Mint Musings: Where Have All The Good Signatures Gone? – A few weeks ago, we had Pete Quaglierini of NFL Auctions on the show (Mint Condition). He had brought an assortment of autographed memorabilia from this year’s rookie class with him to display on the set. He had some nice items with him, including a Tennessee Titans helmet signed beautifully by top pick Marcus Mariota. I also noticed some items with autographs that were barely readable. One of those items was a football signed by someone I at first thought was Russell Wilson. It turns out it was actually signed by Todd Gurley.
The quality of autographs on memorabilia and certified autograph cards has been a sore spot in the hobby. It can be a bitter pill for collectors to spend several hundred dollars on boxes of cards only to find autographs that basically amounts to scribbles. Whether it’s getting an in-person autograph for free or pulling it straight from a pack, there’s been many a time where I’ve found myself wondering if I could identify an autograph without the player’s photo or jersey number to accompany it.
Former MLB shortstop David Eckstein might have the best balance and approach to signing autographs. When he was on a few years ago, I had been teasing him about the fact that he signs a beautiful autograph for his certified signatures, but his in-person autograph wasn’t quite as nice. He had said that whenever he’s signing for free, he’s typically trying to accommodate as many people as possible, hence the shortened signature. However, whenever he’s signing for someone who pays for his autograph, he makes the extra effort to use his nicer signature. While this seems like at the least a fair approach to signing, it doesn’t seem to be a common one among athletes.
One reason for the decline in autograph quality could be the sheer volume of autographs athletes are asked to do during a signing session. One common refrain among signers is how much their hand tends to cramp up quickly when doing so many autographs, which can lead to a compromised autograph. As a way to counter this, many athletes sign a simpler signature in order to provide something more consistent.
To their credit, the card and memorabilia companies have tried to improve athlete autographs at signings. Representatives both at Panini and Tristar have told me they try to coach athletes up on their signatures in order to get a more desired result. By the time an athlete gets to his/her first big wave of signing autographs though, they’ve already developed a mindset of how they sign. It’s not easy to get them to break that habit.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any magic solution for getting athletes to provide better autographs. There’s always the possibility of paying the athletes more to provide a better signature. Given how much this would potentially drive up production costs, it’s an unlikely solution. For now, it seems as if we’re stuck with a collection of muddled, barely legible autographs. For the hobby’s sake, I hope the trend changes in the future. With any luck, at least some of this generation of athletes will take after Harmon Killebrew and encourage the younger players to provide a better signature. After all, what’s the point of signing an autograph for fans if they can’t tell who it came from?
Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan as the producer of ESPN’s Mint Condition has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on the hobby in Mint Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
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