Like other collectibles, there is a definite price structure for the autographs of ballplayers. I would like to present a discussion of values within a context of scarcity and desirability, which, when all results are in, are the prime determinants of value for any collectible.
Living or Deceased
Like artists and martyrs, the values of whose accomplishments during their lifetimes are magnified and glorified after death, the value of ballplayer’s autographs increases considerably after death. The deceased ballplayers can no longer, of course, sign autographs; hence, the supply of the autographs of this ballplayer ceases at this point in time. All autographs of deceased ballplayers must be obtained secondhand after death, making authenticity questionable.
Hall of Fame Members
The pinnacle of success for a ballplayer is an election to baseball’s Hall of Fame. This honor is limited to the most skillful and proficient players and those others who have made the most significant contributions to the game. The autographs of these men are among the most desirable and have, other factors being equal, the highest value to collectors.
Popularity and Notoriety
While popularity can generally be measured by ballplaying skills, there are certainly exceptions. Many ballplayers whose skills on the field were limited have achieved success and notoriety in other walks of life (William A. “Billy” Sunday, Joe Garagiola, Chuck Connors, Jim Thorpe, to name a few). The more popular the ballplayer, whether his popularity was derived by playing skills or by some other means, the higher the value placed on his autograph.
Condition and Type of Autograph
Autographs, like other collectibles, exist in various physical conditions — from the weakest, broken pencil autograph to unbroken, indelible ink signature. The higher value is placed on the better condition autograph of the same person. Many types of media are available on which to obtain autographs. There are the relatively bland cuts and 3 x 5 varieties at one end of the spectrum and the most elaborate pieces of one-of-a-kind items autographed by the player at the other end. In between, there are myriad possible forms and designs that the autograph medium may take. The same autograph has a higher value based on the more interesting, enjoyable, and attractive medium on which the autograph is written.