Autograph Collectors: Don't Ever Be Scammed Again
Some Things to Think About Before Buying Your Next Autograph
Last week someone who visited my web site contacted me asking about a very rare autograph of the “Rat Pack” members. Being an avid Frank Sinatra collector (and very skilled with his autograph ) I suspected before even seeing them that it was highly UN-likely they were authentic. But I suggested he submit them to a third party authentication service like PSA or JSA. Not surprisingly they failed authentication. He told me he wasn’t concerned because the dealer in Las Vegas included her Lifetime Guarantee of Authenticity. What happened next is very important and what Everyone whoever buys a high value autograph should think about. The dealer responded with “oh I don’t think much of JSA”.
Meanwhile, after this conversation took place, I started going through all my COAs from other dealers, reputable dealers. And guess what? NO ONE, NOT ONE dealer specifies in his/her COA what constitutes a non authentic autograph. So, are these other dealers honoring their Lifetime COAs? And who do they accept as the “final word” on the autograph? Do some say PSA or only JSA , or maybe reject ANY third party authentication? Who knows? But, unless the COA specifically states who and what authentication is acceptable in order to honor a refund, it is a guessing game. And, surely not in the favor of the buyer.
Now I know there are reputable dealers that WILL honor a PSA or JSA finding. But, why leave it open for interpretation? Why not employ a standard directly on the COA, so the customer will not have to worry should the above situation arise?
1). Proceed with caution with ANY dealer that uses NO third party authentication, PARTICULARLY for high end items. Not that every item they offer needs to have PSA or JSA but that the dealer employs some form of a standard. Although authentication services are not perfect, they are a skilled second opinion AND an opinion that is independent and has NO financial interest or bias as does the dealer selling the item. Also, think twice about any dealer that is against third party authenticators as it may signal they have something to hide.
2). Dealers who provide poor images or NO close-ups of the signature on their web site, so you cannot easily examine the autograph. They may have a reason why they do not want you to see close-ups. For example, dealers selling “clipped” signatures of high end items like Ben Franklin for $15,000 and not even post a close up image of it on their web site. AND, no third party authentication. Some of these dealers are relying on the inexperienced, vulnerable buyer (i.e. victim) to come along.
2). Never buy “clipped” signatures of high value autographs like Abraham Lincoln as MANY (if not most) are forgeries. Only invest in official documents like Presidential Appointments. Forgers are not likely to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on an Abraham Lincoln document just to forge it (have never heard of such a case in 30 years of collecting).
3). Be very cautious of Group photographs like complete TV show autographs or autographed movie posters by cast members (i.e. Rat Pack), as many (if not most) are secretarial or outright forgery. It is very difficult to get an entire cast to sign a movie poster. And, as for vintage movie posters (prior to 1975) I don’t think I have ever seen an authentic one that included major stars. I noticed a web site that sells autographed movie posters like the Godfather, including Marlon Brando’s signature. They are all forgeries. A genuine Godfather autographed poster, with Marlon Brando, has NEVER appeared on the market.
4). Since we cannot get in person autographs from deceased celebrities we must rely on signature studies and recognized reputable authentication services like PSA or JSA (although they are not perfect, since they are humans, they are by FAR the best in the industry). I have witnessed hundreds of autpgraphs being sold with COAs from ALL of the authentication services and forensic “experts” for many years, so I am speaking from a lot of experience. I have much doubt about the credibility of forensic handwriting experts authenticating autographs they have no knowledge of. Authentic Confirmation must be the most important element in every dealer's/seller's business model, since it is the foundation of the entire autograph memorabilia industry's credibility. There is a reason WHY most major auctions and dealers selling high end autographed memorabilia use either JSA or PSA, above all the other services out there. Yes, you will read online from a minority who don't "like" PSA or JSA. But are these reputable sources? Are they major auction houses or reputable dealers?
5). Many dealers are NOT collectors. They will sell anything, including autographs they have NO knowledge on or experience with. Collectors that are also dealers often buy for themselves; hence usually go through a lengthy analysis of a signature. When I buy an autograph it is for my own collection, even though I may post it for sale, it is an autograph I have studied for many years and highly desire to own myself. You will see on my web site that I do not sell everything, only certain categories and historical figures within those categories. For example, under the main menu selection Celebrity Autographs, there are several subcategories such as Wizard of Oz. I have collected and studied Wizard of Oz related autographs for over 25 years, and have developed a "sixth sense" what Oz autographs are genuine and which are forgeries. BUT, of course I am NOT an expert in everything. Hence, you will NOT see on my site autographs from modern day celebrities like Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Tiger Woods, the NY Yankees, or Barack Obama. Even if I did collect these autographs, there is not even historical data to do a competent analysis. With the exception of reliable and/or documented in person examples.
6). There are several signature studies out there for certain major celebrities. For example, if you are a reputable dealer and you have not educated yourself on signatures like Frank Sinatra, in which several in- depth studies exist, than that dealer should NOT be selling Frank Sinatra autographs. I see too many dealers selling the blatantly obvious Sinatra, Hepburn, Monroe, Elvis, (and the list goes on) secretarial signatures.
7). There are some autographs that are so rare, it is highly unlikely you have a genuine specimen. For example, I have NEVER seen an Authentic Rat Pack set of signatures (all 5 members of the Pack). Ebay consistently has forgeries and secretarial examples but NEVER has an authentic one appeared on eBay or anywhere else for that matter. And, when someone tells me they have one, in 100% of the cases they have been fakes.
8). Before you buy an autograph, ask if it is guaranteed for life. But, do not stop there. Ask the dealer WHO he/she considers the “final word” for authentication. The reason is many dealers offer a lifetime guarantee, HOWEVER , it is another story when/if you ever have to ask for your money back because it failed authentication by PSA. Some less reputable dealers will give you the “run-around” and will tell you they don’t accept PSA or JSA’s opinion. Hence, ask them up front to include on their COA WHOSE authentications they DO accept to back up their guarantee. If they will NOT include this on their COA then that may be a “red flag” to do business elsewhere. Not to toot my own horn, but I didn’t realize until recently that I was one of the few dealers who provide this on my COAs.
NOTE: There are some self proclaimed “forensic experts” that have unscrupulous reputations and known to pass any autograph for a price. If a dealer mentions such a referral, search the internet for information on that so-called “expert” as such an authentication may be worthless to the “reputable” autograph community. For example there is one forensic expert that has been banned on eBay for highly questionable COAs with his name on them. Amazingly there are STILL dealers referring him to collectors. Authentication services are operated by humans, so none are 100% perfect. But, some are far more accurate and reputable than others. Most of the major auction houses and dealers rely on PSA or JSA for authenticating autographs.
9). Another observation I have had over the years is people telling me they “know” so and so’s autograph because they knew them personally. That is a bit absurd when you think about it. WHY would a relationship with someone mean you are an expert with his/her signature? I had someone send me a couple autographed photos of Jack Haley that were clearly not authentic. The gentleman insisted I was wrong because he personally knew Jack Haley. So does that make him an expert with Haley’s signature? Did he sit and watch Jack Haley write his signature several times? I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between my parent’s genuine signature and a forgery because I have never studied their signatures. Do you think Nancy Sinatra is an expert with her father’s signature? I doubt it, unless she is an avid autograph collector and has acquired a skill to analyze and “sense” authentic signatures and handwriting. But, there have been extensive signature studies done for a number of celebrities, including Frank Sinatra. These studies have been accomplished by very skilled collectors who have several years of experience collecting and studying signatures like Frank Sinatra.
They are the guys who can spot an unnatural look and flow to a Sinatra signature, a fabricated “F” in Frank, know Sinatra never “rounded” his ”i” in Sinatra, know the typical genuine width of the F, or the height of the “S” in Sinatra relative to all the others letters, along with several other (possibly hundreds) of variables and nuances that makes the difference between a genuine and fake autograph. To the inexperienced eye these nuances are invisible. To the experienced eye, they are deafening.
As part of their analysis, they use known authentic examples such as legal contracts, checks, and in person examples, along with an acquired “sixth sense” in handwriting and signature application. The latter of which formal training and certificates can not provide.
Remember, this is NOT about promoting (or bashing) a certain company or organization but about establishing a STANDARD by which collectors and dealers can follow AND ADHERE TO.