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August 2003: What We Can Learn from the Pros

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • We pen collectors enjoy writing, no question about it. If you’re like me, in idle moments you likely grab some scrap paper and jot things down whether they need jotting or not — just to enjoy the pen du jour you’re carrying around.

Chances are, you’ve got a journal in which to write down daily, inky mutterings, usually about not much in particular.

On top of that, many of us have a specialty pen in our collections, just for signing contracts, letters, cards, and other documents — and I know many collectors who call it a “signature pen.”

My current signature pen is a fan-tabulous John Mottishaw broad retip I’ve got on a blue single-jewel Vac Major that writes smooth as Boston Gah-h-den ice in the Zamboni’s wake. Yours could be any other pen, really. The point is, after a collector locates the right pen, the work isn’t done. It’s now time to create a signature worthy of writing with that pen.

Go forth and sign. With style worthy of your name. Extra Fine Points

As many readers already know, I collect autographs, primarily of book authors and pro athletes. I’ll stand for hours outside the player parking lot at Boston’s Fenway Park, where the pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders meander in during the course of an afternoon before the typical 7:05 start.

I’ll mail cards to pro football players during training camp, and they’ll send them back about half the time. I’m always up for a trip to Barnes & Noble for a book signing — and of course, I’ve hit up Paul Erano, Regina Martini, and Jonathan Steinberg for sigs on the title pages of their respective books at pen shows.

Having seen a fairly large sample of sigs, I can say that no single group of signers — except maybe for those people who wrote their names on the Declaration of Independence — can compare to pro athletes when it comes to distinctive signatures. Even as children, many players dreamed of the day when they would be asked for an autograph, and they practiced signature after signature after signature, experimenting with curves here and swirls there and coming up with their own unique styles.

Of course, now they’ve hit the big time, many players don’t have the time or the inclination to talk to the fans — or they have seen how much their autographs bring at online auction sites, and understandably take the cynical view that collectors are hitting them up for a sig just so we can make our next boat payments.

While I could bore you to tears with my critiques of the hundreds of autographs I’ve gleaned over the years, instead I’ll give you six examples from which you can draw inspiration when tuning up your own signature.

There are many types of signatures: some that seem more frequent than others include compressed fine-lined type; the sloppy, swoopy kind; the angled sig that looks like a pile of matchsticks waiting to be picked up. There’s the slovenly spiral, and the jagged-edged razor blade. Of course, there’s also the lazy signer’s autograph that looks like two initials from which straight lines — and no letters — extend.

My favorite, of course, are the big, bold sigs that, even if done in a hurry, will be clearly identifiable (and for you forensics experts, easily authenticated). A few from my collection include:

Signed baseball card < Thurman Thomas — Look at what this guy does with the two initial Ts. This is signatory art. Signed baseball card
> Jim Kelly — I’m not much of a Bills fan, but clearly this autograph belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Signed baseball card < James Lofton — The star has nothing to do with his name, but it has everything to do with a cool-looking autograph. Signed baseball card
> Louie Tiant — The L and the T are as distinctive as his famous sinewy windup.
Signed baseball card < Joe Theismann — Look at what he does with the J and T — it kind of reminds me of the Roman Colosseum. Signed baseball card
> Bobby Mitchell — No funny curlicues or odd underlines for this great running back, but those three capital Bs are as plain as day and as unforgettable as his Sunday afternoon heroics.

And why, you might ask, would you want to reconsider how your own signature looks, in light of all this? I submit two points. First, like a lot of pen collectors, you probably have a favorite pen for signatures, an urge to use it, and no matter how busy your schedule might be you can always make time to fiddle with that favorite pen. Second, what’s the use of acquiring that perfect signature pen if your autograph looks like this: Signed ball game ticket

Sure, Dick Gephardt is a nice guy, and he charmed all of us on July 20 when he showed up for an early campaign stop at the local ballfield, where our hometown Nashua Pride plays pro ball in the independent Atlantic League. Heck, I might even vote for the guy in the upcoming first-in-the-nation presidential primary, after comparing and contrasting his platform with all the other candidates’. And Gephardt certainly was a gentleman about signing the back of my game ticket when I asked him — unlike, say, Red Sox pitcher Ramiro Mendoza, who spits Spanish insults at me and the kids and other adults in Boston when we ask him to sign our programs, baseballs, or cards at the Fenway player parking lot before games. Politician that he is, Gephardt signed with a smile, and he personalized it, which many of us auto hounds enjoy.

But like most of us who on occasion are asked to sign papers, Gephardt could learn a thing or two from the pros. Like maybe a huge, lower-case G with a star drawn in its descender … or a “DG” device that runs together like the “JT” of Joe Theismann … or … well, you get the point.

Go forth and sign. With style worthy of your name.

cover Further Reading: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Football, by Joe Theismann

Washington Redskins fan both love and hate Joe Thiesmann for the idiotic things that come out of his mouth. Appropriately, the folks who make the Complete Idiot’s Guides signed him up to do their Complete Idiot’s Guide to Football — so popular it's now in the 2nd edition. Guess it takes one to know one, and we say that with all the love in the world for the man who led the ’Skins to a couple Super Bowls.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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