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My intention here is not to attempt to instruct or explain how to identify a genuine Yuri Gagarin autograph or detect a forgery or answer any questions about them, but rather, it is to present a wide range and variety of examples from various sources, while providing some information and theories about his autograph and signing history. My humble attempt here, however, will do little towards solving the mystery that surrounds Yuri Gagarin's autograph.

  Most would agree that the two most famous and historic of all the hundreds of astronauts and cosmonauts are Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. A hundred years from now, only two names are certain to appear in the history books about man's early exploration of space, and those two names will be Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong.

While much is known about Neil Armstrong's autograph and signing history, little is known for certain about Yuri Gagarin's. Gagarin had a relatively short time to autograph, from the time of his one orbit Vostok 1 earth orbital flight in 1961, to his death in a plane crash in 1968.

But one thing that is known for sure is that Gagarin was a cooperative and willing signer in public. He made many appearances and tours and many people obtained his autograph when meeting him in person. It is said that most of those who approached Gagarin for his autograph often had only mundane objects for him to sign, such as napkins, scraps of paper and newspapers. And these signed objects were often put away as family treasures - something tangible to keep from the first man in space. There was no autograph collecting tradition and no autograph dealers in the Soviet Union during that time.

But little is known for certain or agreed on concerning how requests for Gagarin's autograph were handled and responded to that were sent to him from around the world. There are three very different theories or possibilities about how mailed-in requests were handled.

After studying and analyzing Yuri Gagarin's signature for a while, it can be seen what a simple but interesting signature it is.
  One theory is that Gagarin personally signed everything mailed to him, but to many this seems unlikely. A second theory is that if he was even allowed by the Soviet authorities to receive autograph requests sent thru the mail, at least some number were handled and signed by secretaries, who were officially directed to do so. This second theory seems possible, but is debunked by some, including some very knowledgeable USSR and Cosmonaut authorities. This "secretary story" has been in existence for many years, but can't be proven anymore than Gagarin signed everything himself that was sent to him. A third theory is that no mailed-in requests for Gagarin's autograph ever reached him because of the extreme secrecy of Star City, the super-secret Cosmonaut Training Center. This third theory is supported by several early Cosmonauts, including Alexi Leonov, who were directly involved with Gagarin.

Yet even another scenerio has recently surfaced that Gagarin, in his last years, was lonely with little to do, and enjoyed responding to fan mail.

But if there is one thing for certain, it is that forgeries of Yuri Gagarin's signature exist and probably do so in large numbers. These fakes, unlike the possible officially sanctioned secretarial signatures, have been intentionally created by dishonest people to defraud and deceive for monetary gain. Separating authentic Gagarin signatures from those not authentic is the main problem for those of us who collect Gagarin's autograph and should be for those who sell them.

However, the problem and difficulty of separating the authentic from the fake hasn't stopped various entrepreneurs from gladly and busily offering and selling Gagarin signatures. The large number of Gagarin signatures available belie the fact that signatures of someone who signed for only 7 years, over 35 years ago, would be so plentiful and easy to find.

Superior Stamp and Coin, later Superior Galleries, began putting Gagarin signed items in their auctions shortly after they entered the space collectibles market in the early 1990's. They have a history of offering and selling many and varied Gagarin autographs, with their high water mark in their Fall 2000 auction, with 66 Gagarin autograph examples.

The two biggest problems regarding Gagarin's autograph are, first, there is so little information and knowledge known and available to guide those desiring his autograph and, second, there aren't any true experts to ask for advice. So those interested in buying a genuine autograph by the first man in space have no choice but to buy mostly blind and hope and trust that those who sell Gagarin autographs know what they are selling and have used great effort to verify the autograph's authenticity.

Perhaps buying a Gagarin autograph in an auction is the riskiest way to buy one. Auctions don't ordinarily divulge the names of their consignors and their material comes from many different, and to bidders, anonymous, sources. When a very knowledgeable and respected Russian space collectibles dealer contacted Superior out of concern over a number of very questionable Cosmonaut autographs in one of their auctions, including Gagarins, their reply was that they trust their consignors and if any problems arise, they offer the money back - within 30 days.

The same Russian dealer, while in Moscow, was offered 50 Gagarin signed items at only $5 each but declined. Later he saw them on eBay, offered by various sellers, and all with high feedback records. The same dealer stated that he did not know of a single dealer specializing in Soviet/Russian Cosmonaut autographs before eBay made selling of such so easy and profitable.

  On the left are two autograph collages assembled from a number of Gagarin autographed items. Those with letters will have information and comments provided below.
(A) Examples of five Gagarin signed portrait cards that are always popular with buyers.
(B) Many feel that items with inscriptions added stand a better chance of being authentic. Forgers generally avoid inscriptions.
(C) From eBay comes a signed book said to be signed by Gagarin, at top, and several other early Cosmonauts, including Komorov, Belayev and Leonov.
(D) This cover from Superior's Spring 1999 auction sold for $1,323 and is said to be signed by Gagarin and Alan Shepard. Most of those who are knowledgeable about astronaut and cosmonaut signatures probably would not put either in the authentic category.
(E) One of the Gagarin signed covers from the well-known official Kniga set of Cosmonaut signed covers. These Kniga covers are usually advertized as the only way to acquire an "automatic" genuine Gagarin autograph.
(F) Signed photos of Gagarin with others are popular, such as this photo of Gagarin with Sergei Korolev.
(G) Covers (envelopes) signed by Gagarin are plentiful, including this example in Superior's Fall 1995 auction that sold for over $1,000.
(H) From Superior's Fall 2001 auction.
(I) In Superior's Spring 1999 auction.
(J) Even stamps are seen with Gagarin signatures, such as this example that sold to a stamp lover for $1,495 in Superior's Fall 1995 auction.

When you buy a Yuri Gagarin autograph you are often buying something with no known history or provenance and often from someone who may know no more than you do about Gagarin's autograph. So often about all a buyer can do is hope that what he is getting is genuine - not a very good way to spend hundreds of dollars.

In conclusion, it will be left to others to provide a place to show and instruct how authenticity of Gagarin's autograph can be determined. My intention is to show the many and varied styles and varieties of Gagarin autographs available and leave it to the collector to decide for himself what may be genuine and what may not be.