What You Get Signed Is as Important as the Autograph Itself


For sports collectors where seemingly everything has been commodified, this is probably an obvious statement — but for the rest of the collecting world (or beginners) it might not be.

What you get autographed is as important as the autograph itself.

In the sports world, the type of item you get signed at a show or an appearance is often tied to the amount of money you’ll pay for the signature. Basically, the more valuable item you get signed the more you’ll typically have to pay. Why? The players, agents and show promoters know the relative value of an item, and, well, they want a relative cut.

Getting a jersey or another piece of equipment will cost you more than, say, a baseball card or a photograph. That’s just how it is with the business side of things. In fact, there are countless examples where players won’t sign certain items,  things showing them with certain teams or even certain brands of cards. (It’s not just a scene in Jerry Maguire.)

But the real value in a unique item is in the interest, the reaction, it should draw from those who see it. Some of my favorite autographed items in my collection — items I got signed in-person — were because they were unique items. They’re not the most expensive piece or the toughest autograph to land. They’re not ultra-rare, either, as a collector could conceivably re-create them with some legwork.

Then again, one of my most unique autographed items isn’t even a sports item at all — and that’s why you see a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie, Death Proof, above where stuntwoman Zoë Bell is in action riding atop the hood of a 1970 Dodge Challenger as it speeds down a highway with another car in hot pursuit.

What you get autographed is as important as the autograph itself.

That point was reinforced to me today when discussing some vital things with a group of collectors/followers on Twitter. First, one collector spoke of his trip to Atlanta for a card show and wondered about places to visit during non-show hours. I suggested he include a trip to Abdullah The Butcher’s House of Ribs. While I haven’t been there, the idea of a retired 350-pound pro wrestling legend — one known for turning his opponents into bloody messes with the use of a fork, err foreign object, in the ring — running a barbecue joint is an absolute must-see road-side attraction, one that reportedly includes the ambiance of watching some of his bloodiest matches on television while you scarf down some guaranteed-to-be-less-bloody fixings.

The 70-year-old retired Abdullah is much less violent these days as he’s often found on the scene, but it’d be obvious I’d want one item signed if I were in The Butcher’s presence.

I’d want an autographed (oversized) fork. Nothing else says The Butcher like that.

What you get autographed is as important as the autograph itself.

The second time the thought popped into my head today was when I learned that another pro wrestling legend, Shawn Michaels (yes, it was a wrestling kind of winter day), will be in Dallas in February for a signing at a car show. While these events make for relatively easy autographs, this one posed a challenge for me.

I already checked my calendar — it’s a Sunday, so I’m in the clear. But what would I get signed if I went?

Would it be a trading card or maybe one of the DVDs in my collection? Probably not, as I already have a Topps certified autograph, and I’ve never been a fan of DVD sleeves signed (too tough to store if not the simple sheet of paper insert). I could go the photograph or promo photo route, but that’s not all that common — I could just buy one of those signed as-is right now. Magazine? Replica belt? They’re common, but I don’t have anything that comes to mind.

My leading candidate might be my WrestleMania 25 ringside chair, which I used to watch him lose to the Undertaker — the greatest standard match in WrestleMania history — from about 11 rows back. It’s one of his defining moments, but it’s also an item where he’s pictured with a dozen other guys. It’s a higher-end item and it’s certainly symbolic but it’s probably not the perfect item. (He’s also got a sweeping, simple signature that doesn’t really translate well on smaller items … something to think about.)

I’m still torn there. Still not sure. (Thoughts?)

By Wednesday afternoon, one phrase had stayed with me for the day — what you get autographed is as important as the autograph itself — and one of my favorite autographs (and writing this item) came to mind.

Here’s where Zoë Bell comes in. First, watch this …


In early 2008, I lived in Orlando, Fla., which is a hotbed for drawing celebrities (and others) for show appearances as Disney excursions can be an added enticement.  A comic book event, the FX Show, had a typical run-down of guests from TV shows such as Heroes and the X-Files or movies such as Clerks and Mallrats along with pop culture icons such as Adam West (Batman), George Takei (Star Trek) and Erik Estrada (CHiPs) also signing. (Yeah, I said it. Estrada. Icon.)

But one name struck me as the one to get first — Bell — as Tarantino’s simple grindhouse movie, Death Proof, had been in heavy rotation in my DVD player.

But, again, the question came to mind … what do I get signed?

DVD cover? A copy of the behind-the-scenes book about the film? Movie poster (she’s not pictured)? A lobby card, or smaller poster made to promote the movie, that she does appear on?

None of them seemed to be good enough — and I knew she’d have 8×10 photos that could be bought and signed at the show like all of the other guests — but then it finally dawned on me what to get signed after a viewing of the DVD.

Bell essentially plays herself in the movie — a stuntwoman from New Zealand — who is spending the day with friends while they are off from shooting a film in rural Tennessee. In one lengthy scene, they channel their inner Tarantinos and discuss and dissect their love for muscle car movies. Specifically, Vanishing Point, a cult classic that showcases one man’s rebellious journey in a 1970 Dodge Challenger, a car that Bell says she wants to drive herself while visiting the United States. They find one and go joyriding in a fashion only befitting daredevils — and then they cross paths with a serial killer on wheels, Stuntman Mike (aka Kurt Russell).

It became obvious to me that only a 1:18 scale diecast of a white Dodge Challenger would do. Finding one was a tough task. Hours of late-night web surfing checking dealers’ websites went fruitless, and eBay turned out to be a serious challenge as the lone diecast that had been made for Vanishing Point wasn’t exactly cheap if still in its packaging — or even readily available.

And there was only one spot that the car could be signed — on the hood that she made famous.

But I finally tracked one down, and the day of the show then arrived. When I paid my $20 for a signature and stepped forward to her table, Bell saw the car and lit up. She marveled at it, popping its hood, spinning its tires, opening its doors, dropping an expletive or two in her distinct Kiwi accent just like I had seen in the film countless times on heavy rotation. It was clear she hadn’t seen one of these before — even though she had taken a serious step toward making the car famous once again in a cult classic (just like “Kowalski” had done decades before) when she put her life in the hands of a fellow stuntwoman who was behind the wheel.

After a few minutes of examining the car, she asked whether I wanted it inscribed to me like the photo I also bought (something free at a signing like this, but something that would cost extra at a typical sports show). That’s when I smiled and took it a step further, asking her to write what’s perhaps her most memorable line from the movie. I asked that she write what she first says to her friends in the film after they thought she had died — “Whew, that was a close one!” — an absolutely endearing and comical moment for such a badass during a very tense and at times bloody movie.

The request prompted a chuckle from her as she loved the idea. She dabbed her blue Sharpie on the table to ensure that ink was flowing and carefully printed the phrase before signing. She handed the signed Challenger back to me as if she had somehow defaced a piece of art, saying “Sorry my signature is for $h!#” in her distinct accent. It was a comment I politely disagreed with as I had just landed what is still one of my favorite items in my collection.


I’ve gotten countless other autographs from Hall of Famers, legends, icons — people who are used to the business aspect of the hobby and don’t often marvel at something they sign as it’s work or a slight inconvenience of fame. Some of the items in my collection have fun stories behind them like this one does, but few of them carry quite the same story about the reaction of the signer and none of them elicit a response like this one does.

Remember, what you get autographed is as important as the autograph itself.


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1 comment

  1. Travis 13 January, 2011 at 09:18

    A very interesting article as I’ve gone thru this same dilemma of finding “weird” or different things to get signed. One year @ a Marlins FanFest, I had a Marlins car window shield signed because I knew I’d be getting 20+ autos & didn’t want to carry all those photos around. Since then I’ve gotten a lil more into seeking autos since down here in South Florida there are tons of celebrities either living or partying here. I have a picture of a Miami Hurricanes “U” 26″ rim on a show car that was all decked out in Canes colors (& signed by the ’01 National Champs), I’ve been using that to get autos from all my favorite Canes like Michael Irvin & Gino Torretta. Or I’ll do some research online & there’s some people that are amazing with photoshop & create custom Madden (& MLB the Show) covers of players that were never on the covers & have them sign those. My favorite that I’ve been able to finally just get completely signed this past Monday is a custom Madden cover w/ Ricky Williams & Ronnie Brown. I’ve tried TTM (thru the mail) requests & have gotten some responses, but I think being able to meet the star & get to interact with them is best. In a pinch, I’ll use just a blank 4×6 photo paper, but know that’s not really way to go but I think it’s better than using the shirt you’re wearing. LOL, I’ve even used one of my casino players cards to get signed by Zach Thomas cause that was all I had on me. Here’s a link to my autograph photobucket page. Think it’d be cool for everyone to check out as for the past month I’ve been adding at least one auto a week to it, with hopefully going to be able to get Dennis Rodman today when he does the Sid Rosenberg show (which of course as is fitting for Mr. Rodman, is being held at a strip club) Ok, I’ve gone a lil longer than I thought but think the article was great & now I gotta go on a search for some more “weird” pics or things to get signed.


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