Series: Cultural History of the Signature – Part 2

Series: Cultural History of the Signature – Part 2
14 Feb 2022
The signature – its history, its cultural significance and its importance in the digital age: look forward to a short cultural-historical excursion around the signature in our four-part series.


Part 2 – Handwriting

As antiquated as handwriting and handwritten signatures may have become in everyday life and at work, they are unrivalled in a prominent position: When international treaties and presidential decrees are countersigned under a flurry of press flashbulbs, the golden fountain pen is drawn out in a media-effective production and the result is proudly presented to the public. Black on white is the proof. It is no surprise that autographs sell better on ebay than selfies with celebrities.

Individual documents are considered more personal if they are signed with a Montblanc pen. From whomever: a German company produces automatic signature machines that guide fountain pens by robotic hands and thus produce very personal signatures on paper – from customers who actually don't have the time to sign them themselves or who shy away from the effort of beautiful writing on precious, handmade paper. The machine is able to imitate personal signatures perfectly, even with minimal nuances, as no two personal signatures are exactly alike.


Illegible prescriptions

This procedure  gets difficult when the signed document comes into the crosshairs of legal disputes. Then it is necessary to clarify who really pressed the start button and whether the owner of the painted handwriting actually knew that money was smuggled past the tax office with his signature under tax returns. Per se, such works of art are not legally valid in the sense of section 126 of the German Civil Code (BGB), such as qualified electronic signatures or classic handwriting.

Handwritten medical prescriptions are also legally signed. This can be quite unique in terms of the typeface, but sometimes has drastic consequences. According to a 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences, 7,000 patients die each year in the USA as a result of illegible prescriptions. What's more, incorrect prescriptions are expensive: the Swiss health insurance umbrella organisation santésuisse has calculated that illegible doctors' prescriptions cost the Swiss health system at least 100 million Swiss francs a year.


Previously …

Part 1: History

Next to come …

Part 3: Types