Sunday, January 25, 2009

With the stroke of a pen – why signatures matter

Upon becoming President of the United States, Barack Obama almost immediately began to establish policy in a variety of areas by signing executive orders. The first acts of a presidency are often seen as symbolic, and the ritual of signing an executive order is witnessed and recorded as part of history.

Why do signatures hold so much power? Why does a president have to “sign” a bill? Wikipedia tells us that a signature serves as proof of a document’s identity and of the intent of an individual regarding that document. It also provides “evidence of deliberation and informed consent.” That may be the reasoning our founders used to require that Presidents sign bills into law.

The pens used for important signatures can themselves become prized keepsakes. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, “Even before President Obama signed his first executive orders, a pen was immortalized.” No fountain pen for this president - the specially designed black lacquer rolling ball pen features Obama’s signature along with the presidential coat of arms.

When a president signs a bill, it is common to see him using multiple pens to sign his name. What happens to those pens? Usually, those pens are given as souvenirs to legislators and others who played a role in developing that legislation.

For example, when President Lyndon Johnson used multiple pens to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the first pen was given to his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, while the second pen went to Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen, symbolizing the bipartisan support behind this legislation. And to add to the “signature” symbolism, the bill was signed 104 years to the day after President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill freeing slaves who were forced into working for the Confederacy.

Presidential signatures vary widely in terms of legibility – check out the samples from But I think it is safe to say that none of them match the glorious penmanship of the signature to end all signatures – that would be the signature of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. In fact, signing a document is sometimes referred to as “putting your John Hancock on it.”

Signatures can evoke powerful emotions – a signature made using a real pen with real ink is irrefutable evidence that a particular real person touched that document. When famous people sign their names for their fans, these “autographs” become mementos of the recipients’ encounters with celebrities. So if you find yourself lucky enough to have a document with the “John Hancock” of any celebrity – and you know it’s not just a reproduction or something signed by an “autopen”, trust Purple Raincoat to handle your souvenir with care and respect as we showcase it in a unique keepsake collage.

We got this card in the mail as a holiday “thank you” for participating in Obama’s campaign – ah, if this were only a real signature…

Purple Raincoat will take 50 percent off the first order we receive for a collage featuring on something actually signed by Barack Obama – if you’ve got something in hand, hand it over to us ASAP so you don’t miss out on this deal.

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