Autograph collecting: The 7 things you need to know
New to autograph collecting? This guide will help get you started
If you're new to autograph collecting, then congratulations - you're about to embark on an immensely rewarding pastime.
For autograph collectors, few things can match the thrill of holding in your hand a piece of paper once signed by one of your heroes, or a famous historical figure. It's been known to send a tingle down my spine, that's for sure!
Desirable and rare: James Dean's signature is one of the crown jewels of autograph collecting
This brief guide is designed to help you collect autographs successfully. What do I mean by "successfully"? Whether you're collecting autographs for pleasure, profit or both, it will assist you in building an autograph collection you can be proud of and that will be the envy of other autograph collectors, safe in the knowledge that the signatures are the genuine article.
Whose autographs should I collect?
The smaller your autograph collecting field, the more expert you will become in that sector. But remember that if you limit yourself to a particular person, it will be harder to build a collection and you could lose enthusiasm quickly. Example: Rather than confining your autograph collection to just Marilyn Monroe signatures, or going too far the other way, such as "film stars" - why not try "film stars of the 1950s" instead?
The 7 golden rules to collecting autographs
There are seven key factors I consider when adding any autograph or signed document to my collection. All these factors can affect an item's value.
Rarity: Most seasoned autograph hunters prize scarce signatures above the others. That's why James Dean or Neil Armstrong signatures are so keenly fought over. There are six known Shakespeare signatures in the world - all in institutions. If ever one should appear for auction, we're talking millions!
Desirability: Is the singer an icon? Only a select few names through history remain famous in the decades and centuries after their death. These autographs are the ones that have the most suitors today, pushing prices higher - especially if their signature is rare. Desirable signers include icons such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Content: Signed photos are generally valued more highly than plain autographs. Signed letters, if the content is important or illuminating, can sell for substantially more still. For example, a collection of five Einstein handwritten letters on the theory of relativity sold for $161,000 in 2013. His signed photos sell for around $3,000.
The signature itself: Is it clear and crisp, with no smudging or signs of fading? All the better!
Condition: The better the condition of the item, the more attractive it is - both to other collectors and as a display piece. Look for no creases, as well as sharp corners and edges - not always easy to find!
Date: Timing is crucial when it comes to the value of an autograph. Winston Churchill signatures from his most famous days - the second world war from 1939-1945 - are his most valuable. The first and last known autographs are also much in demand, the latter especially so when the person in question met with an unexpected end. The last autograph John F Kennedy gave - on the morning of his assassination - sold for $39,000 in 2010. Museum-grade JFK handwritten signed letters are valued at around $13,000.
Authenticity: Last on my list, but the most important when collecting autographs. Is the autograph genuine? If not, not one of the above points matter.
How do I actually go about collecting autographs?
You could write off to celebrities if they're still living, but be wary that the reply you receive is not an autopen or secretarial. If the person in question is no longer with us, dealers and auctions are the only way to go. Apply the "six key factors" religiously to any autograph you're thinking of buying.
If going down the dealer route, ensure they offer you a lifetime moneyback guarantee of authenticity. That's exactly what we provide at Paul Fraser Collectibles.
Take a look at our stock of autographs for sale here.
Can I make money from autograph collecting?
It's entirely possible, as the figures in our PFC40 Autograph Index reveal.
Learn more about Investing in Autographs here.
Thanks for reading,