Monday, July 27, 2009

Collecting the Sox: Autographs

Autographs are an old hobby that has become quite a business these days. While it may seem odd to some to collect something just because someone wrote on it, there are many collectors out there who do just that. As with any collectable, it’s a matter of what you enjoy.

In the old days, autographs served as proof that you met, and had an encounter with, a famous person. It didn’t matter whether it was an athlete, entertainer, or politician. If you met someone, you had them sign a piece of paper, or autograph book. That way you could take it home, and show off to your friends. For that reason, many old autographs are found on index cards, or blank sheets of paper. It didn’t much matter what the autograph was on, as long as you had it. Somewhere along the way, instead of bragging rights, autographs turned into collections. People started getting specific things signed, which made for nice displays. Babe Ruth could sign a baseball. Judy Garland could sign a script. When pictures became plentiful, those started to get autographs as well. Once the signatures became collections, it became less important to have actually met the person. It was ok to trade an autograph you had for one you wanted. Or, you could write a letter to a famous person, and ask them to send back an autograph. This made the autograph simply a collectable, to be traded, bought, or sold as seen fit. This led to the big business of today. Athletes get big buck to make personal appearances at shows to sign their name hundreds of times. Baseball card companies have players sign cards to insert into packs. Players are hounded at hotels and ballparks by people demanding piles of autographs. It sometimes looks like a big mess.

The bright side, though, is that autographs are easier to collect. Ted Williams made several appearances at shows before he died, leading to many more autographs than there would have been otherwise. Celtics great Bill Russell realized that he really enjoyed going to shows to sign autographs. What was once an impossible autograph in person has become much easier. So, as an autograph collector, you need to take the good with the bad.

One of the more important decisions when it comes to autographs is what to have the autograph signed on. This decision could be based on something you already collect. If you collect baseballs, or pictures, adding an autograph to one of those would add to the collection. Those also make attractive displays for an autograph. An autograph on a picture of your favorite player hangs nicely on a wall. Another option is a simple piece of paper. While these might not look like much on their own, they can be added to other collectables to improve the look. I’ve seen people collect autographs of entire teams on index cards, and then mat them together into a nice collage. I remember reading an article once about someone who collected autographs on squares of fabric. The squares were then sewn into a great looking quilt. As with any collectable, the only limit is your imagination.

Autographs can be an easy collection to store. Obviously, if you’re getting motorcycles signed, that could take up some room. But, a binder of signed index cards, or baseball cards fits rather nicely just about anywhere. It can be a challenging hobby to collect as well. Tracking down the players to get a signature can be a lot of fun, and adds a personal story to each item in the collection. Which is really the whole point of any collection.

Anyone have a favorite autograph story?

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