Jack Lew, nominated for treasury secretary, uses a series of loops as his
signature. Which is fine for him personally, but may appear odd on U.S.
currency. President Barack Obama said Lew "assures me that he is going to work
to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency."
Examining Lew's signature, some experts theorized that he might be hiding
something or that he was "the cuddly sort." Let's get beyond speculation and
put 10 facts into ink:
1. A flourish at the end of a signature is called a paraph.
2. Bogus signatures on candidate petitions are as Chicago as peppers on a hot dog. A common tactic is "roundtabling," in which people sit around a table and take turns signing petitions, using names from a phone book or making them up. We might have a different president today if Illinois state Sen. Alice Palmer's petitions had been better in 1996. Instead, they had names like "Superman," "Batman" and "Pookie." A newcomer named Barack Obama filed a challenge, knocked the incumbent off the ballot and went on to win his first elective office.
3. For a time in the 1980s, Steve Martin didn't give autographs. Instead, he passed out cards that included a copy of his signature and the words "This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny." But he gave it up because "I found people didn't quite get it."
4. Joseph Cosey was one of the most famous forgers in U.S. history. Working in the early 20th century, he specialized in faking the signatures and penmanship of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, but he also inked an entire original draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. His forgeries themselves became collectors items, selling for hundreds of dollars.
5. John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence has been shrouded in myth. Many think the Founding Fathers signed in unison on July 4, 1776, with Hancock penning an oversized signature and declaring, "I guess King George will be able to read that." But, in fact, most of the delegates signed the document Aug. 2, and others waited even longer -- as late as 1781. Hancock's supposed quote didn't make it into the literature until well after the events -- a likely sign that it was invented.
6. As the Soviet army fought its way into Berlin in April 1945, a middle-aged bureaucrat-turned-soldier named Walter Wagner was brought to a bunker. There he officiated at the marriage of a couple he had never met, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. When Braun signed the marriage certificate, she started to use her old name and had to cross out the B and write "Hitler." Wagner also had trouble with his signature -- he wrote a double A in his own last name, which historian John Toland attributes to his nervousness.
7. For years, one of the most frequent tax return errors was forgetting to sign it. The signature was so important that even with the advent of electronic filing in 1986, the IRS still required e-filers to send in a form that included their signature. It wasn't until 2002 that the government allowed a PIN to supplant the taxpayer's authentic John Hancock.
8. William Shakespeare's father signed documents with a mark -- a drawing of glover's tools -- rather than his name. Some believe he knew how to read but not to write.
9. The first national group dedicated to collecting autographs was formed in Chicago in 1948. Despite being called the National Society of Autograph Collectors, the group wanted to make one thing clear: Its members were serious historians. The Tribune first reported about the group in a short story headlined, "Do you collect autografs, or merely names?" The group's first secretary, E.B. Long, answered that question, calling name collectors "bobby-soxers who run around asking people for their signatures." The NSAC changed its name to The Manuscript Society in 1953 to further emphasize that its members "are not just autograph seekers."
10. When Chicago author Nelson Algren signed his autograph, he liked to include a drawing of a cat.
SOURCES: "Shakespeare: A Life" by Park Honan; "Hitler" by John Toland; "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama" by David Remnick; "The Last Days of Hitler" by Hugh Trevor-Roper; "Casell's Dictionary of Slang" by Jonathon Green; "Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History" by Richard Shenkman; "The Quote Verifier" by Ralph Keyes; "Chicago's Nelson Algren" by Art Shay; "Great Forgers and Famous Fakes" by Charles Hamilton; "History in Your Hand: Fifty Years of the Manuscript Society" by John M. Taylor; manuscript.org; Heritage Historical Manuscripts Auction #6019; Journal of Accountancy; Internal Revenue Service; The Guardian; The Associated Press; snopes.com
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