The beginner’s guide to collecting autographs

Formula One's Lewis Hamilton signing a book for a fan

Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton signing a book for a fan

Autographs typically possess sentimental or financial value, making it crucial they’re written in the right pen and cared for afterwards.

Imagine getting autographs from members of your favourite band on a limited edition record sleeve only to find the ink has faded only a year later.

Let’s collect our thoughts on autographs and investigate why we appreciate them, the methods of obtaining and preserving them, and the best objects and pens for the hobby.

Why do people collect autographs?

Those who collect autographs are known as philographers, and they engage in one of the modern world’s oldest forms of collection.

Autograph enthusiasts can be divided into two categories: those who collect signatures from admired individuals for personal reasons and those who acquire autographs from high-profile personalities intending to sell them.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll focus on those who collect autographs for personal use.

How to obtain celebrity autographs

If your goal is to collect autographs to feel closer to people you admire, the best approach is to gather signatures during personal encounters.

For musicians, this could involve catching them before or after a performance, while you can meet authors at book signings. Track down your favourite TV personalities at recordings, events, and conventions.

Alternatively, you can write to celebrities to request an autograph, enclosing a stamped self-addressed envelope. Closely review responses, though — sometimes signatures are printed instead of handwritten.

Additionally, you can purchase autographs for your collection from individuals who live further afield or have passed away.

The best objects for autographs

When acquiring autographs for your collection, the decision of what to get signed is up to you.

Some collectors use an autograph book to collate their collection. Others choose objects that can be signed and subsequently displayed, which need careful consideration of size, appearance, and potential for framing.

Authors might autograph books, while music enthusiasts may prefer signed albums, set lists, or memorabilia like drumsticks.

Actors and TV personalities typically sign DVD box sets, autobiographical books, or film memorabilia. Meanwhile, sports memorabilia is often adorned with autographs by the starring athletes.

In addition, posters and photos are also popular autograph canvases across all industries.

The best pens for autographs

A sportsman signing tennis balls and notebooks

A sportsman signing tennis balls and notebooks

Selecting the best autograph pen depends on the material and surface being signed.

Pen type, ink colour, and ease of use are all essential considerations, given the often hurried circumstances in which autographs are obtained. The composition of the pen’s ink is equally critical, as longevity is compromised if the signature fades within months.

For a light-coloured base, opt for a dark ink colour and choose pale or white opaque ink for a dark background.

Autographs on paper and photographs

Autographs on paper and photographs are prevalent, so let’s dive into how to obtain the best signature on them and protect them from fading.

The best pens for autographs on paper and photographs

Tickets, photographs, and posters are widely chosen for collecting signatures. However, paper and photos are naturally prone to deterioration, so you must select your pen carefully.

Choose matte photos where possible, as glossy images don’t hold ink well and can cause reflection issues.

Oil-based paint pens or permanent markers containing acid-free ink are the best for autographs on photos and paper for guaranteed visibility and longevity. Permanent markers are low-priced with quick-drying ink, but paint pens stand up to light much better —pay close attention to our aftercare tips if you opt for a permanent marker.

We recommend the Schneider Maxx 270 paint marker and the Staedtler Lumocolour permanent marker for autographs on these mediums.

The Schneider Maxx 270 paint marker is an exceptional paint pen with opaque ink that resists smudging, UV rays, fading, and abrasion. Its versatility lends itself to various surfaces, and the Maxx 270’s line width ranges from 1-3mm based on the angle and pressure applied.

The Staedtler Lumocolour permanent marker has four nib widths (superfine, fine, medium, and broad), is smudge-proof and waterproof, and is available in various colours.

When selecting a Lumocolour ink, choose black, yellow, orange, or brown, as they’re all lightfast options, which is crucial for an autograph that stands the test of time.

Another dependable writing option for paper items like tickets is a quality gel pen featuring pigment-based ink that resists fading and water.

While fountain pens are often avoided for autographs due to potential drawbacks, they can produce exquisitely beautiful signatures. Despite demanding more deliberate handwriting, you shouldn’t shy away from fountain pens.

The Lamy Safari is an ideal autograph fountain pen for those exploring this option. Noteworthy for its ergonomic grip, affordability, and diverse range of attractive colours, the Lamy Safari’s medium nib is recommended for a pen anyone can use. Choose from Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Pink, White, Charcoal, and Gloss Black.

How to protect autographs on paper and photographs from fading

Paper and photographs are delicate and need to be preserved with care. Photographic paper contains an acid called lignin that reacts with other acids and UV light, resulting in brittle, yellow paper — and a ruined autograph.

The best method for safeguarding paper or photograph autographs involves storing them in an album placed in a dark cupboard.

Alternatively, consider PVC archival plastic sleeves in a ring binder, photo boxes, or acrylic top loaders. Each option contributes to maintaining the integrity of signatures over time.

If you plan to display paper or photograph autographs, employing a frame or case equipped with UV-protective glass is essential.

When opting for a frame, it’s advisable to choose a deep-set design that prevents the paper from coming into direct contact with the glass. This precaution prevents moisture accumulation and the paper from adhering to the glass surface.

Ensure to select framing materials that are conservation-grade and acid-free.

Although UV-protective glass offers substantial protection, it may not deliver absolute preservation. Enhance the protection level by using a UV-protective spray alongside choosing UV-protective glass.

Autographs on clothing

An autograph on a t-shirt or sweatshirt is often treasured. Let’s look at how to secure a quality autograph from your favourite personality and make it last.

The best pens for autographs on clothing

Ensure the clothing you get signed is 100% cotton — synthetic fibres create a signature with a fuzzy appearance due to inadequate absorption.

A permanent or laundry marker has the best chance of lasting well on fabric as the ink was designed not to wash out.

Oil-based paint markers are an alternative for clothes and also work great on most sports shoes.

How to protect autographs on clothing from fading

Autographed clothing can be irresistible, and you may want to wear it. But consistently maintaining it within a display case shielded by UV-protective glass is crucial.

This measure safeguards the item of clothing and autograph from detrimental factors such as sunlight, dust, potential spills, and the risk of pests.

Autographs on everything else

If you’d like a personal hero or celebrity to sign something that doesn’t fall into the previous two categories, here are some of the best pens and preservation techniques for your autograph.

The best pens for autographs on everything else

Other commonly autographed items include Funko POPs, footballs, basketballs, cricket balls, and CD and DVD cases.

As a general guideline, opt for a paint pen or permanent marker for autographing non-porous objects.

Break this rule if you intend to get a baseball signed, though. Collectors often appreciate the appearance of blue ballpoint pen ink on a baseball, which tends to endure with minimal fading.

For such purposes, we recommend the Fisher Space Pen due to its adaptability to various conditions. This pen enables users to write at any angle, even when rushed, resulting in a perfect autograph every time.

How to protect autographs on everything else from fading

Collectables like DVDs, CDs, bats, helmets, and balls already have an advantage against fading due to the durability of their materials.

Give signed and treasured memorabilia the best chance by framing and enclosing it behind UV-protective glass. Ensure it’s also shielded from direct sunlight to retain its appearance and value.

General tips to protect autographs from fading

Whether you intend to retain or sell your autograph collection, it holds substantial value, necessitating careful preservation.

Store your autographs in a room within your home that receives minimal natural sunlight, as harmful ultraviolet rays can adversely affect the molecules in pen ink.

It’s worth noting that artificial light can still have an impact, so remain mindful of this when exploring storage options.

Take note of the humidity and moisture levels of your chosen storage space, too, as these factors can swiftly deteriorate autographs.

The value of autographs

The value of an autograph depends on a combination of factors:

  • If it’s not authentic, it has no value.
  • How famous the person is. The more famous they are, the more the autograph is worth.
  • If the item that’s been signed holds significance. Autographs on handwritten letters, typed letters, documents, and photographs are the most sought-after.
  • The condition of the autographed object. Anything less than excellent condition diminishes its potential value. Creases and stains instantly devalue autographs.
  • The writing tool used for the autograph. Pen signatures generally outlast pencil signatures, rendering them more valuable.
  • While some contemporary celebrities frequently provide free autographs, the signature of a historical figure like Winston Churchill would command far greater worth.
  • The quality of the signature itself. Smudging and fading detract from its value.
  • The timing of the autograph. A signature obtained during a significant period holds heightened significance. For instance, an autograph from Winston Churchill during WWII has more weight than one from a less famous era.

The most prized autograph globally is that of William Shakespeare. Only six authenticated signatures of Shakespeare exist — three on his will, one on his mortgage, one on a property conveyance, and one on a legal case deposition.

An engraved illustration image of the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare and his signature, from a Victorian book dated 1883 that is no longer in copyright

William Shakespeare’s signature

Should another genuine example of Shakespeare’s signature emerge, it would undoubtedly command millions of pounds at auction.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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