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Pawn Stars Flawed Appraisals: My Side of the Story


The History Channel's "Pawn Stars" and Highly Questionable Appraisals


Ever since I appeared on the History channel’s “Pawn Stars” last May , which  aired again Monday night, with the Judy Garland Love letter to Frank Sinatra, I’ve been inundated with questions about its speculated value.    So, now that you’ve probably seen the episode in which the authenticator gave a low ball value, let me tell my side of the story.

In the autograph and historical document collecting industry , “Extraordinary Content Value” dramatically affects what a collector/investor is willing to pay for an item. .   For example, if a letter from a historical figure is discovered in the marketplace, in which he/she discusses something specifically pertinent to their celebrity status, the value can be exponential.     Such as,  an insignificant JFK signed letter will sell for about $1000, whereas a JFK letter in which he mentions the “Bay of Pigs” would likely sell for $25-40,000.  I actually made this case on the show in the post interview but the producers cut that part out. 

Hence, you cannot, as the Pawn Stars “Authenticator” did , use insignificant checks, typical letters or standalone signatures selling prices to gauge value for historically significant documents.   You have to have an intimate understanding of “Extraordinary Content Value”.    Consequently, a handwritten Love Letter from Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra doesn’t require an explanation of how or why it easily meets that criteria, to those who understand the magnitude of the letter’s content.. 

The other thing you have to keep in mind is “Pawn Stars” has gone through multiple so-called “Autograph experts” over the years,  their latest source being PSA.     PSA is a reputable autograph authentication company , BUT they are NOT appraisers.   As a matter of fact, PSA does not even buy or sell autograph memorabilia. Hence, they do NOT participate in the “value marketplace”.  So they don’t have the extensive knowledge of collector demand as say a dealer who is very active in the market place 

I suspect PSA spends 95% of their time analyzing photos and pieces of paper with signatures on them.  Hence, they don’t participate in the marketplace,  discovering  what REAL people are REALLY willing to pay for extraordinary historical memorabilia. . 

PSA’s service is authentication and grading.    Seasoned collectors and dealers attend 10-20 auctions a month interacting personally with collectors and other dealers, run a historical memorabilia business  and have acquired decades of expertise,  PSA reps on the other hand,  do not have this "hands on" experience and hence most likely have to rely on Google searches to respond to "value" questions.   And,  there is far more to understanding actual values then just searching online auction records.  If Jackie Kennedy wrote a letter mentioning she  “knew about Jack’s affair with Marilyn” you could not appraise that based on typical Jackie signed letters. 

Not long ago at auction, a John Wayne handwritten letter where he only indirectly refers to the movie “Searchers” sold for nearly $8000.    But a typical John Wayne autograph sells for only $400-500.    I suspect Pawn Stars “autograph expert” would have valued it at about $800-1200.   Likewise, a Judy Garland standard handwritten letter or signed photo sells for $1000, whereas a “Dorothy” Signed photo sells for over $30,000!

And, as anyone who has ever been in a pawn shop knows, they always offer to buy at a very small fraction of value, whether it be jewelry, cars or collectibles. 

And the value of an extraordinary, historically significant  handwritten love letter from the biggest movie star of the 20th century to the Entertainer of the century?  Simply Remarkable!..  ..    what else needs to be said?

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