Here are a few photos to demonstrate the staying power of different colored Sharpie autographs on game used bats. I have adjusted the lighting in these photos to accurately present the current color of the signatures, which range between 12 and 29 years old. I have also added a few tips and lessions I have learned over the years that may be useful.
This Hank Aaron signature was obtained at The Big A in Anaheim in 1976, making it 29 years old. There is no significant fading and no yellowing of the ink at the edges (I have personally never witnessed that on autographed bats.) This autograph does illustrate, however, a cardinal rule of collecting autographs on game used bats, or any other item -- ALWAYS start the ink flow before giving the pen to the player for an autograph. This is true for Sharpie pens, ballpoints, metallic markers, or any other writing instrument. Use an index card, a piece of paper, your shirt, or whatever it takes to scribble a few lines before handing over the pen in order to make sure that the ink will immediately flow. If you don't follow this simple rule, the result may be as seen above in the letter "H" in Hank.
The Willie McCovey autographed Bicentennial gamer above was signed in 1982 while Willie was playing golf in San Diego with a mutual friend. The 23-year-old black Sharpie signature again shows no evidence of fading, yellowing, or bleeding. This autograph also illustrates ideal signing conditions -- an environment where the player is not hurried (hassled ?)and has the ability and attitude to take a little time . A clear, pristine autograph can result. If a player signs while walking along an outfield fence, or through an airport, a hurried, possibly uncharacteristic, signature may occur, especially on a bat, which is difficult to sign under the best circumstances.
This Reggie Jackson game used bat shows a 21-year-old blue Sharpie signature. My personal opinion is that the ink shows a minimal amount of lightening to a more turquoise color than originally presented.
This Tony Gwynn game used bat was signed in 1990 in blue Sharpie. the 15-year-old signature has, in my opinion, lightened a little from the original. There are some uneven elements to the signature which brings up another point: the surface of a bat, especially one which demonstrates a significant amount of game use such as this bat does, may have an effect on the overall quality of the autograph. If the player signs in an area of deadwood, grain separation, cleat marks, rack marks, a crack, or any other characteristics of game use, the autograph may likely skip or bleed. In an extreme example, the autograph may become somewhat uncharacteristic of what is generally perceived as the player's commomly seen signayure. The easiest way to prevent that from happening is to do some simple preparation. Decide where you want the player to sign, based on how you intend to display the bat and, importantly, the bat surface. When you have made that decision, use painter's tape (the blue kind that leaves no adhesive on the surface) to create a box that indicates to the player where to sign. Most players appreciate the effort, and you get the signature exactly where you want it. If the 'sweet spot' is heavy with game use, you may want to opt for the area above the barrel label, or even the area to the left of the center label.
This Yaz signature was obtained approximately 10 years ago with red Sharpie. There has been no evidence of fading from the original color. Unlike a majority of collectors, I enjoy using red Sharpies on Cardinals and Red Sox bats, and it looks like the ink holds up, at least so far.
Be aware of the artistic elements of the bat (significant areas of dark grain, or two toned) as well as the texture (game use) of the bat. To maximize the display value of the bat, there should be as much contrast as possible. This professional game used Japanese bat (Minoru Aoki) was signed by the legendary Sadaharu Oh about 11 years ago at the World Children's Baseball Fair in San Diego. As can be seen above Sadaharu Oh's signature, this bat has significant areas of extremely dark wood grain and color. Fortunately, Mr. Oh signed in an area that provided great contrast. Pure luck.
This Reggie Jackson black Adirondack shows the pitfalls of metallic pens on wood. In the picture above, a thin-tipped gold Pentel failed to flow immediately, then skipped over parts of the grain. After one attempt, Reggie tried to go over the area again, resulting in a duplicate autograph that skipped during signing. He looked at the autograph and asked, "Do you have anything else?" At which point ...
a thick tipped silver metallic Pentel was found, and he signed this autograph below the barrel label ( the gold had been signed above the barrel label.) The pen skipped slightly during the signing, but Reggie was nice enough to sign a large autograph to keep the letters from running together, as is common with wide-tipped metallic markers. The result ?? A Reggie Jackson game used bat with two (actually three) signatures, none of them really outstanding. The lesson ??
Stay away from getting black or dark brown bats autographed unless you feel very lucky.
I hope you were able to pick up a tip or two from this posting, Chris. In summary: 1) a black Sharpie is probably a better choice than a blue Sharpie...2) put some thought into it before getting the bat autographed, including preparation of the bat if possible... and 3) as a previous poster said, once autographed, the amount of direct light, particularly sunlight, that the bat is exposed to is the major factor in maintaining an outstanding signature.
Good luck in future collecting.