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TAMINO AUTOGRAPHS – ITS STORY AND THE MARKET OF COLLECTIBLES

Tamino Autographs was founded in December 2006 by T.[1]  Nestor H. Masckauchan, with its main office located in New York, USA. As a company dealing with autographs, they specialize in those signed by celebrities, including hand-signed documents, programs, and letters from famous artists in the fields of performing arts. Their large inventory includes opera and classical music autographs, as well as classic and contemporary film, modern music and bands, ballet and modern dance, art, literature, science and invention, politics, space, and world personalities. Tamino Autographs are proud members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), Autograph Fair Trade Association Ltd. (AFTAL), and The Manuscript Society. They are also a Better Business Bureau (BBB) accredited business.

         The autograph business involves purchasing collections or individual items from estates or retiring collectors and selling the individual collectible pieces to collectors who are still building their collections. It is a tough and highly competitive market which relies enormously on trust from the customer. There are many autograph dealers in the market who pass off fakes as genuinely signed autographs, as well as aficionados who may be collectors and part-time dealers. The dealers who sell fakes have the worst impact on the market as they knowingly sell items which are not genuine. Meanwhile, those we describe as “aficionados” are usually non-professionals who sell their autographs thinking they know more than they actually do when most of their knowledge is based on naïve assumptions, resulting in them unknowingly selling fakes.

Charlie Chaplin – Large Signed Photo

How, then, does one become an expert in the field of autographs? Expertise is built up after many years of hard work through the development of a good eye in making handwriting comparisons and in spotting the nuances and variations in signatures. It involves being aware that an autograph could have been obtained at a rushed signing which would mean a hastily scribbled, imperfect autograph. On the other hand, an ideal specimen would be very carefully signed, inscribed, and dated by the celebrity to a close friend or acquaintance. Being an expert also means recognizing that celebrities’ handwriting will naturally differ at different stages of their life. For example, a signature at 15 will be quite different to a signature at 65. The factors accounting for variations in handwriting are too many to mention, however a true expert will be aware of them and how they affect the price and desirability of the items.  Furthermore, an extensive database of images of authentic autographs is also needed to develop one’s expertise. These factors and skills are crucial in starting an autograph business.     

         One can only perform this daunting and demanding task well if the driving force behind this stems from a burning passion to preserve the history of these cherished items, the defining characteristic of a genuine autograph collector. As such, an autograph dealer who is a collector has a significant advantage over those who aren’t because they understand both the collector’s and customer’s point of view. They have the energy to do the hard work of developing one’s eye at the expense of unpaid hours, creating a database from scratch, and will know where to source authentic examples to then work doing proper comparisons.

         Back in the early 2000s, Nestor was an autograph collector and started selling his redundant autographs on eBay, with years of collecting experience already in his pocket. At the time, Nestor was using his PhD in biochemistry to work on a cancer-related project at Columbia University. However, Nestor left his secure job and started a website selling his collection. This was the birth of Tamino Autographs. Initially, he was motivated to just sell his redundant examples and to position himself as a different kind of dealer in the market, one who truly understands collectors, since he was one himself. He persisted with the business and had no intention of finding a different job because of his passion for autograph collecting. He would then go on to own his own business and be his own boss. In Argentina, Nestor’s homeland, there is a saying that goes “Better the head of a mouse, than the tail of a lion”, which means it would be better for anyone to be the head of his own company, rather than going back to a different job which, while it would’ve paid him a salary, his motivations to start Tamino Autographs was to stand out from the dealer crowd by being a dealer-collector, and to be an independent business.

Giacomo Puccini signed photo

There are many challenges in the autograph business, which can be extremely unforgiving at times because it very much depends on trust from customers which takes many years to develop. The autograph business is also one which is heavily dependent on the economy as such items are “collectibles” rather than “necessities”. When the economy does well, so does the business. But in a recession, the first ones to take a major hit are businesses like Nestor’s because people stop buying things they don’t strictly need.

          Other huge challenges include the persistence of many fakes in the market, as well as sometimes having to compete with your own customers when buying or selling collections/items. eBay greatly widens the market and can bring a lot of positive things but also populates it with many fakes and increases competition. Figuring out how to work with eBay and not against it was crucial in ensuring the survival of Tamino Autographs and any other business in the area of collectibles.

         At the moment, Tamino Autographs has 1 person working full-time and 4 working part-time. The company has grown enormously over the past 16 years to become the exclusive provider to both the New York-based Metropolitan Opera Shop and the Juilliard Shop, as well as providing for many important private, library, and museum collections around the world. The website boasts one of the largest inventories online, with over 17,000 items in stock online and tens of thousands more not yet available online, with hundreds added every month. To help fellow collectors and clients, Tamino Autographs offers The Autograph Blog, with over 150 detailed blog articles which are free to read and learn from. These articles shed light on various aspects of the collecting hobby, such as how one should ideally store or display these historical items, authentication, and where one could buy and sell autographs.

         So, what is Nestor’s advice for other entrepreneurs? Firstly, one should focus on creating a business they’re highly passionate about as burn-out can set in quickly if you’re constantly unhappy about the job you’re working on. You should not be looking at the clock while working, and only concentrate on putting in your best effort at refining your business. The most important thing is to actually enjoy your work because if you’re doing something you truly enjoy, it is

as good as enjoying a hobby or a pastime!

Right: Bo Derek signed mini-poster in “10”.

         Secondly, one needs to do ample homework before venturing into the lion’s den. The market is incredibly huge, and it is a must to study it in order to fully comprehend the challenges of the market you want to dive into. Knowing who your competitors are, what their weaknesses are, and keeping tabs on how crowded the offers are in the market are all important. As the saying goes “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” – one should even purchase items from competitors so you can study them and learn what they did well and what they could improve on.

         You can learn a great deal from analyzing the minute details in important things such as their websites, customer service, the products they offer, the price ranges they employ, the shipping companies they use, even the kind of promotions they offer. A thorough understanding of your customer’s demographics is also crucial for a business to survive, succeed and stay in that path.

         Lastly, there is no gain without pain. A lot of time and money will have to be invested into a new business and breaking even will take some time, if at all. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll have to put so much in before you can even begin to think of getting anything out. If one has aversions to risks, then starting your own business is definitely out of the question because you need to be willing to take risks to succeed and achieve great things. Calculated risks are a must, and finding the perfect balance can be quite tricky.

         Nestor has these words to leave for young entrepreneurs: Fear is usually the worst enemy, much more so than competitors or a bad market. Not everyone has the courage to take the big step of switching from a secure monthly salary to being independent and working entirely as your own boss, with the very real possibility that you might earn nothing for months on end. However, we need to bear in mind that with great risk comes great reward. Success favors the brave!


What does this “T.” mean?

Latest posts by Marie Salbuvik (see all)

Dietician
MS, Lund University, Sweden

Nutrition plays an important role in human life. Eating habits are one of the factors that affect our health. There is often a misconception among people that nutritionists force a very restrictive diet, but that is not true. In fact, I don't ban any products, but I point out dietary mistakes and help change them by giving tips and new recipes that I've tried myself. I advise my patients not to resist change and to be purposeful. Only with willpower and determination can a good result be achieved in any area of life, including changing eating habits. When I don't work, I love to go climbing. On a Friday evening, you are most likely to find me on my couch, cuddling with my dog and watching some Netflix.

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