It came by back in September, my first piece of autograph spam:
Professor of Linguistics, Stanford University
Arnold M. Zwicky
My name is Andrzej Migdalek.
I am a collector of autographs for 20 years.
I collect autographs of famous and popular with the world of politics, culture, science and sport from around the world.
In my collection I have over 6 thousand of the original autographs.
I kindly ask for an autograph.
An autograph would be an honor for me.
A heartfelt greeting from Polish.
Below I’ve included your postal address:
ul. 1000-lecia 22/6/1
A few words about the linguistic aspects of the message, then some about autograph spam.
Some carryovers from Polish or German to unidiomatic English:
Mr. Professor of Linguistics [cf. German Herr Professor]
I am a collector of autographs for 20 years. [English: I have been ...]
autographs of famous and popular [autographs of the famous and popular or autographs of famous and popular people]
autographs … with the world of politics, culture, … [from the world ... ]
over 6 thousand of the original autographs [over 6 thousand original autographs]
heartfelt greeting from Polish [? from Poland]
I’ve included your postal address [my postal address for you]
Puzzled, I searched around and found Leigh Purtill’s author blog from 2009, where she described a similar request from “fans” in Germany and her discovery that Piotr Haase had sent the exact same letter to tons of people. She wondered:
Now, what the heck…is there an autograph scam out there I don’t know about? Is there something you can do with autographs of people who are not exactly household names? After all, if you follow the trail of these blogs the “fans” are posting on or to whom they are emailing their letters, you will discover the people they are asking are only semi-well-known (I’m speaking mostly for myself here), so what gives? What’s the deal?
(Commenters cited requests from Piotr Haase (Poland), Graydon Wall (U.K.), and other people from Germany, China, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.)
At first, some of her commenters considered the possibility that this was part of an identity theft scheme, but the consensus was (I think correctly) that the collectors were assembling banks of autographs from people who might some day become famous enough that their autographs could be sold or traded. Purtill and I (and others who reported similar experiences) are maybe C- or D- list celebrities, so we’re easily flattered.
Here’s autograph hounding in one of its more traditional forms, as described by pornstar Jack Wrangler in his (auto)biography The Jack Wrangler Story, p. 130:
A few quick notes about autograph seekers, now that I’ve become a jaded recipient of that kind of flattery: They’re always the same people. They always hit the current hit shows, and they seem to have no discernible means of support. They always hand you a three-by-five card to sign–just your name, no message. Because, you see, they trade them, and I guess in some instances sell them. These people are not necessarily fans. Often they don’t have any idea who the hell you are. You know you’ve been spotted; you smile warmly; they rush up to you breathlessly. Your hand is poised and ready. Then they hit you with “Are you anybody?” Pop goes the balloon. Their singular aim in life is to build the biggest autograph collection in the world, so they keep coming back with their damned three-by-five cards, which they use for leverage: “I’ll give you ten Jack Wranglers for one John Travolta.”