Celebrity autographs are big business, bought and sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. An Illinois man started collecting autographs of athletes and movie stars as a kid. And 43 years later, he’s still going strong.
“Hi, I’m Marty Peters. I’m from Coal City, Illinois, and I am an autograph collector. (Marty opens a photo album) This is what I call my beginning for my autographs. I’ve been a sports nut my whole life. (Marty holds up Bill Melton’s picture) “This is Bill Melton, 3rd baseman for the Chicago White Sox. This woulda been back in 1971. It was my very first autograph that I ever got. I have, give or take a few, right around the 30,000 mark. That bin right there I completely forgot I had. You wouldn’t believe what they’re going for on E-bay. My cousin, Rick Roseland, he collected autographs for many years. He’s 15 years older than me, and at 6 years old he got me started on doing this.” “I’m Rick Roseland, Coal City, Ilinois, Marty’s cousin. I think my first autograph that I got was Ernie Banks. My idols were Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks & Don Kessinger.” “As big of a diehard Sox fan as I am,” says Marty, “ I love the old time Cub players.” “You become more connected with that player,” says Rick, “ than just watching ‘em on TV, or watching the Cubs on WGN. (Marty holds up a Cubs team photo) “Rick will love this. I’ve got the four main ones, Williams, Santo, Banks, and Jenkins. Most of my autographs are through the mail.” Rick says, “I had a bunch of the home addresses of the ballplayers back then, so I gave him the addresses. There was a book that was published with home addresses.” Marty tells us, “I still probably send off 25 a week to different people. And it’s just very very calming for me. I go to the Post office every day in the morning to see if I got anything. Honestly, I still get the same rush now that I did when I was a kid. When we were collecting back in the 70’s, you would probably get 80-85% back. And now if you get 20% you’re lucky.” Rick says, “Sometimes you didn’t even have to send a self-addressed stamped envelope. They’d just automatically send back ‘cause it was part of the public relations back then for the ball clubs.” Marty says, “The big thing that has changed is they charge a lot of money to get their autographs.” Rick agrees, “Ya, there’s 1000s and 1000s of dollars to be made at the shows.” We asked Marty if he ever gets scared to ask for autographs. “The first show I ever went to I was very nervous cause these are they’re your athletes, they’re your hall of famers, they’re all this. And then it’s kinda weird because after a while you realize they’re a person just like you Right now I would say my most valuable has got to be Ted Williams.” Rick says, “Now the players are less apt to sign and send it through the mail because they know there’s people out there just using it to make money off of them.” So whose autograph doesn’t Marty have he’d like to get? “Probably Frank Thomas. and so that’s probably the one main one right now that I want to get. In here? The holy grail? Clint Eastwood. Batman and Robin. I remember all these guys. I can remember every single player that played. I would do it again in a heartbeat. And, I’ll keep doing this until I die. I have had a handful of people over the years have told me that it’s a stupid hobby, what are you getting from it? So to the people that think it was a stupid hobby, what are you guys doing right now?” (WAVES AND LAUGHS)
Though he’s never collected autographs to make money, Marty says if he had to guess, his entire collection is probably worth a quarter-of-a-million dollars. Of the thousands of autographs Marty and Rick have collected, there are two they really want that we can help them with. They jokingly call Tom Skilling “The Weather God,” and Jim Ramsey, “Tom’s Apostle.”
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Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer contributed to this story.