~Autograph Collecting 101~
1) Autograph Guidelines For Beginners
2) Autograph Requests
Through The Mail
Sending Items To Be Signed
How To Send Your Request
4) The Finish Line
4) Autograph Abbreviation List
Peanuts © UFS, Inc.
Now, on with our lesson
Autograph Guidelines For Beginners
Autograph collecting is a fun hobby for people of all ages. Parents and kids can both do the same hobby, but go for the individual celebrities (or celebs) that interest them. While you may be going for different people, you can still share the experience of the hunt. If you are fortunate to live in places like Hollywood, then you will have a better chance of possible in-person meetings with celebs. For the majority of us, the only time that we will ever get to meet celebs is at sporting events, book signings or conventions. The meeting of the celebrity, even if it's for the briefest of moments, is always memorable. Getting him or her to sign something is the ultimate result to the whole event. If it's someone you really admire, the memory will always stay with you. If it's someone that your children have never met, just watching your enjoyment could very well spark the interest in the hobby. To help fan that spark, talk over with your kids and see who they like on TV and movies. If their love is cartoons, then help them write request letters to the voice actors that bring the characters to life. Now, if you're like me, you have to rely on the occasional sci-fi convention or a signing at a local business to get autographs. The next best thing is through the mail autograph requests.
Through The Mail
Through the mail (aka TTM or snail mail) is the average autograph collector's best avenue for getting an item signed. If you're like me, it's very rare for a celeb to be walking down my "Main Street" in East Texas. The closest I will see them is on TV or a movie screen. Address databases, such as Star Collector, are your best sources to get celeb addresses for your requests. If one database does not have an address, keep looking.
The basics are easy. Make a list of celebs that interest you. Be it Broadway, TV or movie stars, music artists, etc. An important thing to keep in mind is that you are writing a FAN LETTER. This means that you are writing to the celeb expressing your admiration for his/her work and make a polite request for a signed item. An autograph is only a possible result to your letter, not a guarantee. You then write a sincere and HONEST letter to the celebrity. Don't try to write a forced letter. Write about how the celeb has affected your life or happy memories that you have with one of their performances. Preferably, keep it short and to the point. Keep in mind, most celebrities receive quite a few letters a month, if not per DAY, besides yours. That will stack up very quickly. While there are some stars that pass their mail to secretaries or aides, there are still some that do, and will, actually read the letter that you write. You should always write your letters assuming this to be the case. If anything, the assistants will give an edited version of your letter with the "meat" of what you wrote. The celeb that does read their own mail can tell an honest letter from a real fan from a standard form letter from someone just looking for yet another signature to add to their collection. Also, be conscious of your requests. Most celebrities have no problem signing an autograph. Some will even sign two. Honestly, asking for more than two can tend to make you look greedy and might even scare them off of signing anything at all for you. If you want multiples signed, you may want to request that each photo be personalized to yourself or, if you are getting them signed for others, list their names for personalization.
In most cases, the request for an
autograph should be within the first or second paragraph. A three paragraph
letter is what I usually send. Here's the breakdown:
First paragraph: Thank the person for reading the letter, first and foremost. Give sincere compliments to the celeb on his/her work. To stay honest, you should at least be up to date on at least something that they are working on and/or projects that he/she has done in their career. As I stated, a celeb is not stupid and can tell when someone is just after the signature. With eBay, and other online auction houses, a lot of the celebs are reluctant to sign for fear that their gift to a fan will end up on an auction within days of the person receiving it.
Second paragraph: If you have not requested the autograph in the first paragraph, it really should be done in this one. As I said, they go through a lot of letters daily ON TOP of doing their everyday activities and living their lives. I also usually ask for the photo/item to be inscribed. This does two things. 1) it makes the autograph that much more personal to me and 2) it lets the celebrity know that "hey, maybe this person is a real fan and intends to keep it". Also, very important, make sure that you include your name and return address somewhere in the body of the letter. It really does make it easier for the celeb when responding to your request. It is not uncommon for the SASE to become misplaced and/or become mixed up with letters from other people. If they can't find your return address, you won't get your autograph. It's really smart to play it safe.
Third/closing paragraph: I usually write this paragraph much shorter than the first two. In this one, I state that I appreciate them taking time to read my letter. I also add that if they cannot honor the autograph request, it is understandable with their busy schedules and all. This shows sincerity on your behalf and, who knows, it may make a non-signer into a signer.
Sending Items To Be Signed
If you have something pertaining to the celebrity (a photo, magazine or just the cover/page, poster, index card, whatever), send that with the letter. Not all celebrities, especially the older ones, will have a photos to send to you. On this note, and this is important, you should ONLY send an item that you can afford to lose and/or not be returned. There are some celebrities that simply will not sign in person, much less TTM. There are rumors of some celebrities not even opening the letters and throwing them away instead of RTSing (return to sender) the package to you. This became especially true after the tragic events of 9/11/2001. I suggest that if you have something that you are worried about mailing, say a cast photo already signed by everyone but the one person, then send a standard letter or e-mail asking what their signing policy is ahead of time. It's also good to find out whether they charge for signatures or not too. In addition, if you are collecting signed charity items for auctions, you must include appropriate information regarding the charity event, such as the date and location of the event, your tax ID information, website info, etc. It's also a good idea to include the letterhead, if available, of the organization that you are representing.
How To Send Your Request
A 9x12 envelope is the best thing to send when requesting an autograph. An 8x10 photo will fit in them with no problem, as will a magazine. Another "rule" is to enclose a second 9x12 envelope in with the request letter otherwise known as an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). The second envelope should have your return address already written on it as well as having enough return postage to cover the weight of the return trip. The safest route to take, before sending your request, is to get the weights of the envelope that you are sending your requests in and weight of the SASE. This can be done either at the Post Office or by buying a postal scale at
Wal-Mart, Office Depot, etc. Once you get the weight, you can go to the www.USPS.com website to find out how much it will cost for both envelopes. While this is a choice for each collector, I personally do not like to send a request without an SASE to cover postage. Remember, this is YOUR hobby, not theirs. They should not be responsible for footing the bill for your collection. I also include a piece of cardboard, or a file folder, to keep the photo from bending during shipping. Affordable stacks of the cardboard can be purchased at online stores such as www.bagsunlimited.com. Also, adding "Do Not Bend" on one or both envelopes sometimes helps in keeping your collectible from being damaged.
Email requests are also nice ways to get in touch with celebrities, but they are not fool proof. The old adage "You get what you pay for" fits in perfectly here. Simply because you take 2-3 minutes to write out an email request for an autograph, it does not automatically mean that you are entitled to one, or even a response, for that matter. You may feel that you are saving money by sending a request electronically, but somebody along the line has to pay for the item that is signed and the postage to get it to you. As this IS your hobby, you should not expect the celeb to pay for it. If you get a response requesting that you send an SASE to an address for an autograph, you are at least getting what you asked for - an avenue to get your autograph. If you receive a preprint or autopenned autograph, again you are getting what you paid for.
You do need to be careful with email requests though. There are some bozos that get their jollies by creating an email address, post it and pretend to be a celebrity. They do this to see what people will write to the "star" and get a chuckle out of it. I greatly suggest writing a test message to an address if it's untested. Write your letter, but at the end, find out if it's the real person BEFORE putting your personal mailing address/information. Instead, ask what their autograph policy is. You will either be told to send your mailing address to send an autograph to or they will provide you with an address to send an SASE to. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
Any good TTM collector will have a supply of envelopes on hand. If you send, and expect, 3x5 index cards, have a box of standard sized envelopes. If you send, or expect to receive 8x10 pictures, you will need 9x12 envelopes. Both can be bought in bulk at Office Depot, Office Max, etc. Make sure that you have enough envelopes to enclose a folded SASE with your requests.
Keep a supply of current priced stamps on hand. Buying "Forever Stamps" from the Post Office is supposed to enable you to be able to use the same stamps regardless of how many times the prices are raised.
Note: if you intend to write to people outside of your country, you MUST have that country's postage stamps for your return envelope. You can use US postage for anything going OUT of the country, but US postage will not work on mail coming INTO the US. A common misconception is sending mail to and from Canada. Believe it or not, but there are people that think that Canada is part of the US and that US postage will work going both ways. Nope. Doesn't work that way. The best thing to do is to become friendly with people in other countries and form a stamp exchange. Just as you are needing stamps from one country, they are needing our postage to send to the US.
The Finish Line
The last part is the hardest. The WAIT!! There are instances where a request
will come back within a few days, maybe even within a week of sending it off. There are also horror
stories of requests taking several years to come back. On average, there is going to
be a 3+ month wait for a return, that is if anything is even going to come
back to you at all. As I stated above, there are some celebrities that refuse to sign TTM.
Most of the ones that refuse will send your request back with the original
envelope stamped/written with "no such person", RTS or even sometimes
simply "refused". There are also instances where they will open your letter and
send a letter in your own SASE stating that they do not honor TTM requests, thus wasting your postage just to say that they
There is also a growing habit of celebrities to use your SASE to send you paperwork on joining their fan club in order to obtain an autograph, a pamphlet advertising their website where you can purchase their autograph or simply send you a price list of their signing fees. This practice is growing due largely to the online auction houses that I mentioned. A lot of celebrities are feeling that they are being taken advantage of by people reselling their signatures and they aren't making a dime off of it. Some celebrities are now selling their autographs for the going rate that a lot of them are selling for on the auctions. Is that fair? I tend to lean towards their rights to make a profit. I would rather pay for an autograph from the person than I would be someone who MAY have faked a signature on eBay.
That, students, is all there is to know about TTM autographs. Go out and have fun with the hobby. It's safe and something you can do together with your family. Be prepared for the downfalls of not receiving anything. On the other hand, when you DO receive something back, it makes the joy of collecting that much more fun. One of the most important things to remember is that the celebrity is doing all of us a favor by simply opening our letters, much less signing for us. To that end, and this part is not a requirement, send a thank you note after you receive the autograph. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. A small note, typed or hand written, or even a thank you card with a message to show them that their time is appreciated. It goes a long way to show that you are a true fan of the person and appreciate their time. A final avenue that I've done is to send a Christmas/holiday card later that year.
Autograph Abbreviation List
|Celebrities will sometimes use a machine that is set up to duplicate their signature. These are not always easy to spot.|
|BW, B/W, b&w, etc.||Black & White|
|CIC||Custom Index Card|
|COA||Certificate of Authenticity|
|FOE||Forwarding Order Expired|
|HOF||Hall Of Fame|
|I||Inscribed or Personalized|
|IP||An autograph obtained in person|
|ISP||Inscribed Signed Photograph/Picture|
|ISPC||Inscribed Signed Postcard|
|PP||Preprint - photo of a celebrity that was signed once and then reproduced with the signature already on it. NOTE: you can usually tell a preprinted autograph by tilting it towards a light source such as a desk lamp. If the signature blends in with the photo, it's a preprint.|
|RTS||Return To Sender|
|SAE||Self-Addressed Envelope (no postage)|
|SASE||Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope; usually a 9x12 sized envelope|
|SCIC||Signed Custom Index Card|
|SIC||Signed Index Card|
|SP||Signed Photo, no inscription|
|TCS||Trading Card, Signed|
|TLS||Typed Letter Signed By The Star|
|TTM||Through The Mail|