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  Dealers vs. collectors vs. fans: different perspectives on autographs

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Author Topic:   Dealers vs. collectors vs. fans: different perspectives on autographs
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 28757
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 12-22-2003 08:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Given several recent threads, I thought the following article provides an interesting perspective that in more ways than not applies to astronaut autographs as well.

My thanks to Roger Guillemette, who first posted this to the Astronauts Yahoo Group.

Kids often sent to gather signatures for public sale

By Ethan J. Skolnick
Sun-Sentinel Staff writer

December 21, 2003

Backpacks. Stacks of identical photos, categorized alphabetically by player. Footballs with tags still on, among other high-end items. Sharpies, usually blue. Hats pulled over eyes. Angry reactions to personalized messages that increase sentimental value at the expense of re-sale price.

Oh yeah, Zach Thomas reads these guys like an offensive formation. Maybe better. He faces NFL offenses only 16 times per season. He faces an offensive from autograph dealers -- posing as fans or mere collectors -- nearly every day. He can pick them out of any huddle.

"I have a great feel for who's who," Thomas says.

The lobby of the Dolphins' hotel in Buffalo has likely provided another test. If autograph seekers can greet a stunned Patrick Surtain at the airport after his bye-week, cross-country trip, and are willing to interrupt their Thanksgiving holidays to shout players' names from behind velvet ropes at the Renaissance Hotel in Dallas, they are sure to track down the Dolphins before they play the Bills.

The question, one that troubles modern athletes more than you might suspect, is why these people seek signatures.

A chance to meet the athlete? A treasured collectible? Or profit?

"The guys with the backpacks, the pictures that you have to buy, and the mini-helmets, it's pretty obvious," says Ricky Williams, who has noticed real fans are more understanding when he can't sign and more talkative in general. "I think I've gotten pretty good at telling the difference. The other thing the collectors do now, is they say you can personalize it. That's a dead giveaway. Then they just take paint thinner, and rub it off. Yeah, I learned the tactics, I got it down."

`Disgusting' practice

Yet even sleuths can be duped by a child's innocent eyes. Chris Chambers frequently fell for that trick as a rookie, until noticing the same kids returning with stacks of the same photos. Terrell Buckley gets the idea a kid is a front when he or she doesn't know any of the players' names. And Jason Taylor gets really angry. He calls it "disgusting, when they send kids to do it. I understand it's a business, but there's a way to go about getting the stuff right. If you're going to sell it, the player should get paid for it, too. And they know that. That's why they try to circumvent the system. And it's wrong."

Taylor tries to sign for kids first. The adults wait, if they get anything at all. But now, Taylor sees the adults just giving the stuff to kids, and Taylor says that is "ruining it for the kids." That's because it's impossible, in Taylor's view, to sign everything, and such tactics discourage him from signing anything. That, in turn, hurts a player's reputation.

Thomas has found that if signs for 100 people in 15 minutes, another 100 will be angry. And he'll get a guilt trip. "They want a crowd around, to make you look like a punk," he says. "Saying things like, `I have a sick son.'"

Rob Konrad remembers hearing Dan Marino was a "jerk who never signed autographs." After joining the Dolphins, Konrad realized that to please everyone, Marino would have to "sign autographs every single second of every single day of his life. Period. I don't think people understand that."

Sam Madison and Junior Seau both say they sign for every kid, regardless of their suspicions. Madison is more discriminating when an adult approaches with 20 pictures -- he agrees to sign a couple, promising more on the next go-round. Then he watches the person go to the other end of the line.

Sometimes, players take action. Buckley personalizes, and has seen people "get hot" about that. Madison might put a line through his name.

Thomas uses two distinct signatures, one connecting his first name and surname with "54" on top (good) and one unconnected with "54" underneath (bad). Sometimes, he prints his name. "They're upset, but they don't say anything," he says.

That's because they know he's onto them. He says he tries to "hook them up," until they abuse it. "They buy a table at a charity event just to get stuff signed," Thomas says. "They stay at the hotel. Every night, after two-a-days, they sit out there. They're like, `you didn't get me.' And I'm like, `I got you last night.' It's a big-money business. And they're living right, driving around in their Hummers and Escalades."

And sometimes, running over the rules. During training camp, community relations director Fudge Browne tries to get players over to a kids' group, only to watch adults with duffle bags trample over the children. She recalled being at an event with Marino, who told a child "this is the last one I'm gonna sign, tell whoever keeps sending you."

Sellers easy to spot

Others share the Dolphins' distaste for dealers.

As P.R. director for the Baltimore Orioles, John Maroon watched Cal Ripken, during marathon autograph sessions, try to serve fans, and particularly kids, first. "If a jersey was taped to the wood a certain way, stretched out to make it easy to sign, it was clear this thing wasn't for their little nephew; it was going up on eBay," says Maroon, who would help Ripken by pointing out the kids.

Heat guard Eddie Jones bristles that they consider it his job to sign 10 of their items. "Sign one, that should be enough," Jones says. "And they don't want you to personalize it. I like it when some parents come up to you, `can you put the date on this, for the kid, to show you met him.' That's great. It means something. But now you just get all these guys coming out trying to sucker you into all these autographs."

Last month on ESPN's Sportscenter, Brett Hull was asked what he would change about the NHL. "Autograph seekers who collect and sell," Hull said. "We hate them."

Al Wittnebert, owner of Uncle Al's Time Capsule in Mount Dora and treasurer for the Universal Autograph Collectors Club, says athletes need to lighten up.

Yes, he knows a Fort Lauderdale mother/collector who sends out a couple of cute blonde girls as props. Yes, he knows some shady autograph seekers falsely claim items are going to charity; he advises athletes to ask for a tax-exempt certificate, not just an easy-to-fake charity letterhead. Yes, he knows the tricks and preferences. Blue is more desirable than black, because it looks better on a color photo, doesn't appear mimeographed, and is slightly easier to erase in the event of personalization. Baseballs are best when signed on the "sweet spot," where the laces come together. Rubber gum erasers and special cloths can take off personalization, though he argues the personalization adds "provenance," important considering the UACC's most recent quarterly study estimated 85 percent of autographs on eBay are fraudulent.

Despite all this, Wittnebert thinks millionaire athletes who sign on a photo's dark areas to depress value are being paranoid, immature and selfish. He used to hire Ted Williams to sign autographs, then watched him smudge roughly 10 percent spitefully. And most athletes aren't as forgivable as Ted Williams. Wittnebert says they don't realize how fleeting adulation is, and how long memories are.

"They are punishing everybody, including themselves, and they don't realize it," Wittnebert says. "The pomp and circumstance lasts up until their rent is due when they are a little older. They should be nice to us. You get a rep as hard-ass and it hurts you down the road, you can't lose it. Then people like me, doing shows, aren't going to hire you."

Taylor says the way to "keep our autographs at a premium," is simply not sign. But Wittnebert and Mike Bertolini, coordinator for the spring's Football Spectacular autograph and collectibles show, dispute that such a premium exists for most players. Wittnebert says 98 percent of autographs lose value unless the player becomes a transcendent superstar. And Bertolini says the supply could never satisfy enough demand to significantly depress value.

"I sell this stuff for a living, and if I was an athlete, I would sign for everyone I could, and not worry about who is selling it," Bertolini says. "Who cares? Why would I worry about someone selling something if I make $1 million a year? I'm not going to receive the income from that autograph if I don't sign them."

Maybe what bothers athletes is that they don't receive the same affection from a dealer as a fan. As a kid, Ricky Williams wasn't a collector, though he does recall waiting in the mall for Padres catcher Terry Kennedy.

"Oh, and LaToya Jackson," he says.

Now it troubles him when people demand a certain color.

"Autographs are great for kids who are really fans," he says. "They can show people that I've met so-and-so and he's a really nice guy. But the guys who sell it, or even the collectors, I'm not necessarily keen on signing things for them."

The skill, of course, is determining who they are. Like in Dallas. There was 42-year-old Todd Johnson, who described himself as "just a collector," but said he has been doing this for a living since 1998. There was 55-year-old Alan Rhodes, hoping (unsuccessfully) Williams would sign a football already graced with the autographs of dozens of other Heisman winners. "They get very wary you're going to turn around and sell it, and there are some who do," said Rhodes, who insisted he never sells anything.

And there was South Florida resident Steve Siff, on a couch behind the line of autograph seekers, including sons Todd and Scott, ages 14 and 13. Both wore multi-signed caps and orange Dolphins jerseys. As they shouted joyfully ("Dad, Brian Griese!") before running to their room, it was clear they were not props.

"They're having a blast," Siff said. "But the adults, I just don't get it."


Posts: 93
Registered: Feb 2004

posted 02-17-2004 01:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cougar20   Click Here to Email Cougar20     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Mr Pearlman, as a 16 year old in high school i collect for fun. i have never paid for a signature because my funds just don't allow for it. But these people who get kids to sign for them are part of the reason astronauts charge. Bill Anders is just one large example of a person becoming obstinate towards signing when he realized they were being sold when he wasn't charging for them. Pretty soon many of these people will be gone, so if anyone reading this uses other people to get signatures, please stop because your ruining it for people who just want to have something to hang on their wall or add to their collection. That's just my 2 cents on the issue though


Posts: 3295
From: Houston, TX
Registered: May 2001

posted 02-17-2004 08:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott   Click Here to Email Scott     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Cougar20,

Welcome to Collectspace! I agree with almost all your points, but for the record Bill Anders never was particularly generous to collectors, from the very beginning. Michael Collins mentions this in his autobiography, Carrying the Fire.

Unfortunately a great amount of damage has been done by actions such as the ones you refer to. In the astronaut collecting field, it has been done primarily by just a few greedy, unscrupulous individuals, according to Armstrong's office.

[This message has been edited by Scott (edited February 17, 2004).]


Posts: 1398
From: Gardner, KS, USA
Registered: Feb 2003

posted 02-17-2004 10:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MrSpace86   Click Here to Email MrSpace86     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think there are some true points in the article. Some of these people (athletes, some astronauts) do make a lot of money every year, so why worry if the autograph is resold?? I think famous people (astronauts, athletes, etc) should understand what comes with being a celebrity. The only good example I can use is John Glenn. Why is he so nice? He has been signing for free for decades and I've seen his autograph for sale and he still signs for free (and does it happily!). But guess what? His autograph isn't worth much because the supply is high. It's common sense, so if these athletes decide to stop signing (and astronauts) then yeah, prices will go up and people will hound them for autographs. I'm not a dealer at all. I have only sold one autograph from my collection. I feel bad because these dealers make famous people paranoid and ruin the hobby for us collectors. I don't even know if i have made sense in this reply, but that article has really thrown me off. I think it all depends on how the celebrity is able to handle their popularity and how mature they can be about it. People that charge just make things worse for the so called 'kids' (like me ) that collect because we don't have a big budget.



Posts: 3295
From: Houston, TX
Registered: May 2001

posted 02-17-2004 10:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott   Click Here to Email Scott     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
John Glenn and Neil Armstrong have class.


Posts: 591
From: Madisonville, Louisiana
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 02-17-2004 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collshubby   Click Here to Email collshubby     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting article. There is one thing I would like to point out, however.

<Who cares? Why would I worry about someone selling something if I make $1 million a year?>

Well, astronauts don't make $1 million a year. That's why I don't get angry or jump and and down if one chooses not to sign. I respect their decision. The early astronauts are in their 70's and 80's. If they choose not to sign, that's fine with me. They only want to enjoy the rest of their life. They've done their service, and deserve their peace.

Brian Peter

New Member


posted 02-17-2004 05:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kim   Click Here to Email Kim     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A thouthtful, insighful letter, Brian, thank you.

Sports stars are not astronauts. They require fans. Astronauts didn't join up for celebrity. Time is money to both. I believe Alan Shepard was the only millionaire in the group. Some may be worth $1Mil on paper now, after 70 years of material accumulation, (or memorabilia) but few, if any earn a mil a year (maybe Buzz.)

Also, it is a disservice to refer to what I call "hounds" as dealers. Real dealers have real businesses, and can't afford to spend time chasing around celebrities. They pay for their autographs.

Kim Poor

[This message has been edited by Kim (edited February 17, 2004).]

[This message has been edited by Kim (edited February 17, 2004).]


Posts: 1398
From: Gardner, KS, USA
Registered: Feb 2003

posted 02-17-2004 06:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MrSpace86   Click Here to Email MrSpace86     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree with Kim.



Posts: 93
Registered: Feb 2004

posted 02-18-2004 12:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cougar20   Click Here to Email Cougar20     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Neil Armstrong and John Glenn have taken two different approaches to the twilight of their lives.

Armstrong has decided to retire and live out his life in peace, away from the media and public attention he has garnered for 35 years now.

Glenn has done the opposite. He has made himself as open to the public as he has been from the very start. He still obliges the 1000s of letters he gets a month.

If either of these both of these two great men decided to disappear from the public, I think that their decision should be respected. They have both lived in the public eye for most of their adult lives and would probably like an end or a break to it.

All times are CT (US)

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