By Chris Olds | Editor
It’s no secret that the autograph is key to many a sports products these days as those certified authentic slips of the pen turn cardboard into collecting gold.
But the certified autograph is not the only way a collector can land a treasured item.
In fact, many a signer of certified autographs actually signs in other ways — ways that collectors may not always think about in a world of commodified, short-print chases and dreaming of winning mylar-wrapped lotteries. It may sound like common sense, but there are other ways to track down signatures besides ripping packs and buying singles at the card shop or online.
Here’s a rundown of ways that collectors — beginners through the long-time hobby veterans — should always consider trying to land an autograph without hitting up a pack of cards or buying a certified signature straight from a trusted dealer.
These days, it’s pretty common for athletes and celebrities to have their own websites where they sell autographed items directly to the public. The signed copy of WWE Magazine above, for example, was purchased on Trish Stratus‘ website, www.trishstratus.com. There, the former multi-time women’s champion sells signed magazines, books, photos, posters and more. If you have your own particular item you want signed, she’ll ink it up for a $10 fee.
Many athletes have a web presence these days for themselves or their charitable foundations — though not all have online stores. However, it’s a definite option for collectors who aren’t afraid to do some homework (aka fire up Google). The prices may not always be the cheapest, but you’re paying for the security of getting it straight from the source.
You’d be surprised who’ll sell signed items online. Here’s an immensely short sampling: Albert Pujols, Danica Patrick, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Favre, the late Bob Feller (through his museum), Barry Sanders and Wayne Gretzky. And it’s not limited to just sports stars, either. Just a few of them are pop star Taylor Swift, Clerks director Kevin Smith, actress and model Pamela Anderson, former Star Trek star George Takei and many, many more. (Be careful to make sure you find the person’s official site, though.)
And, of course, countless leagues and teams sell or auction autographed items of various types.
Official Twitter and Facebook accounts are another online method where collectors have a chance — albeit perhaps a tougher one — to contact an athlete or celeb and try to get something signed. At the very worst, you should find an address there or on their official sites that could be tried for a through-the-mail autograph request. (More on that later.)
Inquiring about autographs this way can lead to results while saving money on stamps and preventing unanswered TTM requests. One collector, Stacy Shaffer, uses them pretty heavily and they make up a good amount of his successes.
“I would say Twitter and Facebook make up 15-20 percent [of my responses],” said Shaffer, a collector based in Iowa. “At times it can be higher. Depends on time and effort I put into it.”
CHARITIES OR TEAM EVENTS
Many team or athletes’ websites/Facebook pages or Twitter feeds have links to their charities or keep you up to date on what’s going on there. Collectors have more options than ever if they plug into the information found in these places — whether it’s information on how to get something signed, an auction or an upcoming event. (Many universities will have events each year where alumni or even present team members will sign, too.)
The number of major shows isn’t what it used to be, but there are still plenty of shows out there where promoters will bring in athletes to sign. It doesn’t have to be the National Sports Collectors Convention to be a show with a guest or two. You can find show schedules in Beckett magazines or right here (with signers sometimes noted there or on provided links) or even listings of shows, appearances and private signings right here.
Don’t forget about major comic book shows, either, if you’re into more than just sports autographs. These shows are loaded with celebs — not just comic book artists. For example, the Philadelphia Comic Con (set for June) is headlined by Jackie Brown‘s Pam Grier and Kill Bill‘s Vivica A. Fox. There are countless larger shows throughout the country every year — and the autograph fees are often way more affordable than those you’ll find at the typical sports shows. Here’s an example of a guest lineup for one larger show.
Athletes often will appear at openings of businesses they have ties to or make occasional stops at their alma maters where they often sign for free. For example, when I was at the University of Alabama I got autographs from Ken Stabler on a regular basis as he was a broadcaster for the school. Meanwhile, Hall of Famers such as Bart Starr, John Hannah and Ozzie Newsome (among others) each were guests meeting fans at a legends tent on campus — signing for free. Wasn’t bad considering Hannah is a pretty elusive signer and Starr is a TRISTAR exclusive where an autograph will cost collectors $150 and up.
It’s pretty common for athletes to make appearances on behalf of corporate sponsors during All-Star Game or Super Bowl/World Series types of events — so it’s always good to keep tabs on signings if events are in your area through industry publications or websites. Other sports, like auto racing and pro wrestling, use appearances to enhance publicity in advance of events or in the hours leading up to events.
These signings are often an easy way to land an autograph — sometimes of very big names — if you have the time (and energy) to stand in long lines. Often all it requires is the cost of a book and you can often get more than one signed to help defer some of those “costs” of your time. There are a few sites out there that track announced book signings and tours. Click here for one. If you live in or near a major city, this is a viable option.
In other cases, signings also will take place with ties to teams or schools. For example, Joe Namath — not a cheap autograph — signed copies of his Icons of the NFL book at two locations when it arrived. One in New York and the other at the University of Alabama. The school bookstore briefly sold signed copies — at cover price — online.
Other times, major independent book stores will sell signed copies — one way they can compete with major chains (which also will host signings). Some will have autographed book sections in stores, while others will sell signed copies online. One such store is Hollywood, Calif.-based Book Soup, which regularly has a section of signed books for sale on its website and signings noted well in advance where collectors can pre-order signed books. Some of the signed books in their inventory now include autographs from comedian Chelsea Handler, Spike Lee, Michael Caine and Mad magazine artist Sergio Aragones. (I picked up a signed copy of Jose Canseco‘s Vindicated on the site in the past and have seen everything from Hulk Hogan to The Doors and Hugh Hefner autographs on the site.)
AT THE BALLPARK
Perhaps the original way to get an autograph, it’s definitely not a sure thing these days as there will be many fans right there alongside you working for some ink. In fact, some stadiums won’t allow fans without appropriate tickets to enter sections close to the field before the game — or bring certain items like baseball bats — into the venue, but do your homework and you should be fine. You will need luck, too, as a ticket to the ballpark does not include an automatic autograph.
A few tips would include:
— Arrive early and stay late (be there first and be there last to get the ink).
— Be polite and considerate of the athletes — and those around you. (Don’t be a @#$%!)
— Be prepared with item and appropriate pen handy immediately. (Don’t make the player wait — you may get skipped.)
— Know your players. After all, you want their autograph… calling a player by the wrong name won’t get it done.
— Be original. If you have a unique item or unique look you may get noticed.
What should you get signed? It depends what you collect. Cards are always good but if you don’t know who you might get, things could be tough to juggle when a player signs. A helmet or ball makes for a good item for a single player or a group. Just make sure you have the right kind of pen. (Ballpoint pen for a baseball; Sharpie or Staedtler for cards, bats or helmets; paint pen, fat-tip permanent marker or dulled-point Sharpie for a football or basketball.)
THROUGH THE MAIL
Another of the traditional ways to collect is through the mail. TTM autographs require a self-addressed stamped envelope, a polite letter and a lot of patience. If you send cards or photos make sure they are gloss-free (so you get a quality signature back) and have a light-colored background so you can see the signature.
Always do your homework when preparing TTM autographs — read up on who’s signing and who’s not will help your return success rate — and never send an item that you can’t replace. There are countless sites out there where collectors report their TTM successes. Threads can be found on Beckett.com or on other sites that specialize in just autograph addresses and discussions.
For current athletes, use their team addresses. For Hall of Famers, some Halls will forward fan mail. (Some will not — check their sites.) For other players, see what worked for other collectors. Also, knowing what an athlete’s signature looks like (on certified autographs) should help you eliminate using those addresses that might be signed by someone else or reply with pre-prints or autopenned cards.
Three specific tips when I was a heavy TTMer in the past:
— Stick with cards if you can. Sure, a signed photo might make a better item — but you’ll spend more money on photos or shipping and you have a better chance that a larger item could come back damaged. And, remember, you may not get it back at all.
— Send two cards (three at extreme most if you know they are a good signer). Why? If the signatures are identical in size, and the loops and on the exact same spot on the card that’s one sign (of a few) that it’s possibly autopenned. It’s impossible for someone to write anything with exactly the same size and details twice.
— If you use blank 3×5 cards, put the person’s initials on the return address of your envelope 0r on the inside of the SASE. You’d be surprised how illegible some autographs can be. Doing this, you should be able to cross-check the initials to your list of outstanding requests sent. (It’s also another reason I prefer trading cards.)
There are countless memorabilia companies out there that have deals with teams and players to bring signed items to the masses.
Steiner Sports, for example, has deals with several members of the New York Yankees (among other teams) and memorabilia deals with several franchises and universities, too. TRISTAR, a long-time show promoter and card-maker does, as well. Its stable includes Bo Jackson, Ryne Sandberg, Kurt Warner, Bart Starr and Roger Clemens, and it’s the NSCC’s autograph pavilion sponsor. And, of course, Upper Deck Authenticated has exclusive deals with Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, LeBron James and many others.
Sometimes, smaller companies create ties with players. For example, if you want a Tim Tebow autograph, his official website directs you to Palm Beach Autographs. Want an Ichiro Suzuki autograph? He has a long-time association with Mill Creek Sports, which is based in suburban Seattle.
Sometimes, agents will link up with companies to bring memorabilia to collectors. Steve Nash (and other players represented by BDA Sports Management) sells game-used memorabilia and autographed items through Beckett Media’s sales division.
That’s just a brief look at autographs in this edition of the tip sheet.
Do you have any other tips, ideas or resources that come to mind? Any athletes who you know sign via official sites that you think collectors should know about?
Let me know via a comment or email.
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.