For collectors, it can be a thrill of a lifetime – getting an autograph from a favorite player that will instantly become the centerpiece of a lifetime collection.
For autograph dealers who work with signatures every day, it’s a constant battle to keep up with changing market demands, fluctuating buying habits and the constant “authentication” question.
As this will be the first part of a series on autograph collecting, the authentication questions will be covered in a future article. In this installment, we’ll look at three opinions on where the current market is at and thoughts about which sport’s heroes will be more coveted tomorrow than they are today.
Autographs are a different breed than perhaps any other collecting category. There are so many reasons to collect a signature – favorite player, favorite team, accomplishment player achieved, school attended, member of a specific team, etc. And the funny part is, an autograph that is rather abundant, say Mickey Mantle, can bring big dollars, while a rare signature in a different sport draws little attention and is sold for a minimal amount of money.
However, the old adage in collecting rings true with autographs, as well.
“The market remains strong for quality, vintage autographs,” said Kevin Keating of Quality Autographs in Alexandria, Va. (www.qualityautographs.com). “And collectors are paying strong prices for rare pieces.”
Added Les Wolff of Plainview, N.Y. (www.leswolffsportsllc.com), “High-end pieces have the least problems selling – it’s hard enough to find them. It’s getting tougher and tougher to find them.”
While the high-end material never seems to suffer no matter the economic situation, the mid-range material seems to be the area taking a hit, as collectors are either going to lower-end material in these times or not collecting at all.
Keating said the lower end of the market is coming back on the more commonly available items, such as contemporary single-signed baseballs, while Wolff is seeing great success with signed trading cards.
“I’m surprised, all of my cards, especially signed football cards, have been doing amazing lately. They are flying off the table,” Wolff said. “Every time I run a signed football card ad, I find a different collector. One guy collects the 1978 Topps set. Another guy only collects All-Americans, and then you have guys who only collect certain schools. It’s a very unusual market. Signed baseball cards used to be my best-selling market, now I find football cards just blow them away. I think football is definitely increasing in popularity.”
John Ostlund of Pocasset, Mass. (JohnC77@verizon.net), has a similar view, only much more pointed.
“It’s clear to me that baseball is dying, and I think it’s dying because when you get business, it’s a much older demographic,” Ostlund said, adding that it’s the makeup of baseball today that is part of the problem.
“I used to be a really wild baseball fan,” he said. “I grew up in Cleveland, but pretty soon it became clear that small market teams are at such a disadvantage that you can’t root for your own team and you lose interest, which I’ve done and so have a lot of my younger friends.
“Most of my customers call from big markets, but you don’t get too many calls from Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cleveland or other small market teams. I think most of the interest in sports is moving to football, which is twice as popular as Major League Baseball.”
Ostlund believes an agreement will eventually be reached between NFL and the players, but even with lost games, he feels fans will come back in decent numbers.
As for other sports that are doing well for Ostlund, he cites hockey and basketball, with the latter attracting a much younger audience with more interest in today’s players rather than the old-timers.
In keeping with his honest answers, Ostlund said, “Thoroughbred racing and boxing are almost dead.”
And yet, when it comes to boxing, autographs are much easier to obtain and might be a good category to enter.
“It’s much easier to get all of the heavyweight champions than it is all of the Hall of Famer autographs in any sport,” Wolff said.