Autograph Lessons – Label Those Returns

You ever receive an autograph in your mailbox and you have absolutely no idea who signed it? It has an outdated stamp on it (because the rates have went up three times since) and you forgot to write the name of the person on the inside flap of the return envelope. This happened to me last month when I received a signed floorboard. The signature was so sloppy and illegible that I couldn’t even come up with a clue. He didn’t write the name of his team or HOF for “Hall of Fame.” He did write his number though, #32. And I was certain it wasn’t Magic Johnson.

I scanned the floorboard on my home scanner and uploaded the picture to my website hoping someone on would come through. Sure enough, one of our users stationed in Iraq recognized the autograph as none other than Karl Malone. Apparently Malone was on a USO tour to visit the troops and signed a basketball for my friend and it looks identical to my floorboard. After looking at some certified cards on eBay, the signature matches.

Malone and his counterpart in Utah hoops John Stockton have always been tough signers and I have heard of very few through-the-mail signatures from the Mailman. But something still didn’t add up. You see, the floorboard was returned in a priority mail envelope. I wouldn’t have mailed just a floorboard in one of those $6 envelopes. Then it dawned on me. One of my friends visited China a few years back and brought me back a Chinese sports magazine with Malone on the cover as a souvenir. I had mailed the magazine and the floorboard to Malone. Apparently he liked the magazine, because he kept it. But that’s a fair trade for a signed floorboard from one of the greatest NBA legends of all time. 

One “Hull” of an Autograph
Most hockey players past and present are great signers both in person and through the mail. But like all other sports, the top stars from hockey are even getting tough. I think it started with Sidney Crosby and has continued on with many of the young stars such as Alex Ovechkin. A few of the legends are tough to get, the Gretzky successes all look the same, the work of the autopen machine. “Gretz” is great in person, and used to sign through the mail, but like Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Barry Sanders, those days are long gone.

Every once in a while a collector will report a success that opens up the floodgates, and you’d better be quick with the mail if you want a shot. A few years back it was Mario Lemieux for a very short time. (I received a puck and picture back through the mail). This month’s latest high-profile autograph comes from Brett Hull, who has been returning his fan mail for the last few months sent in care of his home in Texas. Hull followed in his father’s footsteps making the Hall of Fame after finishing his career with a whopping 741 goals, which is 3rd all time. He is one of only two players to make the 50/50 club twice (50 goals in 50 games). Gretzky did it three times.

Unfortunate Fakes
I hate to burst collectors’ bubbles, but I see the same successes reported daily online that most collectors have deemed 100 percent fakes years ago. It’s possible that one of the following athletes may have signed a few autographs through the mail in extreme circumstances, but the majority of the returns just aren’t real. I’ve even been fooled and excited over a few of them. As mentioned earlier, one easy way to make an educated guess today is to compare your through-the-mail signature with a certified autographed card for sale on eBay. It’s not fool proof, but it’s a good start.

Let’s start with some of most well known bogus signatures. The Joe Montana scribble you received in the mail is not authentic. Montana is the king of cashing in on his autograph and rarely signs unless he’s getting a minimum of $100 in return. It’s a secretarial that is close but no cigar.

John Madden was a great coach and comes across as the lovable fat guy, but he isn’t a great signer. If you catch him in person, he’s usually not very happy to sign. Then how can you explain getting back an autograph from Madden in three or four days, when he’s half way across the country broadcasting a game and you sent it to his home address. Years ago I received a signed picture of Madden and his bus. It was in the off season so I still hold out hope. But the secretarials today are nothing but that: secretarials.

I fell for the Joe Dumars signature a few years ago. I mean, it’s Joe Dumars, not Michael Jordan. How many requests could he get a week? Apparently quite a few, because whoever is signing his mail isn’t even close to his authentic in-person signature. Sorry about that Detroit fans, the ghost signer ruined a few of my cards, too. And a floorboard.

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