Signature Variability: Case Study of Dr. Richard Garfield

Signature variability is a poorly documented and understood topic in TCG autograph collecting. However, knowledge of how a signer changes their signature over the years is an important piece of information when compiling evidence for authentication. Knowing the provenance of an item and its signature is preferred, but this is not always feasible.

As a case study, I present the signature variability of Richard Garfield, Ph.D. - Creator of Magic the Gathering (MTG). Dr. Garfield (mathematician, inventor, game designer; b. 1963) created the world’s first collectible card game/trading card game and later joined Wizards of the Coast as a game designer. Richard was known to visit competitive play tournaments to offer support for his game and to sign cards.

Unlike some artists, Richard has changed his signature multiple times over the past 30 years. Luckily for us, this variability has been documented shockingly well on the garfield cube. Below are time-linked images that show how Dr. Garfield’s signature morphed over the years.











As you can see, Dr. Garfield used to write out his full name (Richard Δ Garfield), but shortened it over the years to Rid Δ Gld. Other aspects of his signature changed too, such as the slant of his name and the relative height of the letters. Clearly, tying Richard’s signature to a specific timeframe would be important for documentation purposes.

Now a personal story.

Birds of Paradise was/is a staple of competitive play, and is one of my favorite cards in the entire game. More specifically, I love the illustration by Ed Beard, Jr in 7th Edition. The unique thing about 7th Edition is that it was the first core set to carry black border foils, and many of the commissioned arts never received a reprint. The 7ED Foil Birds is widely praised by even the most extreme Birds of Paradise collectors.

Here is my copy signed by Ed Beard, Jr.

Fun Fact: Some have mockingly named the 7ED Birds “The Parrot” and prefer the Alpha illustration by Mark Poole. However, carrying this unpopular opinion is punishable by death under international law.

Fast forward to 2024, I found the following card listed in auction. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I reached out to the seller.

The seller was a competitive player who attended MTG Nationals in 2008 and met Dr. Garfield. His friend (another competitive player) bought the Birds of Paradise 7ED Foil at the tournament and had it signed by Richard. 16 years later, he was looking to sell this card from his collection.

Incredible story! However, there was no further documentation of the signature. What more could I do?

Thanks to the garfield cube, I knew what “style” of Richard’s signature I should cross-reference given the 2008 timeframe. And through digging deep rabbit holes and complete luck, I also found this historical video of Dr. Garfield being interviewed at MTG Nationals in 2008.

Amazing! I matched the signature style to the time-period, I confirmed that Richard was at Nationals in 2008 through archival video footage, and I had only one more thing to do… send it off to PSA.

Well, I am so glad that I trusted my gut. PSA sent me the good news today! :tada:

So, what is the takeaway from this article?

Documentation, documentation, documentation. MTG is in a fortunate place compared to Pokemon. Getting cards signed by illustrators (or the game developer!) is cheaper and easier on average, forgeries are not a widespread problem, and the environment is much more relaxed. Getting cards signed by your favorite illustrator is a special thing, and it’s becoming even more popular in Pokemon. I hope that this article showcases the importance of signature variability and doing your due diligence before purchasing signed cards.


First of all I want to say congratulations on the birds autograph by Garfield. That’s incredible. As someone who admires magic from the outside that’s a huge deal. Again congrats.

Amazing article and wrote up. Crazy history and time to write as always

1 Like