Yuri Gagarin autograph study
by Steve Zarelli, Zarelli Space Authentication
Special thanks to Bob McLeod for his contributions.
On April 12, 1961, Soviet Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space. Launched aboard his Vostok spacecraft, Gagarin orbited the Earth and beat American Alan Shepard into space by 23 days.
Vostok 1 was Gagarin's only spaceflight. After his flight, Gagarin was widely celebrated in the Soviet Union and was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, by Nikita Khrushchev. Gagarin embarked on a tour that took him around the world.
Because of his hero status, the Soviets did not schedule Gagarin for any additional spaceflights due to his propaganda value and fear of losing him. However, Gagarin was instrumental in flight planning and training at Star City, the cosmonaut facility.
On March 27, 1968, Yuri Gagarin was killed in a training flight crash at the age of 34.
Despite not being as much of a "household name" as Alan Shepard, John Glenn or Neil Armstrong, Gagarin is a tremendous historical figure and there is strong demand for his signature. Regrettably, his signature is highly forged and collectors must use great caution in obtaining a Yuri Gagarin signed item.
Authenticating Yuri Gagarin autographs
Yuri Gagarin signed autographs for approximately seven years before his premature death in early 1968. Because of the short time frame, there is not a great deal of variation in his signing style over this period. Gagarin traveled widely after his flight and was reportedly a generous signer in-person and also responded to mail requests. That said, for someone who died behind the Iron Curtain 50 years ago, the number of alleged Gagarin autographs in circulation far surpass the numbers one would reasonably expect to exist.
- Signatures should be signed quickly with no hesitation. Be wary of examples that look slow or pieced together.
- Non-personalized inscriptions were not practiced among cosmonauts in the 1960s and are almost non-existent from that era. Gagarin didn't add an inscription unless he was also naming the recipient. Be wary of any example with a generic, non-personalized inscription.
- Most autographs should be on Kniga postal covers, postcard portraits, books, small photos and ad hoc items.
- 8x10 photos were not the standard in the Soviet Union and Gagarin is exceedingly rare in 8x10 format. Most signed 8x10s are fakes.
- Gagarin and Korolev supposed dual-signed items exist in good numbers and almost all are fake.
- Fakes exist in high numbers on typed documents.
In this study, I will present a number of verified exemplars that show his signature over the brief period he was signing.
YUri Gagarin autographs
Yuri Gagarin Autopens, Preprints and secretarial signatures
Star City did not use an Autopen for cosmonauts. There are no known official Autopens of Yuri Gagarin. The only cosmonauts known to have Autopen examples are those who had missions with NASA, e.g., Alexey Leonov and Valeri Kubasov.
Postcards with printed facsimile signatures exist.
I have run across examples that appeared to be rubber stamps. Reportedly, these were created by an East German stamp or space club for commemorative postal covers.
There has been speculation that Gagarin may have used a secretary signer for mail requests, but no verified proxy signatures have been identified. It's possible that some signatures that have been identified as common vintage era fakes were actually proxy signed.
Yuri Gagarin forgeries
Due to his death in 1968 and his historical significance, Yuri Gagarin has been the target of forgers for decades. Many "old" forgeries exist.
One prolific forger is responsible for many thousands of Yuri Gagarin fakes that entered the market in the 1990s and continues to this day. This distributor often uses the ruse of offering the collection of decreased Soviet officials and dignitaries. He offers large lots of Gagarin signed postal covers, documents, photos, postcards, etc. at low prices. Regrettably, many dealers and collectors fall for the scam.
Yuri Gagarin Autograph Study text copyright 2017 by Steve Zarelli, Zarelli Space Authentication, LLC. Images copyright of their respective owners.
Last updated January 2017.