Are signed historical documents a good investment?

Have you found a priceless treasure? Find out if owning a piece of history is worthwhile


Ownership of a document with potential historical significance can lead to a heady sense of pride... You might think to yourself, "Lord Admiral Nelson actually touched this with his own hands, and now it's mine!"

It can be easy to get carried away with the excitement of the search for a fragment of history, and that is why it's so important to remember a few essential rules, when seeking out valuable signed documents. Within this article, we will cover a few areas that will help you find signed papers worth investing in. 


What makes a signed historical document valuable? 


The Signee

For generations, people have preserved and treasured signed papers, yet not all of them are actually valuable.

A document's worth is determined by three factors:

1) the celebrity and prominence

2) the document's content and context

3) its condition.

A document's signee should be a household name and someone that an ordinary person may have heard of, in order for it to be valuable... Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers, Presidents, well-known authors, explorers, artists, and scientists, Nobel Laureates, astronauts, innovators, and anybody else who has made a significant contribution to society. It's crucial to have a well-known name, and after we've got that, it is imortant to look at the document itself.


Winston Churchill - letter (1874-1965); a hand-written letter dated 15th January 1906

Sold for £1,000


Context of the document

Based on the content and context of the document, a spectrum of values exists for each person who views it.

Autograph hunters have always pushed autograph books, or written letters to the famous requesting signatures, and often acquired a hurriedly written card or note. Signatures have even been known to be viciously cut from perfectly acceptable letters that would have enhanced the value of the signature.

The lowest end of each signee's value range is represented by clipped signatures and signed cards with no text. The value increases as the letter, document or book's substance become more important, and the context's relevance approaches the source of the signee's reputation.

An original letter from Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), written whilst aboard HMS Victory only a few months before his death

Sold at Dawsons for £2,200


Knowledgeable collectors 

The more collectors there are across the globe who have a particular passion for collecting signed documents relating to a specific signee, the more the value of a signed document relating to that signee will increase when sold at auction (or privately). After all, someone who is a keen admirer or follower of the signee will be willing to pay more than someone who is not, and the more admirers there are willing to bid - the higher the value will soar. 


Robert Falcon Scott CVO (1868-1913): A large and comprehensive archive of ephemera from and relating to Captain Scott

Sold at Dawsons for £8,500



If the paper underneath the signature is torn, the ink has faded, or the document has been significantly damaged by mould, it would significantly affect the value of the item. The subject of condition may be perplexing for new collectors, and the desire to obtain a good deal has caused many to purchase inferior items. Excellent condition material is more valuable because it retains its worth. It is also far more desirable for a collector to own and potentially display.

One of 3 handwritten letters by English cleric John Wesley (one of the founders of Methodism)

Sold at Dawsons for a collective £8,300


Historic document collecting is all about respect for the past, and the collector often has the intention of helping preserve a precious moment in time - a window into history. A wise collector will always carefully research and analyse any potentially valuable signed papers before purchasing them. When you collect with high standards, you'll end up with a collection of papers that is worth more.


In conclusion, signed historical documents can certainly be worth the investment. Remember that that better condition you keep your signed documents, letters or books, and the longer you keep them for, the more they will be worth. 


If you have any historical signed documents, letters, or perhaps a book that you would like to have valued with a view to selling at auction, please do get in touch with one of our expert Valuers.

We would love to hear from you: / 0207 431 9445