Series: Cultural History of the Signature – Part 2

Series: Cultural History of the Signature – Part 2
23 Jul 2019

The signature – its history, its cultural significance and its role in the digital age: enjoy a short cultural-historical excursion around the signature in our four-part series.

Previously …

Part 1: History

Part 2 – Handwriting

Signature of Michelle ObamaAs antiquated as handwriting and handwritten signatures may now appear in everyday life and in professional life, they are in fact unrivaled in prominent areas: When international treaties and presidential decrees are signed under the flurry of media strobe flashes, a gold-tipped fountain pen is raised in a ceremony attracting media attention, and the result is presented proudly to the public. Proof in black-and-white. Hence it is no surprise that autographs sell more effectively on eBay than selfies with celebrities.

Individual documents are considered more personal when they are signed with a Montblanc. No matter who it is: Thus, a German company produces signature machines that guide the fountain pen with a robotic hand and thus put very personal signatures down on paper – from customers who actually have no time to personally sign or who wish to avoid the effort of cursive writing on precious, handmade paper. The machine is capable of perfectly imitating personal signatures, even with minor nuances, as no two personal signatures are absolutely identical.

Illegible prescriptions

This procedure always becomes difficult if the signed document comes into the cross-hairs of legal disputes. Then it becomes a question of who actually pressed the start button and whether the owner of the painted signature actually knew that his signature under tax returns was being used to hide money from the fiscal authorities. Unlike qualified electronic signatures or traditional signatures, such works of art are in fact not per se legally valid as defined by paragraph 126 German Civil Code (BGB).

In contrast, handwritten medical prescriptions are legally signed. This may be quite original in terms of how it looks, but can also have drastic consequences. According to a 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences, 7,000 patients die every year in the USA from the consequences of illegible prescriptions. What’s more, incorrect prescriptions are expensive: The Swiss umbrella organization of health insurance companies, santésuisse, has calculated that illegible medical instructions and prescriptions cost the Swiss healthcare system at least CHF 100 million per year …

Up next …

Part 3: Types
Part 4: Art