Thursday, January 31, 2013

Signature Moves: Wrestling Autograph Evolutions

Collecting autographs is as polarizing as a hobby can get.  Is it real?  How do I know it's real?  Where did you get it?  Throw wrestling into the mix and a collector should be prepared to tear his or her hair out.  I'd never speak ill of wrestling fans and collectors considering that I've been one myself for the better part of three decades.  It's the, shall we say, "eccentricity" of the collectors that can sometimes make you wonder why any wrestler would agree to sign an autograph after being in the business for a certain amount of time.

Most collectors are respectful and are simply looking to build their collections.  The real problems seem to be the same across the board of autograph genre: authenticity and the means of obtaining the autographs.  If you're like me you don't have much of a problem with either.  Aside from a few favorites that I did not have the opportunity to meet, 95% percent of my collection was obtained directly by me.  Buying something pre-signed, although necessary in some instances, just doesn't have the same feeling of getting the signature yourself on an item that you have specifically chose.

With as many autographs as I own and the thousands more that I've seen signed in person, I've developed a good eye for authenticity.  There are also highly respected companies that will authenticate your autographs for a fee.  Are they 100% right all of the time?  They are not, nor am I, nor is anyone else.  Although 99% are obviously authentic, there's only one absolutely foolproof way of authenticating an autograph: obtaining it yourself.  The human eye and instincts can be duped.  There are documented cases of autograph collectors having successfully fooled the grading houses.

That being said, there are often factors of autographs that go unobserved by collectors.  Sit down.  Grab a sheet of paper and a Sharpie.  Sign your name 100 times.  Is every signature the same?  Of course not.  What if, around the 60th signature, we tell you that you have thirty seconds to finish?  You may begin to rush and abbreviate.  Perhaps you're simply a "Living Legend" and your signature stays the same over fifty years or you're a "Common Man" with a variety of autograph styles.  Regardless, these are the things that we'll be taking a look at in this entry.

As noted above, autographs can change for a variety of reasons and in a variety of time spans.  WWE sponsored "appearances" are notorious for rushing fans along.  The educated collector will arrive hours before the scheduled start time and usually leave with at least one thing to show for it, but often not much more.  The casual fan will see a scheduled two or three hour appearance window listed and is often turned away at the door.  Because of the high volume of fans that show up at these sessions, handlers often rush the talent as much as they rush the fans.  These Rey Mysterio autographs shown were obtained just six years apart, but differ because of the aforementioned reason.  "Rey 619" vs "Rey Mysterio 619."  Both authentic and attractive but also both very different.

Some TNA talent have adapted their signature because of TNA's high level of fan friendliness.  Nearly every TNA show includes some sort of organized autograph session.  Although she is no longer with the company, Angelina Love is one of the biggest examples of this.  A few years ago, Love went from signing her full name to a simple "A. Love."  Her new signature even appears in the newer autograph examples in TNA trading card sets, but my best guess is that she originally shortened it for ease at signings.

Some stars seem to be able change their autograph at will, depending on mood, the item they're signing, or other factors.  My all-time favorite, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, is a great example of this.  A variety of legitimate Dusty signatures are out there from the quickly scribbled (sometimes crammed together as one word!) "Dusty Rhodes" to "The American Dream Dusty Rhodes."  I have even seen the former NWA Champion sign an item that already has a facsimile signature on it and copy that exact "classic" Rhodes signature.  My observations were, of course, in public.  If you will.

Other times it's one little thing that changes in a signature while the rest stays the same.  Anything from a change in wrestling gimmick to the stars personal life can be a factor.  "The Heartbreak Kid" himself has made a small change over the past twenty years since he broke out as a singles star.  While in the early '90s Shawn Michaels included a heart with his very recognizable signature, these days he has changed it to his abbreviated nickname of "HBK."  Hands off the merchandise!

And how about a signature that hasn't changed over the better part of fifty years?  That would be none other than "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino.  A coveted signature for any fan, those of us lucky enough to live in Pittsburgh know that Bruno is one of the most generous signers to ever come from the world of professional wrestling.  Evidently it's been that way for a long time, as many photos of Bruno signing autographs survive, as do the classic signatures themselves.  The amazing part?  It's still exactly the same.  Mr. Sammartino has always presented himself as a creature of habit and his signature greatly reflects that.

The moral to the story?  Just because an autograph fails to match another one that you own or have seen means absolutely nothing.  Depending on the situation, star, or various other factors, it could still be (and probably is) 100% authentic.  As always, happy collecting and for a look at hundreds of authentic wrestling autographs, don't forget to "Like" our Facebook Fanpage!

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