Make Money Collecting Things Autographs

About how to make money collecting autographs, where to buy and sell signatures for your collection.

How to Make Money Collecting Things


An autograph isn't just a signature. It can be a letter, note, document, manuscript, or other surface signed by a famous person, historic or modern, or by an unfamiliar person giving an inside view of a significant event. According to George Sullivan in Making Money in Autographs, an autograph's value often depends on the circumstances under which it is signed. For example:

* Bess Holmes of Philadelphia received not only a signature from astronaut Buzz Aldrin but also a brief, vivid account of his 1969 moon walk.

* The Putnam family of Belpre, O., has an 1801 signature of Margaret Blennerhassett, wife of Aaron Burr's coconspirator against the U. S. government. She scratched her name on one of the windows of their old house with her diamond ring.

* Solis Cooperson of San Francisco, Calif., possesses the final autograph of rock star Buddy Holly, signed less than an hour before his fatal 1959 plane crash.

* Herman Darvick of Brooklyn has a typed and signed Eisenhower letter in which lke calls Bobby Kennedy "shallow, vain, and untrustworthy."

The signature of George Washington can have many values. A handwritten letter is worth much more than a signed document; if his signature can be dated during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), its value is enhanced; a document signed by Washington while he was president is worth more than one signed by him in his capacity as president of the "Society of the Cincinnati," particularly if Vice-President John Adams has affixed his signature to the presidential document. Certainly a handwritten letter in which the Father of Our Country told an out-and-out, barefaced lie would be a valuable artifact.

An autograph may drop in value because the paper it's written on is discolored, spotted, water-or tape-stained, worn around the edges, torn, or crumbling. Often old signatures were written in an acidic, corrosive ink that gradually eats away at the paper they are written on.

Where to Look for Old Autographs

You can try digging through attics, old family documents, antique stores, or anyplace else where old papers can be found. More realistically, you should contact autograph dealers, auction firms, and rare book dealers who deal in signatures. But be prepared to pay good money for unusual autographs.

How to Build a Modern Collection Free

Nothing is free nowadays, but for the price of a few postage stamps you can build a good collection of contemporary autographs simply by writing to famous people and asking them a question provocative enough to evoke an answer from them. Content makes an autograph valuable; thank-you notes are a dime a dozen. You can get addresses from recent editions of who's Who. Most autograph hounds specialize in certain fields--such as artists, sports figures, criminals, politicians--and develop an expertise in those areas. From then on, your own aesthetic and historical tastes will determine whether the signatures you seek today will be familiar and valuable to autograph buyers 25 years from now.

Prices (1977)

A letter from Alexander Graham Bell sold for $140; a postcard from Berchtesgaden written and signed by Eva Braun sold for $300; a handwritten letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower sold for $900; a document signed by Paul Revere sold for $650; an airmail envelope signed by Howard Hughes and his crew members on their 1938 round-the-world flight sold for $250; a one-page letter from Gen. Omar Bradley sold for $25; a one-page letter from Henry Miller sold for $225; a typed letter signed by Albert Einstein sold for $175; an autographed photograph of John F. Kennedy sold for $375; a one-page letter from Judy Garland sold for $50.

Where to Sell Autographs

Join the Manuscript Society, 429 North Daisy Avenue, Pasadena, Calif. 91107. Membership is $10, and you receive an excellent quarterly, Manuscripts, all about autograph collecting.

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