the particular signed copy was in their uncle’s personal library (but no story on how he received the book). The uncle was an author himself and “a Son of the American Revolution, a member of the New York Historical Society, a descendent of the Schuyler families in New York and an avid reader and collector of History books and manuscripts…He was an expert on New York history.” I was excited to receive the book.

Upon the book’s arrival, I eagerly opened the signed copy, only to find that the signature did not seem to match the signatures of Kenneth Roberts that I’ve seen. The book also contained an inscription, and the message did not fit the tone and wording Roberts typically used. Below are images of two Roberts’ signature that I have – signatures that match many other verified Roberts’ signatures.

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

Roberts’ signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

Now, here is the inscription and signature of the book I recently received (I’ll call it the ‘questionable signature’):

This is the inscription and signature found in the book I received recently.

There are a few things to note regarding the differences:

  1. The questionable signature has a more flowing nature to it.
    1. The underscore starts high and has quick, short “swoop” down as the line continues to the right. Roberts has been known to underscore his signature, but the line is more straight with a slight downward tick at the end. Roberts’ lines are more “matter of fact”, where as the line in question has some flair to it.
    2. The first name and last name in the questionable signature are connected by the crossbar of the “t” in “Kenneth”. The crossbar crosses the “t” and continues into the “R” in “Roberts.” Roberts’ signature never does that. Further, the “R” in the questionable signature has a rather large loop before going into the “r’s” leg. Kenneth Roberts’ “r” has a very ill-defined and small loop.
    3. Note the “n’s” in “Kenneth” in the questionable signature. They are similar to the genuine signatures in that they have “peaks”. However, the similarities end there. With Roberts’ signature, there is the first “n” with its peaks, then a “valley” preceding the second “n” (with its peaks); one is able to distinguish between the two “n’s” in his first name. With the questionable signature, there is no “valley” between the two “n’s”. Rather, there are four consecutive “peaks” with no “valley”. Thus, there is little to no distinction between the two “n’s”.
    4. Kenneth Roberts’ signature has a distinctive “z” look to the “e” following the cursive “b” in “Roberts.” In the first two images, note how the “e” coming off the cursive “b” looks like an elevated cursive “z”. However, in the questionable signature, the “e” that follows the cursive “b” looks as a cursive “e” should.
    5. The “o” in Roberts’ genuine signature is not connected by the following “b”, whereas the “o” in the questionable signature is connected to the following “b”.
    6. The “b” in Roberts’ genuine signature looks like a malformed capital “V”, with the left side higher than the right side. The “b” in the questionable signature is a well-formed cursive “b.”
    7. The “th” in “Kenneth” varies as well. The genuine signature has a “pointy” “h”, whereas the questionable signature’s “h” has it’s appropriate loop and hump.
    8. Finally note the cross at the end of Roberts’ name in the questionable signature. Roberts has used a similar mark in some of his signatures (note the second image above). However, Roberts’ mark tends to be a compact, lower-case “x” as opposed to a cross.
  2. The inscription of the questionable signature does not sound like Kenneth Roberts:
    1. The first thing to note is that it is written as if someone else were writing on behalf of Roberts. The use of the definite article (the best wishes) and the possessive “of” (the best wishes of) give off red flags. An author, when signing a book, rarely (if ever?) writes in the third person (unless they are George Costanza).  I am not familiar with Roberts regularly writing an inscription; he generally reserved inscriptions for close friends or colleagues. Roberts’ normal practice was to just sign his name.
    2. Kenneth Roberts’ tone with other people (outside of his writings) were direct and to the point. Reading his I Wanted to Write and For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays indicate that he was a private man who had little time for fans and strangers. Further, he was an impatient man and disliked small talk or anything that lacked purpose. His personality is seen in his signature – the choppy, pointy nature to his signature point to a man with little time for ensuring a picturesque signature. The questionable signature, on the other hand, indicates someone who gives attention and care to one’s signature. Roberts’ signature says “Let’s get this over with”, whereas the questionable signature says “I care about you and want to give you a memento worth keeping.”

Because I’m no handwriting expert, I don’t want to call the last image a forgery. It is possible that someone inscribed the book with the intention of granting best wishes in the name of Kenneth Roberts, not on behalf of Roberts or as Roberts. That is, the inscription and signature were not written to be passed off as Roberts’ own. However, the way the inscription and signature appear gives me the impression that this is more than likely not the case; instead, it is a poor attempt at passing off a Kenneth Roberts’ signature.

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