Signed, sealed, delivered: Growing up collecting autographs as a hobby
It was 2 p.m. on a weekday. My mom picked me up from the front of my elementary school as she usually did. When I walked in the car, she turned, looked me in the eye and said “Brenton, you got a letter from John Travolta.”
No average 11-year-old boy would ever imagine getting a signed and personalized photo from a Hollywood great, but I anticipated the response.
As a kid, I had a desire to keep myself occupied as much as humanly possible. I made custom T-shirts, wrote comics for my school newspaper and bought every available season of “The Office” on DVD.
I may have spent countless hours binge watching, but my favorite hobby at the time was collecting autographs.
A few months prior to receiving a signature from Travolta, I pushed my prepubescent arms to the limit, handwriting letters to roughly 20 or so famous faces.
It was about as spontaneous of an idea as it gets and that one idea gave me years of fulfillment.
It all began when I found a database online that was home to thousands of celebrity fan mail addresses. I’d scope the site out regularly to see who was responding and in what time frame.
The website, fanmail.biz, gave me something to look forward to every day and sparked my continued interest in writing. I’d dish out about five to 10 letters per week to famous faces like Steve Carrell, Peyton Manning and Amanda Seyfried.
I made sure to send to celebrities who were known to respond to fan mail, so I was always expecting a response.
I would send self-addressed stamped envelopes, or SASEs. I’d write my letter, throw in something to be signed and put in a separate envelope, addressed to me, on the inside so these celebrities can easily reply.
This tactic is beneficial, as I now have well over 50 autographs in my collection. I still make sure to keep my collection going today, as I sent out about 25 more requests this past January.
When I got my first response from John Travolta, I felt a great deal of success and I still feel that when I get responses now.
As exciting as it was to get a response from someone like Travolta, my favorite signatures are from those I personally admire.
A personalized Star Wars DVD cover from James Earl Jones, a signed Justin Bieber album cover and two Ariana Grande signatures from 2012 sit at the top of my collection.
Hearing back from your favorite star is one thing, but getting back a personalized message always makes the experience worthwhile.
After some time of just getting back regular signatures, I tried to make it more interesting by sending little question and answer index cards to celebrities.
At one point I asked Betty White to name one of my cartoon characters that I used to draw as a kid. She gave him the name “Lefty,” due to the fact that he was giving a thumbs up with his left hand.
One of my favorite personalized responses came from Gloria Estefan. She answered my questions and sent me a holiday greeting. It meant an awful lot to me as her response is something only her and I share.
Despite the great feedback I’ve gotten, the hobby doesn’t come without downsides.
I recall Lil Wayne was answering fan mail through jail when he served time behind bars years back. I was so stoked to hear back from one of my favorite rappers, but before I heard back from Wayne, he was put in solitary confinement for sneaking an iPod into his cell. Fan mail wasn’t allowed at that point.
I’ve received plenty of pre-printed or stamped autographs in my time collecting and it’s definitely a hassle when you aren’t sure of the autograph’s authenticity.
Occasionally, I’ll receive an autograph that looks like it was signed by a secretary, which is worse than getting no response at all.
That’s where people doubt this hobby. I often get peers asking me how I know if my collection is even legitimate.
Often times I just check online to evaluate the authenticity myself. But when I look back at my collection and see autographs from deceased stars, like Gene Wilder, or signatures from a former U.S. president, it’s best to get those evaluated by an expert.
What I truly enjoy about collecting autographs is the importance of the hobby. When I get a response from somebody like Gene Wilder, who passed away after I received the autograph, it adds history to the hobby. The fact that a man as prominent in film as Wilder still tried to please his fans up until his death, is quite interesting.
Personally, however, the hobby means far more than just historical importance.
During the week of my grandfather’s passing in 2015, I received a response from one of my favorite singers, Tori Kelly. Her kindness and generosity certainly lifted my spirits during that tough time.
Autograph collecting isn’t easy. It’s time consuming and takes a lot of effort. With a hobby like autograph collecting, though, the rewards outweigh the effort put into it.
Opening up my mailbox to see a letter from one of my favorite celebrities is one of the greatest feelings and it’s something I recommend it to anyone looking to try something new.
Brenton Blanchet is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org