AUTOGRAPH COLLECTOR Henry Rogers once got a whopper for a birthday present: the signature of former chief justice of the United States Warren Burger, along with a personalized letter.
"My wife wrote to him and asked for it," says legal eagle Rogers, 71, a retired Baltimore District Court judge and now lawyer who collects the autographs of the chief justices of the United States. "She told him of my collection."
It was that simple. It isn't always.
"Sometimes it takes years to get these things," says Paul Carr, regional director for the Washington, D.C.-based Universal Autograph Collectors Club. "Some people go to great lengths to get people."
Making the search easier for some will be this weekend's autograph show and sale sponsored by the club. The show will feature 250,000 signatures, letters and manuscripts of well-known figures, from Abraham Lincoln to Irving Berlin to Winston Churchill. It's a good place to find a name to add to a collection or to talk to dealers and other collectors.
What fascinates Rogers and others about the hobby is a bond with history they feel when they own a one-of-a-kind, authentic signature from a historical figure such as George Washington, or a star like Marilyn Monroe. It's a memento that they can touch and feel.
Collectors say the autographs are worth the hours they spend waiting at stage doors, hotels, restaurants and airports for their star to appear. On many a night, Ann Krafhofer, 46, an autograph collector since she was 8 years old, has stood outside of the aters and hotels to snag a signature from a famous person.
"I wouldn't do it again, probably not in this point of my life, but I remember making my husband stay late one night at Merriweather Post Pavilion to get Burt Bacharach," says Krafhofer, from Silver Spring. "It was really late, and they were turning off the lights and everything."
Other collectors, meanwhile, risk life and limb in their pursuit. Ed Bomsey, an Annandale, Va., dealer and collector and past director of the collectors club, says he and his wife almost got arrested getting President George Bush and the first lady to sign a program at an inaugural ball.
During the ball, they followed a man of high importance behind heavy black curtains, where they found the President and Mrs. Bush -- and several Secret Service agents.
As Bomsey's wife approached the President and the first lady, "the Secret Service agent said to me, 'I hope you have bail money,' " says Bomsey.
But the President and Mrs. Bush obliged, and luckily, says Bomsey, he and his wife did not land in jail.
"Good manners [are] a help all the time," says Bomsey.
The autograph show and sale runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, 300 S. Charles St. Admission: $2 adults, free for children under age 12. For more information about collecting, contact Universal Autograph Collectors Club, P.O. Box 6181, Washington, D.C. 20044-6181, (202) 332-7388.