The Card Collectors Beginners Guide Part 5: Autographed Cards by Matt Gilman

Greetings Fellow Collectors!

Welcome back to my series of collecting basics where I break down the hobby of trading card collecting piece by piece.

In Part 1, we broke down what Base/Common Cards are. Part 2 we got deep into the confusing Sp’s and variations. Part 3 we dove into what parallels are and in Part 4 I showed off what inserts are. Today, we are taking an in-depth look at autograph cards or what others call “the best hits”.

Before I move onto explaining what the hits are and their differences, I will say that once again, autograph cards can be found in all sports and non-sports card set. These are just my available examples. I do also want to mention that autograph cards can be numbered and can have parallels just like the base cards we spoke about already.

When it comes to the hobby today, most collectors focus on the hits and chasing the big hits. A hit is an autograph or memorabilia card. So, when you read the outside of a sport or non sport card box and it states to have ‘three hits within’, that’s what the box is talking about. Some boxes tell you flat out what you are getting, such as one or two autographs per box or two autographs and one memorabilia card per box and so on. Others are just a general ‘three hits’.

This box of 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen tells us we will find “two on-card autographs per box”.  We will discuss in the next few paragraphs what “on-card” autographs are versus other autograph types.

So let’s take a look at an autograph card. This is a 2016 Panini Contenders autograph of Texas Rangers prospect pitcher Hans Crouse. If you look closely at the autograph, you will notice it was signed on a sticker. These are called sticker autographs.  Sticker autographs are probably the fastest way companies can acquire autographs to use in their products.

This 2013 Topps Chrome autograph of Detroit Tiger Avisail Garcia is not a sticker autograph. If you look closely at this one, the autograph is signed right on the card.

There has been a debate, over time, of players signing on stickers as opposed to signing on the card. Sticker autographs can sometimes be done sloppily, sometimes cutting off a player’s complete signature. Other times, sticker autographs get misplaced on another player’s card such as this 2012 Panini Momentum Rueben Randle autographed relic card.

Look at the signature on the card above and compare it to Rueben’s real autograph like the one on this 2012 Panini Rookies and Stars Crusade autograph. See a major difference? It’s a big one to notice.

After some research I did, I found out the autograph on the 2012 Panini Momentum Rueben Randle autograph memorabilia card is actually of former New York Giants Running back David Wilson. Here is his signature on this 2012 Panini Crown Royale autograph Silhouette patch card.

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Most of the time when these errors occur you can contact the company the card was from and they may replace it for you. Sometimes they won’t. As for the Rueben Randle error card above, well, I kept it as is. Pretty unique collectible, in my opinion, for my collection and I bought the right version of the 2012 Panini Momentum Rueben Randle autograph relic card anyways.

Another difference with on-card autographs versus sticker autos is the fact the card isn’t as personal because the player didn’t touch the card when they signed. Many collectors prefer, and some will only collect, on-card autographs because of this reason alone. My personal preference, I don’t care honestly. An autograph is an autograph and as long as it is authentic, that’s all that truly matters to me.

On-card and Sticker Autographs aren’t the only autographed items you can find in the hobby.

There are also autographed memorabilia cards like this 2017 Panini USA Stars And Stripes card of Zack Collins.

There are also ‘buyback’ autographs. This is usually when a company uses an older card they produced of a player and has them sign it. Like this 1994 Upper Deck Kenny Lofton that was included in a few of their products.

Here’s a 2012 Leaf History Of BaseballCut Signature Edition for Gene Clines. These are mainly used for players or actors who are no longer alive. They will take contracts, checks or other items that the players or actors may have signed and cut out the signature and embed it into a card. Sometimes companies without a certain license for a sport or without certain rights to a player will find signed cards of them and cut out the signature to use in their products.


To know if you have a certified, meaning authentic autograph, or not, companies will put a small write-up on the back of the card stating that the signature is guaranteed authentic by them.

Upper Deck usually has the longest write up on their authentication note.

Panini America has one of the shortest but it gets straight to the point.

Topps is pretty simple with their write up as well; usually in smaller writing at the bottom of the card.

I point out the authenticity note on the back of cards for two reasons.

Reason #1, It’s companies like Topps, that do it the most often, who will sometimes design cards with what appears to be a signature on the front of the card. But, this is not a real autograph. This is known as a facsimile signature, meaning it’s reprinted or electronically printed on the card as part of the design. You will sometimes find facsimile signatures on photographs as well. Sometimes celebrities will send those signatures in reply when someone writes to them about getting an autograph.

Reason #2 for authenticating autographs is for TTM signatures; this means Through the Mail autographs. Collectors, including myself, will send in cards or items into players or celebrities along with a note requesting that they sign the items we sent. Sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. Some players/actors are much better about it than others. The back of this card won’t have any authenticity on it because it was a regular card I sent Tommy Herr to sign. The only authenticity it has is your hope that he actually signed it.

Well that does if for autographs and the different varieties of them that you may find. Next time I’ll be breaking down memorabilia cards and explaining the differences in some of those relics you find in. It will be fun one that hopefully you all will enjoy.

I hope something I wrote about today can help guide you in your journey of collecting sport cards.

Til next time, keep collecting!


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