How to succeed at collecting autographs
|By Carole Moore
Your better half's birthday is coming up and you come
across the perfect gift on an online auction site: an autographed
photo of his or her favorite movie star or baseball player. And
what a bargain! Only $15 plus shipping, with a certificate of authenticity.
What do you have to lose?
Try $15 and your shipping costs.
Chances are, if it's a megawatt star, authentic signatures
will sell high. But you aren't going to get an original signed Hank
Aaron or Barbra Streisand for a pittance.
about the certificate of authenticity -- doesn't that mean the item is genuine?
Anyone can certify a signature, but only a true expert can authenticate a signature.
Joe Orlando, president of PSA/DNA
Authentication Services, says it's vital to have the signature authenticated
by a third party.
"If I say the item's authentic and grade
it on quality and I'm the seller, there's a problem," Orlando says.
PSA, which stands for Professional Sports Authenticator,
specializes in sports signatures. Orlando says some signatures,
such as a good quality Babe Ruth single-signed baseball, can fetch
upward of $100,000 -- out of reach for the average collector. But
collectors can still pick up good items that will increase in value
for a very small investment.
Getting the real deal
collectors who want assurance their signatures are the real deal have few options.
The most reliable way to obtain an autograph is in person. But this requires a
different type of investment -- time.
When celebrities make personal appearances they sometimes
sign books they've authored, posters, photos and other memorabilia.
Some charge for this service, others do not. Alternatively, a collector
can hope to catch the celebrity at a premiere or after a game in
an unofficial moment.
Another method is to purchase items that
have been examined and authenticated by a reputable and knowledgeable third party
such as PSA/DNA. But even knowledgeable authenticators will occasionally be wrong.
"It's always a leap of faith, especially when you're
buying vintage material," Orlando says. "Remember, where's there's greed,
The thrill of it
Movie and TV critic Jane
Louise Boursaw says she has about 100 autographs in her personal collection.
Boursaw collects some of them by mail, but warns that writing and asking for an
autograph doesn't necessarily net a real one. "You don't always know if the
signature is authentic," Boursaw says.
her collection as a hobby -- and a fun one at that -- and says her favorites include
Melanie Griffith, Doris Day and Tom Selleck, "because he writes 'Jane Louise,
Best wishes, Tom Selleck.' How could you not love that?"
finds mailing addresses on the Internet through collectors' sites and drops the
stars a nice note with her requests, along with self-addressed, stamped envelopes
for the photographs.
Celebrities -- from actors to U.S. presidents to sports figures -- are busy people.
Most don't have time to sign autographs for admirers. Some satisfy the demand
for autographs with autopens, proxy and preprinted signatures.
An autopen is exactly what it sounds like -- a pen that reproduces a signature.
Brian Marren, vice president of acquisitions with Mastro
Auctions, says the autopen isn't a new invention at all. He points to writings
of the late Charles Hamilton, an expert who wrote several books about the device's
use. In addition to the astronauts, many U.S. presidents used autopens. "Hollywood
has done it for years," Marren says. |
John F. Kennedy not only used autopens, but he also kept his secretaries busy
signing his name. It's a practice many celebrities use. "In the '30s and
'40s, the secretary would sign autograph requests for the star," says Marren.
Actress Joan Crawford was a notable exception and did most of the signing herself.|
signatures: There's nothing mysterious about preprinted signatures. They're
part of the photograph and typically mass-produced.|
he receives a photo request, actor Mark Hamill, like many celebrities, will send
one with a preprinted autograph, but he's stopped signing new ones. It's easy
to see why. Run a search of Hamill's name on eBay at almost any time and you'll
find dozens of pricey listings: movie posters with the "signatures"
of the entire cast of the Star Wars trilogy, props "signed" by Hamill
and dozens of other items. On
his Web site, Hamill debunks the authenticity of most offerings.
"It saddens me to see the majority of signatures
purported to be mine are fraudulent, along with bogus certificates
of authenticity, to further dupe the unsuspecting collector,"
Hamill says. But, he adds, "I simply do not have the time,
money or wherewithal to stop the avalanche of fake autographs."
autographs are worth a lot" for experts' advice on assessing
an autograph's investment potential.