Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Autograph Collecting Essentials

One thing I want to bring up is the Autograph collector's essentials. There are things that separate the casual fan from the grapher from the hardcore collector. One thing I need to preface this post with is that everything here is personal opinion.

Every collection is unique, but there are some things I have figured out from my collecting that I'd like to offer as a few suggestions on "how to collect autographs" at a baseball stadium. It's in no way the final authority and I pick up new ideas and suggestions all the time, collecting is fluid so don't be afraid to try new things.

Baseballs: While it may seem like a great idea when you're just getting into the hobby to pick up a nice looking $5 souvenir baseball at the stadium, don't do it. If you touch the souvenir ball you realize the ball is made of a synthetic material that won't maintain the signature over time, the Rawlings Official Major League Baseball like used in a game is the only way to go. They can be expensive, but if you want it to last, get it on a ROMLB. When it comes to team balls or players you like but just want the signature more than a perfect display piece batting practice balls work just fine if you clean them up.
  • Note: If you're getting a baseball signed don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Be polite and say please, but if you want the sweet spot or have a specialty baseball (Gold Glove ball, All Star ball, etc) ask the player to sign where you want. The worst they can say is no and all you can gain is a perfect piece. Some players will only sweet spot and have no problem doing so, but have to be asked politely first.
  • Leave a few Ziplock/sandwich bags in your main bag. You spent the time getting the ball signed, so after you get it autographed put it in the plastic bag, wrap it up, and lock the seal that way the autograph won't get rubbed and a spill in the stands won't ruin your piece.
White Hi-Poly Eraser: If you get a batting practice baseball that is just a little nicked up but not bad or a glossy card a firm but not overly aggressive rub down with an eraser can help make a ball look fresher. If you're working on a ball be sure to not go against the grain of the leather and cause more scuff marks to the leather. You can also use these to remove some of the gloss from very glossy cards (Bowman 2011's, Topps 2012 Series 1's) to help them take a signature better instead of streaking. You can get one of these at a office supply store for about $1.00 or I prefer to use the one on the end of a Papermate mechanical pencil since it's more precise.

Markers: Sharpie. Don't fight the hype, go name brand and fine tip. I know a lot of people like Staedtler quick dry markers, but I lose too many markers a series to want to drop that sort of money and if you prepare your cards ahead of time or get cards on nice stock like Heritage or Ginters you don't need a quick dry anyways. Also many players tend to fear signing for people with a fancy marker since they would peg you as a dealer not a collector.

The color of the marker should be determined by your preferences and the piece you are getting signed. Even a card or photo is a piece of art or Topps wouldn't have art directors, on staff photographers, and editors for their product. Photos you've taken yourself deserve to have the signatures pop and stand out to showcase your work. Take a second to look at the image and think of what color will stand out and not blend into the background.
  • Silver, I like to use for Photos with dark backgrounds or on Black/Blue/Red Jersey numbers, I stick with Sharpie because I like a thinner standard signature look, but I know many who love to go with a high quality thicker end Elmer's Silver paint pen. Very commonly you'll see the DecoColor Silver, but when using a Deco remember to prime the tip with paint and you must run the marker over a blank page prior to ensure no bleeding or leaking.
  • Blue, it's the hobby norm and typically a way to tell the difference between a weekender and a collector. Most cards and photos will pop with little to no fade to the signature with blue. Blue is what I think is the way to go when it comes to a White Jersey number as it stands out more.
  • Black, now some people think black has no use for a collector. I disagree. Some cards with lots of blue backgrounds or jerseys make blue not show at all. It may fade a bit eventually, but on a card I find it not to be a concern if stored properly. On hat brims or grey jerseys I think black looks good as it stands out against the color more than blue and if it's being worn will fade a little but still stand out as a signature not a smudge.
Pens: When it comes to a pen everyone has their own look. You get a baseball signed with a pen you must have it signed in blue. Black will fade very quickly. Avoid black ink autographs on a baseball. Black is for people with no idea what they're doing or shops who want it to fade in a year so you have to come buy a new autographed baseball for some ridiculous mark up. Now personal preference lets you choose thickness of the pen.

A standard .7 fine blue ball point pen looks thick and good from a distance, but will normally have a little bit of a white gap if the signer isn't pressing firmly because it will skip bumps in the leather of a ball. Lately I've been on a kick using a Uniball Jetstream .7 because it's a nice vibrant blue that doesn't catch much of a skip if any. For a while I was using a BIC Round Stic extra fine with the rubber grip at the end, because it gives a little bit of a thinner signature but the pen runs true and won't really pick up the bumps of a .7 and I like it's shade of blue. I always carry both and hand the BIC's to the families holding black sharpies and baseballs (shudder).
Derek Jeter Jetstream 1.0 mm Left,  Mark Langston BIC Round Stic Extra Fine .07mm Right

Regardless, blue and ballpoint. Fine or extra fine tip is all up to you.
  • Note: Carry a scrap piece of paper to run your pen on before handing it to the player while he's signing for someone else. Running it on your wrist will put oils on the tip and encourage a clog. I use the hat trick. Put an extra slip in the inside brim of your baseball cap and you always have your scrap paper easily accessible to scribble on. You can use your ticket back instead, but be prepared to mark up a potential piece of memorabilia if the game becomes historic by say a no-hitter or perfect game.
Cards: I know a lot of guys who only get baseball's signed on the sweetspot. I think it's essential though to carry cards because let's face it not everyone is someone you want to display on a sweet spotted $15 baseball or even on your batting practice ball if you aren't starting a team ball. The rookies or journeyman players are fine on a card or on a team card.

You also never know who you are going to run into at the stadium or event so I get my blog's "business" cards signed that I use as autograph cards. I know there are the generic autograph signature cards and the famed "sweet spot" autograph card, but I like the feel of having the custom card signed. Below are Rob Gronkowski's autograph on the left and Rainn Wilson's autograph on the right.
  • Note: I like to vary how I carry my cards. Some people are only autograph seekers while I'm also a ballhawk. I don't carry a full sized binder with card sleeves because it's too cumbersome. I carry 2 mini 4 pocket 10 page binders by Ultra Pro. One for the home team, one for the visitors. Some people like card boxes and I will use one on occasion if I don't plan on carrying a bag but I find the edges get messed up if you're in a rush to thumb through the cards.
  • Many collectors at stadiums utilize notebooks with blue tape on the corners to hold their collection and provide a flat surface for the player to sign on. I'm not a fan for a few reasons. You look like a dealer or a hardcore collector and some of the more established players tend to avoid you. I like slipping in under the radar to get my one. Some players if they have the card taped will actually start the autograph on the card but end off the page so you get half a signature. I've seen people hand pages with other players taped to the page but get refused signatures because they don't notice their card next to their fellow player or actually sign the incorrect card.
Photos: For some of the upper tier players or personal favorites sometimes a baseball or a card isn't enough. I've dabbled in printing 8x10 photos from various places and come to a few conclusions. Like all things the photos you print and where you print from are personal preference. I know many guys who swear by photo printing by various places and frankly I don't always understand the hype. I've tried professional developers Adorama to mixed success. I've tried the instant print machines from Walmart and CVS which I don't recommend since the photo stock is oversized and you'll have to trim it yourself and if you aren't confident don't bother getting someone important's autograph on something you may ruin sizing for a frame. I've bought photos from guys who print at Costco and the gloss is nice but the stock feels kind of flimsy to me and it just doesn't hit the right note for me though the price is excellent. My personal preference is the photo center at Walgreens, it's a nice gloss level and solid stock for a reasonable price considering there's almost always some sort of deal being offered online. But try it for yourself, despite the belief that a photo is a photo it's really not. The same way a typewriter and your at home printer has their own unique traits so do the photo print machines and their operators. One office supply store I like the poster prints from has a long time photo tech who has long nails and I've had to have posters reprinted because of long scratches that showed in the light.

Well folks that's that. Like I said everyone has their own preferences on how their collection looks and these are just my own opinions and preferences. A handy beginner's guide to getting some quality in person autographs in your collection that I will add to as time goes on.

If you're interested in learning about autograph collecting through the mail you can read my essentials post here.

I'm often asked how to get autographs at Angel Stadium or how to get autographs at Dodger stadium, I posted a guide on what I think are the actual in the field essentials on how to get autographs in person at a MLB stadium.

I'll also likely add a section on storing autographs.


  1. Whenever I've tried to get baseballs signed, I've always used my wrist to test the pen out - so while it maybe something simple, I'll be carrying a scrap piece of paper to scribble on from now on.

    Nice tips!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great tips, I got a ball signed by Ron Guidry several years ago, blue pen. Totally faded, kept the ball out of sunlight. I'm not happy about getting it re-signed.

    1. Its not just keeping it out of sunlight, any light is ideal

  3. I love the Derek Jeter autograph you have. It looks bold and perfect. What kind of jetstream pen did you use? Jetstream RT Pen or Jetstream Roller Ball Pen? Is 0.7 mm better than 1.0 mm?

  4. Great article, thanks. I'm new to collecting autographed baseballs this year. I did my homework and bought a bunch of OML baseballs and used only Uniball Jetstream 1.0 Blue pens. Now after six months I am horrified to see some bleeding. All of the balls have been kept in UV cubes and out of sunlight. Some are bleeding more than others but upon close inspection all of the Jetstream signed balls are bleeding to some extent. Have you ever encountered this? I'm switching to good old Bic blue ballpoint.

  5. Incredible bit of composing, I truly loved the manner in which you featured some extremely essential and critical focuses. Much appreciated so much, I value your work.
    royals authentics