A recent thread on NSU Card Talk asked people to list their 10 favorite autographed cards. Most of the cards described were autographed inserts, reflecting the state of the hobby as it exists today. My own autograph collection predates the now-expected inserts. Back in my day, if you wanted an autographed card, you’d have to get it autographed yourself. And I did. Mostly, I collected autographs by mail (see an article I wrote in NSU on the subject in Vol. 4, No. 2). I also picked up a few in person over the years. Some of them have a story behind them. A few of my favorites (in no particular order):
When Mark Hamill was filming The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia near Chattanooga, I was working at The Great Escape, a comic book/trading card/record store in Nashville. We were all surprised one day when Hamill walked in, looking for Beatles memorabilia. I believe he bought some Tiger Beat magazines and some Beatles 45s. We had a few Topps Star Wars cards for sale, and I quickly bought one and got him to sign it for me. It was the first autographed non-sport card I ever got.
From 1990 until 1994, my job required me to go to California every couple of months (I’m a research engineer for the U.S. Army). Once I was there through the week, and finished things up early on Friday. My flight home was Saturday, so I had the afternoon to kill. There was a pretty big comic convention going on (I can’t remember if this was in the Bay area, or San Diego, or LA) so I went to it. In the artists’ alley Dave Stevens had a table, and there wasn’t much going on at it. I bought a set of Topps cards from theRocketeer movie in the dealer’s room and brought them to him. He had done the artwork for a couple of stickers in the set and signed them for me. And we had a nice conversation about the comic and the movie and Bettie Page.
The first big card show I ever went to was the National Sports Collector’s Convention in Atlanta in 1992. One of the vendors there was the card company Space Ventures, which had just released one of their SpaceShots sets of cards with astronauts and NASA missions in it. They brought shuttle astronaut Bruce McCandless, Jim Lovell, and Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov to their booth as guests to sign cards. Lovell was not as well-known as other Apollo astronauts, having never made it to the moon’s surface despite flying on two separate Apollo missions. His fame soared, however, after the Tom Hanks film Apollo 13 was released in 1995, starring Hanks as Lovell. But that summer of 1992 in Atlanta, he was modest and happy to meet anyone who dropped by the booth.
Admiral Frank Kelso was Chief of Naval Operations during the first Gulf War, and as such, had a couple of Desert Storm cards. His family has roots in Kelso, Tennessee, only a few miles from where my father was born, and I’ve always had a soft spot for cards with a Tennessee connection. We had a Pentagon phone book in our office, and it was easy to look up his “official” mailing address and send him a Pro Set Desert Storm card for a signature.
Peter Cushing was best known for his work in the British Hammer Studio horror films of the 1960s when he was cast as Grand Moff Tarkin in the first Star Wars film. But actors have hobbies, too, and Cushing was a trading card collector. When I sent him this card for an autograph, I mentioned our shared interest and got back not only the signed card, but a nice note from him as well.
While Jay Leno has had a great run as host of the Tonight Show, there will never be another Johnny Carson. For 30 years, he was the host of the best talk show ever produced, and was a good at the job as anyone will ever be. For such an important figure in television history, he is surprisingly under-represented in the trading card world. This card is from a set featuring high-school yearbook pictures of stars. By the time it was released, Carson had retired from the Tonight Show, but he still received mail at the NBC studios in Burbank, where I sent this card.
When the 1992 Star Pics Saturday Night Live set released, it featured not only big stars, but some of the extras and writers as well. Robert Smigel hadn’t yet created Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and wasn’t particularly well-known, yet still he was on one of the cards. I sent it to him at 30 Rock for a signature, and was very pleased when it returned with three autographs. Smigel had not only signed it himself, he got Chris Farley and Mike Myers to sign it too.
Like many moviegoer of the early 1990s, I was a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger and saw Terminator 2 on opening weekend. I had enjoyed his work as far back as Stay Hungry, a modest picture he made in 1976 that I saw in college a few years later. I read in the paper that he owned a restaurant in Santa Monica, and sent him a T2 card care of that address.
Forgive me for sneaking one sports card into the list, but this is a good one (and likely is the most valuable trading card I own). The Nashville Sounds were the Double-A minor league team where I grew up. When I was in high school, my father would buy minor league trading cards from mail-order dealers for me and I’d try and get autographs of the visiting players as they came through town. Baltimore’s Southern League affiliate was the Charlotte O’s. One of their infielders went on to a Hall-of-Fame career–Cal Ripken Jr. But at the time, he was just another guy trying to make it to the Show, and to be honest, I was just as happy to have gotten the signature of Drungo LaRue Hazewood and the other members of the team.
In 2010, Dan Aykroyd visited the army installation I work at to promote his Crystal Head vodka and to support the Wounded Warrior Project. He appeared at the base liquor store and a huge line of folks were there to meet him and buy vodka. There were more people than he really had time to meet with. As the time for him to leave drew near, his “handlers” told everyone who wanted to get an autograph to line up with their items in front of them, and Dan would quickly walk by and sign things – no time for photos or personalizations. Most people had Ghostbusters DVDs or Blues Brothers CDs. When Dan got to me and I held out a Coneheads trading card, he gave me a very puzzled look, then a smile, and then an autograph. I daresay no one else there had one.