What’s the point of buying autographs?

by @edent | #

Hanging on a wall in our house is a signed picture of Derek Jacobi. It is one of our most treasured possessions. It is a drawing of him as Professor Yana from Doctor Who. SPOILER ALERT He was really The Master!

Back in 2007, I happened to be working next to a memorabilia shop, when I saw both Jacobi and Tom Baker sat in there. A long queue of people stood waiting to buy autographs. I got in line, said hi to Tom, and then told Sir Derek that my fiancée had just finished an MA and was now a Master – would he mind signing something to that effect? Ever gracious, he wrote “To Liz, the real Master.” What a gent! I presented it to Liz as a graduation gift and we lived happily ever after.

Signed picture of Derek Jacobi.

I understand why people ask celebrities to sign photos – or a dedicated autograph book – when they meet. It is a nice reminder of a brief moment of contact with someone you admire. And, sure, actors have to make money so they sell meet-and-greets. Overall, it seems a fairly harmless activity.

But I don’t understand why people trade autographs.

I know that I got Jacobi’s signature. I can’t prove it – but my wife trusts me. And that’s good enough for our purposes. But any bit of signed memorabilia might just as well have been “signed” by machine with a felt-tip pen. You have no way of truly knowing if the celeb ever even touched the object.

If you’ve seen or read “Can You Ever Forgive Me?“, you’ll know that Lee Israel fooled the world with inauthentic memorabilia. While there may be more checks-and-balances now, there is a lack of bootstrapping trust that means you can’t really be assured of any item’s provenance.

But even if you did know that the autograph was authentic – what does buying it from a 3rd party get you?

All I can think of is the song “I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales

You have a tiny piece of reflected glory. Barely anything.

Back in 2007ish, selfies weren’t a big thing. I definitely had a camera phone – but didn’t even think about snapping a photo with my TV heroes. I wish I had!

I used to think selfies were stupid but I’ve since changed my mind. They prove that you were there. Here is tangible proof that I met Marilyn Monroe.

Nowadays, celebs at fan conventions charge money for selfies. Good! These are a unique social objects – hugely valuable to the person in the photo, but of almost zero value to anyone else. Digital files can be recreated for zero cost, so there’s no secondary market for them.

I think that’s lovely. People can obtain a cherished memory which means the world to them – but it is so unique and personal that it is worthless to others.

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