Autograph collecting is the one of the oldest and most common forms of collecting. In fact, the auctioning of autographs dates back about two hundred years! But the market on autographs can be quite fickle, even compared to other major collectibles. Here are some things to consider when building, handling, or selling an autograph collection.
Autographs Are Souvenirs At Heart
Autographs fall under the broader category of “memorabilia”, collectible items that pertain to a specific time or event. They are a reminder of the time when an autograph seeker met or at least wrote to a beloved public figure. By its very nature, loses that value once it is removed from that context. The second owner didn’t meet or communicate with that person, they’re just buying their signature.
With the rise of concert meet & greets and comic con signing events, there are more opportunities to meet celebrities than ever. These events generally cost money, but the celebrity isn’t selling their autograph. They’re selling the opportunity to meet them, and the autograph is the proof that it happened. Looked at from that angle, one could argue that autographs are the only kind of receipt to maintain value on its own.
Supply vs. Demand
This sounds a tad ghoulish, but it’s true: autographs from famous people who are no longer with us are generally worth more than those from the living. As long as a beloved figure is alive, there is always a chance that a fan can meet them. They can still have the experience of meeting the celebrity for themself.
Once a celebrity passes away, that’s no longer possible. Autographs become a fan’s best way of claiming a piece of their lost idol, even it is only a signature. No matter how many autographs they signed in their lifetime, they’re now a limited edition. The limit may be high, depending on the person, but it used to be infinite.
Of course, that does come with its own limitations. Marie Dressler was the highest grossing movie star of 1932. Ninety years on, her autograph just doesn’t sell. Autograph value is fueled by fandom, meaning it doesn’t exist if fans don’t exist.
Autographed Collectibles Are Better
For decades, the most common ways of accumulating an autograph collection was on plain note cards or glossy photos. In the digital age, those are significantly less valued. For photos, our culture’s changing relationship to photography is a major factor. Thanks to digital photography, we just don’t display physical photos like our parents and grandparents did. As for the note cards, they are the pinnacle of the “receipt for experience” conception of an autograph. They mean a lot to the person who got it signed, but little to anyone else.
Signed collectibles, like toys or prop replicas or even books, hold value better. That’s because there’s collectible value to the item even before the celebrity signed it. You can see this phenomenon at play in the market for Jason David Frank autographs. Frank played Tommy Oliver, the coolest of all the Power Rangers, on-and-off for twenty-five years. He died in November 2022, sparking a massive wave of childhood nostalgia and grief among people who’d grown up watching him on TV.
That has lead to a renewed interest in his autograph, for the reasons described above. Signed collectibles like comics, toys, and trading cards are selling for as much as ten times what a signed 8×10 photo does. They carry collectible and aesthetic value that is enhanced by the signature.
Authentication Is Key
Most autographs are acquired in scenarios where authenticity is unquestionable to the receiver: it was signed in their presence! Secondary market buyers, on the other hand, need some assurances. That typically comes in the form of a Certificate of Authenticity (CoA). Some events may be kind enough to provide one on the spot, but that can get into the problem of “says who?”. A CoA from Jimbo’s Bait Shop & Collectibles Emporium doesn’t reassure skeptical buyers, especially if Jimbo has since gone out of business. On the plus side, retroactive authentication can be obtained from industry leaders like PSA and Beckett. CoAs from them carry high degrees of confidence, including serial number look-ups.
Autographs are really fun items to collect and tough collectibles to sell. It is always best, no matter what the collection is, to consult with impartial experts to better understand the value of your collection. Luckily, Back to the Past is here for all your evaluation and consignment needs! And if you want to comment on anything we’ve said, or get further comment from us, you can always reply below or hit us up @b2pcollect on social media.