Wet signature

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The Jolly Contrarian’s Dictionary

The snippy guide to financial services lingo.™

The original wet signature, or “John Hancock”, on the Declaration of Independence. Yes; that’s why it is called a “John Hancock”.

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Wet signature /wɛtˈ sɪɡnətʃə/ (n.)
Evidence of the meeting of one’s mind with that one’s counterpart’s by means of ink on paper. Thus, in the minds of certain muggles, something somehow sacred, unimpeachable and pure. As it has been applied to paper by that most analogue of means: a human hand, it has a semblance of authenticity about it: it is hard, if not impossible, to accurately copy someone else’s signature, so there is some comfort in knowing the one in front of you was definitely applied to the paper by a real human hand.

There is, at any rate, if you know what your correspondent’s normal signature usually looks like, or have an authenticated example to compare it against. Just one of the fun games negotiators indulge in is checking that the person who has signed their agreement indeed is who he says he is, and is suitably authorised by the organisation he claims to represent. Anyway, we are getting distracted.

A wet signature is to be contrasted with a digital signature, whereby one indicates assent by authenticated, encrypted digital token of some kind, which may be represented by a QR code, hexadecimal hash or some such thing. Who knows? Who cares?

There is a curious cunisian netherworld in which, in our imperfect times, almost all document execution lies, and that is a scanned image of a wet signature. Supposedly, this arises when the sacred parchment, having been wet-ink signed, is fed through a scanner and emailed to the other side. This resembles a wet ink signature, but at one remove, in that it is impossible to tell if it is a bona fide representation of a wet signature actually appended to your document or some jpeg cut out of some other document and pasted into the document from somewhere else.