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Life and Death in the Autograph Business

Posted 1/14/2012 22:10 | Filed under General | Comments (0)
Perhaps the trickiest and most difficult part of being in the autograph business is dealing with the death of an athlete or celebrity whose autographs you have for sale.

When a celebrity dies, his or her autograph immediately increases in value. Sometimes by a little bit, sometimes by a whole lot, depending mostly on the celebrity's age and sometimes the cause of death.

Especially in the internet age, the news of a celebrity death travels at the speed of light, much faster than I or any autograph dealer can increase the prices. As a result, a certain type of people -- a kind term would be "opportunists," a less kind term would be "vultures" -- try to buy up the dead celebrity's autographs at the old prices.

The first time I remember this happening was with Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died in a crash near the end of the 2001 Daytona 500 race. Within 15 minutes of the official announcement, faster than my website host could publish my price changes to the live site, I received 4 orders. Three of the 4 customers attempted to order 2 autographs. I thought about it for an hour or so and decided to cancel the orders, sending out polite explanatory e-mails. At least one of the customers got very irate, calling me greedy, and threatened to sue.

As a precaution, I got some advice from an attorney and confirmed what I suspected, which is that merely placing an order is not an enforceable contract, but legally represents nothing more than an offer to buy. As I have always prided myself on providing excellent customer service, it was not an easy decision to cancel the orders. However, it seemed to me that these customers (none of whom had every bought from me before) were taking advantage of the situation.

Eight years later, a similar thing happened with the shocking announcement that Steve McNair had been murdered. I canceled a few orders, but this time I don't remember anyone getting terribly upset. If they had, I would have said this. I was willing to sell you his autograph all along, but you only wanted to buy it immediately after he died to get a bargain price. Which of us is really being greedy here?
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