Monday, March 19, 2012

Our Favorite Celebrity Autograph Collector Talks about His Fascinating Hobby

Hugh Jackman and Terry.
From Joan Fontaine to Liza Minnelli to Meryl Streep to Hugh Jackman, Terry has collected the autographs of--and has his photo snapped with--thousands of celebrities. Today, he visits the Cafe to talk about his amazing collection and share a few "trade secrets" for novice autograph collectors.

Cafe: How did you get started with collecting autographs?

Meryl Streep's autograph.
Terry:  My very first autograph, which I still have, came from actor Fess Parker. He was the headline act in a circus in Evansville, Indiana when I was 7 years old. My dad was connected to someone in the circus and we got to go back stage to meet Daniel Boone. The collecting bug hit me again when I was a junior at Indiana University in the mid-1970s. Many celebrities, politicians, actors, and musicians appeared on campus. I bought a blank, 100-page sketchbook—my take on the little autograph books that people used in Hollywood’s heyday--and my first autograph in the book is actor Vincent Price. I am now collecting autographs in my 14thsketchbook!

Cafe: What are some of your favorite autographs in your collection and why?

Terry: I love them all, in some manner, because they are from people I like or people that I’ve met. But some favorites are: Liberace (he drew his piano and candelabra); all the U. S. presidents I’ve met (Ford, Clinton, and Obama); composer John Williams (writing out a musical quotation for the Indy Jones theme); a map of the last voyage of the USS Indianapolis before it was sunk that is signed by 40 survivors; many, many autographs from actors who appeared as Munchkins of the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, and playbills signed by the casts of the shows I’ve seen on Broadway.

Cafe: I know you've also had your photograph taken with a host of celebrities. What are some of your favorite photos?

With Jennifer Garner.
Terry: In my office, I have pictures of me with Jennifer Garner and Liza Minnelli. I got to meet actress Jennifer Carpenter about a year ago and got my photo taken with her twice because she’s one of my favorites. I have a friend that describes that ideal celebrity autograph encounter as getting them to sign an autograph book, getting them to sign a picture, and getting a photo taken with them. I’d add to that getting the picture taken with them signed at a later meeting! So in that case, I like photos with Dan Wheldon (my favorite Indy car driver), Taylor Dayne, and Judith Light.

Cafe: What's your best guess on how many celebrity autographs and photos you've collected over the years?

Adrien Brody.
Terry: About 15,000? I’ve started a catalog. I’m less than halfway through my collection and I’ve got a list of 7,301. Plus I probably have another 2,500 books that are signed, too. It’s amazing how quickly a collection can grow. There are some events that will yield dozens in a short time period. Sometimes, days go by and I get none. During the recent Super Bowl in Indy, in a week’s time, I got 53.

Cafe: Have you ever paid for an autograph? How are autographs valued?

Terry: I have. There are some celebrities that sell their autographs to augment their income, or at least offset the cost. For example, if you write to Joan Fontaine (PO Box 222600, Carmel, CA 93922) and ask for a signed photo, she’ll ask you for $5 to pay for it. If you send your own, she’ll sign it for free. At collector events, like the Horrorhound Weekend (, you can expect to pay a guest for each autograph they sign (usually $20 - $30 each); some even charge you to pose for a picture with them. I once saw horror film director George A. Romero at a convention. He was charging $25 per signature and he averaged 60 signatures an hour, based on my observation. He signed for 7 hours on each of the three-day convention and probably walked with $30,000+ for the show. It’s a big business.
Lily Tomlin poses with Terry.
Value is a real challenge sometimes. People have collected autographs for hundreds of years. The desire to have a personal memento from a famous and/or important person still drives the autograph collecting field. So value can be based on who it is, how rare it is, and supply/demand.

Think of an icon and their autograph is probably valuable. Babe Ruth's signature has strong and continually appreciating value, yet it is not rare. A large supply exists because he was a good signer for many years. James Dean's autograph has a similar demand but is in extremely small supply resulting from his premature passing.

But rarity isn’t based on whether or not the signer is dead. For example, David Ogden Stiers is popular with folks who collect M*A*S*H memorabilia and, as he voiced several characters in animated films, with Disney collectors. The demand for his signature is high and the supply is not great. Recently, an estimated 200 trading cards with his signature were featured in a Star Trek set released in late 2011. These cards now regularly sell for $100 or more on eBay.

Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin and Terry.
Value is also affected by the format it appears on. In ascending order of value, the base price of a person's autograph typically is on a small piece of paper or a small card. Next is a document — a legal agreement or contract, even a check — followed by a typed letter signed (TLS). After this comes a signed photograph (SP) and, at the top of the value chain, a handwritten and signed letter (ALS). Content and condition also play a role. In the end, it depends on how much you want it and what you are willing to pay.

Cafe:  OK, can you give up a tip on how to be a successful autograph collector--you know, a trade secret?

Terry: I mostly collect in person now so it helps to know who is coming to town and to plan going to a venue’s stage door before or after the event. Also, it helps to get an idea of where people might be staying, too. It’s not a hobby for someone who wants to walk right up and get a signature or a picture. You find yourself standing around a lot, watching and waiting. But once you’ve done it long enough, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

If you are going to collect TTM (or through the mail), it helps to send your own item to get signed and write a good, sincere letter. There are many websites that can help you with addresses; my favorite is Familiarize yourself with someone’s autograph, too, as many stars use agencies or secretaries to sign for them. Before eBay, easy access to addresses online, and a more heightened sense of the value of a star’s autograph, collecting TTM was easier and you got more successes. In the end, write to people that you enjoy and want to collect—quality over quantity.

And if you are going to purchase an autograph, buy from someone you trust. Understand their return policy and ask where they got it. Again, the more research you can do before hand on an item will help you understand its value. A company that is good to check out is Autograph World (


  1. A fun post with great tips on collecting signatures. It looks like Terry has a lot of fun while getting in person autographs.
    Thanks for sharing with your readers.

    Oh, My "favorite autograph collector" is myself! : )

  2. What a fun article. I really enjoyed it and have relatively few autographs in my collection, so I should start expanding :)

  3. Terry, I had a grand time reading this excellent interview! Your autograph collection is fascinating to read about and I enjoyed seeing all the fun photos. Thank you, too, for sharing some good information about the process of collecting autographs, especially TTM. It was really sweet of you to stop by the Cafe!

  4. Rick, your interview with Terry the autograph buff was delightful, and not just because you included my favorite contemporary actor Adrien Brody's bright blue John Hancock, though that certainly didn't hurt! :-) Terry's genuine affection for collecting autographs, and the stars in question, was great fun!

  5. What an achievement for Terry! Incredible number of autographs and pictures. I met Jimmy Stewart and Paul Newman when I was a young teenager, and I was too shy to do more than shake hands and smile mutely! Great interview, Rick.

  6. Terry, Thank you for stopping by and sharing some of your wonderful autograph/picture collection with us. Also.. Thank you, for telling us how to collect autographs. I have always been to shy to ask for autograph.. maybe, now I will.

  7. A very intersting interview. Sounds like an enjoyable hobby zipping around collecting autographs of the famous. My son has a signed Indiana Jones poster. Signed by all those in the movie. Have always thought it was cool. Very entertaining interview.

  8. Thanks for a most enjoyable interview. I have several autographed items but have never actually watched the celebrity in question sign anything. My uncle gave me a signed copy of Bruce Campbell's book, and I trust my uncle that it's genuinely Bruce's scribbling. My most prized autograph is from Leah Remini. It was back when she wasn't as popular, and you could get a free signed photograph by simply giving your mailing address on her website. It's framed, and I stare at her picture for most of the day... because of, you know, the autograph. Terry, thank you for sharing your celebrity autograph expertise and especially for showing us some of your own pictures.

  9. Terry is one of the finest collectors there is. Great article

    /Barbafluff79 from Startiger community

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed your interview -- especially because I've been collecting autographed pics for about 25 (geez, I'm getting old) years. I've never gotten one in person, though, and never had a picture taken with a star. I can't imagine having 15,000 autographs -- what an awesome collection!