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Chapter III: Choosing a Professional Autograph Dealer.

If your collecting desires drive you towards putting together signatures of the deceased you will most likely need to work with a professional autograph dealer. This is where a collector needs to be most careful. You choice can make or break your appreciation for the hobby. Choosing a dealer is somewhat like choosing a spouse. Hopefully for your pocketbook you won’t have to go through two or three before finding the right one. Use of the word “professional” does not necessarily indicate their items are expensive. It defines someone who has studied the subject of autograph collecting for quite sometime and has high ethical standards. These dealers have done the appropriate research and will only sell genuine autographs. Unfortunately, professional dealers are few and far between. You will have to seek them out as most are low key and advertise little. The hundreds of people you may run into fall into the “sellers of autograph” category. One of the biggest mistakes a beginning collector can make is falling for a fast line from what appears to be a charming personality!

Personally, I have seen grown men cry. After years of collecting they had to sell their collection usually because of a family tragedy. A Florida police officer needed to sell his entire collection which he purchased over a period of time from a single dealer. Each item came with a Certificate of Authenticity. He tried to consign his items with an auction and was told everything in the collection was a forgery. Years of collecting wasted and obviously this collector wants nothing to do with the hobby.

There was another Florida fellow who fell for a fast talking store owner. He dipped into his retirement savings to purchase what he felt was the deal of the century. The new collector hired me to come to his home and get a true evaluation of his new found treasures. Everything in the collection was bogus. His entire retirement savings was gone! Because of this incident, within a few months, this same fellow found himself in divorce court.

Be especially cautious with those who run full page ads in trade magazines. There is usually a reason why they need to get that type exposure. Also beware of small shops that sell autographs in the tourist type towns. It’s in your best interest to know who you are about to deal with. You may want to go into a few collectible shops or antique stores in the same town and ask about the autograph sellers reputation. You may be shocked with what you hear and you may want to avoid the autograph shop completely.

Those sellers who claim to be a member of this and that organization can also get you into big trouble. There are many sellers of autographs who were forced out of a club for serious ethics violations. There are other sellers who have spent time in prison for an autograph related incident and are back in business with full page ads. There are others who came close to going to jail and they are still in business.
Many sellers of autographs are better talkers than most used car salesmen. They can talk your ear off and try to impress you with how long they “claim” to be in business. This means nothing since some sellers know little about the subject of autograph collecting but they do know how to sell a commodity. Look into their background and their autograph educational background. You may find they came from a stamp or coin industry. There’s usually a reason, and not a good one, why they left the first and have now found selling autographs. You should ask how many of the fourteen different educational courses did they take that were offered around the United States. If you hear excuses, or like some will tell you “taking a course is a waste of time,” it’s time to walk away. Have they written any books or signature studies? This will give you an indication of how active they are in the business. If your visiting their place of business, request to see their autograph reference library. Most important, if you have decided on a specific dealer, before making a single purchase, place some calls around the country and ask questions about this dealer from their peers.
If you get two to three autograph sellers saying positive things about your choice of dealer than you most likely found an autograph professional. Some of the most professional of the autograph dealers are low key and need to be discovered by word of mouth.

Next and very importantly, totally understand the dealers “terms of sale.” If they have a no refund policy if the item is later determined to be not authentic, walk away. Autograph guaranteed genuine for life, full refund given is what you want to hear and see it in writing on your invoice.

When making your first purchase and every purchase thereafter, always ask for a receipt describing the item, the date of sale, make sure the dealers name and address is on the receipt, the purchase price and a statement that the item is returnable for full purchase price if the autograph is found to not be authentic. THIS IS YOUR LEGAL DOCUMENT.

It is recommended you deal with a handful of “professional” autograph dealers. This will get you off to a good start and give you more exposure. Asking the same question of two or more dealers can be educational and help you make your own decision.

Chapter IV: Autograph Organizations (Continued)