Ten Warning Signs a Dealer May Be Selling Autograph Forgeries
There have been countless write-ups and articles about what
to look for when it comes to buying autographs. Most have the same basic information such as “if too good to be true”,
compare to known exemplars, secretarials, autopens, etc. Therefore, instead of regurgitating the
technical aspects of authentication, the focus here will be “autograph
dealers”. What specifically to look for
in a dealer’s presentation, reputation and behavior that may trigger a “red
flag” that something is “not right”. Consequently, as more suspicious autograph sellers appear on the market; this
will hopefully equip collectors with the data that will help avert a costly, painful experience. . Listed below are primarily my own personal experiences over the last 30 years of collecting. And although a particular behavioral element may not always necessarily indicate dishonest intentions, there have been countless scenarios in my own collecting life that such noted behaviors have been consistent with "questionable" autograph sellers.
1). Whether you are buying on eBay or a suspicious looking
website, always look for a ”pattern”. These patterns may be in the form of
consistency in the configuration of the signature, type pen used, medium used, most of inventory conveniently UN-inscribed and
imaginary supply. Ten years ago when
forgers were even more prolific on eBay than today, you could usually look at
their “Other Items for Sale” and notice a fishy consistency with all their
“autographs”. Eventually, coming to the
conclusion the SAME person was manufacturing all the autographs. Also, many suspect dealers have an "imaginary supply" of highly scarce items. For example, one website that sells autographed movie posters always seems to have plenty of "Godfather" signed movie posters including Marlon Brando's autograph. Not only is this scarce, a genuine Marlon Brando signed "Godfather" poster has never appeared on the market. If one ever does it will sell for several thousand dollars, not $399 as this particular site sells for.
3). The seller’s inventory (i.e. website) is “unnatural”. What that means is an inventory of Genuine autographs will have a dramatic diversity including NOT just photos and signed pieces of paper, but mediums that are highly unlikely to be forged including personal checks, contracts, letters (especially on celebrity stationary) , official documents like presidential appointments, etc. When the inventory begins to look too much like common stock, i.e. easily forged glossy photos and paper cuts and most or all items are NOT inscribed, a red flag should go up. Most of the forgery businesses I have seen are all on “easy to create medium” like glossy photos, programs, books, and pieces of paper. One popular tactic for sellers of autograph forgeries is to buy old books and tear out the blank pages and use fountain pens to forge the signatures with a vintage appearance. However, most of the time the newly applied fountain pen ink has a very distinctive, “unnatural” look to it. Quite different from ink that has aged over a 50 year period.
4). Nothing or Very Little of the seller’s inventory has been verified by a 3rd party authentication service like JSA or PSA.
5). Suspect Seller has an aversion to independent authentication. Most suspect sellers will try to convince you that industry recognized 3rd party autograph authentication services are not credible. What they are really saying is “I don’t want anyone to have the power to reveal my autographs are fake”.
6). Prices are often a fraction of true value. For example, there is a website that sells
such rare (but actually forged) items like Boris Karloff autographed “Frankenstein” photos for about $500. The market will not allow this to
happen. If a genuine signed
“Frankenstein” appears for sale it will sell for no less than $5000. PLUS, even if there was an extremely rare
chance such a photo was acquired for such low cost it would not last a day as
experienced collectors would buy them immediately and you would see a “sold out”
on the item. However, this particular seller seems to have an unlimited supply.
8). Most suspect sellers will have no credible affiliations with industry
recognized organizations. A credible
affiliation is an organization that holds their members accountable. For example, if you are a member of the UACC
and you are openly selling fake autographs, you will be banned. In the past such fraudulent activity even
landed the seller on the UACC Hall of Shame list. Organizations which do NOT hold members
accountable like the Manuscript Society or Better Business Bureau should NOT be
any indication that the dealer is reputable, as the only criteria to maintain
membership is a membership fee (what does the BBB know about autographs??). . And as mentioned before, ask the seller if
they are a member of an organization like the UACC and listen for his/her
reaction (is it hostile?). Listen for an air of suspicion in their rationale of
WHY they are not a member? Look for the
atypical behavior of someone engaged in illicit activity. A bizarre behavioral aspect always comes to
the surface, eventually, often in the form of a hostile or defensive persona. I am not a psychologist, this is based on my own experiences and experiences others have shared with me.
9). There is an uncanny familiar behavior when a suspect seller is “called out” or questioned about their autographs. Since a seller of autograph forgeries cannot defend their products, the result is often vehement, personal attacks against those who question them.
10). Ask them for a rare item that is not listed on their
site. For example, a “Rat Pack” signed
photo, a George Reeves as “Superman” signed photo, or an Abraham Lincoln signature.. If the dealer all of
a sudden produces such a rare piece that is inconsistent with their "available" inventory, it probably just came out of the oven. (Of course this is probably not be the case with a dealer who, for example with an Abe Lincoln signature, specializes in historical autographs).
10b). BEFORE you buy
an expensive autograph, ask the dealer if they guarantee it will pass PSA or
JSA and if it fails will they refund in full?
BEFORE YOU BUY. Don’t assume the
dealer’s COA or guarantee will be honored AFTER you buy. Most unscrupulous dealers know the cost of
litigating a fake autograph usually is not worth it. Also, if possible have a reputable dealer
you may know for an opinion on the item. Or submit it to PSA for “quick opinion”. If the opinion is negative tell the dealer
you checked one particular autograph on his site and the opinion was “not
genuine”. You are not only looking to
determine whether the autograph itself is suspect, you are also being vigilant for a
particular “behavior”. If the dealer
displays a hostile reaction to other dealers or authentication services, such
defensive behavior (in my own personal experience) often signals a dealer with
something to hide.
One very important “sign” I failed to not only include but Emphasize. And that is the dealer who has “hair trigger lawsuit”. You know him. The dealer that is always ready to pull out the "l’ll sue you card” the minute you confront his/her questionable autographs. This goes back to previous examples of how a suspect dealer will NOT be concerned or even curious about a bad autograph he may be selling. And, many times not even surprised. In the past, whenever I inquired about a suspicious looking autograph being sold by an honest seller, they are always very concerned such as “how do you know”, “can you tell me more”, etc etc. The suspicious seller, on the other hand, is not interested in hearing any such feedback as the most unethical seller most likely already knows he/she is selling forgeries. Instead, the suspect seller’s only response is to silence any whistle-blowers that may threaten his/her illegal activity. And threatening a law suit is a very common intimidation tool for them to employ.
Now I realize there
are reputable dealers that may fail one of the above tests. For example, an
opinion from one dealer may tick off another reputable dealer and result in a hostile reaction. However,
the point is to look for an overall behavior, a pattern. A blatantly dishonest dealer will surely fail several of the above
tests. Also, opinions of authentication
services continue to be an endless debate in the collecting community. However, there is no one that loathes the 3rd
party authentication services more than the “forgery industry”, for obvious
reasons. At the same time, the sometimes volatile competence of 3rd
party authenticators is a legitimate debate that will live on, hopefully for the
betterment of the industry. The industry wide “forgery
containment” value of 3rd party authentication on the other hand, is
** In the coming weeks I will be doing a video of basic autograph authentication and demonstrate some of the techniques used to determine the difference between a genuine and fake autograph
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