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For 15 years Tim Henderson graphed athletes and celebrities in Atlanta, but when his daughter was born he needed to modify his collecting habits. In this episode of the Master Class, we discuss his transition from in person collecting to TTM, his proven tips on filling your mailbox with returns, and how he got Sir Paul McCartney IP and through the mail.

Let me know what you think of this episode, leave a comment below.

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The Best Time to Get MLB Autographs on Game Day

As a New Englander, the first sign that winter’s death grip is loosening comes from a ballpark over 1,000 miles away in Florida. Spring training is underway and while the snow in my backyard may persist past Opening Day, a new season is nearly upon us. A new graphing season that is. And as baseball teams figure out how to improve on the previous year’s performance, you too should think about your autograph game plan for 2014. I put together the following guide to help ensure you get more hits than strikeouts (or at least an All-Star-caliber batting average).
Matt Raymond and Josh Beckett
This guide isn’t a straightforward as the NBA playbook from a year ago—major league baseball teams simply operate on a schedule with a lot more variability. The result? Your time commitment is probably going to be more significant and you are constantly taking risks based on incomplete information and… well, your gut. But let’s focus on the positive—baseball offers many more chances during the season (heck, the series) to get that coveted player’s autograph. Here is a rundown of those opportunities.

Arrival (Evening Before the Game)
If the visiting team has an off-day before the start of the series expect them to arrive to the hotel early evening—around 5 p.m.—giving players time to have dinner, relax and get a good night’s rest. You’re faced with a number of challenges in this first graphing opportunity. First, the team comes off the bus all at once and the number of collectors is usually low. Less competition sounds like a good thing but it actually makes graphing multiple players difficult. Players often stop and pick up their bags—it slows them down but also gives them a convenient excuse not to sign (i.e., full hands). Your best bet is to stick around and wait for players to head out for dinner and hope they’re in an accommodating mood. Odds are you’re in for a late night.

In the event of a back-to-back game, you can estimate arrival time with the following equation:

Time game ends + 1.5 hours (postgame interviews/travel to airport) + duration of flight + travel time to hotel = Arrival time

Before the Game (Hotel)
Unlike NBA teams who take two scheduled buses, many major league players take taxis to the ballpark before the charters arrive. To further complicate matters, the range of times during which they leave can be extremely wide. You may see a player head to lunch around noon and then take a taxi from the eatery directly to the park. Others—particularly starting pitchers who won’t play that night—may not head out until after 3 p.m. As a general rule you’ll see members of the coaching staff beginning around 12 p.m. and a bulk of the roster between one and three o’clock. If you’re willing to put the time in you have an excellent shot at the entire team as they depart individually or in small groups.

Before the Game (Ballpark)
Huge group of graphers at the team hotel? You may decide to take your chances at the ballpark on the receiving end of those taxis (and buses). Unless you have a comrade at the hotel who can tip you off when a players leaves—and in what type of vehicle—you’re going to be testing your reaction time to see how quickly you can pull an item out when a target steps out of a taxi. I suggest you do a dry run to get the lay of the land at your local ballpark. At Fenway there are at least three possible entrances a player could use, adding to the complexity of pregame graphing at the ballpark.
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After amassing more than 20,000 autographed Sports Illustrated covers (covering 95% of all issues ever published!), Scott Smith deserves the title, the SI King. We discuss how he built his museum-quality collection over three decades, tips for collecting autographs in person, and his experiences meeting Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali dozens of times.

Let me know what you think of this episode, leave a comment below.

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How to Dress for Success When Getting Autographs

You may have heard the old saying, “When you look good, you feel good.” There’s also a more recent maxim along the same lines—as a matter of fact, I just made it up: “When you look good, you graph good.” The latter has less to do with a heightened sense of confidence and more to do with the benefits of dressing in a way consistent with your environment (i.e., look the part). In many settings being conspicuous puts the autograph collector at a disadvantage.

Now I’m not suggesting you leave your ball cap at home when you’re hanging over the railing along the first base line. But wearing your game day wardrobe outside a five-star hotel is a surefire way to attract increased attention of security and put your graphing opportunities at risk (would my story about meeting Shaq in the lobby of the Four Seasons have the same ending if I was dressed casually?). Your goal should be to appear like just another guest and draw no attention before you make your request.

Another perspective to consider is that of the celebrity. We all make snap judgments on people and the way they dress plays a role in our prejudice. I’m reminded of the time I approached Seth McFarlane on the set of Ted. He did a double-take when I asked him for an autograph.

“You want my autograph?” he said. “Um, ok. I thought you were with the movie and had a question.”

I’m not suggesting you graph in a three-piece suit, just look the part. In this case, Seth thought I was just another production assistant and it got me an autograph before I could be shuttled off by an actual PA.

Consider the dapper gentlemen pictured below. Might a ballplayer take a different route or put a phone to his ear if he noticed a group of guys that looked like our friend on the right? Would the young man on the left have an easier time getting a temperamental signer to stop and acknowledge him? I would contend the answers to both questions are yes. Without exception? No. But certainly more likely.

Two autograph collectors dressed completely differently

Which of the these guys is the grapher? The hotel guest?

Does dressing in a t-shirt and jeans mean you’ll miss out on a ton of graphing opportunities? Of course not, but think about how your appearance might affect the interactions you have (or don’t have) with those people who can affect your chances.

Do you consider what to wear depending on where you’re getting autographs? What do you think of my recommendations?

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2013 Autograph University Annual Review

2013 Autograph University Year in Review
As the year ends I look forward to the holiday season not only for the opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family, but also for the chance to carve out some time to reflect on my life and sketch out a plan for the year ahead. Each of the past two years I’ve shared with you my autograph-related resolutions but today I want to take you deeper into what’s going on at Autograph University and in my head and heart. Inspired by Chris Guillebeau’s annual review model, I want to lay out what did and didn’t work for me in 2013. Then, I’ll give you a sneak peek at what we’re planning for the New Year. I’m as excited as ever.

What Went Well in 2013

  • At the end of 2012 I asked readers how we could improve our content and I received a lot of feedback that you were interested in hearing from other collectors. I heard you loud and clear. Building community and collaboration were key themes for me coming in 2013, and two projects stand out as successes: the Autograph University Yearbook and Master Class.
  • Together we produced the second annual Autograph University Yearbook. This edition was again offered as a free eBook to newsletter subscribers and includes a fantastic collection of stories from 15 graphers.
  • We also launched the Autograph University Master Class and produced six episodes featuring video interviews with experienced collectors across the United States. Overall I think the format worked really well and I learned a lot from our guests. It was also great putting faces to names as we so often interact with other collectors only through their online handle.
  • Our inaugural Autograph University Class of 2013 recognized six athletes who have gone above and beyond to accommodate autograph collectors over the course of their careers. Our choices were influenced directly by your nominations. And the letter we received from the late Virgil Trucks’ daughter really validated that we should continue to do this each year.
  • My first full year of fatherhood was my biggest success and greatest source of happiness. While I’m still wildly inexperienced as a parent, being Nathan’s dad is what I feel most confident doing and provides me with a sense of fulfillment that I struggle to find in some other parts of my life.
  • We sold our tiny townhouse and moved into a home that was much more conducive to raising a family (reducing the number of staircases from four to one significantly increased the chances our toddler would learn to walk and live to see his second birthday).
  • I’ve written before about my promise to never choose graphing over spending time with my son so my opportunities have been few and far between since his birth. That said, I was still able to pick up some choice pieces this year during lunch breaks and after he goes to sleep:

What Did Not Go Well in 2013

  • It was a goal of mine to post more consistently throughout the year and not get sidetracked with life’s distractions. And while I published 28 articles, it felt like a lot less. The Master Class started out strong with six episodes but I didn’t produce any after May 7 (incidentally, the business I worked for (i.e., day job) was acquired June 1 and my family moved a week later—these are excuses but highlight the transitions I was experiencing). I also wasn’t as engaged as I had planned with my newsletter subscribers and Facebook group members—two groups of collectors who deserve my attention.
  • Perhaps my worst offense in 2013—and something I am frankly embarrassed about—was not being as responsive as I should have been to those of you who emailed me. In multiple cases I didn’t reply to a message for several days (or longer) and I promise this will change in the New Year. I love receiving your emails/tweets/Facebook messages and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to write.
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Bill Russell autographed bookA dream of mine is to have a private library in my home—360 degrees of floor-to-ceiling shelves where I have to climb one of those rolling wooden ladders to reach the top. That’s how much I love books.

In my autograph library (which requires at most a stepstool) there is a small but growing nook where you’ll find a stack of signed novels and memoirs. During my teenage years I acquired authors I admired—Michael Crichton, Dave Eggers, Chuck Palahniuk. Later I discovered that book signings offered an opportunity to obtain autographs from tough-signing athletes and celebrities—Alec Baldwin (I wish I could transcribe the conversation in this video, any lip readers out there?) and Bill Russell stand out. Those of you who have read my series on the 9 Best Places to Get a Celebrity Autograph know how important it is to look out for side projects because that person is motivated to promote awareness of a venture outside the context of why they are famous (e.g., when a ballplayer or actor writes a book).

TOP 3 REASONS WHY I LOVE CELEBRITY BOOK SIGNINGS

1. It’s a much less expensive way to get a desirable autograph. If you’ve been reading Autograph University you know I rarely purchase autographs. I’m an in person grapher through and through who values the story over the item itself. But like those signed CD booklets Newbury Comics offers, you’re basically getting the autograph for free, right? (Also, it’s a great way to stock up on high-quality Autograph University giveaways without breaking the bank—hint, hint…wink, wink…nudge, nudge). And while I don’t disagree with many collectors who view books as a second-class item, I’m satisfied with the value I get in return—particularly if it’s a signing I can attend in person where I can interact with the celebrity.

Just for giggles, let’s compare what I spent on several recently released books signed by Hall of Famers with their prices for signing a flat through a promoter:

Signed book

Flat

Bobby Orr

$20.96

$189

Reggie Jackson

$18.86

$79

John Stockton

$25.99

Doesn’t do signings

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

$16.99

$100

Phil Jackson

$18.44

Doesn’t do signings

Julius Erving

$27.99

$129

 

So would I prefer to have 8x10s signed by all these guys—absolutely. But for what I’m paying I feel pretty good about it. And you can almost always cut out the autograph cleanly from the title page and matte it with a photo. Just don’t tell me you did it, the thought of taking scissors to a book pains me.

NOTE: While it’s no guarantee, some book signings allow you to bring outside items to get autographed. Each event is different and typically depends on the author’s preferences and how long they are appearing at the event (i.e., if they have a small window to sign they are less likely to spend time on multiple items).

2. You can get autographed books in your underwear. Many book stores will take phone and online orders for signed books. My advice is to call as soon as the in store signing is announced to see if they will take orders remotely. In some cases you’ll be waitlisted as those who attend in person receive priority and some celebs can only commit to a certain time period. In the case of Dr. J, I was put on a list and later informed that he didn’t have enough time to sign phone orders…but the bookstore was going to ship 400 books to his house to be signed and returned. Independent shops almost always accept orders while I have had no luck with Barnes & Noble brick and mortar stores. That said, head over to bn.com and type “signed edition” into the search box and see what you get. I scored Orr, Reggie Jackson and Phil Jackson that way.

Here are some of my favorite online resources and book stores to keep track of upcoming book signings:

Book Signing Event Databases

Bookstores

3. You gain insight into the subject’s life. Reading a memoir allows me to expand my base of knowledge about someone in a way getting a photo signed can’t. Admittedly, I tend to purchase signed books more quickly than I read them but it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t take the time to consume the words that come after that autographed title page. Even a children’s book written by a person famous for something else gives you a sense of a creative side you may not have seen. Now you may be saying, “Matt, what about when I get a novel signed by the author? What do I learn then?” Well, to be frank…not much. But if you’re attending a book signing event have a question ready (e.g., about their writing process, a character that resonated with you) to enhance your experience beyond a hi and a handshake.

Are signed books a part of your collection? If they are, what are your favorite resources for obtaining them?

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When I started collecting in person autographs in 2006 I was clueless. I used the wrong pens. I printed blurry photos. On just a hunch I’d wait outside a hotel for hours before finally accepting no one worth graphing was there. It was trial and error after error after error. But it was all worth it. These experiences were the catalyst for creating Autograph University—a resource I hope has helped you improve your collection, get more enjoyment out of the hobby, and avoid the mistakes I made.

Dustin Pedroia autographed baseball

One of the first (painful) lessons collectors learn is to never use “China” balls.

Last week while graphing the Bill Russell celebration in Boston I met Amelia, a collector and Autograph University reader. She started collecting two years ago and is far more seasoned than I was at that point my career (perhaps even now). Talking to a “young” collector reminded me of those formative days and what I wish I knew when I started. I also posed the question to you in my recent Reggie Jackson autograph giveaway—what do you wish you knew when you started collecting? (Sixty-nine of you responded—thank you!)

The following list includes a collection of reflections, both mine and yours. If you haven’t already shared your thoughts please leave a comment.

  1. I wish I knew not to use any baseball other than a Rawlings Official Major Leagues Baseball (ROMLB). (Additional reading: The Case of the Disappearing Autograph)
  2. I wish I took more pictures with players.
  3. I wish I wouldn’t have stopped sending TTMs.
  4. I wish I knew how addicting this hobby would become! (Additional reading: A Crossroads for an Autograph Addict)
  5. I wish I networked with other collectors. It’s as simple as introducing yourself.
  6. I wish I used higher quality items to get signed.
  7. I wish I took care of my autographs and stored them properly. (Additional reading: 4 Simple Ways to Make Your Autograph Collection Awesome, How to Frame Your Autographed Photos and Jerseys: An Experts Guide) [click to continue…]
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UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who participated in our giveaway! I really enjoyed reading your submissions and this collection of comments is a great resource for collectors. We’ve emailed our randomly selected winner.

October may be my favorite month. Warm days give way to crisp, cozy nights. Leaves of red, yellow and orange crunch underfoot. Pumpkin beers and football tailgates. Soccer in full stride around the world while hockey and hoops seasons begin anew. My wedding anniversary. Halloween.

Reggie Jackson autographed book

And playoff baseball.

When you think of October baseball one man comes to mind—Reggie Jackson. Though he isn’t known to be the friendliest of figures, one cannot deny he was a legend on the diamond. He has a new book out—aptly titled “Mr. October”—and I’m giving away my autographed copy to one lucky Autograph University reader.

All you need to do for a chance to win is leave a comment and tell me one thing you wish you knew when you started collecting autographs.

I will randomly choose a winner on Saturday, October 26 at 9pm EDT. One comment per person and please use a valid email address so I can contact you if you win.

Thanks for participating and good luck!

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Autograph Adventures – Method Man

This story first appeared in the 2013 Autograph University Yearbook. Get your free copy.

Spring 1996
Staten Island, New York

We stepped off the Staten Island ferry at St. George’s Terminal beneath a crystal clear blue sky. My mother unfolded a map and navigated us south on foot along Bay Street until the scent of sea water vanished, overtaken by the odor of car exhaust and asphalt. I was in heaven.

Method Man autographed 8x10

A photo of Method Man taken by Matt’s mother which he’d get signed years later.

Until this point our mother-son trip to New York had gone by the guidebook including visits to the Empire State Building and Little Italy, but it was this last stop that I had anticipated for months. This final destination was no mere attraction—we were on a pilgrimage to the mecca for any 14-year old Wu-Tang Clan devotee. The Wu Wear store on Victory Boulevard.

Upon my insistence we arrived just as the shop opened and I pushed through the front door like I had a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. But Wu Wear was more walk-in closet than wonderland. A lone employee stood behind a counter only steps from the entrance. Off to the left a handful of wall racks held brightly-colored t-shirts, hoodies and skully caps emblazoned with the Wu logo. Conspicuously missing were the iconic black and yellow styles the group wore in the videos. Is this all they had? The clerk frowned and nodded. I settled on a nearly neon red and blue winter hat, paid my money and turned to leave. As I reached the door I noticed a flyer taped to one of the shelves advertising an appearance by Raekwon—my favorite Wu member—the following Saturday. Just my luck, I said to my mom.

“You know, Method Man is coming here today,” said the clerk.

What did you say?

“Method Man is doing a signing from twelve to two if you want to come back.”

Just my luck! I pointed to a poster of the group behind the counter and asked if I was guaranteed to get it signed. She said yes and I handed over ten dollars much more enthusiastically than in my last transaction.

With two hours to kill we walked across the street to Wu Nails, a salon affiliated with the Clan through its owner Patricia Diggs, sister of RZA, the group’s mastermind and primary producer. After snapping a photo of the storefront and picking up a souvenir bottle of Grenada Green nail polish we were down to an hour and fifty-six minutes until show time. I trekked back across the street to start the line—a line of one—by the entrance of Wu Wear while my mom sat down on the sidewalk in front of the salon and cracked a book.

An hour passed before the line doubled. Then as midday approached momentum built as fans descended upon the Wu Wear store from every direction. Each surrounding street was an artery pumping people onto the crowded sidewalk. A Hot 97 promotional van pulled up just before noon blaring hip-hop and brought with it a heightened sense of anticipation for Method Man’s impending arrival. What was once a line behind me became a swarm of people spilling out onto Victory Boulevard. We grew restless watching one o’clock—then two—tick by uneventfully. The mob continued to grow in size as word spread throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. I stretched on tiptoes and strained my neck to see my mother. She sat calmly eating a granola bar and waved to me, hiding her concern behind a warm smile.

“METHOD MAN!”
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How to Meet Celebrities with OLV’s Christine Bord

When I first started graphing seven years ago I’d hear rumors of film shoots around Boston but I could never track them down. Fleets of equipment trucks, trailers of film stars, cameras and bright lights hiding in plain sight. I would piece together slivers of intel from other collectors and the local gossip rags but I was always a step behind. That is, until I found OLV.

OLV Field Guide to Celebrity SightingA comprehensive and meticulously updated website for film location and celebrity sightings, OLV is a must-read for autograph collectors around the country. I had the pleasure of interviewing its founder, Christine Bord, who offers insight into the evolution of the site and shares tips for meeting the celebrity at the top of your A-list.

Autograph University: Several of my celebrity encounters have been informed by your posts on OLV. Mark Wahlberg, Tom Cruise and Jeff Bridges come to mind. It’s an excellent resource for graphers and one of my 9 Websites Every Collector Should Bookmark. For those not familiar with your story, fill us in on why you started OLV and how it’s evolved.

Christine Bord: I originally started OLV in the fall of 2006 for a web design class I was taking in graduate school. For our final project we had to come up with an original idea for a website and then create it from scratch, making it aesthetically pleasing and informative. The idea for the site was something I had been thinking about for a long time. I had a friend I traveled with a lot at the time and while she enjoyed touring museums and seeing a city’s cultural landmarks, all I wanted to do was see celebrities, or at least see where celebrities had been (i.e., filming locations, local hang outs). I was constantly searching for this kind of information and, back then, it was very difficult to find, especially compared to the stuff she was interested in. So, knowing there was a need for this type of information, I kept the site going after the class ended. I would only update it every few days and would primarily focus on past filming locations (there are still a few cool road trips on the site that I created around themes like “the best horror movies” or “the best john Hughes’ movies”).

Within six months I started receiving emails from people trying to find current filming locations and I would put calls out on OLV asking people to share any relevant info (remember this was pre-Facebook/Twitter) and slowly this format became the foundation for today’s OLV. Around the same time I had my first big “break”. My boyfriend and I found some filming location information for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in Connecticut. We drove out there from our house in Upstate NY on a whim and it turned out to be a major score. We got great pics of Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, and Steven Spielberg. As soon as I posted the photos on OLV they went viral and were picked up by several fan/entertainment websites. This was when I knew I had something. I quit my day job the following summer to pursue the site full time. That was five years ago and, as they say, the rest is history.

AU: When I hear your story—and as another person trying to build a community focused around celebrity encounters—I think about what Autograph University as a full-time gig would mean in my life. Since my son was born a year ago I’ve actually scaled back my graphing dramatically to spend time with him. As I was going through the withdrawal process I stopped following a number of Twitter accounts and sites for nearly a year (I’m off the wagon!). It had become an addiction and I needed to reduce the temptation. I can only imagine how difficult it would be tracking all the celebrity activity around me without going out every day (kind of like a recovering alcoholic working as a bartender). How do you balance star gazing and your management of OLV with other commitments and interests (e.g., family, friends, travel)?
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