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Finding Value In Autograph Collecting

By Jay Strecker

Online Exclusive

I was very fortunate to acquire a 27-inch piece of the goal post from the 1958 NFL Championship game, which is sometimes called the "greatest game ever played." The Baltimore Colts were victorious over the New York Giants on that historic day. 

The man who owned the post was lucky enough to get it as fans rushed the field after Alan Ameche scored the winning touchdown, but the owner was even luckier to know John Steadman. 

Steadman took it from the man and had it signed by most of the Colts players, as well as Weeb Ewbank, the Colts coach. This historic piece is currently on loan to the Sports Legends Museum, where it has a spot in the Colts exhibit. What may be most amazing about this piece is that every signature is legible.

My son bought a Ravens helmet during the team's Super Bowl run and visited some of the sports bars in town to get it signed by Ravens players. This helmet is home to about 45 signatures, but unfortunately you can't read any of them unless you know who they are. Athletes from the 1940s through the 1970s, in general, have wonderful signatures. Today's athletes, making $50 to $100 per autograph at shows, can't take six seconds to sign a legible signature.

Many novice collectors believe that an autographed item should be bought if it was signed in person or if it is accompanied with a certificate of authenticity. This belief simply allows for promoters and autograph signers to overcharge for illegible signatures. 

It would absolutely kill me to go to a show and shell out $500-$1,000 on 10 autographs, but it is easily done. A friend of mine bought a ticket for a Ray Lewis signing at a local sports card store for $65. He then bought a mini-helmet at the store for about $35. He took a couple of pictures of Lewis signing the helmet. He thought that since he had all of the documentation for this $100 investment, all he had to do was put the helmet on eBay. Too bad he didn't put a reserve (minimum bid amount) on it -- the helmet sold for $40. Does this sound like a wise investment?

Before half of the Ravens' home games, there is a tent set up near the Johnny Unitas statue and some former Colts sign for free. These gentlemen -- Lenny Moore, Jim Mutscheller, John Mackey, Art DeCarlo, Roy Jefferson are some of them -- are generous with their time and give legible autographs. Buy a full-size Baltimore Colts helmet from your local sports store and take a little time to meet these wonderful guys. 

There are many websites where you can find the names and addresses of former athletes and other famous people who will sign for little or no money through the mail. 

Strecker's Tip of the Week

Never put a large group of miscellaneous sports items on eBay in one lot. You will almost always guarantee earning only a fraction of the collection's value. Most buyers are not looking to buy items that are not local, and smart buyers look to steal these lots and break the lots into individual items for resale on eBay.  

Posted on April 18, 2007