by Gary X
Collecting celebrity autographs is a great hobby, it can be reasonably inexpensive and a nice way to spend some extra time. There are a couple different ways to collect—in person and through the mail. Each way will have their pluses and minuses, but we’ll focus on collecting through the mail for this essay.
Through-the-mail autograph collecting becomes more popular every day, but has been around even before the early days of film. It just seems that having a signature on an item is a great way to keep a memento of one's favorite celebrity.
The Star Wars
autograph realm has a very devoted following of collectors that has grown immensely since the late 90’s. There are numerous devoted individuals who are after every single person who are connected to the words “Star Wars
,” and there are casual collectors who enjoy getting a couple of signatures from their favorite character.
To collect through the mail, you'll need a couple of things:
- An address of the celebrity you intend to write
- Stamps or International Reply Coupons
- Paper & pen or computer with printer
- Envelopes—and plenty of them: 9-inch x 12-inch (23 cm x 30.5 cm)—and #10 business size (10.5 cm x 24 cm).
- Some UNLINED 3-inch x 5-inch index cards (7.62 cm x 12.7 cm)
- An item to send to the celebrity—typically a photograph or poster you'd like to get autographed—more on this in a minute...
ADDRESSES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
Let's start with a contact address of the celebrity. There are numerous sources you can use to obtain an address of a particular celebrity, including the dedicated Star Wars celebrity address database here at Wattographs.
Some collectors also purchase printed lists of addresses, which they use to refer to for a particular celebrity, but we recommend Wattographs—not because we run it, but because it is a great resource to which people can report their successes and failures, so that other collectors have a better idea of who’s signing and who’s not. It is also more difficult to find these printed lists, as everything seems to have migrated to the Internet.
For the casual collector who only collects sporadically, printed celebrity address list or a pay-for-all-celebrity-addresses website can be an expensive way to obtain a couple of addresses. However, the advantage of a online database like Wattographs is that someone else has done the leg work for you! All you have to do is refer to the appropriate name, and "Ta-Dah!", you're off and running.
OFF WE GO...
Okay, you've got your address and your supplies. It's time to put together a request letter.
What do you say? That's entirely up to you. However, keep it short and sweet, since many celebrities get hundreds—if not thousands—of letters each month. If they spent all their time reading and writing, they'd never have time for the work which makes them celebrities in the first place! Typically, the "lesser" characters are more accessible, since they aren't subject to the demands of an A-Lister, but they will be busy with their own work and projects just the same.
Always try and mention something specific and personal to the celebrity—like your favorite performance or work of theirs. Remember to be sincere, since we're sure the celebrity (or, in many cases, the celebrity's secretary/assistant/agent) can tell who's familiar with their work and who's not. Wattographs has handled celebrity fan mail at some actors' request and it's somewhat interesting to see the shallow requests that accompany a stack of unsigned index cards that are "Christmas presents for my family."
Most collectors will request a signed photo from the celebrity, and—as is very typical today—will send a photo themselves. It's suggested that you put a 3x5 card in with your letter, and say something in the letter to the effect of "I know you are busy with projects, so, if you cannot provide a signed photo, would you please take just a moment to sign the enclosed 3x5 card?"
More often than not, you not only get a photo back, but you get a signed 3x5 card as well! For those who don't sign photos through the mail, they often sign the 3x5 card instead, so in that instance, you do get a signature sent back to you. Some celebrities won't sign the 3x5 cards, however, as it's been used as a tool by forgers in the past.
Be advised, however, that most Star Wars actors will not send a signed Star Wars photo back. More often than not, what you’ll receive will be what called called a “head shot,” that is, a picture of just the actor themselves. 8x10 photos are expensive to print and while a good number of the Star Wars films' cast are all still working actors, they don’t receive any stipends from the studio or Lucasfilm to pay for photos. That’s an expense that comes out of their own pocket. Today's conventional wisdom always suggests that you send your own photograph or item to be autographed.
PACKAGING IT ALL UP
So far, we've got our address and written our letter. Now we want to send it. Here is the most important thing to remember when writing a celebrity:
ENCLOSE A SELF-ADDRESSED, STAMPED ENVELOPE.
This is so important, we're going to say it once more for emphasis:
ENCLOSE A SELF-ADDRESSED, STAMPED ENVELOPE.
This is the big "secret" of all by-mail collectors. A simple one, but the most important.
Remember, the celebrity may generally foot the cost of sending you a photo. Now, imagine if the celebrity had to pay the cost of postage, too! Multiply hundreds and thousands of requests by $0.90 - $1.35 (the cost of the return envelope's postage just within the United States) and you'll see why those who enclose an SASE generally get better responses.
When writing and requesting that the celebrity send you a photo, put a 9-inch x12-inch envelope (folded into thirds) with $0.90 postage into a #10 business envelope with $0.45 postage on it; Three stamps, total. This method has been tested extensively and continues to work for many. That's a cheap price to pay for an autograph! In case the return postage isn't enough, you can put your return address in both spots on the 9x12 envelope (sender and receiver)...this way, if there is postage due, it will still come back you so that you can pay it!
Put the letter in the envelope, along with the SASE and a 3x5 card, give the letter to your mail carrier, sit back and wait for your response. Some celebrities are great about autograph requests and you'll get something in a couple of weeks. Some celebrities take longer -- we've heard tales of collectors waiting for SIX YEARS to get a response, but that seems to be an exception, not a rule.
Most will tell you that it generally takes anywhere from three or more months for a reply. BE PATIENT. Hey, in the meantime, write some more letters! There's nothing that beats the feeling of going to your mailbox and finding SEVERAL 9x12 envelopes with your name on it.
CAN I SEND SOMETHING OF MY OWN TO SIGN?
Absolutely! When this essay was originally written, the author merely sent requests with self-addressed, stamped envelopes. As the collecting has become more focused and the hobby is maturing, it's now considered better etiquette to send photos or trading cards of the celebs whom you write to. We have found that by sending something to sign, the percentage of authentic signers and successful returns has risen dramatically. A few years ago, it was difficult to find “clean” Star Wars photos that weren’t copies of copies, blurred and with bad color. With the advent of companies like Official Pix having the license to produce Star Wars photos, fans have more choices than ever to send. So, not sending something for the celebrity to sign is becoming bad form.
What about personalization?
By all means, if you would like to have your item made out to you, or another person, ask! Some actors will even write their "quotes" that they spoke in their scenes if you ask politely. You can make it even easier if you take that route by writing out the actual personalization or quote on a sticky note and placing it on the item. Adding a sticky note where you'd like them to sign is helpful, too—however, some Star Wars actors have been put off or offended by this.
However, most celebs are happy to inscribe a photograph to you. Be aware, that like everything else, it's up to them to make the choice.
WHAT ABOUT OVERSEAS LETTERS?
If you're sending to a celebrity overseas (and this also applies to readers of this document who don't live in the United States), you'll need to go to your local post office and get International Reply Coupons (IRCs). An IRC is used to purchase stamps for overseas sending. U.S. senders to overseas addresses should generally send TWO IRCs with their requests, instead of putting U.S. stamps on the return envelope. Typically, you usually send 3-5 IRCs if you are sending a photograph to be signed. Current price for IRCs in the U.S. is $1.75 each. Read more about IRC's here.
If you live overseas and are sending your letter to the United States, we can't tell you how many IRCs you'll need, although the rule of thumb is probably two-to-five as well. Please see your local post office and they can get you pointed in the right direction.
What about currency?
It has been de rigeur in recent years to send approximately the equivalent of US$5.00-$10.00 in the celeb's local currency to cover postage instead. This does make things more difficult, but the U.S. dollar tends to be more "exchangeable" worldwide than other currencies. The best thing you can do for your celebrity is to send the equivalent currency in their country. This means American Dollars in the United States, Pounds Sterling in the United Kingdom and Australian Dollars in the Land Down Under. Having their own currency when they go to the post office for stamps is much easier than having to exchange currency, then go to the post office. A good rule of thumb is the easier you make it for the celebrity to respond, they will.
An even better suggestion: native postage stamps!
This will be the easiest route for the celebrity. If you live in the U.S and you send a request to the United Kingdom, having British stamps on your return envelope (in the correct amount to send back to the U.S.!) makes things SO MUCH MORE simpler to return your items, and you'll have the appreciation of the celebrity for thinking of their time and effort to help you get an autograph.
Currently, a 100gram envelope will run you £1.73 (approximately $2.72 at the time of this writing—you can use a currency converter for current conversion rates). 100grams is approximately the weight of a letter and an 8x10 photograph. If you're sending more than one item and/or a cardboard protector in your envelope, you're looking at 150grams or £2.58.And, finally 200grams is about £3.11. You can check out current currency values at xe.com.
We've also put a section in our forums where you can trade stamps with other collectors from their native countries.
TO LOG, OR NOT TO LOG, THAT IS THE QUESTION
Many of us who write keep some sort of log of what we've sent out. This helps track responses, which we usually share with each other here in the online world. (if you don't already, you should read the Wattographs forums—there's lots of information to be gleaned from them,so feel free to ask questions), so let us know what you've received by posting your successes and failures at the Wattographs database when it comes back online. When the author was an active by-mail collector, it was not uncommon to have out over 50 requests at any given time, so having some sort of record helped me to keep track very easily of date sent, date returned, item returned, etc. Wattographs is planning to add an online tracking feature to its database by the end of 2012, so collectors can keep track of their requests in one central place.
AM I GUARANTEED A REAL AUTOGRAPH?
Alas, no. There is no guarantee that your favorite celebrity will even respond at all! Expect that anyone who's an A-List celebrity just won't have the time available to handle the thousands of requests they get in the mail each week.
Try not to be too terribly disappointed if you receive a "pre-print" (that is, a signature already printed as part of the photo). Many celebrities are just too busy to individually sign each photo, but they want their fans to have something, so you'll get a pre-print.
Sometimes a celebrity's secretary/assistant/agent will sign the photo on behalf of the celebrity. This is called a "secretarial" signature. It's pretty hit-and-miss this way, which is why we suggested you subscribe to the Wattographs forums, because many of us have collected for years and we know the difference between some signatures and signers—differences we can report to the forum members.
There are also times when you get...well...nothing. Celebrities change addresses and agents constantly, and you may get a RETURN TO SENDER response on your envelope. Celebrities can also be a fickle lot, signing one week, not signing the next.
Some celebrities also just refuse to sign. Natalie Portman is NOTORIOUS for not signing Star Wars autographs—in person or through the mail. Unfortunately, that is happening with all genres of autographs, not just non-signers in Star Wars.
Again, don't be disappointed—at least you gave it a shot (another reason to take part in our forums and database, since members often post bad addresses, or will list "no-signers" so you don't have to take the chance).
THE OBLIGATORY CLOSING
Loved by people the world over, autograph collecting is a fun hobby. The excitement of going out to the mailbox and seeing an envelope which contains a photo and signature from your favorite celebrity is second-to-none! And, an autographed photo (or two, or three, or ten...) hanging on your living room wall is a great conversation piece when friends and relatives come to visit. Join or visit as many resources on the Internet as you can, since the more you know, the better informed you'll be when it comes to deciding whom to write.
So, there you have it. A quick primer on how to get started in autograph collecting by mail. Follow those simple suggestions mentioned and you, too, will start having a mailbox filled with autographs!
Good luck and happy collecting!