Spring has sprung, boils and ghouls, and that means the horror and monster conventions--the Cons--are busting out all over. Those of you who attend the Cons have the chance to meet many horror film notables in person. It would be great to get a really special keepsake from them, of course, and autographs are the most popular medium. But why settle for ordinary authographs? Dennis, author of The Harry Thomas Web Page, offers us the following advice for...

Horror Autograph Hunting

HORROR-WOOD: There's a lot of fan conventions coming up now that winter's over. These cons have a lot of horror film guests that I'd love to get autographs from. Is there a good way to get autographs at a con? I just hate to walk up to someone and shove something under their nose!

DENNIS: Fan conventions are really the best and most fun way to collect autographs. Most of the time the celebrities will expect to sign autographs and a line will be formed in front of them. Always be polite and courteous to the celebrity. If they will be signing with your pen or marker, have the cap pulled off and ready. When I was in my early teens my brother and I met Vincent Price back stage during his play Diversions and Delights. I asked him to please autograph my lobby card from The Last Man on Earth but I handed him a marker with the cap still on. He jokingly asked how he was supposed to sign with it like that. My brother quickly apologized and removed the cap. Try to get an uncommon autograph. Have the celebrities sign more than best wishes and their name. Ask them to write the title of the movie, or their character's name or their favorite line from the movie. I met Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith from TV's Lost in Space), and he was delighted to write his famous line "Oh the pain". He also signed photos where he was standing next to the robot and he wrote "Dr. Zachary Smith and the bubble headed booby" or "with the Neanderthal Ninny". Uncommon autographs like this are really fun to collect. If you think you might resell the autograph someday, don't get the photo inscribed to you. Also check to see which celebrities will be at the convention before you attend. This way you can have the best photos in your collection ready to be signed.

Ray Harryhausen autograph
A "Jurrasic" autograph from Ray Harryhausen

HW: Great advice! Of course, the traditional autograph media are photos and index cards. Any thoughts on which is preferable for collecting, and why?

DENNIS: The ideal item to have autographed is a color 11x14 photo or lobby card (preferably original/ vintage) with a good scene of the celebrity in their most famous role or a role that you enjoyed. Generally the larger the photo (up to about 11x14) the more it will be worth in the future simply because most stars sign and mail out 8x10 inch photos or smaller. The 11x14 photos are usually sent to close friends. Color photos are usually worth more than black and white ones. Finally, getting the photo of your celebrity in your favorite role is very important. For example, autographed photos of Jimmy Stewart are expensive, but easy to find.... but signed photos of Jimmy from It's a Wonderful Life are much rarer and more desirable. I'm sure Jimmy signed many photos from It's a Wonderful Life, but most of his fans are keeping these. Save the index cards for collecting autographs through the mail or when you are walking around Hollywood and you think you might meet a celebrity.

HW: I've also heard fans having actual letters and first day covers autographed. Any suggestions on those?

DENNIS: Letters are fun to collect if the content is interesting. The letter heads add to the value and the content of the letter tells you the celebrity's thoughts. If you are going to write to your favorite celebrity, ask one or two questions that require more than a yes or no answer. For example, "What was it like working with Bela Lugosi in...." or "What is your fondest memory from...." Be brief and to the point. Most stars are busy and don't have time for long interviews unless you write and ask permission to do an interview in a future letter. I like to collect letters with interesting and unique content. First day covers are fun to collect also but they should be relevant to a type of role the star played. For example, ask a horror movie star to sign something horror or at least movie related. First day covers also give you the an idea of when it was signed from the postmark on the stamp and they have colorful artwork.

HW: Dennis, I know you like to get more than autographs from celebrities. You also collect artwork they render on the spot--cartoons, doodles, drawings. What are some of the best ones you've collected? How did you persuade them to take the time to do those? Do you suggest something for them to sketch?

DENNIS: I like collecting uncommon autographs.... something the celebrity doesn't usually sign. A usual endearment of "Best Wishes...." doesn't interest me. The drawings are the most fun to collect. I have a wonderful chainsaw drawn by Gunner Hanson, a dinosaur drawn by Ray Harryhausen, a mutant from This Island Earth drawn by Rex Reason, Creature From The Black Lagoon drawings by both Rico Browning and Ben Chapman, a Freddy drawing with glove by Robert Englund, a Martian War Machine by Ann Robinson and so many others. Many celebrities only do these for charity auctions. Huge lines for autographs only make collecting drawings more difficult. Many celebrities are either self conscious about their artistic ability or have seen some of their art work sold at auction for many times what they charged the original fan who bought it. The best way to start collecting drawings is by asking the celebrity too add a simple drawing next to their signature on a photo. Vincent Price used to draw a bat, pumpkin or fly next to his autograph if you asked him. Kevin McCarthy drew a pod from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. If the celebrity seems to be enjoying doing the small simple sketch, you might want to have a sketch pad handy (if the line for autographs isn't too long). Always request something simple, easy to draw and relevant to the celebrity and movie. Vincent Price was an artist so he enjoyed doing self portraits and more detailed drawings.

HW: Of course, It's one thing to get autographs and other celebrity renderings face-to-face...you know they're real. I've heard there's a problem with fakes if you buy from others. Are there any good ways to protect yourself?

Jimmy Bullock autograph Vincent Price autograph
Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) 'bot autograph. Vincent Price "fly" autograph.

DENNIS: I buy a lot more autographs than I get in person or through the mail. I simply don't have the time or money to travel all over the world to collect autographs. Some people look down on autograph dealers for selling what the stars gave them for free. I have a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude for autograph dealers who make the autographs available to the public. They earn a modest profit for providing this service to collectors. BUT, there are some autograph dealers who either knowingly or unknowingly sell fake autographs. Try to deal with one or two autograph dealers you can trust. Ask for references. Insist on a money-back guarantee with no time limit if the authenticity is ever questioned. Always get a receipt. If the dealer refuses to provide both of these, buy from someone else. Ask for other collector's and dealer's opinions on autographs that you recently bought.

HW: What can you tell us about auto pens, secretarial efforts, and outright forgeries? Is there any way to detect these? Do you know of particularly suspect sources one should avoid?

DENNIS: An auto pen is a machine that duplicates a signature exactly the same each time. There can be several versions of auto pens from the same celebrity and they are difficult to detect. When you have two signatures that match up exactly then it is auto pen. The best advice I can give is to read Autograph Collector magazine (http://www.odysseygroup.com/acm.htm). Each month they show examples of in-person autographs and update readers about newly discovered auto pens and secretarial signatures. Here's an interesting fact. Bela Lugosi rarely signed autographs requested through the mail. His wife signed them for him. After a while, she got quite good at his signature. Authentic signed photos of Bela Lugosi are very rare and expensive.

Robert Englund autograph Jimmy Stewart autograph
Robert Englund "Freddy" autograph. Jimmy Stewart "Harvey" autograph.

HW: We've already covered conventions. What about utilizing mailing lists? Are they productive? And do you think the retail markets are good places to shop for autographs and celebrity renderings? Is mail order ever a good idea in these cases?

DENNIS: Mailing lists are an inexpensive and fun way to start collecting autographs. I write to actors, actresses, and directors from my favorite old horror and sci fi movies all the time. Most of them are happy that someone remembered their work and are delighted to sign. The best thing to do is send an index card with a SASE and a brief letter telling the celebrity specifically what role/ movie, ect that you liked and ask if they will please sign the index card and return it in the SASE. If you have photos you want signed, ask if it would be ok to mail them out next time.... with return postage paid in full. Pack them in a sturdy SASE envelope (certified) so they won't get damaged Generally speaking, the bigger the celebrity, the more requests they get for autographs and the more likely you are getting an auto pen or secretarial signature back in the mail. Jim Carry, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and so many other big stars get way too many requests to keep up even if they wanted to, so save your stamps and write to someone a little less popular.

HW: Presumably, we'd want to hang onto out hard-won autographs. But, in case we'd ever want to sell or trade them, is there a good way to assess value to them? How do you get the best prices for them? There are auctions, both on-line and private. Do you have any experience with them? Do you recommend them?

DENNIS: The Sanders Guide will give you an average price for all signed photos of a specific celebrity sold the previous year. Remember this is just an average price. The photo's condition, size, scene and if it is original or a reprint will affect the price. So will the contrast and condition of the autograph. For example, signed photos of Bela Lugosi as Dracula are much more desirable and expensive than signed portraits. I rarely bid or consign items in auctions. If you have any rare autographs for sale, auctions might be your best bet. Try to sell other autographs to collectors instead of dealers who will need to make a profit.

HW: Is is best to stay within a particular genre (e.g., horror films) or a sub genre (e.g., Fifties Roger Corman flicks), if you want to build up a collection with some value?

DENNIS: Collect what you like and can afford. Multiple signatures on one item (photo or autograph page) will be worth more than the signatures separately (the entire cast from a movie). I know a collector who recently bought an album page signed by both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

HW: I've seen autographed movie posters and lobby cards (viz., your previous article on poster collecting). Is this ever a good idea? Or does it decrease the value of both the poster and autograph?

DENNIS: Lobby cards are perfect to have autographed. Although I collect both autographs and posters, I don't like to mix them. Autographed posters are just too big to display. If the poster is very valuable, an autograph from a minor cast member might bring down the value.

HW: Finally, Dennis, please tell us--what's the very best autograph or celebrity rendering you've collected? How did you get it?

Ed Wood Letter to "4E"
Edward D. Wood, Jr., letter to Forry Ackerman.

DENNIS: While I love collecting new sketches and drawings, I think my favorite autograph is my Ed Wood letter to Forry Ackerman. I bought it at Forry's auction at "The Son of FM Convention" in California. I'm searching for this sketch by Vincent Price with a fly buzzing in his ear. Does anyone know where I can find one? I buy most of my autographs from:

Mark Clark

P. O. Box 149

Rowlett, TX 75088

I also buy autographs from Scott Kinnes (akinnes@aol.com). If your readers will e mail him, he will send out a free video.... his monthly show (The Memorabilia Show). This way you see what you are buying on video before you order. His prices are reasonable too.

Thanks, Dennis! By the way, boils and ghouls, we have even more examples of the great, unique, "art"-autographs that Dennis has successfully collected on the next page...

All artwork porperty of Dennis and used with permission.



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