Q: I own a certified Winston Churchill autograph on a photo of him in front of his home. It's quite valuable. The black signature on the gray portion of his belt has faded to the point that I can't see it. Is there anything I can do to darken the signature again?
A: My answer is this: Hands off! Back away from the signature. Do. Not. Touch.
Actually, I have several caveats for the writer. But let's cover his main question first.
We asked Joe Orlando, president of PSA/DNA - psadna.com) - for input. A California sports authentication service that deals with trading cards and original photos, the company also authenticates and sells sports, entertainment, and historical autographs.
PSA has newly launched Autograph Facts, a link showing legit autographs from a wide spectrum of celebrities and important figures. Look for it on the site.
Smart collectors know that the major issue behind any signature is if it is authentic. According to Orlando, another key factor is condition.
Mess with any signature, and you've changed it. In some goods, such as antique and rare porcelains, some kinds of restorations are sometimes tolerated. In fact, specific very early porcelain restorations sometimes enhance value.
But, said Orlando, collectible signatures are valuable only when they remain as written. Altering one in any manner gets to the very core of a signing.
Even restoring a tear in a photo that has been signed is dicey. Most collectors won't touch the idea.
Another caveat is that damage or restoration must be disclosed at resale. Of course, any doctoring affects value.
Note that we're talking about collected celebrity or historical signatures. Family photos of Aunt Blanche and the kids are another matter.
Looking over recent sales of Churchill signatures, we found results of $676 and $934 within the last months. Each was intact.
Asked if darkening the signature on Churchill's belt would affect value, Orlando replied, "It would virtually destroy value."
Our reader may cheer up when he learns that a photo of Churchill at his home, Chartwell, may, depending on when in his career it was taken, have more collector appeal than a studio stock shot.
Fewer signed photos of the statesman come to market. Most Churchill signatures are on documents, envelopes, or the like.
Also, counsels Orlando, "people will accept a light autograph," while they will veto a touch-up.
"As long as it's there to the naked eye, there is eye appeal," he added. Signature collectors can be forgiving provided the signing is pure.
To protect it from further fading, keep the photo away from light and heat. Store it in acid-free paper or on display under UV protected glass.
Now, let's talk about how that photo is certified. Was it evaluated by a legitimate, respected grading service (a third party), or by the seller? Everything, including authenticity and possible value, is iffy unless the signature has been professionally and independently vetted.
Q: My house is full of collectibles like Hot Wheels and Pokemon, antiques (lamps), coins, and quilts, paintings, decanters, tea cups, etc. How do I find an appraiser to come to our house? Online appraisers I found specialize in one field or another. We're moving to a rental and need a figure for renter's insurance.
A: The reader adds that the goal is "enough coverage."
Frankly, unless there are other items of great value, I'm sure those mentioned would be covered reasonably in a standard policy.
With that many disparate items, individual itemization will be painstaking, time consuming work. Appraisers charge by the hour. Are you sure you want to go this route? I'm thinking that surely you can set a rate of coverage that you can live with.
If appraisal is a must, perhaps a local antiques or collectibles dealer or house sale specialist can come in to look over the collections. Be sure to have all costs worked out before you sign any agreement. A contract is best.
"Classic Country" by Kathryn Ireland - perhaps you've seen her on Bravo's "Million Dollar Decorators" - (Gibbs Smith $24.99) highlights the decorator's trademark cozy yet upscale interiors. Her signature looks are quilts aka patchwork, textures and studied casual. Ireland has an especially deft hand with vintage fixtures plus modern comfort.
Q: What area of Mexico has a rich history of creating masks and puppets?
A: Guerrero and Oaxaca
D: Puebla and Veracruz
A: The states are Puebla and Veracruz. Source: "Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla," by Bryan Stevens (Schiffer, $49.99). With a thoughtful, well-researched text and beautiful photos.
Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.