I have always been intrigued by Through The Mail (TTM) Autograph Collectors. The originators of TTM were innovators of our industry – way before there were autographed insert cards inside packs TTM chasers were getting their cards signed and building impressive collections.
Today’s current TTM collectors are like rebels in our industry who buck tradition and create their own autographed innovations and only pay a fraction of the price! While doing some research I stumbled upon a very impressive TTM collector who happened to be a great guy as well. Travis Jossenberger started collecting in 1990 when he was 7 years old and like most of us has been off and on for the last 24 years. Travis was generous enough with his time to allow me to interview him and below are the excerpts:
How did you get started collecting TTM autographs?
“I got started in TTM collecting from an article in Sports Illustrated for Kids, back around 1994. A reader of the magazine wrote in highlighting his successes obtaining autographs through the mail. I had no idea that getting autographs through the mail was even possible. A short time later my father bought me book of retired and active player mailing addresses, and I became hooked.”
What was the 1st TTM Autograph you received?
“My first ever return was and is my all time favorite player, Orel Hershiser. I sent him a letter and a SASE. He sent me back a signed 1990 Fleer. I put it in a frame and it hung on my wall all the way through high school. The card and autograph are now sun faded, but as far as sentimental value goes, it’s priceless.”
How do you acquire addresses? Any Tips for beginners?
“I used to rely on several books for addresses, or for active players, send directly to their home stadium. Now, the best source out there in my opinion is the online data base www.sportscardforum.com It’s continuously updated by users, who rate their successes and failures. It’s easy to use, and covers almost all major sports. ”
What do you send to the players?
“Normally, I send at least a request letter, a SASE, and something to sign, normally a card. The request letter is very basic, “Dear Mr./Ms. _________, I wanted to write because I am a fan and am hoping to ask for your autograph. If not, no worries! Please know I am a fan either way. Thank you for all that you do for (which sport it is here) and its fans. Respectfully yours, ___________.” I always type the letter, but sign it by hand. Some people try to hand write every letter, but I am not sure that it increases the odds any given player will sign. It’s worth noting that some players respond better to personal letters, and sometimes even questionnaires. But, unless I really have something to say, I try to keep it short and polite.
Most times, I send just one card, unless I know for sure that the player will sign more (and I have more). Sportscardforum’s TTM Database is great for tracking other collector’s successes and failures to help make the determination if sending more than one card will be successful, as members can track how many cards they send and how many are returned signed. Some players, like Frank Tanana, will sign everything, while others, like Jimmy Key, will only sign one. Some players may even keep the extra cards.
Finally, some players do charge, and in that case, I will send cash if I really want the autograph. Prices vary, from very reasonable to ridiculously high. Some prices also vary depending on what you are requesting to be signed.
Ultimately, I can’t stress enough: do research. Sports Card Forum’s TTM Database is an AMAZING tool for this. It takes just a few moments to research any given player from any given sport. “
How big is your collection today?
“For TTM autos, I have about 300 returns, and about 40-50 pending as of now.”
What is your favorite(s) TTM Autos you currently have?
“I have a few returns that I was very happy to get back. Clayton Kershaw is one, as active players of his caliber normally do not sign for free, or at all, TTM. One of my all time favorite returns was Carl Erskine. I sent him a ROMLB, which he turned into a “stat ball.” It was a special touch, and it was much appreciated! Though he has since passed, I was also happy to get a return from Cecil Travis. He may be an unknown name to a lot of collectors, but he played for the Senators from 1933- 1945. If you never heard of him, it’s worth checking his career stats. There’s an obviously drastic dip post WW2 (and he did serve), but if not for that, he would have easily been a HOFer. It’s a reminder that a lot of people, from all types of backgrounds, gave a lot in service of their country. Finally, a last favorite was also my first, Orel Hershiser. I grew up watching him pitch, and my earliest memory of baseball is the Dodger’s win of the ’88 World Series. He’s always been my favorite player, and getting a return from him when I was a kid solidified that for me.”
Top players on your want list you are still pursuing?
“There are a few HOFers on my want list that I am still after, but in all honesty, the thing holding me back is the cost of their autographs. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be cheaper to simply purchase a reliably authenticated autographed piece than to pay for one via TTM. That being said, one player I am currently trying hard to get is Alan Trammell. He signs very, very selectively, and more often than not cards come back unsigned. I’ve sent a few attempts, all of which have been returned unsigned. But I am still trying to score this elusive signer!”
Here are some additional Tips from Travis on how to research on Sportscard Forum’s Database:
-Research, research, research.
- Often, for any given player there will be more than one address. Make sure to find one that has the most recent successes!
- Always check if a player charges for their autograph. This information is usually in the “notes” section, or other users will leave it in their comments.
- Some players charge, some don’t. Some send the money to charity, some don’t. Even on a basic level, some players sign TTM, some don’t. Whatever a player’s reasons may be for signing or not, don’t take it personally.
- Things can and will get lost in the mail, especially with plain white envelopes! It’s just part of the game.
- Even if a player has 100% successes, it doesn’t hurt to do a little checking. For example, if there are 100% successes, but they are from 2 years ago, and there are quite a few pending since then, don’t hold your breath!
- While they are obvious targets, star players and HOF legends rarely sign TTM, or charge quite a bit. Pick players wisely, and you’ll be happier with your initial success rate.
- Send a card that an autograph will look good on, and even come out on! Most, if not all, players use dark ink. Photos will all dark colors? Not a great idea, unless you’re willing to send (and give up) a special pen. Also, Chrome cards usually won’t take autos well, nor will cards with high gloss. Hitting them with an eraser will sometimes take off enough gloss so autos will stick to the card.
- If you send a baseball, you’ll need a #0 and a #2 bubble mailer. Make sure to get ones that self seal. The #2 is to be your SASE. Make sure to include enough postage on the return. Most post offices can help you calculate the exact amount.