A Bad Rap For Collectors

It only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel.

At a 1988 track meet in Gateshead, England, Florence Griffith Joyner, world record-holder in the 100-meters, was rudely approached by a middle-aged man requesting her autograph just as she was about to line up for a race.    When she asked him to wait until after the race, the jerk who had jumped out of the stands to make his request, he grabbed her.  Officials quickly moved in and escorted the man back to the stands.  Though shaken, Griffith Joyner went on to win her race.  But she told reporters after the race that she was “visibly shocked” and such a thing had never happened to her before.

Griffith Joyner, who died in1998, had always been very gracious about signing autographs, but who could blame her if her attitude toward collectors took a decidedly downward turn.

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An 80% Success Rate – Unusual But Possible if You Follow a Few Basic Rules

Some autograph collectors claim they have an 80% success rate on autograph mail requests. One collector decided to list reasons for the high success rate for the benefit of fellow collectors. Once you go through the list, they might seem like old-fashioned common sense.

 Be Polite. Celebrities are human. Granted that they are extremely talented, successful and richer than most of us will ever be, they’re still human. Would you like someone to send you an envelope with 10 or 20 items to be signed? Most celebrities don’t go through their mail personally but hire people to cull incoming mail for important and unusual items. It’s nice if your letter is a “refreshing change” so they are willing to sign for you. By the way, “please” and “thank you” never hurt.

Be Sincere. Celebrities aren’t dumb. Nobody pulling down $2 million a year to bat .235 is dumb. The owners of the professional teams may be dumb for paying outrageous salaries and “the system” may be dumb, but that’s another story. If a particular celebrity is your favorite, let him or her know it. But don’t overdo it. Mention a favorite movie, a memorable game you saw them in, etc. This really works with retired celebrities.

Keep Letters Short. Keep your letters to one hand written page. It’s a must in the business world; bosses prefer short memos so let that policy be your guide.

Write in Longhand. Computer generated letters are impersonal and give the impression that the celebrity is just the next name on a mailing list. It takes longer to write a letter but it seems to make a difference.

Write Legibly. Since you are being urged to write letters in longhand, learn to write so your letter is easily readable. Ask a friend to evaluate your handwriting. If it needs work, practice until your penmanship is crystal clear.

Show Respect. Cards and a note demanding “sign these” are instant turnoffs. These may be the days of instant friendship with everyone on a first name basis but letters asking for a favor should use the proper salutations: Mr., Miss, Ms. If the person is a Governor, Senator, General, Admiral, religious leader, he/she should be addressed by their proper title. Include a line or two in your letter saying why you want a particular item signed. And the use of the word “please” never hurts.

Include a SASE. “SASE” stands for a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. (Take a blank envelope. Write your name and address on it and stick sufficient postage for your card or whatever to be mailed back to you. Mail it along with your autograph request.) This is probably the most important item on this “checklist.” Remember, celebrities receive dozens, if not hundreds, of autograph requests a month. Also remember, they don’t have to sign anything if they don’t want to. And even if they can afford to pay return postage on every request they reply to, let’s be realistic, they’re not going to. So don’t put them in the position of having to turn down your request for the sake of a few stamps.

Be Realistic. Sure everyone wants Michael Jordan’s autograph in their collection, but that’s the problem. Famous composers, scientists or educators get maybe 50 autograph requests a year. Mr. Jordan gets that many a day. With the exception of a few saints like Brooks Robinson and Arnold Palmer, few celebrities answer mail requests personally. Don’t overlook lesser known named celebrities in the fields of your interest. By the way, many older athletes, actors or retired military leaders are grateful for the chance to sign for fans. They’ll thank you for asking. If you send in a request and don’t get a reply the next day, stay cool. There are many reasons a celebrity might not reply right away – illness, arthritis, moodiness, bad experiences with pushy fans, an argument with the spouse, sheer volume of requests, whatever. Also, a few celebrities just flat-out refuse to sign through the mail. To not sign is their prerogative.

Say thank you. It doesn’t cost much to send a postcard. And it doesn’t take much time to write a couple of sentences. The celebrity did you a favor, now the least you can do is “thank” him or her for taking their time.

Ask for Only One Autograph. This is a plea to all fellow autograph collectors (as opposed to speculators, investors and other money-grubbing vermin), please, please, please ask for only one autograph at a time. Don’t be the collector to turn a celebrity off to your fellow collectors by your greed. I’ve had many celebrities tell me that they’re honoring my request because I’m “not greedy”, “obviously a fan and not a dealer” and “a real collector”. Come on, do you really need 37 autographs in your collection?

Well, for what they’re worth, those are some tips to consider. Obviously, there is no guarantee you’ll have an 80% success rate … or even a 25% success rate.  But if you follow a few basic common sense rules, your chances should improve. As Ralph Hinkley (remember him?) used to say, “Works for me!” Here’s hoping they work for you too. Good hunting and happy collecting.