Jacques Brel autographs pop up every now and then online or in auctions, and a lot of money can be spent on collecting them.
Just like every other celebrity, you’ll find that there are a lot of fake autographs and poor-quality autographs around. I have the largest collection of Brel’s signed memorabilia in England, and I’ve seen my fair share of fakes and scammers. Here are my thoughts on how you can make sure that the Jacques Brel autograph you’re buying is real, complete with pictures from my own collection…
Tip one – check the style
Jacques Brel’s signature changed significantly over the course of his career, but there are a couple of distinct styles that most of his autographs stick to.
The first, and most impressive is the swooping “J Brel” in which the tail of the ‘j’ runs under the ‘rel’ of the signature, before looping down and becoming the ‘B’. It’s one of the most collectable and iconic signatures of all time, and one of the most likely examples of a Brel autograph to be forged.
This style of autograph is Brel’s ‘for show’ autograph style, and he used it from the 1950s to the late-60s. After this period he developed an easier and more simple style. The first sign that this autograph is faked is if it appears on material released after 1967. The below signed copy of ‘Les Risques Du Metier’ is the latest example of this autograph style in my collection. The dedication was written at a book signing, allowing Brel more time to sign in this variation.
One of the main reasons the autograph was changes is that it was difficult to do in the short amount of time Brel interacted with an audience before and after a performance, and the below autograph from the 1959 shows the signature when it’s rushed. Early versions of the signature often have the ‘curl’ before the ‘J’ and have a straight line at the tail of the ‘L’. Although the below autograph could at first glance look like a forgery, the handwriting in the dedication and the fact that subsequent pages are autographed by other acts proves that the below is real.
Style two is less impressive but still highly sought after, as it came during Brel’s most prolific and collectable period. This is because the signature came to be the one Brel used the most during his runs in some of the most prestigious venues in the world, including the Olympia in Paris. These signatures were used from around 1964, however older items that were signed after this period may be signed with this version of Brel’s signature. The Olympia gave out stickers to attach to memorabilia before getting the item signed. Here’s an example of this style of autograph on one of the stickers.
Note the curvature in the ‘J’ and the dash between ‘J’ and ‘Brel’, as well as the dot after the autograph. These are good indicators of a genuine autograph, but not every genuine autograph from this period has these.
When it comes to determining autograph value, the style of autograph matters – the ‘right’ style of autograph should appear on the material. For example, a late ’60s autograph on a 1950s album is less valuable than a 1950s signature on a 1950s album.
Other examples of Brel’s signature in my collection include his first and last name written in full, collected at the Olympia in Paris in 1964. The item also includes the signatures of the Delta Rhythm Boys.
Tip two – what’s the context?
Is there a dedication? What item is autographed? The context of the autograph gives us plenty of clues as to whether it’s real or not.
A dedication, for example “Pour Eric” as in one of the examples above, improves the chance that the autograph is real. Forgers rarely try to complicate things by doing more than what’s necessary. Dedications, however, lower the value of the autograph as they link it to one owner.
Items that are more likely to be autographed include albums, programmes and pages from autograph books. Autograph books and programmes are generally signed at live performances, so it’s typical to find other autographs on the same document. Common names that appeared alongside Brel include Gerard Jouannest, whose distinctive autograph you can see below. Jouannest was Brel’s pianist.
Contexts that add doubt to an autograph include the autograph being placed on a public item created or release between 1968 and 1978, as Brel made relatively few public appearances during this time.
Tip three – avoid autopens
Autopens are devices that celebrities can input their signatures into. The autopen then mimics the motion of the signature with a real pen – making these signatures and hand-signed ones hard to differentiate. The famous limited edition ‘Jacques Brel’ promo cover on the album commonly known as Les Bourgeois has an autopen signature on its back cover (see below). While items like this do not gain value from the autopen signature, the numbered and limited edition status make this record collectable.
Autopen signatures are easy to tell if you find other items with identical signatures. Many of Brel’s promotional releases are signed with autopens, including the ‘La Quete’ single.
Tip four – spotting a fake
Brel signed many thousands of items in his life. He had plenty of time to perfect his signature, so shaky and disjointed signatures could be faked – unless they were signed at a concert and Brel rushed the signature. Look for the curve in the ‘J’ and the humps in the ‘B’ – are these natural or not? In the first style of signature, look for a single movement connecting the ‘J’ to the ‘B’. The ‘rel’ in Brel should also be one continuous movement.
Tip five – what’s it worth?
Brel’s signatures can vary, and many at the lower end of the scale are poor quality or have limited provenance. Autographs on the front covers on records that match the time period are desirable, but rarely come with guarantees or certificates of authenticity. A good, clean autograph in this setting (without authentication) can be worth up to £100 – whereas a poor-quality example could be worth as little as £20. Authentication improves the value by over 50%.
Brel’s most famous records with relevant autographs are the most desirable – for example a signed copy of Olympia ’64 or Brel’s first album will be worth more than a signed compilation. The ‘holy grails’ of the Brel catalogue are signatures before his first record and from the 1970s onwards. I have never personally seen a signed copy of Brel’s last album, and I am not sure one exists. Exclusive or personal items such as travel documents, song lyrics etc. can go for many thousands if authenticated. Rare photographs or memorabilia (such as the book above) can go for multiple hundreds of pounds.
How can I help?
Send me photos of your item and I’ll give you my opinion. Got an unwanted Brel item (signed or unsigned)? Tell me about it and I’ll either advise you how much it’s worth or make an offer myself!