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Cali law has strong teeth, but a root canal beats COAs

Give California credit for trying. The state’s new law written to protect buyers of signed sports memorabilia now requires a certi cate of authenticity. If a signed item sold in the Golden State lacks a COA, the penalty is 10 times the cost of the item, plus court costs, reasonable attorneys’ fees, interest and expert witness fees. A court would have the power to levy additional damages. One would think a law this tough would deter fraud.

Not so much. Certi cates of authenticity are terri c for private signings or autograph shows, albeit the fact that they no doubt will require another layer of cost for the consumer. The burden of proof on vintage items, once resurrected from your Uncle Bill’s basement or attic, is based on a good story and a leap of faith.

Certificates of authenticity can be a niche full of fraud and forgeries unto themselves. Authenticators will qualify their certi cations by saying that the document is only their opinion on the item, even on items that are as real as the nose on your face.

In a time when reality is only as real as reality shows — not very real — one wonders if the COA requirement simply means you need a piece of paper to accompany an item, even though the document does not and cannot guarantee anything. The California law states that the COA must be signed by a dealer, describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it, specify the purchase price and date of sale; and “contain an express warranty.” If an item was purchased from a third party, the COA must state this. In many, many cases, this is simply going to be impossible. Collectors of vintage items won’t celebrate this requirement.

The new law does require dealers disclose whether they are surety bonded or insured to protect the consumer against errors. Dealers and auction houses long have dealt with these issues. It’s not uncommon for items to be withdrawn from auction because of authenticity. The most reputable houses do due diligence as best as they can. They also repeatedly urge buyers to educate themselves along the way.

What a legal conundrum. Collectors, indeed, deserve some legal recourse. The penalties here are necessarily strong, but COAs provide no guarantee in solving the industry’s biggest problem. Cali’s heart is in the right place.

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