Bob Dylan issued a rare public statement Friday night to admit that he “regrets” having made “an error in judgment” in using machine technology to affix duplicate signatures to artwork and books that were advertised and sold as hand-signed over the past three years.
He says the use of autopen signatures only occurred since 2019, when he was afflicted with a case of vertigo, and on through the pandemic, when he was not able to have staff assist him with the hand-signing he had previously done. Dylan says was given “the assurance that this kind of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the art and literary worlds.” Now that it has come to light and stirred controversy, the singer-songwriter says, “I want to rectify it immediately. I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that.”
More from Variety
Other musicians have been suspected of using autopen for purportedly hand-signed items, and in rare instances have even owned up to it, but the others have not been selling art prints that routinely sell for $3,000 to $15,000, as Dylan’s art prints do. Dylan’s statement indicating that he has used for autopen to sign artwork follows Simon & Schuster’s admission one week ago that a batch of $600 autographed copies of Dylan’s new book, “Philosophy of Modern Song,” had been machine-signed, with refunds immediately offered.
A gallery that has specialized in selling Dylan art prints, the U.K.-based Castle Galleries, issued a statement Saturday to say it was “reaching out to each and every one of our collectors who purchased any print from the (pertinent) editions to offer a solution to fully rectify the matter.”
Dylan’s statement, published on his Facebook account, says that he did hand-sign everything that was advertised as such up until 2019. It reads as follows:
“To my fans and followers, I’ve been made aware that there’s some controversy about signatures on some of my recent artwork prints and on a limited edition of ‘Philosophy Of Modern Song.’ I’ve hand-signed each and every art print over the years, and there’s never been a problem,” the statement begins.
“However, in 2019 I had a bad case of vertigo and it continued into the pandemic years. It takes a crew of five working in close quarters with me to help enable these signing sessions, and we could not 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 sign anything and the vertigo didn’t help. With contractual deadlines looming, the idea of using an auto-pen was suggested to me, along with the assurance that this kind of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the art and literary worlds.”
Dylan’s statement concludes, “Using a machine was an error in judgment and I want to rectify it immediately. I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that. With my deepest regrets, Bob Dylan.”
It’s unknown whether plans to address the artwork situation would involve refunds — which could conceivably run into at least hundreds of thousands of dollars — or the less costly option of providing replacement prints that are truly hand-signed, if Dylan is now up to it — or some other unknown option. The “Philosophy of Modern Song” snafu, meanwhile, has already been addressed, with customers who bought the $600 limited edition of 900 books having already been refunded this week by Simon & Schuster.
Dylan’s reps did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Castle Galleries’ statement, also posted on Facebook, reads: “We were informed late yesterday that during the Covid 19 pandemic Bob Dylan used an autopen to sign several of his limited edition prints rather than his usual hand signature. These editions are: The Retrospectrum Collection prints and the Sunset, Monument Valley print which were released by us this year. We can confirm that all other editions were individually hand signed by Bob Dylan himself.”
The gallery’s statement continues: “We were entirely unaware of the use of autopen on these particular prints, and we sincerely apologize for the disappointment this may cause. We will be reaching out to each and every one of our collectors who purchased any print from the above editions to offer a solution to fully rectify the matter. Details on how we intend to resolve this matter will follow shortly.”
As of Sunday morning in the U.S., prints of hundreds of different Dylan paintings were still being advertised on Castle Galleries’ website, and as “hand-signed,” ranging in price from about 2700 pounds for the lowest-priced individual print to £14,500.00 (or about $17,500 U,S. dollars) for a boxed set of six. Many, if not most, of these items predate the period in which the singer-artist says he began using the machine technology, but collectors will no doubt be scrambling to figure out which side of the divide their prior purchases land on.
The unfolding controversy over Dylan’s use of autopen for items advertised as “personally hand-signed” was magnified by the extent to which his book publisher went to great pains to attest to the signatures’ authenticity, even sending the $600 limited-edition “Philosophy of Modern Songs” books out with a letter of authenticity signed by the publisher. Requests for refunds were initially refused, as Simon & Schuster continued to attest to the signatures’ authenticity, before admitting that a “mistake” had been made Nov. 20 and refunding hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchases this past week.
Not all fans are upset about the revelations about the signatures. On Dylan’s Facebook post expressing regrets about the autopen signatures, the thousand-plus responses that had been added by Sunday morning were overwhelmingly in favor of the singer, saying the duplications were no big deal to start with and/or that he did a stand-up thing in publicly apologizing. Many sympathized with Dylan over the vertigo he described himself as having experienced in 2019. (The artist’s statement did not say whether he still suffers from the condition.)
The website Autograph Live has been integral in tracking what turned out to be easily detectible duplicate signatures on the books, although there were 17 different variants of the signature ultimately detected as users of the site compared notes and screenshots.
Soon after the book duplicates came to light, users began comparing signatures on their far 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 a belief that what Dylan said in his Facebook statement is true — that prints signed prior to 2019 or 2020 do appear to have individually signed.
Dylan’s statement that he has suffered from vertigo is the first time this has been revealed to the public. The singer continues to be active, having resumed his vigorous touring routine with a highly acclaimed tour.
The post that has become a resource for those looking to compare notes on the machine-generated signatures was created by Jason Hicks, who posts as Jason H on Autograph Live, who tells Variety, “Celebrities need to be taught a lesson to stop 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 info as possible. … It’s been a sore thumb in this hobby since before I was born. If autopen technology advances, there’s a chance it may become undetectable, which is why we need to end its use ASAP.”
Van Morrison was recently accused in the forums of using autopen to sign CDs, although his management issued a statement denying it. Sinead O’Connor, however, owned up to doing it with her signed memoir, with no apologies. In both these instances, the disputed items were selling for less than $50, limiting the potential for uproar.
“The books which are signed,” said O’Connor, “I signed using a signature stamp as I was not in a position to hand write my name ten thousand times, which is how many I was asked to sign. My son was unwell as was I. So I stamped them myself. And it is my signature,” she contended. Nonetheless, many retailers withdrew O’Connor’s “autographed” books, which were selling for about $30, from sale.
Autopen is commonly used by elected officials and executives, but its use in the world of celebrities often leads to speculation and doubt in the world of signed collectibles. A video showing how the commonly available machines operate:
Best of Variety