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Since the beginning of time, people have been nature’s most extravagant collectors, seconded only by the packrat himself. Collecting is one of our most prevalent hobbies because we find value in the things of the past or things that hold sentimental meaning to us as individuals. The problem is, many of us who enjoy collecting cannot afford it. Most collectibles are expensive and very difficult to obtain. But, collecting autographs of your favorite stars is a hobby that everyone can appreciate – it is easy and inexpensive.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have the opportunity to meet movie stars, sports figures, musicians, authors, royalty, high-ranking politicians, television stars, etc. in person. Chances are, you won’t be bumping into Brad Pitt or Tiger Woods at your local grocery. But, with a little time and effort, obtaining autographs can be a fun, rewarding hobby. All it takes is a little know-how, postage, and patience.

Target the Autographs you Want Most

The first important step in autograph collecting is to determine what autographs you want to collect. To do this, you should create a list of all those that you would like to add to your collection. Whenever you think of a person to whom you would like to write, jot it down on the list. This will help you to remember everyone and keep you from missing out on a chance at getting an autograph you really want.

Writing the Request

I have over 300 autographed photos in my collection, none of which have cost me more than a postage stamp. Perhaps the best way to ensure success in this hobby is to be assured that the letter you write will be read and responded to.

It is obvious that famous people get overwhelming amounts of fan mail, so the letter you write will be just another letter buried somewhere in the middle of a pile of letters just like it. This is especially true if the star is “hot” at the time you decide to write to them. For instance, Carrie Fisher probably received massive amounts of fan mail when Star Wars was released; and, though she is now a successful novelist as well as actress, it is probably safe to say that she receives much more fan mail when she is in the “public eye” working on a film that does well at the box office or a best selling novel.

Because these notable people must read hundreds, even thousands of letters daily, the first key to writing successful fan mail is to keep the message short and sweet. Even though it might seem necessary to indulge the stars with praises and mention all their books or films or albums, you will have little chance of receiving an autograph if they must read through pages of prose to find your request. You can’t expect these busy people to read through three pages of personal stories about how their films have changed your life or how you have 500 posters of them in your den. This would be flattering, but there is much less of a chance to receive a quick response (or any response at all) if your letter is more than one page long. Keep it short and get to the point for a better chance at getting what you ask for.

It is also a good idea to be sure that the letter is legible enough that it can be read quickly and easily. Ideally, your autograph request would be typed. However, if you cannot type them, print them as neatly as you can. I have found that another trick is to emphasize your exact request. Do not just casually mention that you would like an autographed photo in the middle of a paragraph. Type the words AUTOGRAPHED PHOTO in all caps, color them, circle them, enlarge them, or highlight them. Do whatever you can to make your request stand out.

You should also personalize the letter at least a little. No one likes getting form letters. It is both courteous and intelligent to mention the person’s name, a film they starred in, a game they played in, or a song they sing.

And, finally, probably most importantly of all, be sure to include your mailing address. Some mailrooms have actually clipped my address out of the bottom of my letters and used them as mailing labels. If your address is omitted, you cannot receive anything from the star.

Tracking the Stars and Reaching Them

Notable people are seldom in one place for very long. This is why it is necessary to keep a good eye on the world of entertainment and know a little about the person you are targeting.

Two fine books are available that will help you reach the stars. These are The Address Book (by Michael Levine, Perigree Books/Putnam Publishing Group) and Star Guide (by Axiom Information Resources). These fine publications will give you the most current mailing addresses to thousands of notable people, including authors, actors, sports figures, musicians, and politicians. You may be able to borrow older editions of these books at your local library, or pick up the newest edition at the bookstore.

Here are some tips for tracking down specific types of stars

Sports Figures

Professional athletes can usually be reached at the addresses of the teams they play for, but you must keep current on players and the teams they are associated with because they switch teams often. Addresses to professional sports teams can be found in the books above, or check on the internet to find them. You may also try asking your local trading card shops.

Television Stars

To write to television actors and actresses, talk show hosts, or other TV personalities, it is essential to know the title of their series and the network on which it appears. Also, remember that reruns in syndication will not help you in your search. In other words, don’t try to write to Jack Klugman in care of The Odd Couple or Alan Alda in care of M.A.S.H., and so on. Addresses of major networks can be found in the above books, on the internet, or try contacting your local TV stations for information.

Musicians

Music personalities can most easily be reached at the company with which they were last associated, or with the recording company who will produce their next album. Once again, look for recording company addresses in the books above, or check the covers of CD’s and cassettes you already have.

Authors & Writers

These famous pens can usually be contacted through their publishers. To find out what books are coming out on the market and who is publishing them, ask your librarian to see the most current edition of Publishers Weekly or the Forthcoming Books publication. You can also check in a reference book called Books in Print, or check the blurbs of novels previously written.

Movie Stars

The majority of the autographs in my collection are those of movie stars, but these people are often the hardest to track. These folks move around frequently, and, chances are, by the time one film is being released in your local theater, the stars are likely to be completing another movie. The best way to track these people is to pay close attention to movie previews. You can usually reach these people at the production companies (like Universal, Warner Brothers, or Fox) who are producing their most recent pictures, or many of them can be contacted through an agency. Most of the major motion picture company addresses can be found in The Address Book or on the internet.

As I’ve already mentioned, this is an inexpensive, easy, rewarding hobby. I’ve been collecting autographed photos since late 1990, and I have obtained over 300. Many of the autographs are real handwritten signatures; some are created with an autopen or rubber stamp. Some of them are color photos; most of them are black and white. I have also framed many of them and given them away as gifts, and I have had several of them examined by a local autograph collector who found them to be quite valuable.

Perhaps the best suggestion for this hobby is diligence and patience. I sent a request to Harrison Ford in late 1990, and I didn’t receive an autographed photo from him until 1995, so being patient is essential for success in this hobby.

With a little effort, you, too, can reach for the stars…