Someone asked me about the most important info for the more advanced autograph collector that has decided to expand their collection to include Star Wars. There is so much to know that I feel that this post may ramble a bit as I put things in as they come to mind. Many of the items I will mention are helpful facts for any type of collector.
Decisions decisions and more decisions...you will have to make plenty of them. How will you collect?
Through the mail? In person only? Will you hire an in-person autograph hunter? Try to find the right dealer?
Maybe the convention scene is for you. You may choose to do your collecting via auctions or maybe even eBay if you are bold enough. Whatever you choose, the likelihood is that you will find yourself mixing and matching from all of these methods.
Next will be what type of item to collect: trading cards, toys, reproduction props, index cards, 8x10 photos, 11x14 photos or larger? Maybe posters?
Photos are an interesting subject lately with the majority of collectors choosing 8x10 photos for the ease of storage. There are lots of things to consider here and it isn't just color or B&W.
In the earliest days of Star Wars autograph collecting, all we had were the B&W press stills. Lucasfilm was strict about the sale of non-official photos and would send out cease and desist letters to any photo shop offering Star Wars images. If you found a shop that would sell you any, they were always out of view.
Then Classico released their series of quality postcard images, that is, until they lost the license. That was followed by Official Pix, who held the license for over a decade. They have recently let that license go.
Today we are back to no official source for the images we want to get signed. Disney, the new owner of the Star Wars franchise, will likely be even quicker to get their lawyers involved. If you had $6 Billion invested in a property, you would do everything you could to protect it too. My guess is we are headed back to the dark ages, photos only available thru underground means, sneaking around dark, dingy, little shops that sell photos hidden in the back.
Seeing the last few private signings and hearing quite a few stories from in-person graphers, it seems that the new thing will be "licensed material only." If the item isn't an official Lucasfilm/Disney product, some of these celebrities will refuse to sign them. The old guard, the ladies and gentlemen who have been doing the convention circuit for decades don't seem to care very much what they sign, unless the show is being run by the Mouse. In that case, there will likely be a representative at nearly every table making sure that everything autographed is officially licensed.
The modern printing era of Walmart, Costco and home computers, has plenty of people capable of printing their own images, but that leads to one of the bigger problems facing collectors of authentic autographs:
Those real autographs that look great online may very well be signed on blanks. "Blanks," you say, "what in the world are blanks?"
Today's in-person runners find themselves unprepared for run-ins with celebrities they don't expect or last minute knowledge of where to find a celebrity they want to sign. So they grab a blank sheet of computer photo paper. They will carry this paper in their bags and get the celeb to sign that blank white sheet.
Then they go back home and find the right image and print it on the signed blank. The piece looks fantastic while it is for sale, and it will likely continue to do so for awhile. But given time, the Sharpie or Vis-A-Vis marker they used will bleed into the color of the photo, leaving a feathered halo look around the signature. A little more time and the image itself will start to fade. Some printers and ink last a bit longer, but these home printed images will all look like garbage in the coming years, sooner or later.
These print-overs will likely be 8.5x11 inches as long as the seller doesn't trim them down.
Lab printed photos are worth the bit extra, and finding a dealer or runner who only uses lab printed images is well worth the extra investment in the long run.
Another thing to be aware of when shopping online is inscription removals. Not all dealers and graphers are good at it. Certain Star Wars celebrities, Frank Oz for example, for about 20 years now, will not sign anything unless it is inscribed to the person standing before him.
That's right, every real Frank Oz piece that you see in a dealers stock or online without an inscription has been altered. You will have to find a piece from 1997 or older to have one that hasn't gone through an inscription removal, and if you have fallen in love with one that is newer, you will need to be sure that you have the right to return it, if you are unhappy with the removal that has taken place.
What's next? What photo from what film?
Most Star Wars characters that people want to add to their collection appeared in more than one film, so what image do you choose? Han Solo in his vest or stormtrooper disguise from A New Hope? His snow gear or flight jacket from The Empire Strikes Back? Maybe you dig that camouflaged duster from Return of the Jedi? Or you only want scenes from the films or the studio shots. You will have to decide what works for you.
Most of us can't have it all...or at least we can't afford it all. Most often you will have to accept what is available. Only in rare circumstances do you find the perfect piece, but when you do, trust me, you will likely pay dearly for it if it is genuine.
Like I said earlier, decisions are part of your everyday life...and more so collecting autographs, especially Star Wars autographs.
Maybe you will decide that you can't stand the modern versions of Harrison Ford, George Lucas or Mark Hamill's autograph. Maybe you will decide that you want vintage autographs on non-Star Wars images. Maybe you will decide to get samples of their signatures from the different eras of their careers.
Better signature, better placement, better photos, better quality of the item signed, it is all up to you.
There is no right or wrong way to collect Star Wars autographs. Whatever you decide...that's right for you.
About the Author
Pete Chuka can be found right here on Autograph Live. He is also known as Bendu on the Rebelscum autograph forum and he still doesn't charge for his opinion.