By Linda Mankefors

There are a lot of us who collect so-called in person autographs. Non-certified autos obtained in person or by mail, or simply traded for or bought. But unless you stand there yourself in front of the athlete, is it possible to do that anymore and know you that you are getting an authentic autograph?

Why would anyone even bother dealing with this hobby when there are tons of certified autographs available? Well, there’s the hunt. Collecting a certain card set and getting all the cards autographed. There’s the unique chance of getting a jersey, helmet, figure or photo signed. And nothing can beat the fun when you get it in your hand.

Here’s a little guide for the newbies or collectors tempted to start but who don’t know where to begin. Unless you’re a *hound yourself (*hound means person who attend games, player hotels etc to seek out the athlete or star and obtain the autograph in person), there are only a limited number of ways to get hold of an autographed item.

1) Write through the mail or email to the player’s team. This works for lesser names, but on rare moments even for stars. Reports say the legend Patrick Roy has signed through a special email address for a year. Personally I’ve succeeded twice with Georges Laraque through email; both times he sent free personalized signed photos. I also once got hold on email of Michael Nylander he was so nice and chatty we started talking about women’s hockey in Sweden. The normal procedure though is to write a letter to a player c/o the team. Be patient, some players take up to 18 months to go through their fan mail. When you write a letter, be personal. Mention a detail about that certain player; praise him on a certain career moment. Always include a self addressed envelope.

1b) Write to a player’s home address. This is by far the most effective way to get a mail success as the amount of fan mail to someone’s home address is lesser, since that home address supposedly is secret. I’ve even heard success stories of Chris Chelios (who is notoriously impossible to get otherwise) through home address. Respect the player’s privacy and don’t just give out the home address to anyone you meet or know.

2) Trade. There are some places online where you can meet fellow autograph collectors and simply trade for that missing piece you need. Occasionally you can see at forums like SCF or others collectors offering for sale or trade their signed memorabilia. I have seen fantastic pieces available.

3) Buy on eBay. This is dangerous place to buy with all the frauds and fake items for sale, but nonetheless there are tons of bargains to be made, especially with semi stars. Keep this in mind though: Take a look at a seller’s feedback. If they have 1000 positives but 5 people saying he sells fakes, there’s a big risk that they are. Don’t be fooled by so called photo “proofs” that they’ve met the athletes in person.

And finally here is my own little trick when buying on eBay: take a look at the other autographs the seller sells, even completed ones. Sometimes, it’s obvious something fishy is going on even if the seller has a 100% positive feedback.

Example: A week ago I found a signed Ovechkin photo puck, it’s so beautiful my finger wanted to click that buy button, the seller had an impeccable reputation, and the signature in itself indeed looked flawless and authentic. But when I take a further look he pretty much only sells signed items of Ovechkin, Crosby and Patrick Roy. Again and again. These three superstars are very hard to get, which I could have accepted if the seller had sold 20-30 other names as well. Instead he more or less only sells these. That is a very strong indication he’s specialized in forging these three signatures, and keeps doing it.

Even following my own advices, I suspect I have several times bought autographs that may have been fakes. Unfortunately it’s sometimes hard to tell unless you’re very experienced or you send it in for verification, to a serious service like Steiner or PSA.

4) Buy through a player’s official site, like Wayne Gretzky’s. Then you always know you get the real deal. But if you want that certainty, it costs, 3 or 4 digits.

Even if I’ve on and off collected autographed for years, I am nonetheless not a very experienced autograph collector as I’ve never done it on a large scale. So I decided to chat with someone who is.

We say hello to *Markus Hedberg (*fabricated name as the interviee wish to not reveal his real name), who has collected autographs intensely for 35 years.

How do you obtain your autographs?

-Most of them in person. Personally I think the real fun in collecting autographs is the hunt and the meeting with the person. To exchange a few words, maybe take a picture, make it more complete. But when it’s a name you know you’re not capable of getting hold of yourself, I have of course bought. Either directly from an athlete or online. I don’t have much experience of eBay as it’s flooded by forged autographs. One way is to google the player/star name you want + “autograph”, you often come to a serious seller that way. There is a risk of frauds here too, but not nearly as much as on eBay.

When it comes to online autograph shopping, have you got any tips that could help us?

-Signed modern photos, trading cards (and concerning artists, album covers), should arise suspicion.

-Nevermind Certificates of Authenticity (COA)! They don’t mean a thing, literary. A COA can as easily be forged as an autograph. On the contrary a COA is often a cover which many use to appear credible.

- Turn suspicious when a big name is for sale cheap. For instance you can often see signed items of Bob Dylan or Bob Marley for cheap money. I have a friend who’s tried to get Bob Dylan 5-6 times, and at least one of those times he was there himself with Bob Dylan outside a hotel, and yet Dylan just walked by and said hello, without stopping to sign. If you ever get hold of a genuine Bob Dylan autograph you don’t sell it cheaply.

-The more a seller writes in an item description the more suspicious you should get. If you sell an autograph from a film star for example, you don’t need to write a lot about them people already know. It’s only written to make a serious appearance.

-You can often make detailed studies and discover small but yet important details that are wrong. The more you look at autographs the more you learn.

-Avoid big cheap lots.

What about sending through mail?

-You can’t be 100% certain on autographs obtained by the mail. Many big stars got secretaries/personal who writes the autographs. For instance Wayne Gretzky. (Writer’s note: Also beware of so called autopens, machines that scribble out the player’s signatures)

-If you send to a home address you can most of the time count on getting the real deal. The problem is getting hold of the home addresses. There are websites where you can get hold of those; unfortunately you have to pay a member’s fee first.

Sending in for verification, is that something you’d recommend?

-I’ve never done it and don’t know if it’s worth the money. I’d say it would only be worth the big cost if it’s something extremely valuable.

Thank you Magnus. Lastly to all; have fun!