Do you know whose autograph is worth more than any other? Apart from Jesus, I mean. Julius Caesar. If you have an autograph of the man responsible for dozens of bad movies-but not the salad dressing as is commonly assumed-then what you have there, Buckwheat, is enough to pay for the college education of more than one kid, so get to bed right now and procreate at will. Autograph collecting can be more than a hobby; it can be a full time job. Or at least, it can be an avocation ala selling your family’s junk on eBay.
Autographs of contemporary celebrities aren’t worth what they used to be. I don’t mean that in the sense that an autograph of Brad Pitt isn’t worth what it was twenty years ago, but rather that an autograph of a modern day celebrity today is worth less than what a contemporary figure was worth decades ago. The reasons are twofold: in the first place, more people are begging for autographs so the market is inundated and, secondly more people know the true value of an autograph making them, ironically, less valuable because there are more of them around.
Although the autograph of Julius Caesar is the Holy Grail of autograph hunters, there is a figure from American history who will net you a pretty decent amount too. His name was Button Gwinnett and anyone who lives in Gwinnett County, Georgia should be familiar with him, though most probably aren’t. (I imagine those high cost “real estate” hookers who were arrested out of their lavish home probably count among those who aren’t.) Button Gwinnett was one of America’s less illustrious founding father, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who died shortly thereafter.
His bad luck is your good luck. The only problem is that a busload of people who don’t happen to live in Gwinnett County, Georgia are familiar with his legacy and they’ve met up people with a supreme talent for forgery. In other words, watch out for forgeries if you do happen to come across a signature of Button Gwinnett. On the other hand, if the autograph is legitimate start jumping up and down because if you choose to sell it you could make as much money as Paris Hilton spends on makeup in a week. I’m talking six figures people; Button Gwinnett’s autograph has sold for over $100,000.
What makes Button Gwinnett’s signature so lucrative? Aside from the rarity of its existence-and that, by the way, is what makes Julius Caesar such a catch since there is no known actual verified autograph of Julius in existence-you must also take some other factors into consideration when getting into the autograph game. One important aspect of the autograph collecting business is contextuality. By that I mean let’s say you have one of those signed photos that Pete Rose pimps wherever he lays his betting pad. Now, you may think that Pete Rose being a star and a player banned from baseball automatically means his signature is worth the paper it’s printed on, right?
Ah, but that’s the key. Pete Rose has been making a mint selling his autograph to people either completely duped by his utter lack of character or duped into thinking his signature will be worth something one day. One of those Pete Rose autographs on a smiling photo is pretty much worthless. But let’s say that you could actually track down a Pete Rose signature on a piece of paper on which was written something like “$2,000-Denver Broncos-3 points-October 22” then you’re talking business. And if you could find something with Pete Rose’s signature and words such as “Giants over Reds by 2 runs; owe my bookie $200,000” well now you’re talking being set for life. (Of course, if you do find something like that, my first bit of advice is see how much Pete Rose himself would be willing to pay for it.)
Merely obtaining an autograph, as you can see, doesn’t guarantee value. A lot of celebrities will respond to kids writing to them with the request of an autographed picture through a sort of mill process in which they’ve already signed 1,000 photos ahead of time. These things are virtually worthless. But take the exact same signature and find it on a letter written to a young child who sincerely requested a personalized reply and suddenly you’re in the money. By the same token, an autograph gotten on a menu restaurant by a waiter will be worth more than an autographed photo, but not nearly as much as a letter written to a friend by the celebrity before he or she became famous.
When it comes to autographs of politicians the same rules apply, of course, but with a difference. Even a milled out autograph written on White House stationary by a President beats out a personalized autograph from before or after. If you’re going to get into political autograph collecting, you need to know that when it comes to the President, most collectors would much rather have a signature dating from the term of office.
Of course, reason dictates that no matter how rare an autograph may be, unless there is great demand you may be wasting your time. Button Gwinnett’s signature is rare, yes, and his demand is great now, but wait a few decades and he may very well disappear off the radar screen to be replaced by…who knows?