Are you a serious sports fan or do you spend hours discussing favorite movies featuring yesterday's stars of the silver screen, like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, or Lucille Ball? Would you rather look for signed mementos from Elvis Presley, John Lennon, or Frank Sinatra? Collecting autographs can be a fun way to start a memorabilia collection featuring celebrities from yesterday and today.
Sports heroes, like Albert Pujols or John Elway, often sign their autographs on baseballs, footballs, player cards, bats, or even jerseys. Sometimes, a good autograph detective can even turn up a photograph, postcard, or letter that contains the coveted signature. Other official business documents that might contain a celebrity's signature include manuscripts, artwork, books, or even checks.
Sometimes, knowing the star's signing habits can give an autograph seeker a pretty good idea about the authenticity of a potential find. For example, finding an autographed letter by Babe Ruth that was supposedly written in 1950 is a sure sign of a forgery; the Babe lost the battle to cancer in 1948.
Generally, knowing how valuable a particular autograph is depends on many factors, including the autograph's age, content, rarity, condition, and authenticity. For example, many collectors who are suspicious of an item will avoid it, even if the price is right. When collecting an autograph, try to document as fully as possible where and under what circumstances the document was obtained.
Some autograph collectors will only buy from dealers or individuals who are members of certain organizations, such as the Manuscript Society or UACC. Often, these sellers will provide certificates of authenticity (referred to as COAs), or offer personal guarantees of authenticity. These can be helpful, but don't always ensure that the signature is the real thing. Even though an expert has evaluated an autograph, and stated that he or she believes it is genuine, experts can be fooled once in a while.
Many of these autographs are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to contact in some way with that admired movie star or celebrity. Because the value of the autograph depends on the condition of the item and the signature, taking proper care of them is highly important. Avoid exposing fragile ink or paper to bright or direct sunlight, to temperature extremes, or to humid conditions.
Paper is delicate and also needs to be protected from air, dust, and tiny pests that destroy books and other paper. Use PVC-free archive-quality sleeves or plastic protective cases to store valuable finds.
Ink signatures will last much longer than pencil, and usually command a higher price as a result. Similarly, autographs of past celebrities, like Mickey Mantle or Charlton Heston, will usually bring a better price than those signed by current or up-and-coming stars, such as Taylor Swift or Brent Spiner.
Likewise, a collector might treasure an autograph by Luis Tiant or Bob Feller. These sports heroes frequently make themselves available to sign memorabilia for fans, though, so their signatures are probably worth less to a collector than the signature of a star who rarely signs autographs, or lived a fairly short life, like Buddy Holly or Marilyn Monroe. Remember, though, quality is important; even a rare autograph isn't worth very much if the quality is extremely poor.
Although historical documents, like the copy of the Gettysburg Address signed by Abraham Lincoln, are very rare and very valuable. Except for these rare cases, though, usually signed photos, memorabilia, or other, less personal autographs will usually be more valuable to collectors.
If you're ready to be an autograph hound, put your nose to the ground and sniff out a great lead. Find record covers autographed by the Beatles, or a football signed by Joe Namath. It won't be easy, but the rewards are worth it. Good luck and happy hunting!