Thoughts for the new Collector
Some advice for the new collector, distilled from decades of experience
1. Educate yourself. Socrates famously said, “Know thyself”, and by analogy we say “Know thy field of collecting”. This means reading standard reference works, such as those by Charles Hamilton, Ray Rawlins, Thomas Madigan, and others, to familiarize yourself with the complexion and pitfallls of autograph collecting, and view reliable, authentic examples. This site is full of resources as well.
2. Learn something about authentication. There are books that provide you with the rudiments of authenticating autographs. Study them so you are aware of the issues and can assess what you see and hear on the subject. Our book, “In the Presence of History”, would be a good place to start.
3. Buy what you love. Look for things that excite or move you, as they will have the same impact on others. This makes the autographs more fun and rewarding to own, and will ease the way if you ever decide to sell.
4. Buy the best you can afford. Acquire one great thing instead of ten okay things. But don’t mistake sizzle for quality, and don’t be pressured by anyone to spend more than you can afford.
5. Think longer term. Avoid fads and what’s hot. Buy autographs of people the interest in whom is tried and true, such as American presidents, British monarchs, important scientists and great authors.
6. Invest wisely. Buy letters, documents and manuscripts, rather than things like signatures, as these have some context and often tell a story.
7. Preservation. Remember, you are preserving history. Make sure you know how to care for and display historical autographs, which means learning about acid-free materials, avoidance of direct sunlight, and other factors.
8. Guaranty of authenticity. Buy from sellers who guarantee what they sell, with no onerous conditions, and no ifs, ands or buts.
9. Avoid sellers who actually tell you they have no expertise. A reputable seller will be qualified to authenticate the autographs that he or she sells, and not have to rely on some third-party. Third parties may not know what they’re doing despite their claims, may have their own agendas, and in any event issue letters or certificates, but do not guarantee the autographs. If you buy something from someone who relies on someone else, and that someone else doesn’t guaranty the autograph, then you can see for yourself there is no one standing behind the transaction.
10. Practice safe buying. Exercise caution before buying things that can be easily forged, such as simple signatures, and uninscribed signed photographs and books.