Bob Dylan issued a rare public statement Friday night to admit he “regrets” “an error of judgment” in using machine technology to double-signature works of art and books that were advertised and sold as hand-signed in the past three years .
He says the use of autopen signatures has only appeared since 2019, when he suffered from dizziness, and during the pandemic, when he was unable to be helped by staff with the manual signature he had previously done. Dylan says he was “assured that this sort of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the art and literary world.” Now that it has come to light and sparked controversy, the singer-songwriter says: “I want to get it straight right away. I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that.”
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Other musicians have been suspected of using autopen for supposedly hand-signed items, and in rare cases have even owned them, but the others have not sold art prints that routinely sell for $3,000 to $15,000, such as the art prints by Dylan. Dylan’s statement that he used autopen to sign artwork follows Simon & Schuster’s admission a week ago that a batch of $600 autographed copies of Dylan’s new book, “Philosophy of Modern Song,” had been machine signed, with immediate refund.
A gallery specializing in the sale of Dylan art prints, the UK-based Castle Galleries, issued a statement on Saturday saying it “approached each of our collectors who purchased a print of the (relevant) editions to seek a solution to put the matter right.” Galleries that sold the recent artwork are believed to be announcing a plan early this week to resolve the issue.
Dylan’s statement, posted on his Facebook account, says he hand-signed everything advertised as such until 2019. It reads as follows:
“To my fans and followers, I have been made aware that there is some controversy regarding autographs on some of my recent artwork prints and on a limited edition of ‘Philosophy Of Modern Song’. I’ve hand-signed every art print over the years and there’s never been a problem,” the statement begins.
“In 2019, however, I was experiencing dizziness and that continued into the pandemic years. It takes a team of five working closely with me to make these signing sessions happen, and we couldn’t find a safe and workable way to complete what I needed to do while the virus was raging. So during the pandemic it was impossible to draw anything and the dizziness didn’t help. With contractual deadlines looming, the idea of using an automatic pen came to my mind, along with assurances that this sort of thing is done “all the time” in the arts and literary world.
Dylan’s statement concludes: “Using a machine was an error of judgment and I want to correct it immediately. I work with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that. With my deepest regret, Bob Dylan.”
It’s not known if plans to address the artwork situation will entail refunds – which could potentially run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars – or the cheaper option of providing replacement prints that are actually hand signed, if Dylan is up to it now – or some other unknown option. The “Philosophy of Modern Song” snafu, meanwhile, has already been addressed, with customers purchasing the $600 limited edition of 900 books already refunded this week by Simon & Schuster.
Dylan’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The statement from Castle Galleries, also posted on Facebook, reads: “Yesterday we were belatedly informed that during the Covid 19 pandemic, Bob Dylan used an auto pen to sign several of his limited edition prints instead of his usual signature. These editions are: The Retrospectrum Collection prints and the Sunset, Monument Valley print that we released this year. We can confirm that all other editions are individually hand signed by Bob Dylan himself.”
The gallery’s statement continues: “We were completely unaware of the use of autopen on these particular prints and we sincerely apologize for any disappointment this may cause. We will be reaching out to all of our collectors who have purchased a print of the above editions to provide a solution to fully rectify the matter. Details on how we plan to resolve this issue will follow shortly.”
As of Saturday morning, prints of hundreds of different Dylan paintings were still being advertised on the Castle Galleries website in the US as ‘hand signed’, ranging in price from around £2,700 for the lowest priced individual print to £14,500 .00. (or about $17,500 US dollars) for a boxed set of six. Many, if not most, of these items predate the time period when the singer-artist says he began using machine technology, but collectors will no doubt struggle to figure out which side of the divide their previous purchases fall on.
Not all fans are upset about the autograph revelations. On Dylan’s Facebook post expressing regret over the autopen signatures, the more than 1,000 comments added on Saturday morning were overwhelmingly in favor of the singer, saying the duplications weren’t an issue to begin with and/or that he took a stand. apologize in public. Many sympathized with Dylan for the vertigo he himself described as experiencing in 2019. (The artist’s statement did not say whether he still suffers from the condition.)
The Autograph Live website has been integral in tracking what turned out to be easily detectable duplicate signatures in the books, though it ultimately detected 17 different variants of the signature when users of the site compared notes and screenshots.
Shortly after the book’s duplicates came to light, users began comparing signatures on their much more expensive art prints and seemingly finding some identical signatures as well, albeit in what might be called auto-pencil. The general consensus on forums so far seems to be the belief that what Dylan said in his Facebook statement is true – that prints signed before 2019 or 2020 appear to be individually signed.
Dylan’s statement that he suffers from vertigo is the first time this has been revealed to the public. The singer remains active and has resumed his vigorous touring routine with a critically acclaimed tour.
The post that has become a resource for those looking to compare notes on the machine-generated signatures was made by Jason Hicks, who posts as Jason H on Autograph Live, who tells Variety, “Celebrities need to be taught a lesson to end this autopen practice for good, for the sake of our hobby. I despise autopen with a passion, which is why I spent countless hours creating that post, comparing photos, and organizing as much information as possible. … It’s been a sore thumb in this hobby since before I was born. As autopen technology advances, there is a chance it could become undetectable, which is why we need to end its use as soon as possible.”
Van Morrison was recently accused in the forums of using autopen to sign CDs, although his management issued a statement denying this. However, Sinead O’Connor admitted to doing it with her signed memoir, without apology. In both cases, the disputed items sold for less than $50, limiting the chance of a stir.
“The books that were signed,” O’Connor said, “I signed with a signature stamp because I wasn’t in a position to handwrite my name ten thousand times, and that’s the number I was asked to sign.” My son was unwell, as was I. So I stamped them myself. And it’s my signature,” she claimed. Nevertheless, many retailers pulled O’Connor’s “signed” books, which retailed for about $30, from sale.
One of the world’s most famous country singers was accused on forums far and wide last year of using autopen for a string of book and record releases; while there was never any public acknowledgment of the complaints, a publisher is said to have quietly accepted returns and issued refunds for items costing hundreds of dollars. Dylan’s publisher issued refunds without requiring consumers to return their books.
Autopen is often used by elected officials and executives, but its use in the celebrity world often leads to speculation and doubt in the world of autographed collectibles. A video showing how the commonly available machines work:
The unfolding controversy over Dylan’s use of autopen for items advertised as “personally hand-signed” was magnified by the extent to which Simon & Schuster went to great lengths to confirm the authenticity of the signatures in advertising and correspondence, even through the $600 limited-edition “Philosophy of Modern Song” books with a certificate of authenticity signed by the publisher. Requests for refunds were initially denied as the publisher continued to confirm the authenticity of the signatures, before admitting a “mistake” on Nov. 20 and refunding all purchases made in the past week.
If the publisher refunded the purchase price of the 900 books sold hand signed, that would amount to more than $500,000 in refunds paid out in the past week – a separate run of 90 signed books advertised as being for sale in the UK The value of Dylan’s real autograph was evident in listings on eBay showing attempts to resell the supposedly autographed books for thousands of dollars each before the autopen news wiped out their value.
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