Getting Started

Score Some Signatures
In this high-tech age, the centuries-old method of writing a letter still works best for getting autographs from your favorite players.

By Sal J. Barry
Getting close to your favorite hockey players to get their autograph can prove to be a challenge. Some collectors – often referred to as “autograph hounds” – will hang out at a team’s practice, or even after a game, and try to score some ink from their favorite players that way.  Such autograph-seekers will also learn what hotel the opposing team is staying at, and hope to find players in the lobby or hotel restaurant. Both of these methods can work, but require good timing and an affinity for “stalking.”
Fortunately, there is an alternative method that is just as effective. Collecting autographs through-the-mail (usually abbreviated as TTM among autograph collectors) is an easy and effective way to build your collection without having to chase down the team bus. It is a great way to get signatures from retired athletes too. Many current and former players will take the time to autograph and return your cards.

“You look forward to going through your mail every day,” says Kevin Carlson, a ten-year veteran of autograph collecting. “You never know – there might be a goodie in your mailbox.” Carlson, along with longtime collectors Andrew Sattler and Paul Davidson, share their advice on how to successfully collect autographs through-the-mail. 

Step One – Get it together

Before you start writing, it is a good idea to gather everything that you will need.

Stamps – For your letter to the player and for the self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) you provide to get your cards back.

Business-size envelopes – These are about 4” by 9.5” and are big enough to hold your letter, SASE and several cards.  

Small envelopes – About 3.5” by 6.5” in size, use these as your SASE. Spend the extra buck and go for the security envelopes, which are not “see-through” like regular envelopes. That way, anyone handling your letter won’t get any ideas of building their own collection.

Plain paper – You don’t need fancy stationary; regular white computer printer paper is fine.  

Roller ball pens (optional) – Any pen will do, but a comfortable pen goes a long way when writing out a bunch of letters by hand.

Expendable hockey cards – The key word here is “expendable.” Never send anything you’d be upset to lose. Unsure if a player will sign? Then refrain from sending out that high-priced Young Guns rookie card, and send a common card instead. Likewise with retired players – think twice about sending out cards from the 1950s and 1960s unless you’d be OK with losing them.

Return address labels (optional) – These will save you from the mind-numbing madness induced by the monotony of writing your own address over and over.

White art eraser (recommended) – Found in art supply stores, use a white eraser to safely remove gloss from newer hockey cards. This allows the autograph to better “stick” to the card.

Step Two – Find addresses
With active players, it is best to write to them in care of (c/o) their team. This is usually the stadium address, but check the “Contact” page of a team’s website just to be sure. Sometimes, a separate address will be specified for fan mail, such as a practice facility or a community relations office. 

Many retired players still work in hockey as coaches, general managers and scouts. Others are employed as color commentators for a team’s television and radio broadcasts. You can also write to them c/o the team they work for.

Retired players who don’t “work” in hockey – as well as players who have migrated overseas to play in Europe – are a bit harder to track down. Two good sources to find addresses of such players are: 

Step Three – Write a letter
The key is to “write.” Typing out a generic “form letter” that could be for anyone will reek of insincerity. Besides, you want a player to pick up a pen – or preferably a marker – and put ink to paper for you. Why should you do any less for him?

Usually, a half-page letter is fine when writing to a current athlete. For a retired player, you can write up to a page or longer. As for what to say – that’s the tricky part. You don’t want to sound too needy…

“Oh, please, please sign my cards. Please!”

But you also don’t want to sound insincere…

“You’re the greatest player ever!”

…or like a demanding jerk:

“Sign my cards now!”

“Be genuine in your letters,” suggests Sattler, a 20-year veteran of TTM autograph collecting. “If there was a particular game or moment that stands out in your mind, mention it.” 

A few other ideas of what your letter could say:  
  • Good luck this season (if it’s the start of the season).
  • Good luck in the playoffs – assuming, of course, that his team has not been eliminated from postseason contention.
  • If a player from your favorite team has moved on, wish him well with his new team.
  • Congratulate a player on a recent key accomplishment (hat trick, 400th game, etc.).   

    Accomplishments are especially important when writing to retired players. “Try to [talk] a little about his career – anything that shows you have an actual interest beyond just an autograph,” says Davidson, a collector since 1977 who is currently working on an autograph database for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He also stresses manners. “Be polite. These players grew up in a time where courtesy and respect went a long way.”

    Next, mention that you’ve enclosed a few cards, and ask the player (or former player) to please sign them.  “Thank them for their time,” says Sattler. “They’re doing you a favor, not the other way around.”

    After signing your name, it is a good idea to include your address at the bottom of the letter, in case the recipient misplaces your return envelope.

    Finally, one golden rule: Never say to a player – active or retired – that you wrote to him because you heard he signed autographs for someone else. That is plain rude, and a great way for your letter to get tossed in the trash. Also, keep in mind that just because a player signed autographs for someone else does not obligate them to sign anything for you.

    Step Four – Send it out
    Hand-address the envelope so that it does not look like junk mail, but feel free to use a pre-printed return-address label in the corner. Also hand-address the SASE – again, you don’t want it to look like one of those business reply envelopes from some record club.  

    How many trading cards should you send with your request? There is no right answer. “I believe in limiting your request to two or three items when writing to active players,” offers Sattler. “Retired players have more time and might be willing to sign [a few] more.”

    One first-class stamp is enough postage to mail a single-page letter, a SASE and up to six cards. Additional postage is necessary if sending your letter across the border.

    Once you put your fan letter in the mailbox, all that remains is the least enjoyable step in TTM autograph collecting.

    Step Five – Wait
    “Sometimes you will get a quick return,” says Carlson. “But sometimes you have to wait longer – maybe a year.”

      This hobby is not for the impatient. Athletes have busy schedules, and most active players will take months to get back to you. Some answer their mail when on long road trips or during downtime in their schedule (Christmas, the All-Star break). Others wait until the summer to answer autograph requests.  Retired players tend to reply quicker than their active counterparts, but not always.

    For Carlson, patience was a virtue. In 2004, he decided to get an autograph from every member of the gold-medal winning 1980 U.S. Olympic team. It took five years, but he eventually tracked down, wrote to and received an autograph from all 20 players. “It takes time,” he said. “But once it’s all said and done, you know it was worth it.”


    Michael said...

    Hey Sal,

    I'm curious, for these new glossy cards, how hard (or soft) or how long do you need to rub the eraser on it before the gloss is off. Is there a way to tell if it'll stick? Any tips would be appreciated!

    Sal said...

    That's a good question, one that I've thought about before.

    I try to rub the card hard enough to remove the top layer of gloss. The thing is, it still LOOKS glossy, but will FEEL less glossy than normal.

    I think about 20-30 seconds is fine. I rub the card hard enough so that the eraser flakes a bit. Of course, you have to brush those off the card then.

    You could always try doing it on a duplicate common card, and then writing on it with a marker to see if that's long enough.

    Michael said...

    Thanks Sal! Yeah, I rub and rub and the flakes from the eraser are on the card, then I brush them away.. and it still feels glossy! I'll just have to take a chance I suppose and assume that it'll stick better.

    mike said...

    hey sal

    I was wondering if you would be interested in doing some trades as I have a few autographs that were acquired via the through the mail route.

    1. steven stamkos
    2.roberto luongo
    3. Daniel alfredsson

    and others

    Anonymous said...

    Hey Sal!, my name is Lance and im from Nova Scotia Canada. Ive collected autographs TTM in years past and then stopped but am now getting back into it again. Just sent to alex burrows and john-michael liles today. I dont have a blog but i plan on making one soon. I think your site is great, very informative and i visit it on a daily basis! keep up the good work.

    Anonymous said...

    you should not give your idea away

    Anonymous said...

    hey sal i was wonderin if you put the SASE in the regular envelope?

    Anonymous said...

    hey sal i was wondering if your supposed to include a stamp on the SASE?

    Sal said...

    Yes--put a stamp on your SASE. And you put the SASE inside the regular envelope with your letter and cards.

    Anonymous said...

    What card shops do you go to? I can see you've bought some autograph cards recently.

    simon said...

    um i was just wondering for the return letter should i put his name in the left corner ?

    Anonymous said...

    Hey Sal I want to send a hockey puck ttm. Would two bubble mailers do 8.5x11 for the puck SASE, marker and LOR and a 6x9 for the SASE to put the puck into?

    Sal said...

    I'd see if it all fits. If so, I'd get it weighed to figure out how much postage you need, and then put that amount on both envelopes.

    Sal said...

    @ simon - I put my own address in the upper left corner of my SASE. So yes, my address is on it twice--hand-addressed in the "to" area, but then I also put a return label with my own address.

    simon said...

    hi sal I have been having lots of succes in canada. But I was looking to start sending to the states. And I was wondering if you send some money for postage do players usualy send back to you ?

    Frank said...

    Hey Sal I was wondering, Have you ever had success sending JUST cards and no letter?

    Sal said...

    Hi Frank,

    Nope, I never tried that. Seems RUDE, so I would not recommend doing it.


    Frank said...

    Frdsnkf Sdklfj

    Hey Sal, I'm 13 years old and trying to start a new hobby/collection. I've gotten a few cards sent back. such as Craig Berube, Dave Brown, Ben Holmstrom, Riley Cote, and Brian Boucher. (If you cant already tell, I'm a huge Flyers fan.) I'm also awaiting a few replies. Such as Simon Gagne and Peter Laviolette. Since the season is ending, I was wondering if you knew where to send to some Flyers. (any current or former. if they wore black and orange I would love a sig!). Ive Checked the 2 links and got a few. If you recommend any, Let me know! Thanks So Much!


    George said...

    wheres the best place to send scouts during the off season?

    Sal said...

    George, really no best place during the summer other than a home address.

    George said...

    you can just send to arena during the season. Correct?

    JN RP said...

    this is for frank... search up good ol Bobby Clarkes address as hes involved with the flyers still. ive gotten a return from that address as well and i tihnk its off SCF. also reggie leach would be another flyer that i think has success'

    JN RP said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Anonymous said...

    I was curious as to if it is okay to send a letter to a current player ( through the team's c/o) during the offseason.

    Sal said...

    I would wait until the season starts. They player you write to may get traded or otherwise part ways with the team during the offseason.

    Anonymous said...

    I've heard rangers players won't sign through the teams c/o. Is this true?

    Sal said...

    Yeah. Pretty much. I have had successes with only rookies or bit players on the Rangers.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm gonna try to get kreider, mcdounagh and gilroy next season. (I posted the last comment)

    Zane Franklin said...

    Hey Sal,

    Thanks for the information on how to get started collecting autographs TTM. I am just starting to get into collecting hockey autographs and just had a small question for you. When you write a player c/o do you list the players name as the "sendee" or would you list the team? As in, if I were going to write a letter to get an autograph from Teemu Selanne c/o, would I put his name then the Ducks facility address or just put Anaheim Ducks as the receiver?

    Thank you for any advice!!

    Anonymous said...

    How many requests should you send to a team at once

    Adam Grenier said...

    Hi there. I collect signed jerseys and photos. Ive been trying to get a hold of Brendan Shanahan via social media with no luck. I hsve a beautiful 2002 olympic jersey of his that I'd like to have signed. Ive never sent anything out to have autographed before. Can you or anyone else out thre offer any friendly advice? Any help would be apreciated. Thanks!

    Anonymous said...

    If you want to send a letter to gordie Howe send it care of to the red wings

    Anonymous said...

    How do you find home addresses?