Requesting Autographs from Your Favorite Celebrities
For the average autograph collector, the best method for acquiring an autograph is through the mail. In-person signings are the ultimate in autograph satisfaction. You know for certain what you're getting, and there's the added thrill that you experience in seeing your favorite celebrity in the flesh. These chance encounters, however, or even scheduled autograph signings, are quite rare.
Newsman David Brinkley's autographed photo
Athletes now and then sign autographs at card shows. And some celebrities who write books—or more likely have them ghost-written—appear at bookstores to tout their titles. Neither of these two options offer fans and admirers much of an opportunity to shake hands or make small talk with their idols. Card shows and book signings, in general, are coldly impersonal cattle shows, where fans pay top dollar for an autograph, wait in a long line, and are paraded along like herds of cattle heading off to slaughter.
This sober reality leaves fans with only one viable alternative to get an autograph of their favorite star. The old-fashioned letter, dropped in the snail mailbox, is still the best route to take, short of purchasing an autograph. This is one area where e-mail won't ever do as a substitute. Autopens and secretarial signatures are commonplace, however, not to mention the most deflating response of them all—no response.
The Standard Guide to Collecting Autographs: A Reference & Value Guide by Mark Allen Baker is the best at bringing together the fundamental elements of the autograph hobby. Facsimile signatures, a “most sought-after” section, and the values of autographs are some of the topics covered in the book.
That said, a mail request is still the cheapest and easiest way to get a real autograph from a star. Believe it or not, many people have gotten the genuine article back from their screen idol, favorite politician, astronaut, or sports hero. It's worth making the effort, because it's not really a big effort at all. On the contrary, it is at once fun and exciting. So what if you get an Autopenned item back from time to time, or a preprint, or nothing at all? If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. In the following sections, I offer some tips for requesting autographs from your favorite stars.
Address Your Letter Properly
Always begin a letter with the proper salutation, and if the person you are writing to has a title, use it. A letter to Henry Kissinger, for example, should be addressed to “Dr. Kissinger.” In a letter to comedian Jim Carrey, “Jim” will do.
George Burns and Jimmy Stewart both signed many autographs for many fans. The result is that their autographs are plentiful and relatively cheap. On the other hand, Marilyn Monroe's autograph is a hard find—and an expensive one at that. And if you're looking for something really unusual, search for an autograph from Apache Chief Geronimo, who was at the 1904 World's Fair, signing his name on small cards for attendees. These hard-to-come-by Geronimo autographs sell for over $5,000 today.
Write a Personal Letter
Say something in the letter to let the celebrity know that you are a big fan. Give it a unique, personal twist. Mention an oddball piece of trivia or observation that'll let the recipient know that you are more than just a garden-variety admirer, but a fan to the core. Of course, don't go overboard in this department. You don't want to come across as a fruitcake and potential stalker. Conclude the letter and request for the autograph with a please and thank you and a few words about how much you appreciate your favorite star taking the time to answer you.
Don't Mention That You Collect Autographs
Collect is a commendable word in this book. But it's a four-letter word in many celebrities' eyes, who associate it with dealers looking for their signatures to sell, or they view the request as just a collector's pursuit of another autograph—one of many. The reality is that there are a lot of autograph sellers who do exactly what you are being instructed to do. And they all have dollar signs in their eyes.
The Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC) at www.uacc.org is the preeminent club in the hobby. UACC keeps collectors abreast of autograph news and has its own constitution and code of ethics; those who break the rules are inducted into the UACC Hall of Shame. UACC also publishes an autograph show schedule. One of its best features is its Registered Dealer Program. Sellers of autographs who meet their criteria are accredited, which helps autograph seekers in finding aboveboard sellers.
Keep It Short
Don't write a letter that's longer than one page. Celebrities get an awful lot of mail and are more apt to read short letters. There's no need to write a novella of a letter, because it probably won't be read. As Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Here's a sample fan letter requesting an autograph, for you to mimic if you so desire. This is a letter sent to the king of insult humor, comedian Don Rickles.
Dear Mr. Rickles:
I have been a fan of yours for many years. You've made me laugh like no other comedian. I've also enjoyed your work as an actor in both television and the movies. From your hilarious appearances on F Troop as Bald Eagle, to your both amusing and moving performance in Kelly's Heroes, you've entertained me for over three decades. I thought your own TV show, CPO Sharkey, was one of the funniest of all time. I've also had the good fortune of seeing your hilarious stage act. Today's current crop of comedians can't shine your shoes—in my humble opinion.
If at all possible, could you please send me an autographed photo of yourself? I'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you for this consideration and for all your work through the years. Please, don't ever retire! Entertainers of your caliber come by once in a lifetime.
The letter is short, courteous, and touches all the necessary bases. Andy Superfan succinctly exhibits his impressive knowledge of Don Rickles's career by citing his guest appearances on the 1960s sitcom F Troop. Only a true fan would remember and note this in a letter. The fan is complimentary, but not overly sycophantic.
Include a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope
Including a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with your letter will dramatically increase your chances of getting a return response! Provide a 9 × 12-inch envelope with a first class stamp plus at least one additional ounce stamp or two just to be safe. This will cover the cost of a photograph and even a piece of cardboard to keep the picture from bending.
Include a Specific Item to Be Signed
If you want, you can include your own celebrity picture or another item to be signed. Don't include more than one item per request. What you insert is up to you. Just factor in the possibility that you might not get a response back, so you could lose the item you sent along with the letter. It also costs a little more in postage to both send your own celebrity photograph and to have it returned with your SASE. And if you get no response, you lose both the insert and the cost of the return postage.
Keep Track of Your Requests
Keep a thorough list of all your autograph requests. Make note of what, if anything, you sent to be autographed, what came back, and how long it took to be returned. Ultimately, your autograph requests will fall into one of these three categories:
No response or wrong address
A response, but no autograph
A response with an autograph
If you get what you are hoping for, you need to figure out whether or not it's the real thing or an imitation. If you're just planning on hanging it on your wall or putting it in your autograph album, assume it's real and enjoy it. If you'll sell it someday, verifying its authenticity is more important.
Some actors refuse to sign autographs, or rarely sign them. Marlon Brando, throughout his entire acting life, has signed few autographs. So his John Hancock is considered a tough find—and it costs more than a few pennies when it's located. Brando autographs are regularly seen in online auctions. Seeing is disbelieving in this case. If you spot a Brando autograph for sale, it's most likely a phony.
To track down the addresses of your favorite celebrities, a comprehensive free site for addresses of celebrities in all fields can be found at www.stararchive.com. This site is an autograph hunter's heaven. Other sources include address lists for sale from www.old-pete.com and www.celebritylocators.com, which offer various lists, including specifically targeted addresses of sex symbols and TV celebrities. There are many sources of celebrity addresses on the Internet. Search around. You'll find many that are freebies, and some with sellers charging for complete address lists.
Always keep in mind that with these address lists—even the best ones—a portion of the specific addresses will be outdated. We live in a very mobile society. And nobody moves more often than the wealthy and the famous. Don't get discouraged. Sometimes celebrity autographs take many months, even years, to get returned to you. A collector's mail request for actor Harrison Ford's autograph took five years, but he got it—and it was genuine. Don't write off a request as a “no response” too quickly.