People often ask me what was my first autograph, and I think I surprise them with my answer. It was not one I bought, not one that was important; it was something that I got in person back in August 1959. At that time I was 10 years old and a great Three Stooges fan. Well my mother got wind that the Stooges were going to appear in Asbury Park, NJ, two miles from where I lived, and that they would promote their new film, “Have Rocket, Will Travel”, by performing a live skit. So she got tickets and took me, and I saw the Stooges perform live. Someone once told me that that must have been one of the high points of my life, and well, perhaps it’s been all downhill since then. At the end of the performance my mother suggested that I go down and get their autographs, which I did. So I met Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe, and watched each of them sign a slip of paper I had. I was beyond excited, and I still have that sheet of paper. When I see it now, it always makes me think of my mother making that suggestion, and the mania for autographs that she started.
Over the years I got some other in person autographs, mainly of baseball players. The one exception was Henry Cabot Lodge, who ran for vice president on the ticket with Richard Nixon in 1960. I went to see him in Convention Hall in Asbury Park in October, a month before the election. He made a speech and then drove around the hall in a convertible, waving to people and handing out autographed cards. I got one and was pretty pleased. Years later I discovered to my disappointment that the signature was mechanical and thus not authentic. Sometimes it’s best to leave illusions be, and not expose them to the light.
As for the first autograph I ever bought, that happened in July 1975. In the ensuing 15 years I’ve grown up, found an extraordinary woman and got married, and have earned a law degree. My wife Susan and I have moved to Lancaster PA where I was assuming my first real job – as an attorney working in a general practice. We ventured out to Gettysburg, which is not far from Lancaster, to visit the battlefield. Our dog Alice is along, we climb Little Round Top where one of Susan’s relatives stood with the 20th Maine, Alice chases sticks; a fine time is being had by all. Then we learn that there is an outdoor Civil War show where dealers are displaying their wares. It sounded like fun, we went, the three of us.
And there, at that show, I saw a table of autographs – my first in-person viewing of that which would define much of the rest of my life. Speaking with the owner, he introduced himself as Joe Rubinfine. Today I would call him the illustrious Joe Rubinfine, as he has been always been the kind of dealer I have strived to become. We are still in touch over 40 years after I first saw him. That very day, at that very spot, from that very dealer, I bought my first autograph – a signature of William T. Sherman. I believe it cost $35. From tiny seeds do giant trees grow.