In the Trenches: A Collector Tribute


Featured in Autograph March 2009

Collector Victor Gonzales with Gene Simmons at a 7-11 in San Diego

After hanging outside of venues and waiting for autograph opportunities for so many years, I see some of the same people also waiting for autographs. One collector became a dear friend of mine, and he helped me get the autographs that I couldn’t, out of his own generosity. He was a model fellow collector.

At a Pearl Jam show last year, I got singer Eddie Vedder to sign a CD. He was only signing one item per person for a crowd of about 10. My friend, Victor Gonzales, told me he didn’t get Vedder’s autograph, but that he’d get him inside the venue.

“Do you have another Pearl Jam CD?” he asked. “I’ll get it signed for you when I go in.” I gladly handed it over, feeling guilty for already having one signed.

Victor with 1960's football player Earl Faison

I first met Victor five years ago, when he told me about his collection of autographs, and I began seeing him around at autograph stakeouts. We would trade stories about the people we had met and who we got autographs from, or didn’t.

At 5-foot-7-inches, it was easy to lose Victor in the crowds. But he never pushed his way to the front, even though he was usually there first. And when someone was bummed about not getting a signature, he would offer to get an item signed for the person.

While waiting outside a venue where Sinead O’Connor was playing, Victor told me that he’d get my CD signed for me since I had to leave. I learned from a friend that O’Connor was only signing one item per person, but Victor had one signed for me and him. Turns out he worked at the venues. Aside from his job in produce, he did the stage lights and stage sets. He laughed saying, “The artists can be a lot nicer when you are working for the venue, as oppose to standing out with the crowd, where they think you might be selling autographs.”

When James Blunt played, I didn’t wait long for his autograph. He was inside already and I wasn’t the biggest fan. As usual, Victor told me he’d get it for me.

Victor with 1980's and 90's MLB left-fielder Kevin Mitchell

I saw him standing by the backstage door and I waved to him. He didn’t wave back. I thought it was because security was around, and he didn’t want them knowing that he talked to the autograph seekers. But he had no problem handing me back my signed CD. He told me about the opening act, Sara Bareilles and how even though it wasn’t his job, he helped unload her van and truck. He got a CD signed from her, and six months later she had a hit.

As many autograph collectors can relate, it isn’t always easy. Backstage at a ZZ Top show, Victor was turned down. “I had an 8×10 of the band with my index card. I put them out on a table and they walked by, laughed and kept walking. They never stopped to sign. I was mad!”

Another band that upset him was Crosby, Stills & Nash. The manager said the band won’t sign and assured him they’d send one in the mail. They never did.

Victor with MLB pitcher from 1972-1994 Richard "Goose" Gossage

I became a better collector and overall person because of Victor. I watched how nice he was to people who were pushy. And I realized because of him, that these rude people were just hardcore fans. It wasn’t anything personal.

He told me that he would bring boxes of fresh produce to baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn whenever Gwynn held autograph signings. And he usually stood with Gwynn as he signed for fans. He told me if I ever wanted anything signed by Gwynn to let him know.

A few times I offered to give Victor an extra CD or album I had. He’d always refuse, saying he was happy with his index cards. When he told me that he didn’t drive, I offered to give him rides when an autograph opportunity was happening somewhere far away. He would say, “No, I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

He’s one of the few autograph collectors that would call and give me the heads-up. One time I was going out to lunch, and he found out that Willie Mays and other Hall of Famers were going to be in town. So I started doing the same for him.

Victor with English footbal manager Gary Johnson

When I told him about a party at director James Cameron’s house, he was impressed. I said, “I got two DVDs signed. I’ll give you one.” After refusing on the phone for a few minutes, and me insisting, he agreed to take it. He told me, “I have some bad news, though. I couldn’t get your Pearl Jam CD signed.” I told him it was alright. He had gotten me about 10 CDs signed over the years. And just hanging out with him made the hours I waited for autographs so much more enjoyable.

As the weeks went by I called Victor about a few concerts, and I didn’t hear back from him. I thought that was odd.

I received a phone call two weeks later from his sister. She had his phone, and said he had passed away. I was shocked.

Victor with part San Diego Chargers owner George Pernicano

His sister told me so much about him that I never knew. She told me he had diabetes from the time he was a child, and complications from it made him legally blind, which explained why he didn’t drive, or never acknowledged me from far away.

I later met his dad, who told great stories about his room and all his signed memorabilia, and how he still gets signed stuff coming in the mail. And he told me that Victor once worked for Tony Gwynn, opening his fan mail and helping him with responses to fans. He said, “Sometimes people don’t have return envelopes, and they have no way of getting the cards or items back to the people. Victor got to keep those things.”

Victor with San Diego Charger defensive end Luis Castillo

One of his sisters told a great story about him being in New York. The Black Eyed Peas were on stage and saw him in the crowd. They remembered him from San Diego and called him on to stage. That’s the kind of guy Victor was. Bands remembered him. The Autograph community has definitely lost one of the nicest collectors around.

UV Ray Protection


— Autograph February 2009

My first notable autograph when I started to avidly collect memorabilia nine years ago was a baseball signed by Stan “The Man” Musial. It had a beautiful bold autograph in blue ballpoint pen on the sweet spot, and it served as one of the crown jewels of my collection for several years. Today you can barely tell that the ball was ever signed at all. The only remaining indication that there was even an autograph on it is the PSA/DNA authentication sticker still affixed to the back. The sad reality is that the autograph faded from existence due to my ignorance on how to properly preserve my autographs early in my collecting career. Since then I have learned various techniques on how to properly maintain autographed memorabilia. I would like to share some of these valuable lessons to save others from my ‘Musial Experience.’

There’s no greater feeling than finally receiving that coveted autograph that had been eluding you for a while. Your first stop immediately afterward might be to a local framing or hobby store to help proudly display the newest heirloom for the rest of the world to admire. But, as time progresses, there is no worst feeling than realizing your prized autograph is fading away from UV exposure.

The early effects of sun damage are easy to detect. For example, signatures on baseballs signed in blue ballpoint pen will begin to darken to a blackish-indigo color. With more progressive damage the autographs will begin to fade, and parts of the baseball will even brown. For photos and fabrics signed in Sharpie marker, the ink will begin to fade and the item itself might lighten from its previous hue.

The good news is that you can ultimately control the impact of UV damage. This is dependent on a myriad of factors, such as the pen or marker used, the degree to which it is exposed to the sun inside your house, and the material used in framing and displays. I am impartial to blue ballpoint pens for autographs on baseballs, blue Sharpie markers or silver paint pens on 8×10 photos (depending on the background color of the photos), and paint pens on fabrics, such as jerseys and caps. There are obviously exceptions to each of these self-generated rules, but the one constant in all these is that there will be some degree of UV damage if proper precautions are not taken. One item to note is that I will always try and use a paint pen for an autograph if it will look good on my item. I have never experienced issues with paint pens fading over time, although I would still recommend preserving these items with UV-protective materials to prevent sun damage on the items themselves.

For any display case or picture frame, getting the maximum UV-protective glass or plastic is essential. If price is an issue, I recommend selecting a cheaper matting or frame material, such as plastic instead of wood. Also, if ordering through an online vendor, always verify that the glass is indeed UV-protective, and inquire as to what level of UV protection that is provided. Some reliable online display case manufacturing companies I have used in the past include and Make sure that any matting or backing material is acid-free as well.

For items you want to display inside clear acrylic cases, such as photos, sports cards or equipment, more companies are now offering UV-protective products. Some well-known manufacturers include Pro-Mold ( and Ultra Pro (; also, and produce custom cases of various dimensions to fit your special items.

Putting UV film on your windows is one of the best things you can do for your home. Another suggestion is to limit the amount of sunlight allowed into the room in which your items are displayed. Draw the blinds or curtains to decrease direct light as much as possible. If you want more sunlight in the room, hang or display your items at angles that keep them out of the direct sunlight beams, and be aware of how the angles of the light change with each season.

Autograph collecting is a fun and rewarding hobby regardless of what you collect. But, it can also be frustrating and more expensive than necessary if you do not take the proper steps to preserve your items. Sometimes spending a little more up front will save you more money and heartache in the long run. Always remember my ‘Musial Experience’ in the future, especially when you are faced with the decision of whether or not to save money by opting out of UV materials for your displays. You will be way ahead of where I was when first started collecting autographs.