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25 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Collecting Autographs

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)
  8. I wish I would have valued quality over quantity.
  9. I wish I knew which markers to use to ensure long-lasting, high-quality signatures. (Additional reading: How to Choose the Best Silver Marker for Your Autographs)
  10. I wish I knew how much fun it would be sharing this hobby with my child. I would have introduced them to it earlier.
  11. I wish I knew how time-consuming this hobby was.
  12. I wish I asked players to sign inscriptions and/or in a certain place on my item.
  13. I wish I did more research on where an athlete/celebrity would be and how they looked in street clothes.
  14. I wish I knew how costly this hobby is (e.g., materials, time, travel).
  15. I wish I graphed stars before the hobby exploded (and signing fees skyrocketed).
  16. I wish I was more prepared. Even last week I showed up to the Bill Russell event without an item for Jim Brown, assuming he wouldn’t sign. He did for everyone. Luckily, my buddy Lewando slipped me an extra Sports Illustrated. No excuse to show up empty-handed. (Additional reading: 2 Items No Autograph Collector Should Leave Home Without)
  17. I wish I found online resources earlier. (Additional reading: 9 Websites Every Autograph Collector Should Bookmark, The Ultimate List of Autograph Resources on the Web)
  18. I wish I was more persistent.
  19. I wish I knew what a SASE was. (Additional reading: How to Request Autographs Through the Mail (TTM))
  20. I wish I knew about all the places to get in person autographs. (Additional reading: 9 Best Places to Get a Celebrity Autograph)
  21. I wish I realized how important it is to be polite and respectful when asking for an autograph. (Additional reading: 10 Rules of Autograph Etiquette)
  22. I wish I knew how much more valuable the stories of obtaining an autograph were than the signature itself.
  23. I wish I knew to prep my markers.
  24. I wish I graphed only the people I really cared about and not every famous—or potentially famous—face.
  25. I wish I was better organized. I have piles of index cards signed by high school basketball players I may never identify because they weren’t labeled and stored properly. And I missed many opportunities because I didn’t keep an updated event calendar. (Additional reading: The Event Calendar Every Autograph Collector Needs to Create)

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.

5 comments… add one

  • Ron November 8, 2013, 8:43 am

    Back when I first started I would hit every autograph show not anymore too much time too much money . Trying to be more selective and not starting too many projects which I had to complete sometimes my wife and I just started the old 13 World Series championship photo of course we will not get a few players on it already have 5 some of the players might not be here next year or some just don’t sign so I will get what I can on it. It’s a fun hobby I could spend my money on worst things my wife is also into it big time which helps.

  • Riley November 8, 2013, 12:23 pm

    Very nice and I couldn’t agree more. Especially about the “China” balls. I learned about that the hard way too. It’s nice to network and I have met some really cool people through the hobby. But I’ve met even more @$$es. Here’s one I wrote a couple years ago. If you have a few minutes to kill, give it a read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did reading yours. Take care man. http://voices.yahoo.com/to-pay-not-pay-autograph-tale-10145339.html?cat=40

  • Art November 8, 2013, 5:04 pm

    The stories attached to each autograph and the memories are worth 10 times more than the signatures. My best friend who was like my brother died a month ago. We started our sports memorabilia collection together in 1991 at a show at the Orange County Fairgrounds in California. It’s those memories with my life-long friend that have helped me somewhat cope with his death.

  • Matt Raymond November 15, 2013, 12:20 pm

    Hi Art, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m glad you an amazing collection of memories of your time enjoying the hobby together. I really appreciate your sharing this with us.

    Matt

  • Julian November 28, 2016, 4:41 am

    HI Matt,
    What do you mean with #23 “I wish I knew how to prep my markers”? How or what should I do? (I’m a beginner in this world).

    Kind Regards
    Julian

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