Artists are notorious for creating a beautiful artwork and then signing it with an unreadable and illegible signature. Although frustrating to me as an appraiser, the value of the artwork is far more important than just the artist's signature, which is secondary.However, a recent letter to the-editor in a sports magazine caught my attention. The writer was complaining that all too many sports stars were charging a fee for signing autographs that were completely illegible. In the old days, when Babe Ruth signed an autograph, you knew it was Babe Ruth's. The writer further complained that a famous player recently charged for an autograph that was so illegible that you couldn't tell whether it was in English or Japanese.Of course, it's not just sports stars. The same holds true for authors, celebrities, politicians, movie stars, musicians, historical figures or anyone else famous whose autographs command value. If you can't read it, if it must be interpreted in order to sell it, should it still command a premium price? Should it have any value at all?And how about those famous person signatures that were actually signed by the boss's secretary, assistant, staff, or signature-writing machine? How can you be certain the autograph is authentic, and does it also have value?What determines the value of autographs? Generally, it is things like the following:~ Who signed it? How much in demand is that person's signature today?~ What was signed? A historically important document? A standard press photo? Or a napkin at a restaurant?~ How was it signed? Is it pen, pencil, Sharpie, or magic marker? Pencil is usually the least desirable.~ When was it signed? At the individual's career peak or long after retirement when they were no longer important or relevant.~ How well-remembered is that person today? Athletes who never made it, TV stars on long-forgotten series, or low-middle level politicians? These may never have much collectible value.~ Condition? This will be extremely important.~ Is the autograph legible? This is also extremely important, at least to me.~ Can the autograph be guaranteed with a 100-percent certainty? Again, this is clearly important.~ How many are available? Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs was a great ball player who signed an autograph for nearly anyone who asked. Because he was such a nice guy, his autographs command far less than others who signed fewer autographs, because he signed so many.~ How many fakes are out there? An excessive number of fakes within the marketplace can kill demand for specific legitimate autographs.Personally, I agree with the letter to the editor writer. If you can't read it, it's not worth nearly as much as a legible autograph. And I will never pay for such an autograph. But that's just my opinion. What do you think?What's it worth? Recently, I purchased a grouping of mostly illegible autographs of professional boxers from the 1980s. My client's husband had collected these from boxing matches he attended in Atlantic City casinos. Most were low-level boxing card chumps who never made it very far and who are remembered by no one today. Value is basically zero because no one wants them. There was a "Jersey Joe Walcott" autograph, signed well after his fighting days were over, signed on a blank partial piece of paper, actually worth perhaps $50-$100 if I could find anyone still interested in professional boxing today (can we say UFC?). And is anyone the least bit interested in "Jersey Joe Walcott" today? Maybe I'll try eBay and see what happens.Mike Ivankovich is an auctioneer, appraiser, home downsizing expert, and host of the "What's It Worth? Ask Mike the Appraiser" radio show. Now in its fifth year, "What's It Worth" airs live on Friday mornings from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. on WBCB 1490 AM in the greater Philadelphia area. It is available on the internet at www.WBCB1490.com. Listeners can also visit his radio show website at www.AskMikeTheAppraiser.com.To contact Mike Ivankovich, call 215-264-4304.