This small distinction can make a huge difference when you are purchasing a book as a gift or to fill a gap in your collection.
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 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 book images used in this post are from the following sources:
Signed copy of The Shining by Stephen King. Listed by Scene of the Crime Books (as of Nov 2017)
Inscribed copy of Carrie by Stephen King. Listed by Hyraxia Books (as of Nov 2017)