Let's take some time to talk about autographs, sounds silly right? In the last few weeks a number of new & old collectors have popped in here on this site and elsewhere with items they want to know about...Is this real? What's the value? and so on. 

Many of us collect different things, some only collect sports, some mostly music, astronauts or presidents, whatever you collect this topic will fit into any category, for my purposes, seeing as I collect celebrity autographs, these are the examples I will use.
There are so many things that should be looked at when you are deciding what you should collect and where the actual value can possibly end up.
Lets start with the item. Is it a photograph? Maybe a poster and is it original or a cheap copy? What size is it? Was it produced in a photo lab or printed out on your computer? All of this matters.
Maybe it's a size that the signer rarely autographs. As we saw recently with an oversized Armstrong photo selling for 10 times the normal price.
A photograph should be a good size to display with a strong autograph that you can see clearly ...even from across the room. If the celebrity signed in a dark area with a dark pen (as many do).....the value will be different..... far different.
Avoid magazine pages or flimsy paperstock lithographs, they will not last for the long term, and computer printed images will fade and look horrible in time, that is if the sharpie doesn't bleed into the image. Good lab produced photos have a lifespan of 100 years or more. Paper stock magazine pages will crumble to dust over time....think about old newspapers.
While we are on the subject of images.....is that image from the celebrity's most famous role? The one character which he or she is know for worldwide? This is also of huge importance but it is also a double edged sword on occasion. Certain celebrities are so well known for a specific role that nearly everything signed by them in their career is images of that role. Sean Connery will always be James Bond, and for 50+ years he has been singing James Bond images, posters and memorabilia. He has certainly signed far fewer pieces from Highlander or Indiana Jones, both of those franchises will always have a place in collections and will have collectors who want them.
Other examples of this would be Joe D on a Mr. Coffee ad photo or a shot swinging a bat in uniform, Armstrong in his NASA jumpsuit or a business suit. Roger Maris in pinstripes or in a Cards jersey. Which do you think will be more valuable to the average fan? Sure a shot of Joe D holding a Mr. Coffee coffee pot would be a fun piece for someone who owns a dozen Yankees shots of Joe, but what would the "normal" fan prefer?   
There are rare celebrities whose career has given them multiple characters with far reaching long term recognition. Al Pacino will always be Michael Corleone and Tony Montana. Harrison Ford has both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Other celebs aren't that lucky, but if they are recognized forever as one character ....that is nothing to sneeze at, and it is probably a good bet that if you want to add that person to your collection, it is probably wise to be sure you get the right item signed. Marlon Brando on a Godfather photo would likely sell for 20 times what a standard Brando image would bring. Heath Ledger photos as the Joker ( I only know of about a dozen) will sell for far more than any other Ledger graph.....no offense to the Brokeback fans.
Be smart about what you add to your collection and if you are in a position where you have to be buying a piece.....save up and holdout for the right piece
Posters, props and costumes are all options for signing, but again.....quality always matters, both in the item signed and the autograph ......choose wisely.
Of course sometimes you have no choice but to compromise, especially when you are in search of a celebrity that is no longer with us, just take your time and be patient, don't jump into anything without doing your homework.
I am sure there are dozens of other factors.....these were just the few that popped into my head in the last day or so. Please add to the list.

Views: 2090

Comment by Steve Zarelli on November 5, 2016 at 6:29am

Amen! Great post, Pete.

Sadly, some people don't get it. I am sure there are some people now with a Neil Armstrong signed napkin who think it's worth $50k. :-)

Condition is key too. When an autograph is common and not too expensive, any condition issue will decimate value. Babe Ruth signed page with a stain, still fairly desirable... Mickey Mantle signed ball with brown spots = DOA.

I've been saying for years, "Don't buy a dented can when there are good ones on the shelf." It's not worth the few bucks you'll save.

Comment by Ian Baldock on November 5, 2016 at 7:34am

This needs to be posted once a year for people to see. Perhaps a spot on the site is needed for novices to look at.

Comment by Gregory S on November 5, 2016 at 8:23am

I don't understand why folks constantly bring dark photos to signings.

I get the whole metallic pen thing, BUT the signer will most likely use the same pen or marker for a large number of signatures and will not have the opportunity to switch over to your pen.

This is coming from someone who has never been part of a Hollywood feeding frenzy, but has seen a lot of overly dark signed pics and has only watched video of several signings.

Also, we discussed it here recently - but I'm sick of seeing all of the low quality examples from dealers who have multiple pics signed.  There must be a lot of common sense out there, because those only bring a fraction the price of a nice example... and may end up sitting unsold.  (even if the image is highly sought)

Comment by Eric Keith Longo on November 5, 2016 at 12:05pm

Excellent post. I have been trying to talk about some of this for a while now in the "qualities of an autograph" thread/posts (double weight finish 11x14 over single weight etc) - this is well said, more practical/applicable and with many good points. Thanks!


Comment by Eric Keith Longo on November 5, 2016 at 12:12pm

The lab photo thing is a biggie - there are stickered overpriced Bowie's on Bay for $1200 or so that started life at this or that auctions as a cheap pc print w/o a sticker. Now it is not mentioned unless you ask and there may not be returns in some cases. Then there is the whole thing of is it an official product/photo or promo photo opposed to a copy lab print. Huge stuff to me.

Comment by Paul on November 5, 2016 at 12:24pm
How can you tell if the photo is a cheap computer copy or a lab print?
The real photographs i own from Morrisonhotelgallery.com are on a different kind of lab paper, thicker in some cases. Real black and white images aren't cheap to buy.
Comment by Paul on November 5, 2016 at 12:27pm
Im also suprised that pick gaurds (scratch plates) are popular items to have signed, cheap things they are.
Comment by Eric Keith Longo on November 5, 2016 at 12:27pm

A glass, the paper, checking borders, the finish, the back is often very important. Quality photos are often stamped with makers mark, embossed, signed or otherwise marked. Other official photos such as label promo images are close to movie stills and the same rules generally work. See "cycleback" for more online.

Comment by Adam Halloran on November 5, 2016 at 12:45pm
I also don't understand the whole having photo blanks signed. You print over the signature? I just don't get it. I also agree with Paul about cheap Chinese pick guards put on cheap guitars. Blah.
Comment by Paul on November 5, 2016 at 12:47pm
People will pay big money for quality rare items, like Pete says be patient.


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