I thought I would start things off with a general basic overview of TTM.
TTM stands for through the mail autograph collecting. I sent a few requests to baseball players when I was a kid. From time to time, Beckett Baseball Card Monthly magazine would list a few players who were known to sign through the mail. Fast forward about 30 years, and I saw an article online about TTM and having just recently been told I need not continue coming to work... I decided to try it again. I looked around the internet for some good sources of addresses and sent out my first requests in January of 2009. I started mainly with past Detroit Tiger players, then quickly expanded to other baseball, hockey and football players. I went nuts, sending out 1,075 requests in 2009. As of this date, I have gotten back 871 of those requests back successfully, and 204 either returned unsuccessfully or never gotten back at all. Overall I have sent 1,850 requests and have had 1,425 returned successfully, and have gotten 2,958 individual items signed. I now collect baseball (main focus on Tigers), hockey, wrestling, Star Wars, and some football and a few basketball. If I see an address for someone else that catches me eye I like Dave Letterman, Bill Cosby, and Tony Bennett, I will send them a request too.
Now... how to send a TTM request.
First you need to know who you want to send to and where to send the request. There are several web site dedicated to TTM. Some focus on specific categories, like sports, or actors. The two biggest sites for all categories are Fanmail.biz, and Startiger.com. Fanmail.biz is free but requires you to register, while Startiger.com is $5 per month. Both have large databases of address with information like results from others trying the addresses, what they sent, what they received back and when they received it. Both also have large forums where you can get help and information. For sports figures, I use Sportscollectors.net. This site is $25 for a year subscription. They have the most user friendly layout in my opinion. For my Star Wars collection, I go to Wattographs.com. This is dedicated to individuals involved with Star Wars. This site is free, but is currently being rebuilt and their database is offline right now. These sites will also list which individual charge for autographs through the mail. Not everyone who is willing to sign is also willing to do so for free. Some charge a small amount for a charity. What you are willing to spend for a specific persons autograph is up to you. Personally, since I am unemployed, I will only send to those who will sign for free. There are a number of people who I really want to get, but charge a fee, so will have to wait until I have a job.
Now you have someone you would like to send to, and a reliable address that others have tried and been successful with previously. The next question is what to send? There is a wide variety of items that people will send. Trading cards, photos, index cards, magazines, baseballs... just never send anything that would wouldn't mind never getting back. If you send something, even to a great signer with 100% success in the past, if you send something valuable or something the means a lot to you, that will be the one thing the post office looses. So just don't send anything you would really miss. I started with, and still mainly send, trading cards. For me, they are perfect... small, cheap, has the persons picture and information, and are easy to store.
OK, first few steps done. You have the person, where to send it, and what you want to send. Now you have to look at how to send it. There are some basics that you need to follow, but some of it is also determined by what you are sending. Here are the basics... letter of request, the item(s) you are asking to be signed, a self-address and stamped envelope (SASE), and an envelope to hold all of it. Since I send trading cards, I use a standard #9 size envelope to hold it all, and #6 3/4 for the SASE (perfect size to fit inside the #9 and to hold the cards for the return trip).
The letter: The letter shouldn't be too long, less than a full page. Be very polite, saying please and thank you. Start by introducing yourself as a fan, than something specific that they have done that you really like. Ask them if they could please sign your item(s), and thank them for their time. Letters can be typed or handwritten. I handwrote my first few hundred request letters, than right before my hand fell off I switched to typing them.
The envelopes: Write clearly. You don't want to never get you items back just because the post office couldn't read the address on your SASE. To make sure my address is clear, I spent a few bucks and bought a address stamp. The best few dollars I have ever spent! I also bought a "DO NOT BEND" stamp, and stamp it on the front and back of both envelopes. Finally, make sure you have enough postage on both envelopes. Go to the post office and have them weigh it the first couple times. If you send the same type of items (cards, photos...) you will learn how much postage you will need after the first few.
Now pack everything up in the #9 envelope, pop it in the mail, and wait. You may get an idea of how long it may be from others you have seen when getting the address, but things happen and it may be faster or longer. And it may not come back at all. There are a lot of things that could happen getting there or coming back to you. I keep a spreadsheet of my requests, keeping track of who, where, what, and when. I mark a request a failure after 1 year of not getting it back, but I have still gotten many back after one year. My longest return is 1,006 days from an actor who was in one of the Star Wars movies.
That is pretty much it for a general overview. I will get into more detail in later posts.
Until then may your mailbox be filled with autographs and not bills!