Saturday, September 18, 2021

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Collections & Hobbies

Getting autographs is about having fun


When two become one, it’s a beautiful thing. But a wedding isn’t just a joining of love; it’s also a combination of two tangible autograph-collection-2sets of real-world items. When two people’s souls are united, two people’s stuff now needs to merge under one roof.

Tony Kirby is engaged to be married. But before his future wife signs on the marriage license, the pair might need to figure out what do with Tony’s overflowing man cave filled with an estimated 350 autographed items scrawled across dozens of jerseys, approximately 70 mini helmets and a multitude of other memorabilia.

Tony originally obtained authorization to fill the basement. He thought the cellar walls offered plenty of space. But the up-and-coming man cave is full, and there isn’t enough room for everything.

“She likes that I have a hobby,” says Tony. “But the volume of it might be too much.”

For Tony, this hobby began in first grade when his dad took him to get a Mr. T comic book signed.

Prep Iowa

“I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Mr. T was in town,” he remembers. He says the rest is history. “He had the big gold chains and the gold goblet with him.”

Tony still has that first signature, and he’s added many more. His favorites aren’t necessarily the ones that are worth the most. They include Pete Weber, the pro bowler; Tony Hawk, the pro skater; and NBA stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell.

He spends time thinking about which item he would like signed by any given celebrity. For him, half the fun is finding the perfect match for a given individual, like when he had professional wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan sign a 2×4, or Hulk Hogan autograph an un-ripped yellow T-shirt.

Every autograph hound has at least one story about a person who wouldn’t scratch his gloss, and Tony does, too.

At the wrestling shows and music concerts, it’s easier to get celebrities to sign for free, but Tony gets most of his autographs from paid shows where a hierarchy exists as to how much you pay for the signature. Not all autographs are created equal. It costs more to get a helmet or a jersey signed than it does to get the same signature on a piece of paper or a ball. The rationale is that the autograph has a multiplier effect, and it is therefore more valuable on a more significant item.

In high school, Tony was a big fan of Emmitt Smith but was a little short on cash. He bought an inexpensive ticket granting him the right to a lower priced signing, but he brought in a helmet, hoping the Cowboy great wouldn’t notice he didn’t have the proper ticket to get such an item signed. He and another young friend planned a strategy of slightly folding the ticket so the athlete couldn’t see exactly what had been purchased.

His friend went ahead of him, and like many teenagers with “brilliant” schemes, he was busted. Tony was next in line, and his ticket was scrutinized closely by Emmitt’s handlers, and, of course, the stub wasn’t up to par. The Cowboy running back signed the helmet anyway, but when it was time to snap the photo, Emmitt wasn’t smiling, and Tony had a sheepish look.

“This was my all-time favorite player,” he laughs now. “I guess it’s my fault for doing that, but it was a bad experience. Obviously I should have just paid for it.”

The most he’s ever paid is $300 apiece for hockey great Mario Lemieux and football legend Peyton Manning to sign, and that doesn’t include the price of the jersey or the framing.

Tony doesn’t resell his signings, because it’s not about making money — it’s about making memories.

“It’s all about having fun,” he says. “Just going with friends and then getting to meet that person — that’s the real value of it.”

Some of Tony’s favorite signatures include notorious baseball slugger Jose Canseco and gory movie actors like Bruce Campbell from the “Evil Dead” trilogy, John Carpenter from “Halloween,” Robert Englund as Freddie Krueger (“Nightmare On Elm Street”) and Kane Hodder, who portrays Jason Voorhees in “Friday the 13th.”

And what about the overflow of signatures that won’t fit in the basement?

He shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head and chuckles, “I don’t know.”

Pity the fool. ♦


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