Today let’s take a look at collecting autographs; ways to collect, things to watch for and finding your niche in the world of autograph collecting. For me personally, I have been collecting autographs for over 20 years and I have learned a lot during this time. Some of the things I have learned have not all been good, but making mistakes helps you not make them again.
The first question I ask myself is: Who’s autograph’s do I want to collect? This is completely up to you, which makes it a great part of the thrill. I personally have tried to collect autographs from people who stand out in what they do. For instance, if you enjoy poker you know Daniel Negreanu is a very popular player and also very good. This made me reach out to get his autograph. You might want your favorite actor/actress, sports coach, athlete, the list is really endless. The biggest thing is to make sure you collect what you want so that you know you will enjoy it.
Now that you have figured out who you want to collect the next question is how. This is something that can be very tricky. Ultimately you have to have a great deal of patience, confidence and sometimes, money. The most obvious way to get an autograph is in person, either at a signing that is set up ahead of time or by the off chance you run into the person you are seeking to get an autograph from. Going to a signing that is set up is more than likely going to guarantee the autograph for you, unless there is a limited availability. Autograph sessions can be free or cost money and they can also be public or private. Often times when you see a free autograph signing, they are going to put a limit on the number of people than can get the autograph. Organizers often times do this by requiring a wristband to get the autograph. Usually they will offer the wristbands sometime before the actual event and have people either stay or allow them to leave and come back. In the end though, without a wristband you are without an autograph.
A paid public signing is another way to acquire an autograph. These can be at your local memorabilia store, a large convention or even a charity event. Again these are often limited in the amount of people and do require payment prior to getting the autograph. In my experience you will often pay more per item if it is larger. For instance, you would pay more for a baseball bat to be signed than a mini helmet. Make sure you are comfortable with spending the money to get what you want signed. It is always fun to try and find a unique item to have signed as it adds something special to your collection.
A private signing usually works the same as a public signing with the exception being you drop off your item and pick it up without actually seeing it signed. It is very important to make sure you do this with a trusted dealer. In today’s day and age many people have been selling forged memorabilia; read about Operation Bullpen.
How do find out about signings? Check your area for local shops, in my area Waukesha Sportscards or Jeff’s Sports are great for getting Packers and Brewers in to sign for fans. Visit your favorite team or celebrities’ website to find and official appearances they might be making. This is where patience comes into play, you have to be willing to wait and find the right opportunity for yourself. Always make sure to do as much research as possible so you feel comfortable with the situation.
An in person autograph often provides the biggest adrenaline rush because you actually are standing in front of someone you have an interest in. As I stated earlier you can find in person sessions already set up, but there are other venues to receive and in person autograph as well. Patience and confidence are a must when it comes to in person autographs outside of an organized setting. Do remember though; respect the privacy and willingness to sign of the person you are seeking. Just because the refuse to sign doesn’t make them a bad person or mean they don’t care about their fans. They are people too, who have schedules and lives as well. I repeat, always be respectful.
If you are unable to make an in person autograph session there are a few other options to explore. Let’s talk about through the mail or TTM first. This way of acquiring an autograph can be nerve racking and inconsistent. One of the first things I will say for TTM is to make sure you are prepared to not receive the item back. Do not send anything you don’t want to lose. If you send something special and never get it back it could be very heartbreaking. Now that we have covered this, what should you send? You can send anything you would want if: 1. you are prepared not to get it back, 2. it can be shipped to and from easily, 3. it isn’t something illegal or not allowed in the mail, 4. you are prepared to not get it back. I stress this point because you want to make sure you are comfortable with sending something.
You have decided who to send to and what to send, now what? The first thing I would recommend is to check on the person’s website to see about TTM guidelines. I know in NASCAR there are some drivers who don’t sign TTM, others that only sign certain things TTM and most have specific guidelines in how you should send items. For other athletes and celebrities search for information in the internet; there are numerous sites dedicated to autograph collecting. A great starting point for athlete’s autographs is Sports Card Forum, the members there take pride in keeping up to date information in the TTM tracker. For other celebrities you can find sites dedicated to fan mail and autographs fairly easily.
All this work and nothing to show so far, this is why I say you need patience when collecting autographs this way. Packing is a key to success in collecting TTM, for instance here are some tips on sending a baseball TTM. Make sure to include return postage for the correct amount! If you prefer to have the player sign with your pen or marker, include one with a note. I think something often overlooked when sending an autograph request is a personal note to the person you are sending to. I saw one collector who would include five questions he had for the person to answer, he didn’t always get a response, but some of them seemed well thought out and truthful. This goes back to respecting people for the time and effort they take in doing this for you as a fan.
You are almost there at this point, now all you have to do is send out your package and wait! In the end you will find all people have different methods for collecting TTM; find what works best for you and who you want to collect. What I am trying to do is merely give people a starting point to doing this. As with anything I talk about, I highly recommend doing your own research and asking questions. Ultimately you will make mistakes and have issues, but learn from them rather than getting too upset.
One way I have had success getting autographs surprisingly is by e-mail; yes you heard me, e-mail. There are lists out there for people that will send out autographs from an e-mail. Some will be pre printed or secretarial signatures; but others will be legitimate autographs. As with TTM Sports Card Forum has a listing of e-mail signers. The best thing about trying via e-mail is you really have nothing to lose. As with anything, be respectful and don’t take anything personal.
You have read all of this and made it this far, then you decide this is not for you. You have another option, which is one that I am not a big fan of. You can purchase autographs from retail outlets or online at a site like eBay. If you go with a retail location in your area, make sure they are reputable or possibly have the signings in house. They will often times have a certificate of authenticity with it; which if you plan to sell it someday might come in handy. I am not too concerned with a COA; 1. I don’t plan to sell most of my autographs and 2. I feel like I am paying for someone to tell me it’s real and not for the actual autograph. If you go with eBay, be extremely careful. A lot of fake autographs found their way into the market from eBay.
I am sure I might have missed some things or not answered all of your questions, but that wasn’t my intention. Take what I have laid out here and build on it. There is plenty of information out there on autograph collecting to be found, consider what I have talked about a starting point for you to build from.