Richard Oliff: Write way to get a bargain on internet

Sir John Alexander Macdonald
Sir John Alexander Macdonald

Like millions of other people I find myself dipping in and out of online auction websites.

My fascination with the workings of British politics has often led me to search out the signatures of the people who have influenced the courses of action that have guided our economic, domestic and foreign policies since the time of the first First Lord of the Treasury, generally recognised as being Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax (1661-1715).

Not, incidentally, to be confused with the commonly used title of prime minister: this was coined from Walpole until the present.

It’s important to understand that there are dangers in buying any autographs or signatures oline, particularly as the number of fakes, facsimiles or autopen examples are forever lurking to capitalise on the ignorance of the uneducated and over-eager buyer.

That said, there are occasions when one stumbles across an item that has a rarity and significance which may only be identified by the educated “surfer”. This is quite different.

This is when one must rely solely on one’s own knowledge to blatantly capitalise on the ignorance of the seller.

In 2010 I stumbled upon a small collection of signatures for sale described as “30 Victorian Signatures/Papers/Envelopes”. Among the little scribbles I noticed something that made my heart race.

I placed a bid, and waited.

Mine was the winning offer for the grand sum of £19.11 and, to cut a long story short, it duly arrived.

The signature I’d recognised was that of Sir John Alexander Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, an example of whose autograph made the national media in Canada when it was sold in late January 2008 by Pattie Kelley of Worchester in Massachusetts, to a Canadian man for a staggering £5,000.