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Explore and Enjoy the Exciting and Enticing World of Ernie's Autograph Collecting!


"HI!", I'm Ernest C. Hampton, Jr., and I hope you find this site to be interesting, informative and helpful in beginning your quest for collecting autographs through the mail. Ever since the autumn of 1995, whenever I first picked up a copy of "Autograph Collector" magazine, I have been very passionate and fairly successful in collecting autographed photos and 3 x 5 cards through the mail. This is purely an information oriented site designed for people who want to get started in this fascinating hobby. I do a lot of research and reading and enjoy learning more and more about autograph collecting every day. If you're patient and put in the time and effort, it can be very exciting, rewarding and an investment...if someday you should choose to sell your collection. I look at it as a special technique and somewhat of an art form in sending out properly packaged information for obtaining the autographed photos and also in authenticating the responses. Everybody has their own unique way of signing their name and I really enjoy looking at how each famous person's signature is different. Some autographs are simple and some are elaborate. Some are sloppy and some show great penmanship. I love them all. In addition to having the correct address, here are some guidelines for successful autograph collecting. Good luck, and most of all... HAVE FUN WITH IT!


CHOOSING A CELEBRITY


Obviously, it is easier to obtain an autograph or signed photo from a lesser known celebrity than a current popular"Superstar". Usually, when their careers are just starting or when their careers are waning is the best time to write, however, I've been surprised and let down on both of these counts. Character actors, B-movie actors, TV actors and co-stars from older or cancelled shows are usually a little easier to obtain, and quicker in responding. There are "great" signers and "never" signers. Some who used to sign but no longer sign, and vice versa. There are magazines and web sites (and I have some of the best listed under "FINDING THE ADDRESSES") that can help you with which stars are currently signing, the ones that don't, and the ones who never sign through the mail or in person. I just look through these lists every month or so and write down the names and addresses of the people I want to write to and start from there. Many stars change their mailing addresses on a regular basis, so be wary of old lists and addresses.

Since I have started collecting autographs through the mail, I would say I have about a 60% rate in getting REAL signatures. I also don't write to alot of the current crop of popular stars, and that helps. the other 40% are usually fakes, of which I still keep, "Return To Sender" because of a wrong address, cards or letters sent back to me explaining how i can purchase their signed photos through the mail or on their web page, or ones that either just don't respond or get lost in the postal shuffle. Personally, I only write to people whose work and talent I admire. I've had good success with TV and movie actors/actresses, especially the older ones, singers and musical groups, news anchors, talk TV and game-show hosts, ex-presidents/senators and some obscure and unique personalities tossed in. Personally, I tend to shy away from collecting athletes and sports related autographs through the mail, although the same formula for writing to any celebrity is basically the same. I have, and still do collect some, but only during personal appearance signings or before their games. Also, I do not collect any Soap Opera Star autographs simply because I work during the day and I don't know who they are. There are a lot of big stars who always respond, but be prepared to wait from two months or even up to three years for a response. Remember, they're very busy and get a lot of mail!!! Catching them between projects is the key, but it is still a challenge. Just because an address is listed does not mean that the person is going to respond, believe me! I don't send out letters more than 2 times to people who don't respond, unless I find a new address. And...Don't get upset, even if it's someone you really like! If they don't respond, sometimes you can wait a year and try again. Most celebrities enjoy getting mail from fans and graciously respond, and I guess some of them just ignore it. Of course, the celebrity usually will have a secretary, assistant, family member, or their agent screen their mail first, and there are some who will probably never even read your letter, but we can't control that. I do know from all my researching and reading, some of the stars that just don't sign, but I don't want to list them because they could start up at any time.

Some collectors have to buy certain autographs they want in order to obtain them. Some celebrities will only sign for money, charities, special events, shows or maybe when their spotted out and about. Remember, it's their life and their prerogative. Be patient; once you get started and start getting responses, you'll get a feel for it.

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FINDING THE ADDRESSES


There is a really great magazine available at most of your larger bookstores for autograph collectors. "AUTOGRAPH COLLECTOR" has a variety of different and current addresses listed every month that I have used over the past seven years. Even though I use and have acquired addresses on some web sites (I have many of the best sites listed below), I also like getting them from this monthly magazine because they seem to be even more current and up to date. Also, they inform you on who is and isn't signing, what they have sent, what they've been receiving, bad addresses and great articles and stories on this hobby.

By the way, for me this is a hobby and not a job. When it is no longer fun or becomes a hassle I will stop. There are however, some people out there that really give autograph collecting a bad name. The ones who yell and scream and hound and follow celebrities into restaurants or run through airports and want them to sign thirty photos so they can sell them for money, irritate me, but that's life. Some celebrities are very gracious, but I can understand why some get upset at this. Most of them can spot the true fans, but they still always have to deal with the few people who do it for a living and don't really like or even care about the celebrity, they just want the signature. There are, of course, alot of autograph collectors that do it for a living and are very professional about it (I'm not badmouthing the good ones) and alot of the stars even recognize them as so, and since they are polite and patient, they don't mind signing for them. I personally feel that collecting through the mail is a very unassuming, personal and tasteful way of asking for an autograph, but of course, you can't always get the authentic autographs that you want through the mail, but hey, we shouldn't always get what we want in life, right???


Here are some really good web sites that I highly recommend for many different celebrity references... including: photos, signature samples and prices, addresses, auctions and more...Good Luck!!!

Autograph Collector

Autograph Times

World Of Autographs

Reel Classic's Addresses

The Star Archive

Autograph World

Autograph Central

Heritage Galleries

Unique Collectibles

Autograph Forum


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THEIR WORK AND ACHIEVEMENTS


As I've said before, I write only to those people I admire and not just to get an autograph because they're popular or because there autograph may be worth a lot of money. But when I do decide to write to someone I definitely want to have my facts about them correct.

Before I write to a music, movie or TV star, I get my note pad and compile a list of my favorite songs/albums/movies/TV shows, etc. of theirs. I then research either on the internet or through my various movie books, the year the film was made, the cast list, the plot, awards, my favorite scene in the movie, and the part played by the actor or actress of whom I'm writing to. If, like me, you are interested in writing primarily to movie, television and music stars, it is a good idea to purchase a movie reference book at any bookstore. They come in very handy for when you can't find specific information on the web, or, of course you can always go to the library. Depending on how much I know about the person's life, sometimes I read a short Bio on their background and jot down notes for when I'm ready to write my letter.

For Singers/Musical Groups, I also just write down my favrite songs, albums, concerts, TV and or Movie performances, awards and a do a Bio check. I use the internet and do a search on "http://www.amazon.com" or "http://www.barnesandnoble.com" to get all of the album and song titles, etc.

I always prefer to do a rough outline on a notepad first. This way, I'm better prepared to write the letter and I have a better chance of not messing up the facts or misspelling words and especially because I don't want to have to rewrite the letter!.

When you feel you have enough correct information, you are ready to write "your letter".


Here is a great site for obtaining movie and music star bios, movies, photos, posters, and their awards, etc.:

Internet Movie Data Base


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COMPOSING YOUR LETTER AND SASE


All of the following information is how I have gone about writing to celebrities and receiving autographed photos through the mail for the past ten years. I'm sure there are many other people who have different ways of going about it and may have had better or worse results, but so far this has been working for me.


What you will need:

1. A box of 10" x 13" manila or white mailing envelopes.

2. A box of letter size manila "file folders" with straight cut tabs.

3. A package of 3" x 5" blank index cards.

4. A box of medium sized paper clips.

5. Nice stationary. I prefer a good, medium weight, "textured" stock in a nice tan, eggwhite or blue/gray color. If you have your own personalized stationary that's even better.

6. A very good pen or fine tipped marker for writing your letter (blue or black ink only).

7. A "SHARPIE" brand waterproof marker for addressing your envelopes.

8. Stick-On personal address labels for your stationary. (The celebrity may choose to personalize their photo, and this helps to insure proper spelling of your name. It also looks nice at the top of your letter if your stationary is not personalized.)

9. A sheet of "Stamps" from your post office. The post office has a wide variety of interesting stamps and I try to get ones that are entertainment related.

10. A good magnifying glass or loop to check signatures.

11. Photo Albums or binders to keep and protect all your signed photos.


If you don't have good handwriting, then it is better to type your letter on your computer. I personally feel a handwritten letter is best because it is more personal and shows you took the extra time to write it. Always keep your letter to just one page.

Put your address sticker in the upper left hand corner of your stationary and the date in the upper right hand corner. FYI - Be sincere when writing your letter, celebrities are PROS at spotting phonies!!! I usually start with "Dear (FULL NAME)". I try to keep my letter to three neat paragraphs. In the first paragraph I compliment them on their talent and achievements and why I like them and my favorite movie, TV show or song, etc. of theirs and why it has a special meaning or interest to me, etc. In the second paragraph I usually list more of their movies, the particular roles they played, some other aspects of their career and maybe mention an aspect about their personality that I like. Often, I might go in-depth about a particular role, movie or TV appearance. In the last paragraph I ask them if it is possible, I would really enjoy and appreciate it if they could take the time to sign the enclosed picture or 3 x 5 card for me. I then thank them, wish them all the best and then sign my name.

Use your "SHARPIE" waterproof marker and neatly write or print your chosen celebrity's address on your manila envelope (Try to keep to 3 or 4 lines). Neatly tear out 3 of your stamps and place them square in the upper right corner of the manila envelope about 1/2" away from the sides. Address a second manila envelope in the same manner with YOUR address and stamps and fold it in half.

Put a 3 x 5 card inside your manila file folder. I usually always download a picture of the celebrity from the web and print it out and also place it in the folder in case they don't have pictures to send. Sometimes, I've even enclosed a drawing I did of the person. You may also buy unsigned photos to send or you may already have a picture or other item to have signed as well. it is always good to send an extra photo or card along to be signed because having more than just one signature makes authenticating it easier. Alot of the time I receive the card signed, my picture signed and one of their own pictures signed. On some occasions I've even received personalized notes and signed letters as well. I use a file folder for organization, protection of what I'm sending (instead of cardboard), and for the celebrity to place their photo in when they mail back my SASE(Self Addressed Stamped Envelope).

Paperclip your letter to the file folder (including the contents) and place your folded SASE around the file folder and letter and carefully slide it into your celebrity addressed manila envelope, seal it, and drop it in the mailbox. You may choose to write "DO NOT FOLD" on your SASE so your returned photo won't be ruined.

By the way, try to keep your letter very conservative and sincere and don't send any crazy items for them to sign or specifically any gifts, and definitely no family or personal photos. Celebrities are becoming extra cautious and are very concerned, now more than ever, and who can blame them, about protecting themselves against burglars, kidnappers and stalkers. Even though you are just being nice, you have to understand, appreciate and support their concerns. If you want to, it is a good idea to keep a record of who you wrote to, their address, when you sent it, and when and if you received any response.

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RECOGNIZING THE FAKES


Everytime I receive a signed picture now, I know immediately if it is real or fake. After a while of collecting, you get an eye and a feel for it. For the most part, a "SHARPIE" marker autograph is the best and easiest to recognize as authentic. I've received signatures in black, blue, purple and red sharpie markers as well as metallic markers and ball point pen. Most of the fakes you can tell by holding up to a light, placing it on a light table, or viewing closely through a loop. I now enjoy getting the fake responses almost as much as the real ones. You can never guess who's going to be sending you a fake or who will be sending you a real autograph. It never ceases to amaze me, and that is a big part in the fun and hobby of autograph collecting. I keep a special binder just for all of my "Fakes".

Here is a list of some of the techniques that are used to try and fool us:

1. Secretarial - This is when a celebrity has their secretary or assistant, etc. sign their signature for them. Usually if you get a personalized "Sharpie" response from a "Major" star very quickly, this may be the case, but not always. I've received some signed photos where the secreterial signature is very good and some where it is not even close to what it should look like. In this case, you know it is fake, so you really do have to do research if you want to know if the signature is authentic. You can check magazines and web sites for authentic samples of their signatures to compare it with. Sometimes the secretary will inscribe your name on a pre-printed photo above the printed signature.

2. Pre-Print (A) - This is when the celebrity signs one photo and has many copies made from it. Usually they are a just a little blurry and easy to recognize when held up to the light or viewed through a loop. Sometimes they try to fool you by using a heavy stock paper with a Matt, velvety or high gloss finish on the photo. Don't be fooled, L@@K CLOSE!!!

3. Pre-Print (B) - A previous negative of the signature is used to apply the autograph to any new photo negatives or older favorite negatives on a particular chosen area, and becomes part of the finished photo. Better quality than Pre-Print (A), but still recognizable as a fake.

4. Pre-Print (C) - This is when an existing photo has a seperate signature printed onto it so it appears raised off the surface and not part of the photo. But it is also recognizable as a fake under a light or loop, and it looks unnatural and stiff.

5. Rubber Stamp - Usually the most obvious. A rubber stamp is made from a signature and it definitely looks like a signature that has been rubber stamped. It also appears a little smeared and messy, or faded if the stamp pad is low in ink.

6. Autopen - This is used alot. Most of my fakes are Autopens or Pre-prints. It is a machine that traces a signature from a pattern or metal template. Some of the machines are better than others, but with close inspection you can tell. The signatures look machine manufactured and start with the same indentation mark as they end. They have no flare or looseness to them, a drawn look, no variation in pressure and abrupt pen stops. Sometimes the ink bleeds out of the indented line. I have examples in blue, black and even silver ink with different size and style of pens. They want it to appear as if it was signed with an ink pen because of the indent into the paper, but it doesn't. Remember, "SHARPIE" signatures don't cause paper indentation and ball point pen signatures don't indent the paper "quite" as much as these machines. Pens and Sharpie signatures will have a slight fade out and loosening up after each word is written. However, if a heavy stock paper is being used, there is relatively little paper indentation with an autopen signature. Also, since I always try to get more than one autograph, by enclosing laser printouts and a card, I overlap my signatures and place them onto a light table to make sure they don't matchup. Autopen signatures will always matchup indentically. Recently, I've been getting a lot of very good, very fine point autopens. I've even had some of my photos I've sent to be signed returned with autopen signatures! - L@@K VERY CLOSELY!!!

Autopen Machine Photo

7. Forgery - If you are going to buy an autographed photo, this is what you have to watch out for. Autographed photos being advertised and sold as authentic, but in fact have been signed by someone other than the celebrity, are forgeries and a crime. There are good forgeries and some that don't even resemble the real signature. Always educate yourself on what the specific autograph you are looking for looks like, use a reputable dealer with a long and good reputation and always get a certificare of lifetime authenticity.

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E-MAIL ME

Feel free to let me know if if this site has helped you in any way or if you have any questions or suggestions. I would also enjoy hearing any interesting stories you may have about collecting autographs through the mail, or in person. Just click below on my "To: Ernie" envelope.


Here's one of my other sites on Artist Michelangelo.


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This web site is dedicated to my great & terrific Dad, Ernest Sr. and my wonderful, bright & beautiful Mother, Barbara. I think about them both a lot and talk and pray to them everyday. I'll never get over their loss, but their powerful spirit and my memories of them help me through each day, and our love for each other will live on forever!!!


Special shout-outs: Don Henderson (A great artist, a great guy, a great site and great links), My Dad (Checkout his Korean War site), all of my terrific and supportive family, my friends and relatives, Cookie, Ginger and... GOD!!!

photo credit: Kenny Champion

My Motto: "What doesn't kill you...sometimes makes you stronger!"


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