Signature Preservation: Before, During and After

Here are some keys to obtaining autographs and keeping them in good condition

Having been around this hobby for the past three decades, I’ve noticed a few things when it comes to signature preservation. The preparation and hunt in getting somebody’s autograph are both critical steps to the process, but the actual face-to-face encounter is priceless. Naturally it’s a big thrill to meet your favorite sports stars, but don’t let fandom get in your way. That’s why it’s important not to get too geeked out as you get closer to your ultimate prize: their signature. Here are some things I discovered on the way to landing some of the biggest signatures on the planet including late heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali on a magazine cover, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski on an 8 x 10 photo, and MLB legends and fellow Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams, the latter three all on single signed baseballs.

Naturally it’s a big thrill to meet your favorite sports stars, but don’t let fandom get in your way. That’s why it’s important not to get too geeked out as you get closer to your ultimate prize: their signature. Click To Tweet

PREPARING

Before you run off to the ballpark, the football stadium or the local hotel lobby for visiting teams, make sure your tools of the trade in order. That means, make sure there’s ink in your pen, magic in your marker, and premium paint in your paint pen. Even the brand of the tool you’re using is important. Do not skimp or else your signature might start to bleed, fade or otherwise disappear over time.

APPLYING

Carl Yastrzemski signed 8 x 10 photo.

What’s more, know which application works best on what surface. A ballpoint pen, for instance, is the preferred tool for getting a ballplayer’s signature on a baseball. Preferably on the sweet spot, the desired spot for autograph seekers. That’s the area located on the opposite side from where the Baseball Commissioner or A.L. or N.L. presidents’ stamped signature resides, depending on the age of your baseball. I’ve read where some folks encourage the use of fine-point Sharpie markers on baseballs but I disagree. Go with a blue ball point pen and you will not be disappointed. The signature will pop and not bleed into the baseball. And I just think that blue pops better than black. For baseball bats and gloves (mitts), always use a Sharpie. The thickness is up to you, but a blue fine-point marker seems to work well.

Joe DiMaggio single-signed baseball.

On a basketball, a Sharpie is always the preferred applicator. But make sure it’s a slightly thicker Sharpie or even a paint pen. The signature should grace one panel; think about how you would want to display the signature in your house and pick the appropriate panel. Black probably works best as blue tends to get lost on the orange background. And truth be told, a silver or even gold paint pen looks great on a basketball! You need to make sure your paint pen is properly saturated at the tip, but not too saturated. The last thing you want is for your prized signature to get messy because there was too much paint coming out of the tip initially. Dab it a few times on another surface to make sure it’s ready to play ball!

The same holds true for footballs. Hockey pucks are an easy call: silver. And for photographs (5×7’s, 8×10’s, 11×14’s or 16×20’s), it’s always best to use a Sharpie. Again, I think blue works well, but just look at the photo in front of you and make an executive decision. Sometimes another color works better depending on the picture itself. And if you do use a paint pen, make sure the paint is dried on your photo before slipping it underneath another surface. Smudges can occur easily so be mindful of that.

For trading cards, a fine-point Sharpie works well, but the signing instrument most of the card manufacturers use when getting players to hard sign their individual cards is a Staedtler fiber-tip pen. I learned that tidbit during my 13-year tenure while working at the Upper Deck Company.

DISPLAYING

Jim Rice signed 1975 Topps RC #616.

This is the fun part when you get to show off your wares and display your favorite signatures wherever you want. But make sure you display them properly and that means providing protective ball cubes and/or display cases for your most prized keepsakes. Ultra PRO offers a great assortment of options. I really like the riser display cases, which feature black acrylic bases that sit on brushed metal gold risers, all housed inside an ultra-clear acrylic cover. Whether you have a signed baseball, bat, basketball, football or even a helmet, it will look twice as good inside an attractive display case.

And in the case of signed trading cards, use a recessed card holder. In fact, Ultra PRO’s one-touch magnetic holders provide UV-resistant, acid free protection to ensure your valuable card retains its condition while on display. Or better yet, get your card graded by PSA and see it come to you in all its encapsulated glory! Do not use a screw-down slab or else you run the risk of flattening the card and then – provided you ever want to get it graded – it will come back as “altered.” I found that out the hard way with my 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card #1 when I tried to get it graded by PSA! I could have sworn it was a PSA Gem Mint 10! And if you have a pretty big collection of several signed cards, it’s always cool to show them off in some of the beautifully crafted oversized displays that PSA sells on its own website.

PRESERVING

Ted Williams single-signed baseball.

Signature preservation is an important piece to remember, but also seems to be an easy one for collectors to forget. Too often I’ve seen the proud owners of signed memorabilia stage their favorite autographs facing toward sun light, which will only fade the signatures over time. Whether you’re hanging framed photos, posters, paintings or jerseys, or installing shelves that will stage your newly purchased display cases, always pick a wall that faces the inside of your home and not one that faces the large pane windows in your living room. Or family room. Or dining room. You can always hang your autographed item(s) on the same wall as the window itself; just make sure they’re not directly facing sunlight. Another way to prevent signatures from fading is to simply close the blinds and/or curtains during the day. Common sense rules when it comes to preserving your autographed memorabilia. Just like the colors on a trading card can fade over time, so too can a signature. So just be sure that direct sunlight does not come in contact with your prized signatures.

PURCHASING

Accessibility isn’t always on your side when you’re trying to get a signature. Tighter security at ballparks, shorter signing opportunities at batting practice, and superstars with more pressing engagements oftentimes makes it harder for fans to get the autograph they desire. In that case, purchasing a signature online could be the answer. But you need to be careful. Fraudulent signatures still abound, so be sure to make your purchase(s) from reputable dealers, guys that have been in business for some length of time and provide money-back guarantees. And if you do find an autographed item on eBay that strikes your fancy, spend an extra $10 to have it investigated by PSA/DNA experts through the company’s QuickOpinion™ option, which is now offered on every autograph listing on eBay. The service provides collectors with a professional opinion on if the autograph they are thinking about purchasing is “likely genuine” or “likely not genuine.” After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Posted by Terry Melia

Terry Melia is a hobby veteran who has served in various PR and marketing roles for industry movers and shakers including The Upper Deck Company and SCP Auctions and is currently working as PSA's Public Relations Specialist.

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