Tag Archives: forgeries

CAVEAT EMPTOR, IN THE MATTER OF LOUIS AND HIS GREEN PEN

To the right of me, next to this keyboard, I have an index card that Louis Armstrong signed for me in April 1967.  And I’ve seen many examples of his angular handwriting, the idiosyncratic crabbed loops and slurred letters that a person who signs his name millions of times does.

I love eBay and visit it often — sometimes to purchase an out-of-print CD or book, sometimes to browse.  Readers of this blog know that I have returned from my time at the monitor with surprises that I share.

Today, however, I offer an unsolicited yet short lesson in authenticity.  I am not a certified specialist in autographs, but I know Louis’ signature as I know his voice.  And I am startled to find forgeries being offered at high prices.  I’ve given up contacting the sellers, because although they may be innocent (or is it ignorant) they assert that the consigner said the signature was genuine. (Incidentally, I’ve discussed with others a forged Coltrane “manuscript,” and other debatable autographs.  I know that there are “fan” signatures — the star’s secretary signs a photograph and sends it off, but the inauthentic Louis signatures are more egregious to me.)

Here, for instance, is a 1949 letter that is clearly Louis: not only the handwriting, but the individualistic prose style, the punctuation, and the sentiments:

LOUIS LETTER ABOUT BING 1949

And, by the way, the writer’s love for Poppa Bing is also genuine.

Here’s an autograph that also strikes me as the real thing:

LOUIS (DEC'D) TRUMPETER autograph

I love that the seller identifies Louis as “(DEC’D) TRUMPETER.

LOUIS to Chris Clufetos real

Above is a genuinely warm inscription to Chris Clufetos, known better as Chris Clifton, whom Louis befriended.

Here’s an inscription in Wild Bill Davison’s copy of HORN OF PLENTY, the Robert Goffin book about Louis.  Again, visibly genuine:

LOUIS to WBD

Are you beginning to get the idea?  Now, does this signature below resemble the others?

LOUIS serious fake sig

This one’s a harder test, but I have faith in my readers:

LOUIS Pennies fake sig

Now, here’s the real thing.  Forget that some eBay sellers know that the average buyer is trusting and perhaps naive; forget that some people on both sides of the deal are not well-informed.

Good luck!  Anyone can use a green pen, but there is only one Louis.  Keep hustlin’ and bustlin’ for the real thing. Make your dream come true.

May your happiness increase!

I KNOW THIS ONE’S AUTHENTIC: G.W., APRIL 2, 1945

A long time ago, my friend (and expert collector) David Weiner and I had a discussion about autographs and the proliferation of forgeries.  I remember him saying, “If something is too neat, there’s always the possibility that the bandleader’s secretary signed it.  Real autographs, done when the star is leaning against a building, are always messy.”

(This is especially true for artists whose calligraphy wasn’t Palmer-perfect, such as Louis Armstrong.  If the signature is all graceful loops and swirls, it’s fake.)

Here’s a lovely example: one of my heroes, drummer (and painter) George Wettling, signing a fan’s autograph book on April 2, 1945:

GW 1945 auto

Without the identifying picture, I wouldn’t have recognized this as a Wettling autograph.  But it’s clearly authentic because it is so unclear.  And it’s valuable because of that.  Here is the eBay link — in case you want something genuine to remember one of the greatest (and least celebrated) jazz percussionists ever.

And here’s some sonic evidence:  

The other heroes are Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Bob Wilber, Gene Schroeder, Leonard Gaskin — supervised for Columbia Records by George Avakian.

George Wettling continues to uplift and propel my imagination.

May your happiness increase!

BY THEIR OWN HAND(S)!

I visit eBay intermittently, to see what marvels are there.  Some of the artifacts simply make me wonder.  A fairly constant stream of obvious forgeries of Louis’ very distinctive signature.  Autographed pictures of voluptuous women tenor saxophonists.

Even more autographs from Dave Brubeck and Les Paul — I wonder how much time, in their final years, these aging giants spent signing every and anything pushed in front of them.

But here are some extraordinary sightings.

A first edition of Eddie Condon’s WE CALLED IT MUSIC (1947) inscribed to Kid Ory:

EDDIE CONDON to KID ORY

The inscription reads: “Dear Ory, This copy is somewhat battered from being dragged about the country in a flannel banjo case, kicked under tables of basement dinners, and spotted with licorice gin and cigarette burns. (You know how rowdy the crowds in Zibart’s are, especially when it comes to their last copy). See you at Eddie’s. Your’n, Satcho”.

BOJANGLES 1929A truly glorious autographed photo of Bill Robinson, 1929.

Here are a few people I celebrate, but whose autographs I rarely see.

OMER SIMEON 1958

The wondrous clarinetist Omer Simeon.

CHARLIE TEAGARDEN

The underrated trumpeter Charlie Teagarden, Jack’s younger brother.

FRANK CARLSON

Woody Herman’s Decca-period drummer, Frank Carlson, promising to return.

HERB COWENS

Drummer Herbert “Kat” Cowans and his little band — hot felines, no doubt.  Does anyone recognize the Kittens, one by one?

JACK TEAGARDEN

The 1962 recording, MIS’RY AND THE BLUES, signed by Jack Teagarden, Don Goldie, and Stan Puls.

Here’s Mister Tea in 1950-1, surrounded by giants: Louis, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole.  Usually only Louis signed in green ink; did he pass his fountain pen around for everyone to use?

LOUIS ALL-STARS 1951

And here’s another real Louis signature (as a public service, so that you can recognize the banal forgeries when they appear):

LOUIS

Finally, a treasure:FATS RECEIPT

I saved the best for last.

One hundred dollars was a great deal of money in 1936.  But Fats had it backwards.  We owe him, and still do.

May your happiness increase!