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Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier , title page
First page of Mozart's Ave verum
Beginning of Beethoven's later E major sonata (op.109)

The autograph , also called autograph , is the handwritten writing of an author (usually a famous personality) or a composer . As a public and private collector's item, autographs are particularly valued when they have a signature .


The word autograph goes back etymologically via late Latin autographum and Latin autographus to Greek αὐτόγραφος autógraphos "self-written".

The genitive is the autograph . In the majority, the inflection fluctuates: the autographs or the autographs .

The mere handwritten signature is called an autograph , especially the signature of a celebrity.

Acquisition, development and data security

Not only for medieval authors is the existence of the handwritten writing of great text-critical importance for the edition .

Autographs of famous personalities have been collected since the 16th century, and in some cases they did not shy away from removing signatures or other handwritten lettering from their original context, for example by cutting them out of the documents or by removing pages from the register . One example is the Dresden Reformers' Bible .

The large autograph collectors include a. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Stefan Zweig as well as Karl August Varnhagen von Ense , Eduard Mörike , Johannes Brahms and Elise von Koenig-Warthausen (1835–1921). Even Karl von Holtei collected autographs. A special collection area are the family books (album amicorum) that have been in fashion since the 16th century .

Archives and libraries traditionally differ in the way they treat autographs. While handwritten documents such as letters from rulers remain in archives in the context of files and are usually not cataloged separately, the autographs are recorded individually in libraries, for example in estate holdings . Since 1966 autographs have been reported to the “Central Card Index of Autographs” (ZKA). In recent times it has been possible to record autographs and personal papers directly in the central database of the Kalliope network using a client .

Various autograph collections have been digitized in whole or in part for a number of years and made available on the Internet.


Autographs are sold by second-hand bookshops . The world's leading auction house for autographs in Germany is the autograph dealer JA Stargardt in Berlin (founded in 1830). Special antiquarian stores are Kotte Autographs GmbH (Roßhaupten) in Germany and Les Autographes Thierry Bourdin (Paris) in France. In Austria, the company Gilhofer & Ranschburg, founded in Vienna in 1883, was a leader for a long time and is now represented by its successor, Inlibris, Gilhofer Nfg .

See also


  • Gilles Cantagrel : Music manuscripts - music manuscripts from 10 centuries - from Guido von Arezzo to Karlheinz Stockhausen , translated from the French by Egbert Baqué, Knesebeck, Munich 2005, ISBN 978-3-89660-268-8 . - Color picture book with over 300 pictures, including 100 reproduced autographs (sheet music and scores by Johann Sebastian Bach , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , Ludwig van Beethoven , Richard Wagner , Giuseppe Verdi , Karlheinz Stockhausen and others).
  • Pedro Corrêa do Lago: documents - autographs from seven centuries , foreword: Carlo Ginzburg , Gerstenberg, Hildesheim 2005, ISBN 978-3-8067-2939-9 . - Color picture book with 350 reproduced autographs, annotated in detail by the collector Pedro Corrêa do Lago (* 1958, head of the Brazilian National Library) and placed in their historical-biographical context. All documents are transcribed and translated in the appendix .
  • Günther Mecklenburg: From collecting autographs. Attempt to portray its nature and history in the German-speaking area. Marburg 1963. - Basic work on the autograph trade and its history.

Web links

Wikisource: Musicians' Autographs  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. See Wilhelm Gemoll: Greek-German school and manual dictionary. Munich / Vienna 1965.
  2. Michael Sachs: 'Prince Bishop and Vagabond'. The story of a friendship between the Prince-Bishop of Breslau Heinrich Förster (1799–1881) and the writer and actor Karl von Holtei (1798–1880). Edited textually based on the original Holteis manuscript. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 35, 2016 (2018), pp. 223–291, here: pp. 283 f.
  3. ^ Christian Andree : Karl von Holtei as an autograph collector. With a reprint of the catalog of the Holteiische autograph collection. In: Christian Andree, Jürgen Hein (ed.): Karl von Holtei (1798–1880). A Silesian poet between Biedermeier and realism. Würzburg 2005, pp. 349-397.
  4. ^ Christian Andree : JA Stargardt: Autograph auction. In: Karl H. Pressler (Ed.): From the Antiquariat. Volume 8, 1990 (= Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel - Frankfurter Ausgabe. No. 70, August 31, 1990), pp. A 348 - A 350, here: p. A 348.