Military leaders normally had careers during which they signed many letters and documents, and the most famous and popular were asked for their autograph signatures. Beginning with Frederick the Great, who is surprisingly available in signed letters, military leaders were required to address the details of their armies and navies, and to give approval to numerous transactions. Napoleon Bonaparte, whose signed letters are frequently offered, personally, was aware of almost every detail of the French army. The British admiral who defeated Napoleon’s navy, Horatio Nelson, is rare in signed letters and signed documents due of his early death at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, lived a long life, was Prime Minister of England after his military career, and was perhaps the most famous and popular person in England in the early 19th century. He signed letters concerning all types of affairs, and though his autograph signature is difficult to read, his signed letters were preserved and are available today. Few American or British generals during the American Revolution are available in signed letters or signed documents, as this area of military leaders’ autographs has been very aggressively collected by institutional libraries for decades. The American Civil War is a much more fertile area for collectors. Generals, and particularly Union generals, had long careers after the war and were asked for their autograph signature very frequently, which they were happy to give on cards. The principal Union generals, Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman, and others, were all famous enough to be saved by succeeding generations. The Confederate generals are much scarcer, mainly because they did not have careers after the war, with a few exceptions. The scarcest of Civil War autograph signatures are of those who were killed during the war, notably, Stonewall Jackson.
World War II military leaders are very popular with today’s collectors. As with the Civil War, both generals and admirals signed many documents and letters. George S. Patton, who was killed in 1945, is the rarest; he did not like to write his autograph signature, and gave his autograph only in person to soldiers who asked him to sign whatever they happened to have with them. The most popular American piece of World War II is a photograph of the Japanese surrender that has been autographed by one of the principal American military leaders, namely Admiral Nimitz or Douglas MacArthur. On the British side, Bernard Montgomery lived a long life after the war. His autograph signature is very clearly written and he was very well-known; he was very happy to give his autograph signature to those requesting it, and he is very available to today’s collectors. The Russian General Zhukov is very rare in signed letters or any other autograph form. The Japanese military leaders are virtually uncollectible, with the rare exception of an autograph signature of Tojo, who might turn up every few years on a souvenir piece signed at some event.
For many decades, the World War II German military leaders have been avidly collected in the form of military autographs, signatures, signed letters, and signed documents. Evil has a fascination for people, and Nazi Germany has certainly provided sufficient examples of evil personalities to collect. Rarity in this field is determined by life span, with only a few surviving the war, Hitler’s purge after July 20, and the Nuremberg war trials.
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