Between the lines: Reading Barack Obama's signature

With its decisive sweeps and confident flourishes, there’s no mistaking Barack Obama’s signature. Tim Walker deciphers the scribbles of the powerful
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One day, it might be stored in the same imaginary sheaf of historic American documents that contains the Declaration of Independence, the US constitution, and Lincoln’s notes for the Gettysburg Address. It’s certainly the biggest cheque the 44th President has ever had to sign. There, enshrined in ink at the foot of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the $787bn (£545bn) economic stimulus bill, is Barack Obama’s John Hancock.

The “O” of Obama, bisected by the line of the “b”, has the look of the Ancient Greek letter Phi, which is also used as a symbol for the mathematical golden ratio – a crucial concept in art and architecture. And President Obama’s signature has an aesthetically agreeable form. But what does it say about the man? A person’s signature, says handwriting expert Margaret Webb of, represents the view of themselves they wish the world to see. Their handwriting betrays more about their true personality. “President Obama’s signature is slightly illegible,” she says, “but it has the right mix of determination and gentleness. The curves suggest flexibility.

“He has got a big public image, and you’d know that from his signature. It’s big and rounded with flourishes, a show-off’s signature, but it’s also upright, which means it’s stable, as it should be. The line through the “O” suggests determination. He’s got backbone.” Obama’s handwriting, meanwhile, displays similarly reassuring traits. “His handwriting is that of someone very well-balanced,” Webb explains. “It’s very well planned, well presented on the page and completely legible. He has a clear mind, and he’s quite optimistic. Obama can deal with everyone. I was pleased when I saw it. I think he’ll be okay.”

According to the US handwriting expert, Bart A Baggett, Obama’s calligraphy lacks the long, high t-bars of Reagan and Kennedy, a recognised habit of formidable world leaders, which denotes high self-esteem and a capacity for visionary forward thinking. Then again, a mid-height t-bar such as Obama’s might suggest humility.

Signatures can be politicised. Adolf Hitler’s initial “A” supposedly metamorphosed during later life into an approximation of the “S” that stood for the “Socialist” in National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It looks like a swastika.

Gordon Brown joined David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton and Elton John in scribbling his name on the side of a Mini last week, in support of a British Forces appeal. This week, there are 850 sacked Mini workers who might consider it politically charged. Meanwhile, analysis of the new President’s signature is not all complimentary. Where one graphologist sees a flourish, one Obama-bashing blogger sees his “overwhelming need to be the centre of attention”.

Webb recalls some former British leaders whose pens did not draw entirely flattering pictures. “Margaret Thatcher’s handwriting was rather up in the clouds,” she explains. “A lot of her letters were separate from the main body of the writing, meaning she had ideas which weren’t necessarily shared with other people.

“Winston Churchill’s handwriting was tiny, and he really didn’t like people. He was aloof and reserved in his private life. Parts of Tony Blair’s writing are quite back-stabbing and unpleasant; he’s a competitive, hard-edged chap, who could be quite unkind.”

Defending his own favourable analysis of Obama’s character, Baggett writes that “a cluster of “strong and likeable” personality traits does not always prove to be a great president.” If you’d like to have handwriting just like the man himself, there’s already a font, “44th President” based on his scrawl. If you download “44th President” from /obama for $15.95, 20 per cent goes to charity.