10 mistakes of through the mail collectors

on Saturday, 15 January 2011. Posted in Through the mail

1. Shooting Too High

Over the years, I have received countless letters from complaining, neophyte collectors guilty of shooting too high. They go something like this: “ I am really getting frustrated. I have just started out collecting and I’m not having a lot of through-the-mail success. 

Last month I sent out 25 requests, and I haven’t gotten one response. I’m thinking of giving up. Do you have any suggestions how I can get autographs from some of the people I wrote? I wrote to Britney Spears, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Julia Roberts, The Pope, Madonna … but like I said – nothing! Do you have any ideas?”

We have to realize that prominent celebrities at the peak of their careers who are constantly in the headlines are the least likely to be willing or able to respond at all, much less with an authentic autograph. The chances that celebrities of this caliber will even lay eyes on your request are practically nonexistent.

So aim accordingly, and lower your “autographic scope.” Bide your time. It’s a good bet that in a few years the object of your request will be a little less popular, a little less inundated with requests, a little more accessible – and a little more accommodating.

2. Not Shooting High Enough

I figured I’d get the contradictory list makers out of the way first. While I will defend the veracity of #1 to the death, I would also encourage collectors to break that rule. But do it sparingly, with persistence, and with good reason. By sparingly, I mean only try contacting the highly prominent who really mean something to you.

For example, maybe Britney Spears is the object of your attention. I can’t blame you for that. So be persistent, try different addresses, and send heartfelt letters or magazine articles for her to sign. Also try “befriending” the assistant who has to wade through the deluge of fan mail. Address your remarks directly to him or her instead of to the celebrity, and ask them to be your advocate to get the celebrity to come through.

3. Forgetting the Essentials

We’ve heard it all before, but I’m still amazed at how many people don’t remember the basics. Nowadays a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) – one with enough return postage – is a necessity.

Especially in today’s anthrax, terror-conscious culture, be aware of what the envelope/package you send looks like. Even I have received envelopes from collectors that arrive in a state of what I can best describe as suspect – things like no return address, my name and address scrawled in the most illegible penmanship imaginable, a hard-to-read message, and unreasonable requests.

Try to be empathetic, that is, put yourself in the celebrity’s shoes. Make sure the overall appearance of your package isn’t something that would make you leery. Clean envelopes, legible penmanship (typewritten or computer-generated labels are even better) and short, succinct, reasonable requests are all essential.


4. Being Impatient

I have told many stories of collectors whose requests seemingly have gone unanswered, only to be pleasantly surprised months and even years later. Collectors have written to me with frustrating anecdotes, only to write back later to say that the celebrity finally, inexplicably, came through with an autograph. Be patient.

5. Being Uncreative with Your Letter

The worst possible thing you can do is to send your prospect a form letter. That reduces your chance for success to subterranean levels. Even I have received letters that say, “Dear___________” typed, and then my name is scrawled over the line. They continue with, “I have always loved your work and am a huge fan of yours. Please send me 10 autographed photos. …” It’s hard to believe, but I’m only exaggerating a little bit. That kind of request will set yours apart, all right – but in the worst possible way.

Give the celebrity a real compliment. Cite a recent movie, TV show, or album, but something specific. Then throw in an old or obscure one, telling them how much you respect or appreciate their work. Then say how honored you’d be to add them to your collection. And don’t take this piece of advice the wrong way – all of these things have to be grounded in honesty.

Sometimes when people ask to what I attribute my collecting success (especially in terms of volume), my answer is always the same. I tell them that to the 95 percent level, I have always collected (whether by mail or in-person) the autographs of people who really mean something to me. There are different levels and different reasons to be sure, but never simply for the sake of acquisition.

6. Being Uncreative with What You Send

Yes, I said with what you send. Most collectors simply write and ask the celebrity to provide a signed photo. For the past few years, I have had much more success when I send the celebrity something to sign. This has many advantages – some of which you may have not considered. If you send a CD sleeve or DVD sleeve, what does that tell the star? It tells them that you patronize their craft. It shows you are considerate (after all, you sent them an item, a SASE, and a heartfelt letter). That’s what sets you apart.

But CD and DVD sleeves aren’t the only things you can send. Consider sending items like dust jackets, books, magazines, newspaper clippings, printed lyrics or passages, used concert tickets, bumper stickers … the sky’s the limit.

Be creative. Jimmy Carter once autographed a bag of peanuts I sent him. Chuck Yeager signed a pane of stamps commemorating the breaking of the sound barrier. I had tried many times to obtain autographs from songwriter Jimmy Webb and infamous Bill Clinton gal-pal Gennifer Flowers, with no success. Then I sent Webb a couple of CD sleeves, and Gennifer a comic book to sign … and bingo!


7. Being Uncreative With the Address You Use
Instead of using the address in your 1997 celebrity address book, the key once again is to be creative. Keep abreast of current Broadway and off-Broadway productions (available online or in magazines such as The New Yorker) and send your request to the theatre.

One little-known resource is The White Pages on AOL. Even if you aren’t an AOL subscriber, this is one of the services you can access. Simply go to aol.com, click on white pages, and even with just a name and state of residence, you can sometimes get a home address. This has worked many times for me, most notably a few years back with Lucie Arnaz. Management addresses of music stars usually appear on CD covers, and those have worked as well.

These are a few examples, but just like in #6 above, the only thing holding you back is your imagination.

8. Trusting eBay

And not just eBay – I’m talking about all your purchases online. Yes, even I have succumbed to deals that seem to good to be true. I’m convinced the Angelina Jolie and Henry Kissinger signed photos I purchased are bogus.

I purchased these questionable Angelina Jolie and
Henry Kissinger SPs on eBay from a seller I didn’t
know. It’s best to buy online only from reputable dealers.

I once purchased what I thought was a lobby card signed by Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, only to find out later it was a preprint. The best part is that the seller explained that in the item description, but I was too blinded by my bidding zeal to notice it. Bid on eBay, but only buy from reliable, established dealers. Realize that a certificate of authenticity is as easy to produce as a phony signature.

9. Not Being Prepared for In-Person Encounters
I’m not talking about anything extravagant here, but if you’re going to be in public places like concerts, sporting events and airports, make sure you at least have a Sharpie because you never know whom you might encounter.

I have found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with Reggie Jackson and Pete Rose (not at the same time – that would have been too weird) in, of all places, airport urinals, Greta van Susteren on an airplane, William Katt in an elevator, and Mario Cuomo on a street corner. The list goes on and on.

All of these encounters were autographically disappointing because I wasn’t prepared. Of course, when you’re going to a “happening” that features the object of your desire, go really prepared.

I recently attended a Julia Fordham concert in Minneapolis. At the time I bought the tickets, I had no idea if the theatre where she would be performing (a club called Sursumcorda in the Warehouse District) seated 100 or 10,000. But this time, I went prepared with photos, CD sleeves, a Sharpie and a camera. The results were tremendous. I’ll share that story in a future Off The Wall column.

10. Failing to Take Steps to Adequately Preserve Your Collection

There is nothing worse than seeing a treasured collectible that is starting to decay. Collectors who have been in this hobby for any length of time have all experienced the excruciating sound of a signature (usually one that was written in those incredibly nasty silver or gold paint pens) sticking to the plastic sleeve as you attempt to remove it.

Be aware of the damage that can be caused by overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) light. We use sunscreen to protect our skin and sunglasses to protect our eyes, but fail to protect our autographs from the same source of damage. If you feel compelled to display your photo, be sure it is protected with glass that contains a UV filter. Another trick is to make a quality color copy of your item, display the copy, and protect the original in a cool, dry, safe place.

· If there is some sort of insert or other item coming in contact with your signed item, make sure that it, too, is free of acid.

· Don’t use staples, paper clips, laminating sheets or tape.

· Watch out for extreme heat and humidity. If you use a safe to store your collection, consider using a desiccant. This is a chemical that attracts and contains moisture.

(c) Anthony D. Record (Autograph Collector)

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