Autographs are some of the easiest things to collect; going back a few decades many boys had an autograph book which they used to collect signatures of the famous and not so famous. Autographs are light, portable, and many are quite readily affordable.
Of course, with autographs, especially older ones, there’s always the question of authenticity. How can you know that Richie Valens autograph is real, or that Cliff Richard really did sign that piece of paper in 1958? The simple answer is that, in most cases, you can’t know. There are ways to try and have them authenticated, but that can cost more than the autograph itself, and it’s an inexact science; all too often you won’t get a definitive answer.
Who To CollectYou can collect autographs of all the early rockers – in fact, since they comprised a relatively small group, you’d almost need to (a question to ask yourself, for instance, is do you really need 10 different Elvis autographs?). Indeed, assembling a collection of many of the 50s rockers – whether American or British – could be a very interesting task.
Alternatively, you could assemble the autographs of a singer and all the members of his backing group – which might prove more challenging, as tracking down the signatures of the lesser-known can take quite a while.
Some people go for specific types of autographs, such as signed photographs or signed LPs, which makes for an interesting subdivision of autographs in general.
How To CollectWith a few exceptions, auction houses aren’t the best place to buy 1950s autographs – they’re simply too common to warrant the attention of the places (you might find the occasional Elvis or Johnny Cash item that’s the exception to the rule, which is reflected in the price).
Instead, it’s better to look at the offerings of dealers, or even check on eBay or one of the other Internet auction sites. Ideally, look at dealers who are part of the UACC, because their autographs will almost certainly be legitimate, from trusted sources. With eBay you need to be very careful. It’s all too easy to forge signatures, and eBay is a very anonymous forum for sales. Check the seller’s feedback carefully before bidding and buying.
What Should You Pay?There are so many variables in price with autographs. Rarity is a huge factor, of course, along with presentation (an autographed LP will bring more than a signature on a scrap of paper, for example) and legibility (many autographs, written to waiting fans after concerts, were little more than fast scrawls).
At the high end, you can pay up to around £500 for a good, authenticated Elvis autograph, although you can find them at lower prices. However, authenticity is a big factor – where there’s demand, there’s forgery. Some of it was unintentional – the demand was so high that often Elvis’ friends would sign his name on pictures to send out – but others are deliberate.
Most other rockers can’t command prices in the same league. The only exception is Buddy Holly, which is based on rarity. For most rockers, a high end price of £50 is what you should expect to pay, and most will cost much less.