The Flourish of Names, Signatures from the Past and Present



     Can you believe this signature of Jacob (Jack) Lew, treasury secretary? I love it. No one else did. After all it was destined for an appearance on U.S. currency for the duration of his tenure.
You know those signatures on money?He was asked to submit a more legible signature to grace our money because his doodly signature was flat out denied!
And so he did submit a different one and maybe you’ve even got his new signature in your wallet right now.

BELOW: His revised signature, which was eventually deemed permissible:


“Signature” is Latin for “to sign.” They are unique to us as individuals, right? We all know signatures can have value if you’re in the public eye. Abraham Lincoln’s went for $748,000 in 1991. The value I see is in the prettiness of them; and also the varieties of expression.
Speaking of folks in the public eye… BELOW: Three examples of Johnny Depp’s public signature or ‘autograph.’ A tad phallic? Maybe it’s just me 🙂




BELOW: J.K. Rowling’s public signature, which incidentally is the fourth most valuable signature in the world. 


 James Dean’s signature is pretty pricey as is Shakespeare’s.  

BELOW: The signature of author Rick Riordan. I include this because I know someone who signs like this!



And why should people put signatures out there in the public eye, particularly when they are famous… What about forgery and identity theft?
It’s actually more common than one might think for celebrities and people in the limelight to conceal their true signatures by consistently signing a contrived version of their names. By keeping their true signatures away from prying eyes, they are protected.

“X” as a Signature

            “X” was a used as a signature when my husband was nearly completely paralyzed. We had a notary public and witnesses for documents. I gently guided his hand (as his power of attorney) to form the “X.” A signature is required to authenticate things like wills and deeds. Obviously, individuals do sign their full names when executing legal documents, if they can. Sometimes, though, individuals use only their initials or another identifying mark. For illiterate, incompetent, or disabled people, this mark is often  X.

BELOW: Signature of Mathew Carey (1760-1839), an influential publisher and political economist in the Early Republic of the United States. A native of Ireland, circa late 1700s? Now look at that “Y” loop there. It is a fancy ‘paraph.’ I like that word. I believe that’s what it’s called. John Hancock looped his “K” similarly to that ‘Y’…
(Paraphs are cool! There are such things as descenders and ascenders too meaning the letters exceed below or above the font, but I don’t want to get technical … I’m just addressing the aesthetics of signature.)
What I truly adore about this next one is the flourish… Look at that “Y.” The “M” and the “C” from the first and last names are pretty too.




And speaking of aesthetics and flourish! BELOW: Check out the curli-cues on Nathaniell Silvester’s signature. He came over as a colonist and settled at a plantation on Long Island on what was called Shelter Island in 1651. That’s a fancy one.


I’m saving my favorites for last. BELOW: A land transaction signing between the Van Rensselaer manor and the Native Americans. The Native American signatures are in pictographs.


BELOW: Note the Native American “signature” of (stick)men shaking hands, at the bottom of this document signifying a transaction concerning Shelter Island, Long Island.

I have to add, that just because it was signed by the Native Americans, I don’t believe it was because they fully understood they were giving up rights to land.



Hope you enjoyed my signature fetish! I will NOT end the piece with my own signature…security you know… Okay I WILL sign my name. Here you go:


Flourishes be with you-

On Jacob J. Lew’s loopy signature:

by Kim, author of Under The Banana Moon


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