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10 Rules of Autograph Etiquette

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
— Emily Post

Maybe it’s because my wife and I are approaching thirty, but I’ve started to pay closer attention to how my older sister is raising her two young children (a girl and boy, ages four and two). In these important developmental years, there are many teaching moments and many of those involve manners. Say “please” and “thank you”. Be patient and do not interrupt when someone else is talking. Share.

Oh, how soon we forget.

I’m painting with a broad brush here, but I’ve observed a general societal decline in kindness to our fellow man. At the same time, our senses of entitlement have seemingly spiked. You can look almost anywhere and witness this unfortunate evolution. As part of the autograph community, I see this all the time. Clearly, it’s not everyone but there are certain individuals who are routinely rude, overly aggressive and take away from the experience of others.

As another holiday season winds down—a season in which our spirits are typically peaked—it made me think of how we, as autograph collectors, could be kinder to each other and celebrities. Would it result in a more enjoyable hobby? I think it would.

Here are my 10 Rules of Autograph Etiquette (DISCLAIMER: While I try to abide by these guidelines, I am by no means a model citizen. I’m teaching not preaching.):

1. Don’t try to graph a celebrity who is with their family.
A couple years ago I got a tip that Gisele Bundchen was at The Barking Crab, a seafood shack on Boston’s Fort Point Channel. The restaurant is a few blocks from my office and I grabbed my camera and scooted over. Needless to say, I was excited to graph or get a picture with the world’s top supermodel. About a half hour later, Gisele stepped out…with Tom Brady’s son John in her arms. I holstered my camera and Sharpie, smiled and said hello. She gave me a nod and walked away. Given the situation, I didn’t want anything more.

2. Don’t request multiple autographs at the expense of others getting none.
I remember one instance in which Dwight Howard—one of the best signers in all of sports—stepped off the team bus and into a crowd of collectors. Now, I’ve never seen Dwight turn anyone down but I walked away steaming and without a graph. Why? Because several people had formed a wall around him and were getting stacks of items done. I simply could not get within an arm’s reach. After several minutes, Howard began to tire and security ended the session.

3. Don’t interrupt a celebrity.
In my interview with Donyell Marshall, the only times he indicated that he wouldn’t sign was when he was with his family (see #1) and when he was eating. I also apply this rule when someone is in a conversation (on or off the phone). Be patient and you’ll get your shot. Interrupt someone and you’re chances of getting that graph plummet.

4. Don’t lie to other collectors.
Information is a form of currency in the autograph trade. Knowledge about where someone is and when they will be somewhere is precious. This rule should not be interpreted as a suggestion that you should give up your intel when someone asks for it—just don’t intentionally mislead them. More than once I’ve heard someone send a fellow collector to the wrong hotel just to reduce competition.

5. Don’t badmouth a celebrity for not signing.
When you are out in the field, no one is obligated to sign for you. Even if you’ve waited for hours in the bitter cold, autograph collecting is permission-based (unlike, for example, taking celebrity photographs). Spouting venom at a celeb for not signing only negatively impacts future opportunities for you and other collectors. Even if you think you have been undeservedly blown off, kill them with kindness. People have bad days.

6. Say “please” and “thank you”.
No explanation necessary, but here’s a video that should cover it.

7. Give people—celebrities and fellow collectors—their space.
It’s a natural instinct to descend upon a celebrity once they get into range. But I wonder how many more autographs we would get if we lined up in an orderly fashion and politely asked someone to sign. It only takes one person to start a bum rush and, in most cases, it usually ends poorly. Also, I always try to consider other collectors as fellow hobbyists, not obstacles in my way of an autograph. There are a lot of overly aggressive individuals out there who don’t understand that this activity is supposed to be fun.

8. Don’t trespass to gain access to a celebrity.
As I mentioned in my previous post on the best places to get a celebrity autograph, charity events are near the top of the list. But with admission prices requiring a donation that could reach several hundred dollars, many find a way to circumvent the guest list. When I’ve broken this rule I always feel lousy and it’s not as fulfilling knowing I got a graph this way. Also, my night often ends in an awkward confrontation with someone running the event and I don’t want to put either of us in that position again.

9. Give young collectors the prime positions.
In addition to offering kids a chance to get a graph, this is a great way to lube a celebrity’s Sharpie. The only reason I got David Ortiz outside the Roxy one night was that a 12-year old kid came running down the street and caught his ear. Though my buddy and I were a foot from Ortiz and pleading for a graph, he somehow didn’t hear us.

10. Share with others.
Often I’ll be outside a hotel and see a kid standing there with a pad of hotel paper and a ballpoint pen. I’ll slip him a Sharpie and a few index cards, or a spare 5×7 if I have it. The favor has been returned by other collectors more than once when I didn’t have something for a particular athlete. Simply, it’s the right thing to do.

What rules would you add to this list? Please leave a comment below.

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons. Connect with him on Twitter at @mattraymond.

27 comments… add one

  • JT December 28, 2010, 10:29 am

    Another rule good for Milb baseball. Only get 9 cards done at a time, don’t get the player until they have signed all 100 of your cards.

  • Matt Raymond December 28, 2010, 12:19 pm

    Good one JT, thanks for the comment.

  • David Seow December 31, 2010, 10:34 am

    Great website. Great tips for new collectors and old ones too. I agree about being polite and approaching them at the right time. Totally agree with your points about when they are eating and when they are with their family members.

  • Matt Raymond December 31, 2010, 5:40 pm

    Thanks for the comments David.

  • Tom Owens January 3, 2011, 10:09 am

    This is a great service, Matt! Years ago, I saw a baseball player named Jerry DaVanon signing at an exhibition game in Iowa. “Not in my face!” Since then, I’ve had other non-signing athletes say, “I can never look up when signing autographs. It’s always, ‘Here. Sign this.'” While it’s not specific, I’d add: BE A PERSON.

  • Jm August 9, 2012, 3:12 am

    Man you are the man for doing this site!

    I love your tips

  • Matt Raymond August 9, 2012, 8:07 am

    Thanks, I really appreciate it.

  • Brody January 11, 2013, 9:00 pm

    Great tips matt! When I first started collecting I broke rule #1 by trying to get Albert pujols when his wife and kids were in the car, somehow he stopped and we all got his autograph mainly because one of the guys in line was was Dominican and was talking to him while he was walking to his car!

  • Matt Raymond January 11, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Great success, glad he did it! Thanks for the comment.

  • Chuck January 15, 2013, 6:36 pm

    Great list. I have a question though, been searching forums for about an hour now with no luck. What is proper etiquette when getting a jersey signed by multiple players? I have a couple pittsburgh penguins jerseys, one is a Fleury (signed). Would it be bad to ask other pens to sign it, or should I just buy a “blank” jersey to start collecting multiples on?

    Another possible option I would like an opinion on: I already own a blank jersey of one of the Penguins ECHL farm teams (Nailers). Do you think Pens players would sign that one over another Pens player’s jersey? Or not at all?

  • Matt Raymond January 15, 2013, 9:52 pm

    Hi Chuck, thanks for the question. I see no issue starting a team signed item on one of the star player’s jerseys. I’d stick with the Pens jersey over a minor league team – one reason being many of the players were never on the team.

  • Anthony Gargano January 22, 2013, 4:34 pm

    My question is this: I recently contacted an NHL team about getting an autograph from a former player who is now in a management position with the organization. They emailed me back and told me it would be no problem, and that he would sign the jersey I have if I FedEx it to them with a return label. My question though is this: do I need to ask the player to sign the back if it is HIS jersey, or do they automatically do so if it is a personalized jersey that they are signing? I thought about requesting it in the letter I included, but thought that it might sound rude….especially if he would already know to do so. Thanks…

  • Matt Raymond January 22, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Awesome opportunity! I ASSUME the former player would sign on a back number but to be safe you could do this (of course, send an awesome fan letter and thank him and the person you spoke with for doing this for you):

    – Fold the jersey around a piece of foamboard or another hard, smooth surface (no corrugated cardboard) and secure it with a safety pin or rubber bands. Then, when he pulls the jersey out of your package it will not only be compact and easy to handle, but the only option is to sign the back number.

  • Joe Sandoval November 23, 2013, 6:18 pm

    Thanks for the tips! Being polite to the player/celebrity should always be #1; I was at one game where Ichiro was signing and the guy in front of us started cursing him out just because he wouldn’t sign the “Sweet-Spot” of his ball; Luckily Ichiro paid no attention to this idiot and signed for us too. It’s people like that with the “Entitlement” mentality, that they are owed the autograph, are the ones who give the rest of us a bad name. They are also the ones who push kids aside

  • Matt Raymond December 3, 2013, 7:55 pm

    100& agree and congrats on the Ichiro!

  • Toni Arakaki February 21, 2014, 1:15 pm

    #7 is so true. After the Pro Bowl one year, a bunch of local collectors were at the airport when Terry Bradshaw was leaving. He first turned us down but we all just made one orderly line. He just went down the line, in less than 2 min. he signed for all of us. We were all happy. If the dealers were there, I’m sure it would have been a different story.

  • Matt Raymond February 24, 2014, 9:42 pm

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

    Matt

  • Lee June 11, 2014, 1:04 am

    I’d probably add “Know your Celebrity” to the list. It always makes a better impression in the player’s mind if you bother to read the back of their card or check up on them in Wikipedia. Sometimes they are even willing to stop and talk to you.

  • Rene November 15, 2014, 8:47 pm

    A great example of #6 for me was Feb. 2000, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Tiger Woods was trying to win his 6th PGA in a row, which he did go on to do and then went on to win several more, and the crowds followed him everywhere on the course. I waited at the end where all the players exited and since I went there very early, I was right up against the rope keeping the crowds back. When he was approaching the end, the number of people became excessive, and people were standing 7 or 8 deep, and the ones in back were pressing hard trying to get to the front.

    Also, everyone in the crowds were calling “Tigger, over here,” and “Tigger” this and that. With the pushing getting out of hand, his security people started to hustle him away, and as he passed me, I said “Mr. Woods, could I please have your autograph?” He paused and looked at me, and I once again said, “Please Mr Woods, could I have your autograph?” He reached for my autograph book, and people around and behind me shoved their items on top of mine, but he reached under, took my book and signed it. Handed it back to me, I said “Thank you very much Mr. Woods.” And he then left. As far as I was able to find out, I got an autograph, and one other lady, she was Vietnamese, got an autograph. When I got home, I thanked my Mom for teaching me manners, because that was the only way I got it.

    I called him Mr. Woods, said please and thank you. I couldn’t believe all those people calling him Tigger. There he was at the top of his game, top golfer of the year, and they weren’t calling him by name and showing respect, but by the name of a Winnie the Pooh character. And he ignored all of them that were calling him Tigger.

    I also got Ken Griffey Jr.’s autograph, although at that time I had no idea who he was. My niece and nephew knew and told me all about him, and they were thrilled that I had met him and got his autograph. The one I was thrilled to get was Clint Eastwood’s autograph on a large sepia toned photo of him as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide.

  • Jason April 14, 2015, 2:08 am

    I have a question that has been bugging me for a while now in regards to autograph etiquette. If I am in line at a spring training game with a bunch of other collectors with misc. items and writing utensils, is every person expected to say “will you please sign my ______”, or is it somewhat implied? Thank you after the fact is obviously a must, but I always wondered if I was being rude by just handing the ball and pen to them once they make their way to me. They start at one end of the line and work their way down to the other, so I thought it seemed redundant for every person to ask what was already assumed. I dont hear my neighbors asking, but one future HOFer kindof singled me out one time. He just stood there and stared at me for a few secs like he was waiting for me to say something, so I nodded and offered a verbal greeting, followed by a thank you very much.

  • Ryan April 20, 2015, 4:41 pm

    I drove four hours to try and get John Cleese’s autograph in person outside a venue last year. There were only two of us waiting and we got completely snubbed (no thanks to rude security). The worst part was waiting for over an hour in the freezing winter cold. No wait, the worst part was waiting for over an hour in the freezing winter cold AND getting snubbed. Nonetheless, we got signed copies off his book before his show. I really wanted a cool experience with John Cleese and a personalized autograph, but beggars can’t be choosers. Well, I can. I still love John Cleese but will always have that bad memory of what happened. Your Bill Murray story made me feel a little better though.

  • Michael T August 3, 2016, 2:59 am

    I couldn’t find the above-mentioned Bill Murray story.
    I have a bunch of encounters with him myself they’re all pleasurable and I was curious to see what your story was about, can you direct me to it?

  • Brent murdock November 25, 2015, 8:25 pm

    If you have a signed jersey of an nhl legend, and you are in the company of other players from that exam, is it ok to ask them to sign that jersey too?

  • John Langford January 20, 2016, 9:23 pm

    I havent done sports autographs as much as I would like, but one thing I keep in mind. When I go to an autograph session, and know beforehand who I am getting a signature from, I will read up on them as much as I can. Not on statistics or facts, but about their LIFE. Their personal life. It makes a BIG impression on me when someone asks how my children are, or how my favorite new puppy is doing. If I know the dog’s name, I will include it in mt statement. One time, I got Stan Lee’s autograph, and I asked how his two little dogs are (I cant remember the names of the dogs now…..it was a few years ago). But anyway, when he heard me mention his dogs, his face lit up and he smiled and talked about them for just a few moments. A little personal recognition goes a long way, and helps me to be remembered by them and as someone who genuinely cared……even if just for a brief moment in time. And it also shows that I took the time to read his autobiography……which I did before I saw him.

  • Seth Petersen May 19, 2016, 2:37 pm

    I have a question: I am sending a nylon “W” flag to my favorite Cubs player, Kris Bryant for his signature….hopefully. I included a handwritten note and the whole nine yards. However, what marker, or implement, is best to include in the package if the flag is nylon? I plan on framing the item if it gets returned to me.
    Thanks,

  • Michael T August 3, 2016, 2:56 am

    I am older now and I haven’t collected autographs in a real long time, but I’ve been teaching my nephew the ropes lately as he’s just become of autograph Hound age.
    Memory of my one regret collecting resurfaced recently, it was when I put my empathetic nature over my cause.
    Michael Jordan was driving with Bulls teammate Cliff Levingston out of the Bulls practice facility and nobody was bothering Levingston for his autograph while MJ was mobbed. I talked to Cliff levingston the whole time because he looked like it was an awkward moment for him and I never got Jordan to ink his name that day. I ended up having many other opportunities a few years later but during that interim I did not know why I was not a bit more assertive. There feels like there is something of a lesson to be learned in there. Lol. ☺

  • Gigi April 24, 2017, 8:04 pm

    If you send a request for an autograph from a “B”celebrity:
    1.) DO include a Self addressed stamped envelope with FULL return postage.
    2.) DO NOT write and ask for a FREE photo. We earn a living from our autographs and must pay for our photos. Many of us don’t even charge appearance fees in order to keep down the costs of our autographs ($20) to each fan.
    3.) ASK FIRST on FB or email what our policy is.
    4.) DO include photos of your own we love seeing them. But please see #1 and #2.

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