Beginning book collectors commonly become confused about the distinction between “signed books” and “inscribed books.”
An inscription is a short note written by the previous owner, or, in some cases, the author, in the beginning of a book. While an inscription is generally accompanied by a signature, a “signed” book specifically denotes the author’s signature, as in an autograph. In most cases, a signature is considered more valuable than an inscription, unless the inscription is written by or addressed to another famous or otherwise historically significant person. A book inscribed to another individual of this type is called an “association copy”.
Signed books are then books that have an author’s signature, without a specific addressee or personal inscription attached (although other notes, short poems, drawings or dates might accompany the signature).
Authenticating a signature can be an intensive process. Although there are many online indexes of graphic copies of famous signatures, an antiquarian bookseller or other related artifact specialist should be consulted for appraisal.
It is generally held that William Shakespeare has the most valuable signature. Only 6 authenticated examples exist, and all are on signed documents. The least valuable signature is not specifically known.
When a book is described as “Flatsigned,” it means that the signature or autograph is written directly on the endpaper or other page of the book, and not a bookplate, and that no inscription accompanies the signature. The term is attributed to author Stephen King.