What's in a name? A lot of money, if it's a celebrity name written on paper, baseballs, photographs and other memorabilia.
Just ask Todd Mueller of Black Forest, one of the world's largest autograph dealers.
Through his business, Todd Mueller Autographs, he's made - and lost - more than a million dollars over the years collecting autographs, then reselling them.
Mueller estimates he has sold more than 5 million autographed items since his company's inception in 1992. He gets his autographed items from other collectors, estate sales and paparazzi in Los Angeles. But mostly he does it by paying a person for a predetermined number of autographed items, making Mueller their personal representative.
He has represented actress Raquel Welch, the last surviving Marines who planted the flag on Iwo Jima, the late Farrah Fawcett and many others.
"Farrah signed her photos on the airplane to Germany for her cancer treatments," Mueller said.
Mueller's also known for donating the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in autographed memorabilia to charities. After the Black Forest fire, he donated signed photographs of Fawcett, Justin Bieber and others to raise money for relief efforts. Mueller also has donated signed memorabilia to churches, domestic violence shelters and other charities to use for their auctions, always saying, "It is better to give than to receive."
"You can't take this stuff with you," Mueller said. "You have never seen a hearse followed by a U-Haul."
An Oregon native, Mueller got his first autograph at the age of 13 from a baseball player whose name he didn't know: Mickey Mantle.
He moved into selling signatures in 1992 by creating sets of collector cards containing 30 portraits each of famous golfers painted by Bart Forbes. Only 1,000 sets hit the market before a lawsuit stopped production.
"I made $100,000 my first month," Mueller said. "Then I got sued by (Tom) Watson for not having his permission to paint him."
Mueller earned world recognition in 2005 when he began selling photos of Neil Armstrong along with strands of the former astronaut's hair that he purchased from Armstrong's barber. Armstrong filed a lawsuit, which Mueller said only authenticates his claim that the hair is Armstrong's.
"He mentioned my name seven times in the lawsuit as owning his hair, and that he wanted it back," Mueller said.
Authenticating signatures before buying them is sometimes difficult even for Mueller. He admits that he has been scammed by forgers and liars.
"I have lost over $1 million in this industry," he said.
If Mueller sells something that isn't authnetic, he'll issue a full refund. But Stephen Koschal said whatever Mueller sells is legit. Koschal is a nationally known signature authenticator. In the 1990s, The FBI asked him to authenticate the signatures of numerous Chicago sports athletes being sold on photographs and other memorabilia. His testimony helped convict "fourteen individuals in five states," according to fbi.gov.
"Anything you hear bad about Todd Mueller is basically jealous competitors," Koschal said.
What are the most expensive items Mueller has ever sold?
One was a bank check signed by Davy Crockett; the other was a Babe Ruth game-used bat from 1927, the year the Yankee slugger hit 60 home runs.
"I sold that in 1996 for $50,000," Mueller said. "Today it is worth close to $1 million."
Originally posted in The Gazette, Feb 12, 2014. Read the article in full at HERE at www.Gazette.com