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Autograph Collecting: Questions and Answers

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Obtaining autographs from celebrities requires patience and a little luck. As well, purchasing autographs online requires knowledge of the hobby.

Question: I want to start sending requests to celebrities for autographs, what should I include in the letter?

Answer: When writing a letter to a celebrity, it is advisable to write no more than one page. Although celebrities may be thrilled that you appreciate their work, or liked their acting in a certain TV show or movie, they simply do not have enough time to read multi-page letters from fans. Also, when writing to a celebrity, try to include some specific references to their work that you particularly enjoy. Be very specific in your descriptions. Mention character names that they have played and movies in which they have starred or appeared. This makes a much better impression than just simply saying... "I enjoy all your movies. Send me an autograph". Be courteous and respectful. My experience has been that celebrities are truly impressed with kind treatment from their fans and they usually reward it.

Question: I’m a beginner when it comes to autograph collecting. What type of autographs should I purchase?

Answer: Buy autographs that capture your interest. Don’t purchase items presented as “investments” or sold through pressure. Learn as much as possible the language of autograph collecting. The more you study, the easier it will be for you to determine what items are authentic and which items to purchase. Use common sense when buying a signed piece. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Purchase autographed items from reputable dealers, who will help you avoid risks and problems. Most dealers offer a certificate of authenticity, which is only as good as the reputation of the dealer. If the dealer cannot tell you when and where the item was signed or how it was obtained, go elsewhere.

Question: How do you determine the price or value of your autographs?

Answer: Several factors go into determining the price of an autographed item. The content of the photo (is this person known for his/her role shown in photo) and how difficult it is to obtain the autograph. Condition and market are also factors considered in pricing. Demand also has to be considered, especially if the celebrity has become more popular and the demand has increased suddenly. Examples recently include celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Hilary Duff, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and Bruce Springsteen. Each has either had a very successful film, tour or CD. Here is a breakdown for determining value.

1) Who has signed the autograph? The key words here are "demand" and "scarcity." If a particular person's autograph is in high demand and it happens to be a scarce autograph, then you can expect it to have good value. This is why an autograph of Marilyn Monroe sells for over several thousands of dollars. She remains popular and her signature is in great demand. Her autographs are scarce when compared to those of entertainers George Burns, Jimmy Stewart or Joan Crawford, all of whom were around many decades longer to sign autographs for fans.

2) What item has been signed? A simple signature on an album page, menu, airline ticket or piece of paper is normally worth less than a signed document, signed photo, typed or handwritten letter. This is because it is the most common type of autograph. All things being equal, a handwritten signed letter demands a premium since not only does it have a name signed at the end but may also reveal something interesting, historical, or personal about the writer. Thus, you're getting more than just a name signed on paper.

3) Is the signature in ink, pencil or otherwise? Ink is worth more than pencil. Pencil can fade over time and usually isn't as dark and bold as a nice ink signature. Many collectors prefer and will pay more for ink signatures. But don't take this to mean pencil signatures don't have value. The great Apache Indian chief Geronimo signed pencil autographs at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Today those pencil signatures on small cards can sell for at least $5,000. Today, most collectors prefer that photos and non-flat items be signed in sharpie or paint pen.

4) What is the condition of the autograph? Any damage to the autograph, photo or paper will lower value. Smears, stains, creases, smudges, fading, tears, holes or other damage will always drop the value of an autograph. To get top dollar and maximum value autographs must be in excellent condition.

There are several other small variables that can come into play when attempting to place a value on an autograph, but these four important questions are regarded as the most basic factors that determine an autograph's value.

These are just a few of the questions we receive from autograph collectors. If you have a question, feel free to contact us.

About the Author

Lon Strickler has authored several nationally published articles on Baltimore sports & social history and currently writes a monthly autograph collector's newsletter at Tias.com (The AutoGram). Member of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC) and The Antiques and Collectibles National Association (ACNA). Owner of Strickler's Celebrity Autographs at www.stricklersports.com

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