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AN AMAZING COLLECTION
In everyday life, the paths of footballer Pele and artist Pablo Picasso never crossed. The pair were united, however, in a unique collection of autographs which has recently been sold at auction for £75,000. The collection includes 40,000 signatures which were gathered for over 50 years by Tommy Scullion.
Tommy was one of ten children in a family who lived in Northern Ireland. He began his hobby when he was at school. Tommy never married and worked all his life as a van driver for the local grocer’s. He knew everyone and enjoyed speaking to people. In his spare time he wrote to celebrities – on average about 25 letters a week.
Tommy Scullion was an enthusiastic reader of the news and made lists of famous people he wanted to contact. But he needed their addresses, which wasn’t easy. Remember, there was no Internet when he started collecting the autographs, so if he didn’t know where somebody was, he wrote to an embassy. He was very determined and if somebody did not reply, he wrote to them over and over again. Some replied years after he had written to them, others didn’t reply at all. Sometimes people are not willing to give their signatures for free, but Tommy never had to pay for the autographs. And from time to time he even received something extra with the autograph, for example a Christmas card from Grace Kelly or a drawing from Pablo Picasso.
Tommy got the signatures by writing personal letters to the celebrities. He even taught himself calligraphy to surprise those he wrote to, hoping that beautiful calligraphy would encourage them to reply. And it worked! A large number of the celebrities wrote back congratulating him on his beautifully written letters. In this way, he built up one of the world’s finest collections of autographs.
His collection is like a history of the 20th century. It includes Pope John Paul II’s autograph as well as US Senator Robert Kennedy’s. Among the most valuable signatures is that of the famous Scottish biologist, Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. Sometimes Tommy had to act like a detective to get an autograph. It was very difficult to trace Martin Luther King, but Tommy somehow managed to include his signature in the collection.
In a few cases he wasn’t so successful. In spite of his efforts and several letters sent to Buckingham Palace, he never got a reply from Queen Elizabeth II who, as a rule, doesn’t give autographs. Tommy died in 1996 but signatures, including that of a South African president, continued coming to Northern Ireland after his death.
Despite the big names in his collection, Tommy did not put the signatures in any albums and he did not hang them on walls in picture frames. He wrote to these people, got their autographs back in the post, opened the envelopes and took them out. They ended up in boxes, before being put in a wardrobe. He sometimes tried to catalogue them but never finished the job.
In his will Tommy wrote that he wanted people to see his collection. There wasn’t any museum in the village, so Tommy’s brother decided to put some of the autographs up for auction and raise the money necessary to buy a building in which the collection could be displayed. Thanks to the auction Tommy’s family are going to buy a building next to the doctor’s surgery and transform it into a museum. £75,000 will help to fulfill Tommy’s dream.
adapted from bbc.co.uk; www.telegraph.co.uk; www.thesun.co.uk; www.independent.co.uk