Studying the Hand that Signs the Paper

US president Barack Obama’s signature has been likened to a baby tyrannosaurus rex playing with a ball of yarn. But does his signature have anything to say about the man? Perhaps he identifies as a baby tyrannosaurus, or maybe he just likes to play with balls of yarn - doesn’t everyone?

Graphologists claim that studying a signature can reveal the personality traits (here’s how) of the signer. Superstition or science? Classified an “entertainment” in the US until 1989, in France, where graphology was developed in the 19th century, up to 80% of firms still use graphologists - whether freelance or employed in their personnel departments - to assess job applicants.

Whatever it may or may not reveal about the signer, the signature has over time come to be a powerful symbol of individuality - so much so that its power to identify us as individuals is legally binding. A false signature can land us in prison, as can a legitimate signature on a broken contract, even if it’s been misunderstood or left unread. Signatures are subject to copyright law. The digital revolution has opened up a whole new thorny debate about the legal validity of digital signatures. And the signature of someone who enjoys celebrity status has a whole other status, so much so that it’s given a whole other term: the autograph. There are six known examples of Shakespeare’s autographs, all held by institutions and thus not for sale, but one collectibles website estimates their value at US$3 million each.