Monday, September 1, 2008

Thru the Mail Autographs- A Lost Art

With the seemingly ever increasing cost of sports cards and the continuing compulsion I feel in my late 30’s to “bust wax” looking for those ever so sweet autographs, I have found a more reliable, fulfilling and cost-effective alternative- signature requests through the mail. Over the last couple of years I have become heavily involved in one of the least discussed yet most rewarding aspects of the hobby. With a tradition as storied and as long, if not longer, than sports card collecting, the, often, elusive quest for an athlete’s signature remains a corner store of the hobby. Some simple guidelines and resources make this avenue of collecting a true joy as each new day brings the potential of a mailbox surprise.

Request Etiquette
While it might seem like common sense to some, others will gain greatly from these simple suggestions.Send a legible, hand written request. It personalizes the request. Keep it brief but cordial. Give a reason for your request. i.e. “I’ve always admired the way you play the game.”, “Your pass in the 1997Playoff game to win it in OT was awesome!” Say please, thank you, and be sure to “ask” for the autograph.

Include a SASE
Do not use address labels for the recipient's address. It looks like you are doing a mass mailing. Standard 1st class postage for each envelope is sufficient for trading cards.

What to Send or Not Send
There are few hard rules when it comes to what to send but keep in mind that not all autograph requests are returned, signed or not. Don’t send items whose 2-way shipping value exceeds the value of the autograph itself. That’s just dumb. Don’t send an item that you would regret not having returned. It happens. Personally, when applicable I prefer to send cards from the era of mass over production, 1986-1995. It makes me feel better to have the opportunity to get some value out of these cards if they do come back signed. Nobody likes licking envelopes. Be sure the SASE is the self-adhesive kind. What if you don’t have an item? You can request the athlete send you a photograph but typically these will be auto-penned or perhaps even secretarial/clubhouse signatures signed by someone other than the athlete. Whenever possible send your own items.

Address Resources
There are an abundant number of resources at your disposal for address information from books, to websites, lists, and magazines. Obviously you may have your own preferences and/or favorite means but I’ll share with you my personal favorites.A website called I have found to be an immense help. For only $4.99 a month Startiger allows you access to their daily updated online database of celebrity and athlete addresses. This has been one of the most effective resources I have found for finding current home addresses. The shear volume of request that most athletes receive at their team stadium often prohibits the athlete from responding to requests. However, when it comes to home addresses, not all but many, athletes seem to think you’ve gone the extra mile and there is far less competition relative to volume.Another inexpensive resource is a publication simply titled Autograph Collector. It is monthly publication that provides editorial content relative to the hobby, and more importantly provides a monthly listing of over 300 addresses. They are not all of athletes but we obviously all have interests outside of sports so you may even decide to expand your collecting niche by sending out requests to your favorite actor, actress, musician, etc.

Success Rates and Name Dropping
I currently have an overall return success rate of close to 70%. This number is deceiving because it encompasses a wide range of mostly sports, including Olympians, boxing, woman’s softball and other small ‘market” segments. What I find very interesting however is the individual sport return numbers and you might be surprised to find out that HOF football players in my sampling over the last 2 years have the highest return rate of any sport or sport segment with a return rate of over 80% and include such famous players as Dan Fouts, Terry Bradshaw, Barry Sanders, Steve Young, and John Elway.. What might not be surprising is that active baseball players are the worst signers with a few exceptions most notably Jim Thome. Former Olympians is another segment with a very high success rate, as well as former Indy car drivers. Successes from theses categories include Mary Lou Retton, Bart Conner, Greg Louganis, Carl Lewis and Michael Andretti, Mario Andretti, and Emerson Fittipaldi respectively.

Finding Material
If you are a fan of some of the less mainstream sports as I am, you maybe wondering how to locate inexpensive pieces to send out for autographs. If you are not already aware, you will be happy to learn that most sports at some time or another have had sports card releases. Boxing aficionados can find dirt cheap unopened boxes of Kayo Boxing cards from the 90’s on eBay for just a few dollars a box. In those boxes you will find cards of such legendary fighters and personalities as Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Haggler, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancicni, George Foreman and even Mr. “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” himself, Michael Buffer. (He recently returned a request signed!) In addition their have been a few Olympic releases by Impel and contain many names from yesteryear. These are just a few examples of the forgotten material out there of sports outside the Big 4.

In addition, as you may or may not have seen on other blogs, a company can be found on the web at that provides sport specific generic cards perfect for signing. The cards require no rubbing and sharpie signatures look great. Available sports currently include baseball, football, hockey, golf, basketball, wrestling, and boxing. The company even has prospect cards and cards for dual and triple signatures. A pack of 25 costs only ten dollars and they even make a multi-sport sample pack.


Dubbs said...

Great advice, thanks. I haven't done this since I was a kid and was wondering how to get back into it. I used to receive team logo stickers from the ballclubs, too, when I wrote to the stadium.

Chemgod said...

Great advice, I have been doing TTM for many years now and like you, I just got fed up with paying 20 bucks for a blaster box containing a relic or autograph. I stay mainly with baseball, and can tell you my rate of return this year is around 25% which is the lowest since I have done this. I have since found out that many of the minor leaguers won't sign because their agents tell them it deflates the worth of their autograph. Very sad. Visit for some of my TTM success this year.

Post a Comment