by Matt Raymond
Six years ago I moved to Boston and reconnected with an old friend who impressed me with stories of obtaining athlete signatures at team hotels throughout the city. I started to accompany him, learning as much as I could about the world of in person autograph collecting—graphing. My life has never been the same.
I gained knowledge by learning from my many mistakes and you will undoubtedly make your own. But my hope is that by sharing some of these lessons, you’ll repeat as few of them as possible. I’ve found autograph collecting to be a challenging, frustrating yet extremely rewarding hobby. And despite being the source of countless headaches over the years, it’s also provided many amazing experiences. Early on I learned that a foundation of your graphing success—and building a high quality, meaningful collection—is creating a toolbox that includes more than a well-stocked autograph bag (but it’s a great place to start).
While your minimum requirements are a pen and something to write on, being prepared for all the scenarios you’ll encounter out in the field requires greater consideration. If you’ll be getting a variety of items signed—cards, photos, balls, jerseys—it’s critical that you choose the marker or pen best suited for each piece. Here are some of the basics I carry with me (watch this video for a detailed view inside my autograph bag):
(blue and black)
- DecoColor Paint Pen (silver)
- SRX or Elementz
- Retractable eraser
- Digital camera
- Photo folders
- BIC Cristal ballpoint pen (blue)
Your environment will also have an impact on your success. You’ll contend not only with other collectors and moody celebrities, but also with Mother Nature. A typical graphing day includes hours of being out in the elements which can be quite stressful on the body, especially during the summer and winter. I always pack water, snacks and sunscreen to stay fueled and comfortable.
If you live in a metro area celebrities are all around you—you just need to know where (and when) to look. Charity events, book signings, and even film shoots can fly under your radar if you don’t have your eyes and ears open and pointed in the right direction. Luckily, there are a number of online sources that can help you identify these opportunities. Here are a few of my favorites:
SigningsHotline.com – The most comprehensive listing of public and private signings in the U.S. and Canada. Many of the items in my collection started as leads from this site.
On Location Vacations – While its name brings to mind all-inclusive travel packages, OLV actually publishes detailed information about filming locations and celebrity sightings in near real-time. I follow them on Twitter for the latest updates: @olv
I also encourage you to find the gossip column in your local newspaper. Here in Boston, the Herald’s Inside Track is an invaluable tool for me to find out where celebrities will be appearing in the Hub.
Would real-time updates from celebrities on where they are and what they’re doing help you get more autographs? Yeah, I think so too. To keep my feed organized, I use Twitter lists to segment the users I follow. As a starting point, create a list of local celebrities and athletes and another of those visiting. Update the latter at least once a week.
Many of the tips I receive come from other collectors with whom I’ve built a relationship. It can be tough to make friends in a competitive environment where intel is currency, but there are graphers who are passionate about the hobby and willing to help beginners (yes, they’re really out there!). My advice is to become a regular before you start asking for help—be visible at events which have been promoted (see the Intel section above) and start engaging with the people you meet. You may be surprised how much you have to offer even the most veteran collectors. In addition to participating in the offline community, go online and start connecting. I have learned so much from collectors on SportsGraphing.com, SportsCollectors.net, and Twitter. And remember, you can always reach out to me with your questions. I’d love to hear from you.
They say good things come to those who wait, and the proverb couldn’t be more true in this hobby. My collection has been built on thousands of hours of patience. It’s patience that got me autographs from Johan Santana and Jose Reyes at 3am outside the team hotel one weekday night (the next morning at work was not fun). It’s patience that keeps me focused on graphing Paul Pierce one day, even after being denied time and time again. You could obtain higher quality items in a far more efficient—and arguably, more cost-effective—way by sticking to paid signings. But for me the autographs themselves are secondary to the stories and experiences I obtain on these adventures. It’s why fishermen navigate the waters in search of the big one rather than pushing a cart to the corner of the supermarket. Now, go fish.