By Maxine Carter-Lome
A Lifetime of Autographs
Anyone who knew my Grandfather Neil Carter knew about his hobby collecting autographs. It was a pastime that consumed much of his life, and an interest he was always eager to share with others. By doing so, he unwittingly recruited a legion of friends, family members, and fellow collectors who, like me, always kept an eye out for an addition to his collection. From as early as 1938 (with a signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt dated October 26, 1938 in response to the “kind letter” he had sent her) until 1999, he personally solicited or purchased over 6,000 autographed items in the form of signed photographs, baseball cards, personal correspondence, First Day Covers, signature cards, Playbills, and special event programs.
My Grandfather was a pop culture junkie before the term was coined. He loved going to the movies, followed all the New York sports teams, was an avid reader of contemporary novels and non-fiction, was well-versed in local and national politics, admired scientific achievement, religiously read The New York Times and People magazine, and indulged his love of the Performing Arts by attending as many opera, theater, ballet and New York Philharmonic performances as he could. He was fascinated with celebrity, however fleeting, and had an encyclopedic memory for trivia on the actors, performers, and athletes he loved to follow. He diligently spent hours every week writing to authors, politicians, performing artists, athletes, movie stars, and notables in any of the other fields of interest that caught his fancy in the hope of eliciting a signed response or photo. Although there is no record or copy of the letters he wrote, the amount of personal correspondence found in the collection where the respondent makes reference to something he had written would suggest the extra effort paid off.
In the end, autograph collecting was just a hobby for my Grandfather – one he worked on for over 60 years with great passion and sense of purpose. For him, it was all about the thrill of acquisition. He never showed an interest in doing more with his autographs, nor did he discuss or make plans for what should happen to them upon his death. To him, the value of the collection was in the lifetime of enjoyment it gave him to collect and covet personal pieces of history and celebrity.
After my Grandfather passed away in 2005, I spent the next two years organizing, cataloging, valuing and selling off his beloved autographs to a new generation of collectors. In its totality, his collection is a unique and tangible historic record of the people and events that captured our interest, showcased our artistic values, and shaped our national identity in the 20th century. In the end, legends live on side-by-side with names long past their 15-minutes of fame. Yet, through a signed photo, signature, or thank you note, their existence, and by association, his, remain immortalized.