There’s a small shop in Rockville serving some big-name clients, perhaps some of the most famous names in the world.
At Damilic, owner Robert Olding's company makes it a point to dot every "i" and cross every "t" when it comes to serving his clients. In fact, that’s exactly the business Damilic is in.
Damilic is one of the only companies in the world that can replicate a signature in a way that has even the United States Department of Homeland Security making a field trip to the company's offices for training.
While laser printers and computer programs duplicate signatures, Damilic uses a computer to write a program to replicate a signature. The company's Autopen and Signascript automatic signing machines then draw the signature using a mechanical arm holding an actual pen.
The result is a signature that is so close to the handwritten version you need a forensic scientist to tell the difference.
“There are a lot of high quality printers that do impressive work, but if you want it to appear it has been signed by a pen you have to do it by us,” Olding said.
Damilic’s clients are among the who’s-who of the world, but privacy is part of the deal.
“We get a lot of famous people. It isn’t a big thing for us. It is routine,” Olding said. “When someone makes it big we do wonder how long it will be until we get that signature request.”
Damilic customers have used his machines to sign diplomas, CD covers and sports memorabilia. Rumor has it that President Barrack Obama used an automatic signature machine to sign the Patriot Act just a few weeks ago.
“Whether it was our machine or someone else’s, I don’t know,” Olding said of the president’s signature.
Olding owned a small engineering firm when he started to look for a unique manufacturing business to add as a partner. At the same time the Autopen business became available and Damilic bought the rights to the name, the business and the list of clients.
The company employs seven of perhaps some of the best secret keepers around. Employees sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep mum on client names.
Olding said he isn’t as surprised about the names of the signatures as he is with their styles. Duplicating someone’s handwriting is easier than replicating their signature, he said.
“A signature is a form of an icon. It is our mark,” he said.
Because the quality of the replication is so good, Damilic does a lot of fact-checking to be sure clients are legitimate.
“We do our darndest to be sure we know who we are selling to,” Olding said. “People from Homeland Security are like our final quality control department. They come to us as part of their training. They include us in a field trip to come see how the machines work.”
Olding said he isn’t able to tell a real signature from a fraudulent one. For that determination, he said he points people to forensic scientists.
Damilic works with about 1,000 clients a year, replicating their signatures and selling them one of the machines they can use to “sign” their names. The machines fit on a desktop and the cost to create the signature is between $155 and $250.
Damilic can create a signature in about two hours, depending on how complicated it is. The most difficult signatures to replicate are those with Chinese characters because they are very detailed, especially in line width, Olding said. Tiny signatures are tougher to replicate than bolder ones.
“Some people are really scribbley and some are careful and smooth," Olding said. "Some have an impressive-looking signature and some who are impressive people just have bad handwriting. I think it goes with just being very busy."