Episode 48: Signature – Part 2

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected where you will discover the history of things you did not know even had a history, like the history of the lean or the history of pockets.

For this episode let us join the papal legate of legacies, Dr Sam Willis, and the Aladdin of the annals, Professor James Daybell, as they rubber stamp the unexpected history of the signature.

Join our two autograph hunters as, with their characteristic flourish, they lead us on a cursive jaunt from an example of workers protest in a sailor’s round robin written in the 1620s to the social hierarchies within the Tudor court, from the Swedish navy in 1610 and state ambition to the short reign of Lady Jane Grey and familial aspirations, and from the supposed personal traits shown in Henry VIII’s handwriting to Nelson’s attempts at his own signature after the amputation of his right arm.

James and Sam sign their X’s on the line and discover that this unexpected history is actually all about; complaints and obligations, mutiny and protest, deference and submission, display and power, education and humanist learning, female rule and enterprise, but definitely nothing to do with Henry VIII’s urges!

Listen out as Sam and James practice their left handed signatures – show us yours!


The most expensive signature to date is that of George Washington, signed on the first page of his own personal copy of the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the First Congress. The book sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for $9.8 million and is currently displayed at the Washington Presidential Library in the White House.

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