Tips and Information for Autograph Collecting
The Letter: Your letter should be short. It should be nice and to the point. Do not load it with junk like tons of stickers, glitter etc. Don't fold it 20 times. Make it easy to get to. I cut my paper down and it has one fold. They pull it out and flip it open. Real quick. Remember, these are busy people. You should make sure your spelling and grammar is good. Be complimentary but don't be too flowery. Phoniness is not cool. Some people debate whether you should type or handwrite a letter. There is no clear cut answer for that. Personally, I type a letter, but personalize it. I include the person's name and mention why I am requesting the autograph. I compliment the work. I hand sign it and add a remark in my own writing. I picked typed because it's easier and faster to read. Should you choose typewritten, make it an easy to read font and at least 12 points. Do not send a letter just to get an autograph. Be a true collector and collect because you admire that person's work. Top
The Outer Envelope: Make sure before you send the letter out, that the outer envelope it very legible (typed or handwritten; I've used both and it doesn't seem to matter) and if it gets wet, it can still be read. Make sure you have enough postage. As of 2001, the postage within the US is 37 cents for a one ounce or less first class envelope. From the US to any foreign country, the postage rate is 80 cents for a first class one ounce letter. I have included some postage sites for you. Top
The Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE): This is VERY important. Each letter should contain a self-addressed stamped envelope. I use address labels with my address in my requests. Make sure the labels are correct and easy to read. Make sure that if you hand write the envelope to yourself, that it's very legible and won't disappear or be unreadable if the mailman gets it wet.
Make sure that you include postage on the SASE. The postage should be correct or it will be returned to you. Either that or postage due on the other end. Not a good thing. Proper postage is 37 cents for a US letter (first class/one ounce). For England, it's 68 pence. For other countries, you will have to contact their postal service and inquire. Much of this can be done by e-mail. I will talk further about postage in a bit. You do not need to put your address in the upper left corner of the envelope, but can if you want to.
It's a good idea to code your envelopes. Here's what I mean. I have a couple hundred addresses. Sometimes two or three for one person. To know which address worked, I code the inside with letters or numbers. I then code my address list with the letters or numbers put inside the envelopes. This also helps identify autographs that are illegible.
For foreign envelopes, it's a good idea to get Air Mail stickers from the post office (available free of charge). Your package will go air mail and get to you faster. You also could go to your local Office Max, Office Depot, Staples etc. and buy Air Mail envelopes.
For further convenience, I send self-adhesive envelopes. They just pull off the strip and seal it rather than licking the envelope. Some stars might not like "licking". These envelopes cost a little bit more but are worth it.
In my opinion, writing "Do not bend" on the Envelope does not help one way or another. I've heard horror stories that postal people intentionally bend those. Others say false; though I tend to believe our postal workers handle mail as if it were their own. It is your option to include "Do not Bend". Top
Photos, Index Cards, Top Loaders & Other Items To Send: It is good to give the star something to sign. Not all stars can afford just to give out stuff. You could get lucky, but don't take that for granted. Send something. You can send just about anything for them to sign. Baseball or other cards, index cards, magazines, scripts, photos, footballs, anything. You can even make your own photos with a good printer and some quality photo paper. Or, you can buy unsigned photos online. Just type in unsigned celebrity photos in your browser. Make sure what you are printing or buying is not breaking any licensing laws. For example, printing an image from LucasFilm might not be ok. Find out first. Send anything legal, but remember a couple things: 1) Make sure you put enough postage on it there and back! 2) Make sure you can afford NOT to get the item back. Some stars will not respond and actually keep your mail and items! Or trash them. So if you send a photo signed by three cast members and send to a fourth cast member who does not sign, you could lose all three signatures. So do your homework first.
I personally can't afford to send photos or large items to be signed all the time, so I stick with index cards and for my Star Wars collection, Widevision Movie Cards. There's no extra postage required and they fit into a small envelope.
I don't put pens in for the star to sign with, but you can do that if you want. They may or may not use it and they may or may not give it back. Remember that!
Top loaders protect your items from being bent but here's some stuff to keep in mind: 1) It's more costly because of the weight 2) The star will have to take it out and put it back in thereby creating possibility of tears and folds and 3) I've heard some stars sign just the top loader! It's your choice. I don't have an opinion either way. I'd probably choose a cardboard backing instead, but then again, they might not send the backing back. You never know. Think about your options! Top
How Many Items To Send: It's best not to be greedy. One or two items is more than enough. It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that three is the absolute maximum. Why do you need more? Besides, you don't want to wear the star out or make them think you are selling the autographs. You'll ruin it for everyone else! Your friend wants one? Let your friend write himself/herself. That's half the fun. Top
Your List: Don't forget to code your list with the numbers/letters on or inside your SASE. Don't forget to put the date you sent the request out and when you get it back. Other collectors might want that info or you might want it if you need to send out another request (if item is wrecked in mail etc.). I have recently been putting names and places beside the names on my list so that I may track who has helped me and where the good sites are for further use! Just a suggestion that has worked well for me. Top
Preprints, Autopens, Secretarials and Stamped Autographs:
Stamped autographs are exactly what they sounds like. It's a signature that is "stamped" on the photo etc. Stamps are the easiest to detect. Many look like the rubber stamps you did as a kid! Others are better, but if you'll look closely, you'll see it. Little dots, splotches, bare areas, are all signs of a stamped autograph.
Preprints are probably the most common type of autograph. The preprint is a reproduction of the original. So the star will sign a photo and have many made to be distributed. Some preprints are pretty convincing. But if you see gloss over the top of the signature, that's a tell-tale sign. You can hold them up to the light and see shininess. Look for a beginning and end where the star stopped and started. If none is there, it could be a preprint. Look for evenness in the signature. If it's too even, it could be a preprint. Almost all the big stars use preprints. Preprints usually look like marker. Preprints are not depressed usually.
Autopen signatures are made with a machine. These are most convincing of all! Autopens can looked depressed like when you sign a soft photo with a ball point. They may even have "puddles" at the beginning or end of the signature. Sometimes, they may even show some non-even marks where the ink is running out. But overall, the best way to tell is by view signatures other people get. Or getting another autograph from the star (write twice). If you were to lay the signatures over top of each other, they'd fit like a glove. Research is the only way to tell sometimes. These are not as common because the machine is costly.
Secretarials are like they sound. Some secretaries or agents sign for the star. Sometimes the signatures are close, but they are hardly ever right on. In addition, many aren't close at all! The best thing to do is check other signatures and do some matching. I think good resources are Star websites and other places facsimile signatures might be. Ebay is not a good resource. Many of the items there are fake. The only true source of knowledge in this area is gained through RESEARCH. Top
Common Autograph Abbreviations:
AP = Autopen or Associated Press
ASL or ALS = A signed letter or A letter signed
AMQS = Autograph Musical Quotation or handwritten musical notes or a bar of music signed
ASN or ANS = A signed note of A note signed
AQS=Autograph Quotation signed (by the person who made the quote)
B/W = Black and White
C = Color
CISP = Color inscribed signed photo
COA = Certificate of Authenticity
CS or SC =Card Signed or Signed Card
CSP = Color signed photo
DS: Document Signed (contract, deed, official)
FDC: First Day Cover (postal related)
FOE = Forwarding Order Expired (post office cannot deliver)
HOF= Hall of Famer
I = Inscribed (To Bob etc.)
IP = In person (autograph obtained in person) or Inscribed photo
ISP or IPS = Inscribed signed photo or Inscribed photo; signed
IRC = International Response Coupon (see postage for definition)
LS= Letter Signed
MOC: Member of Congress
MOH: Medal of Honor
PP = Preprint
PS = Postscript or Photo signed
SAG = Screen Actor's Guild
SASE = Self addressed stamped envelope
SC = Signed card
SIC= Signed index card
SP= Signed Photo or Signed Print
TCS= Trading Card Signed
TLS or TSL =Typed Letter Signed or Typed Signed Letter
TTM = Through the mail (autograph obtained through the mail)
RTS = Return to Sender (address unknown; not at this address; address incomplete etc.)
UACC = Universal Autograph Collector's Club Top
Venue = Place where the star visits or works temporarily like a play, concert hall or sports arena
International Response Coupon = Form of postage used in place of stamps when foreign postage is unavailable.
Certificate of Authenticity = A certificate that comes with a purchased autograph.
Acid Free = Type of paper product that doesn't contain chemicals that discolor or harm photos and documents.
Provenance = The history or record of ownership of the item in question
UACC = Universal Autograph Collector's Club Top
Resources for Addresses: There are lots of sources for addresses on the net. I couldn't possibly list them all. The best sources lie in newsgroups like alt.collecting.autographs, a site called www.stararchive.com , IMDB offers you a few good links. Most stuff can be found on the net. Best places to search would be Stars Websites (try www.tomcruise.com for example and see if a site exists). Or type in Tom Cruise into a search engine. Or try celebrity fan clubs. For example, Madonna has a fan club and includes a photo, but it's a preprint; do not be afraid to e-mail the fan club and ask whether or not the signature is hand done, a preprint or autopen. Other things to put into a search engine would be agents, concert schedules (try www.ticketmaster.com) and don't forget to look for upcoming movies in production. Or just type in celebrity addresses in a search engine and see what comes up. A good search engine is www.dogpile.com; it is a search engine of search engines. You are only limited by your imagination! Top
Certificates of Authenticity and Photos of the Stars "signing": Certificates of Authenticity and photos of the stars "signing" are sometimes given with autograph purchases. Anyone can offer one and you could print one yourself. It is my opinion that they are not worth the paper they are printed on, unless offered by a major company and backed with a guarantee. Instead, ask for the provenance of the item to be included along with the Certificate of Authenticity. Sometimes, people offer photos of the person signing the item. That could be fixed too. It may be proof that that person met the star once, but when your item was signed? I've been given photos of the stars signing by the people I've bought the autograph from. I could easily turn around and fake an autograph and include a COA and photo of the star "signing" the item. I could have copies of the photo made and sell 100 autographs. So remember, COA's and photos are nice, but not necessarily proof. Top
Authenticating Your Autographs:
How can you authenticate the autographs? It's tough to answer this one. Signatures change with time. Signatures can vary if the star is in a rush. Child Stars grow up and their handwriting changes. There are many variables. The only thing you can really do, is research before buying. Do your homework. Check with sites who offer signature comparisons. Check out your local bookstore for books that show signatures. Check the stars website for possible comparisons. Go online and join autograph collecting clubs or newsgroups/lists and ask people to help you. I belong to alt.collecting.autographs. Nice people reside there. I have a network of Star Wars collectors I communicate with and they will always be on the lookout for me. If the signature is something you suspect to be VERY valuable like historical figures, then go online and find a few people who are experts. They will charge you for the service much the way an estate appraiser or gemologist would. But to know the truth, it might be worth it. Top
Fakes: What To Do:
What should you do if you suspect a fake? Try getting your money back. Be nice. Try to cash in on that COA. If that doesn't work, then contact the UACC. They might offer some advice to help you. If the item was obtained and mailed to you, you might be able to file a postal complaint. It's a crime to knowingly sell fakes and distribute them though the mail. If you paid by check, stop payment. If you paid by credit card, call the credit card company and see if they can help. Never pay in cash and always get a receipt. Always keep all records, e-mails etc. of the transaction. There is such a thing as small claims court and you could always call the attorney general's office in your state if the place that is selling fakes is in your state and is a licensed business. You can also file a Better Business Bureau complaint (that will just go into a file and be on record; too many complaints can shut a business down or force an investigation). If you bought your item from an online auction and have documented proof, you may get part of your money back. Online auctions have different policies, so read their policies to find out what recourse may be available to you. Top
Storing Your Autographs:
How do I store my autographs? Well, there are many ways, but some of the best ways are matted by acid free paper/matte. The matting and backing can be obtained at any framing shop or craft store. Some people frame them, but glass could stick to the photo if humidity exists. So if you are going to do that, put it in a cool dry area. Also, keep away from sunlight because sunlight fades the photo and signature. I choose to frame my favorites in glass using an acid free backing. The others I stick in a three ring binder and put into clear plastic holders. They are also acid free. Don't just shove them into a shoebox unless you are going to show them to people. They'll become bent and the edges will get worn. Never tape or glue an autograph into a scrapbook. It ruins it. If you want to put them into a "scrapbook", there is an adhesive (often used on catalogs and magazines with mailing labels) that can be used. Remember that acid free scrapbook paper! Top
US Postage Solutions & Rates: US Rates calculator is based on weight, size and how you want it sent (priority, first class, book rate etc). International rates calculator from US to some other country but not from another country back to the US. Rates for services and postage . I've already told you to put first class postage of .34 on each envelope within the US and .34 on the SASE. I've already told you put 65 pence on a SASE to the UK and .80 on the envelope going to the UK. But what do you do if you don't have foreign postage? Well you can sometimes buy some online. Sometimes, you'll have to buy in quantity. For example, I wanted British Stamps. So I went to the British site and e-mailed them. They said "Sure, no problem. You have to buy 100 though. By the way, you'll need to pay by credit card only". Not a problem for me, but you might not want 100 stamps nor have a credit card. What can you do? Well you can always do a "Hail Mary" and pray the star will foot the bill. But if that doesn't work, you can use what is called an IRC or International Response Coupon. This is purchased at your local post office. They cost $1.75 each (as of 2001) and depending on what your sending, you may need more than one. Since you don't know that cost of mailing from a foreign country to the US, it's best to put 2 or 3 of these coupons inside with your letter and self-addressed NON stamped envelope. The person on the receiving end will then take these coupons to their post office and exchange them for postage. Neat idea, but remember this: make sure that when you buy these IRC's, that they are of the correct postage each ($1.75) and that each one is stamped before you walk out the door. It'll be a round date stamp. The coupons will be stamped in the foreign country too. If the clerk doesn't know what you are talking about, talk to the manager. These are not items of every day use and your post office might not carry many. If you feel you'll be using them a lot, ask them for a certain quantity and they'll order some for you. Personally, I was lucky my post office had three of them! A city with 100,000 people and they had only three! Postage is key. If you want a successful return, supply the correct postage. For postage from other countries back to you in the US, see below. Here's a good list of UK postal rates: Top
10g - 40p 20g - 65p 40g - £1.00 60g - £1.35 80g - £1.70 100g - ££2.05
120g - £2.40
140g - £2.75
160g - £3.10
180g - £3.45
200g - £3.80
and here's a good converter that converts money and grams to ounces etc.!
Postal Links: My favorites are the US postal service, the British Postal Service, the Canadian Postal Service and the Australian Postal Service. Other countries might be tried this way: Go to your locator bar or browser and type in www.argnetina.com or www.bolivia.com etc. Then type in Post Office. 90 % of the time, you'll get the link (though you might need a translator program). If you know more links to sites around the World, please e-mail me and I'll add them for all to use. Top
Buying Autographs & On-line Auctions: Should you buy autographs? It's up to you. Some of the bigger stars are tough to get and some don't sign at all, or only sign in person. You might have to resort to buying one. Where should I purchase one then? My personal advice is to check to see if the star offers autographs on-line. Or if the star has a Fan Club that offers signed photos. Like mentioned above, fan clubs typically offer stuff online. Not to long ago, Pierce Brosnan's fan club offered a t-shirt signed by Mr. Brosnan. Do not be afraid to get clarification on whether the signature is from the stars hand or by other means. If not, then you are stuck with dealers or on-line auctions like Ebay. How do I find a good dealer? The best dealers are those referred to by others who have frequented the dealer. Go to a newsgroup like alt.collecting.autographs, or DejaNews and ask the group if they can recommend some. Having UACC attached to their title is good, but isn't a guarantee. But I personally prefer UACC registered dealers. Remember to keep your receipts, pay with check or credit card, ask questions of the dealer (like how did you get the item? How long have you been in business? Are they a member of the UACC? What is the return policy?). Get all information like their address, phone number etc. It sounds trivial, but it's important if you suspect later on down the road you bought a fake. What if I can't find what I want by a dealer? Well then, go ahead and try some auction sites, but beware. Many, if not the majority of items are fake. Do your homework first! Some don't intentionally defraud you, but might sell preprints as "authentic" and don't know they are. Some are outright forgeries. Beware of words like RARE. They are inflammatory and not necessarily true. Read descriptions more than once and carefully. Don't buy anything without a photo of it. If a photo is included, look carefully at it for damage as well as possible forgery. E-mail the dealer with questions before you bid. Read shipping rates and return policies carefully. Don't bid on the first one you see. Guess what!? If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I hate cliché's too, but If the shoe fits...; Buyer Beware! However, sometimes auctions are your only alternative and sometimes, you really can get a good deal. Top
I have more unanswered questions, where can I find out the answers? Well you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll try to help. I get a lot of e-mail so I'll respond when I can. I am known for being speedy, but sometimes problems arise or I am busy. Please know I get a lots of email and do have a life outside of autograph collecting and website building. Be patient and I'll try my best. If I can't help you, I'll try to hook you up with someone who can.
I have a suggestion for this site or I see something wrong here. Great! I am always ready for constructive criticism and suggestions. I welcome notification of spelling errors, erroneous information etc. Top