A little piece of celebrity
Victoria autograph hound creates time capsule of the rich and famous
Tim Hotchin has a passion for ink — the traditional pen kind, that is.
For the last 26 years, Hotchin has dedicated his life to collecting signatures from some of the world’s most famous celebrities, and his hobby could make him a very wealthy man. But the real wealth for Hotchin has nothing to do with the fact that he has been offered hundreds of dollars for various autographs; it’s that he is preserving a “time capsule” of history for his family and those who follow — and he doesn’t intend to give it up.
“So many changes have taken place on Earth in the last 100 years to do with music, politics, movies, historic moon landings, and I believe someone needs to preserve it,” says Hotchin, 46. “I remember looking at this café once, when I was a kid, that decorated its walls with signed posters and frames from famous people. Ever since then, it’s just been a thing for me. I guess I’ve tried to create my own Hard Rock Café, here in my house, ever since.”
Hotchin has nearly achieved just that. He has over 1,650 celebrity signatures in total, including the likes of Ringo Starr, Elton John, Pamela Anderson, Rob Zombie and Dick VanDyke — so many, in fact, that he has enough memorabilia to cover every inch of his small apartment, but instead rotates out his favourites. Hotchin’s rare gathering tendencies aren’t just your typical sharpie-on-CD autograph collecting. He’s convinced Robert Plant, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne and other stars to sign wish-filled birthday cards for his sons and friends (even a few to himself). He’s purchased collectible guitars just to have Metric, Buddy Guy and Pete Townshend spread their ink across them. He has drum heads signed by The Rolling Stones and the Hives, a ladle marked by Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, a goalie mask scrawled on by Jason of Friday the 13th and the real prosthetic hand from Prison Break. He was even lucky enough that the original creator of Batman, Bob Kane, hand-drew him sketches of Batman and Robin — along with a signature, of course.
One of his most-notable pieces has even more history behind it: a July 21, 1969 edition of the Victoria Daily Times newspaper proclaiming the day of the lunar landing. Saved by Hotchin’s dad when it was published, Hotchin later had it signed by the recently deceased astronaut Neil Armstrong. That signature turned out to be one of the very last Armstrong did (circa 1992) before publicly stating he would no longer offer autographs through NASA. Similar signatures have been valued close to $10,000, says Hotchin.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never to sell your best pieces,” says Hotchin, who still regrets the day he gave his second Neil Armstrong signature to a man who offered him $700 for it. Hotchin later discovered the piece could have been worth more than 10 times that. “There’s a lesson in everything, but I am a collector for collector’s sake, not to become a millionaire. It’s the people doing it for the money who are ruining the hobby.”
The signature industry
Hotchin remembers the days when lustful fans would wait outside concerts and stand in booth lineups for hours just to get a glimpse of their Hollywood idol and, if they were persistent enough, maybe even a high-five or that coveted signature.
While fanfare still exists, the signature has become a dying art form. More than ever before, celebrities take a pass on signing due to the number of dealers who make a show at every event, just to sell an autograph online for hundreds of dollars. On big business auction sites like AutographPros.com, AutographWorld.com, even eBay, searchers can find an autographed B.B. King Gibson guitar for $8,000, a “signed” photo of President Barack Obama for just under $400 and a signature poster of actress Anne Hathaway for as low as $71. One Seattle user on Craigslist even claimed to be selling an autographed copy of the bible — allegedly inked by J.C. himself — for $1,000,000,000 “OBO.”
How can you prove the merits of your purchase? There are ways to tell, says Hotchin, but eager fans willing to pay big bucks may be scammed if they don’t know what to look for.
“You do see a lot of people selling forged signatures nowadays and, of course, some stars get their assistants to fill out signatures, anyway. There are ways to compare to originals to be sure, but you really have to know what you are looking for,” says Hotchin. “The best way will always be to collect them yourself.”
For the number of waiting lines Hotchin has stood in to win that scribble, he’s sent thousands more requests through snail mail. Some days, when he’s feeling inspired, he may send 10 or more — always handwritten for the ones he really wants. Other times, he gives it a rest for weeks. Persistence is key, however. For every request sent out, Hotchin says his success rate was about 80 per cent, 20 years ago. Now, it’s down to 20 per cent. It took him 13 tries before he got former President Richard Nixon’s autograph, and, to finally get the attention of Mick Jagger, Hotchin sent a handwritten letter and a cheque for $100 to the charity of Jagger’s choice in exchange for an autograph. That letter came back with a signed photo and the cheque, asking Hotchin to donate the money to a charity he liked best.
Yet while Hotchin’s persuasive skills could turn his hobby into a fortune, he doesn’t have unlimited time to spend on his collecting passion. The single father of two has worked as a clerk in the emergency room of Royal Jubilee Hospital for 25 years. While his co-workers and friends appreciate his hobby (especially come birthday card time) few share his fervour.
“Your finances can only carry you so far on something you don’t make a profit on, but I see this as much more important than making money,” says Hotchin. “We are living in a fascinating time, and I just like to document it.”
Hotchin has taken on an interesting habit of asking most celebrities to address all signatures to “The Hotchin Family,” instead of just “Tim,” in hopes he will pass it down to future generations through his sons. His boys, ages 12 and 15, have already started collections of their own, but with different interests — mostly sports. Two of their biggest excitements so far came from scoring the autographs of Canucks hockey players Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins.
Hotchin’s collections stick mostly to Hollywood actors, world-famous singers and well-known politicians, but he collects from all walks of life. That said, while they are a part of history, he says he won’t honour the signatures of high-profile criminals.
Hotchin does offer advice for people just starting their collections. Always request two signed photos so you can compare them (if they are 100 per cent identical, it’s either a stamp or autopen). Don’t write to the celebrities at their office address, but care of the venues they will be playing at, or on location of the star’s latest film, which gives you direct contact. Handwrite, as long as it’s legible, and mail off 8x10 self-addressed stamped envelopes, with the celebrity’s photos already included and heavy cardboard to make sure it doesn’t bend. Above all, find a safe way to store and preserve your artifacts when they return.
“It is harder now than it was before, and you have to work at convincing some celebrities you aren’t just another dealer, but if you put your heart out there, it will show through,” he says. “Tell that person why you like their acting or song, or what memory it brings up for you, or what their work means to you. Most will appreciate that.”
For Hotchin, his heart remains in his collection.
“It doesn’t really matter to me if this all ends up in a museum or not, but I’d like to see it passed down from generation to generation,” he says. “Hopefully, others will keep documenting what is really special in all areas of our human history.” M
To check out Hotchin’s entire autograph collection, and see more of his collection tips, visit his website at TimsAutographs.com.