Barton’s Shafer Art Gallery exhibits collection of historical signatures

January 29, 2013
Story and Photo by Joe Vinduska

It’s not every day that someone can see something first hand that was signed by George Washington, but through the month of February patrons of Barton Community College’s Shafer Art Gallery can see not only Washington’s signature, but those of other famous historical figures such as Martin Van Buren and Zachary Taylor.

The impressive collection of signatures belongs to long-time Great Bend resident Bill Gilmore, who recently relocated to Nebraska.

“I enjoy the fact that I have these items, but it’s not really an emotional attachment that I have to the signatures, it’s that I’m able to have an attachment to something historical,” he said.

Gilmore has been collecting historical “John Hancocks” for the past three years and only purchases his items from highly reputable auction houses that provide documentation proving their authenticity. He cautions others interested in the hobby to be careful when buying and to stay away from auction websites such as ebay.com.

“There are a lot of fakes out there,” he said.

Gilmore said the type of document that is signed greatly affects the value of a historical signature.

“A check from their personal checking account or a land grant is not nearly as valuable as a postmaster appointment or something like that,” he said.

Bill Gilmore

(Gilmore said his favorite piece of his collection is his George Washington signed land indenture from 1769.  He also is partial to a letter he has that is signed by a Civil War soldier who was under siege at Vicksburg at the time he authored the letter. All of his pieces are framed and include a brief description about the signature.)

In addition to the historical significance of the pieces in the collection, Gilmore said he enjoys the aesthetic nature of the signatures.

“A person’s signature was a large part of their persona back then,” he said.

Shafer Gallery Director David Barnes agreed about the ornate style of the signatures.

“One of the things that impresses me is how fancy these signatures are,” Barnes said. “They are very, very elaborate. They are works of art in themselves.”

The Shafer Gallery’s regular hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is always free.
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