Two Hitlers and a Marilyn

Adam Andrusier

18 September 2021
Headshot of Adam Andrusier.

If you are rummaging around in the attic and happen across a little note from Alexander Graham Bell take very, very good care of it. Adam Andrusier, a professional autograph dealer, put such an item on sale for £25,000.

Asked what other Scottish signatures people might want to look out for in order to raise some cash he muses before suggesting Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Mary Queen of Scots. He’ll be at Wigtown Book Festival on 27 September to talk about his book Two Hitlers and a Marilyn which explores the development of a youthful obsession which ultimately took him all round the world and let him glimpse the lives of some of the world’s most famous people.

And it all started due to Ronnie Barker.

The one half of the Two Ronnies lived close to Adam’s friend when he was a boy – they decided to try to get to meet him and needed and excuse. Adam’s idea was to ask for his autograph. The ruse was a failure but it sowed a seed.

This led to teenage years hanging round theatres at opening nights as his hobby morphed into an obsession. Adam describes it like this: “It's kind of like an addiction, this feeling of, of wanting to touch or own this piece of paper that this person that you admire, touched.”

And sometimes the person ceased to count. He’d stand outside a movie launch or similar star-studded event, not knowing who was arriving, but got a rush from charging out and persuading someone famous to sign something.

Along the way he has spent moments with remarkable people – among them Nelson Mandela during his 1990 visit to meet Margaret Thatcher in London.

As he became increasingly interested in the autograph trade he has come in contact with some wonderful documents as well including one signed by the likes of Henry VIII. 

Indeed it’s the context rather than the person which can make something special. A paper signed by the scientist Francis Crick isn’t automatically very exciting but if it happens to be the letter he wrote to his son just after discovering DNA – wow! And a very valuable wow.

And then Adam explains, there’s fashion. When a star is in the ascendant their autograph might fetch quite a bit, no matter how common. But all that fades if their popularity wanes.

Obsessions also fade. And for Adam it’s now a business not an all-consuming passion. Yet an echo of his past survives in the 2002 book The Autograph Man, which old university friend Zadie Smith modelled on aspects of his life and experience (he took her round fairs and taught her about the business and its people). 

The novel may even be a record of something that’s dying, or certainly changing. Young people are now more interested in celebrity selfies than signatures. Indeed, many do not practice their own signatures and fewer still are avidly filling autograph books.

So it may be that the trade will become an antiques business – more about historical documents than mementoes of moments shared with the great or famous.

You can hear more from Adam Andrusier at his Wigtown Book Festival event. You can purchase a copy of Two Hitlers and a Marion from our online bookshop