Autographed sports memorabilia collectors are wading through treacherous waters. Be careful. Be patient. Be smart. Do your homework. The following advice is based on real experiences that, sadly, are occurring all too often. You may find these accounts entertaining, but you should glean from them wise counsel that will save you substantial sums of money and make you a smarter collector. If you have learned a lesson the hard way or have an interesting story to share that may lead to other “Good Advice,” please email Charles Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amazing: Dead heroes signing again
Some autographs are obviously bad because of the signature. Others are obviously bad because the equipment could not have been produced until the player who purportedly signed the piece had died. In other words, the only way certain items are good are if the legends themselves came back to life. Dave Bushing may recognize obvious flaws in signatures though he makes no pretense about being an autograph expert. However, he and podnah Joe Phillips noticed a Christy Mathewson-signed baseball from 1912. The ball, however, could not have been made before 1917. So not only did the signature look a bit too perfect, but the ball most certainly was inconsistent with the year for the signature. “You can’t have a ball signed years before the ball was created,” Bushing roars. “I saw single signatures of Rogers Hornsby and Grover Alexander on official league balls produced in Jamaica. It was a Worth baseball.” Bushing said Worth moved its offshore manufacturing plant to Jamaica in 1966. Alexander died in 1950; Hornsby died in 1963. Meanwhile, a Worth 83-1 baseball, introduced in the mid 1940s, was purportedly signed on the Sweet Spot by Christy Mathewson. Mathewson died in 1925. Bushing has recently run into other similar flagrant inconsistencies, balls that bear some form of letter of authenticity from Don Frangipani. Frangipani of New York defends himself regarding various charges that 1) not unlike others, he can make mistakes; 2) others are forging his letters of authenticity; 3) players’ signatures do vary, which in this case is an argument that does not apply. Bushing also cited a Devega ball that bore an attempt at Lou Gehrig’s signature. This particular ball was produced in the mid 1970s. Gehrig died in 1941. Bushing cites a George Sisler-signed DeBeer Tufflite baseball. Sisler died in 1973. The ball was introduced in 1985. Victor Moreno of American Memorabilia is not an authenticator; he accepts consignments for auctions. Among the items he recently received were a couple of Ruth signatures on baseballs made in Haiti. The baseballs came from a collector with letters of certification from Don Frangipani. “I was suspicious, but wanted to make sure. I didn’t feel good about them, so I called Dave Bushing. He told me baseballs weren’t made in Haiti until 1970, and Babe Ruth died well before then, so there was no way they could be authentic.” These stories are not to say that everything Frangipani reviews is unauthentic. All authenticators have a chance to evaluate items that are legitimate. Frangipani maintains that the best anyone can do on a vintage item, legally, is to offer an opinion. Some authenticators tend to bring more scrutiny to the task. It’s also up to the consumer to do his homework and measure that comfort level and trust against the price of the item. One Texas collector has recently plunked down $100,000 on items bearing some of the greatest names that baseball has known. Further study on these collectibles now leads him to believe that he’s frittered away a fortune. The age of the items generally did not square with the lifetimes of the players. The collector is threatening to fight back.
Know The Source
“People need to know from whom they’re buying autographs. You have to guage a person’s honesty and expertise. Now someone can be honest and not know what he’s doing, so this process involves some scrutiny. We are seeing the emergence of succesful auction houses every day. People think they’re getting a bargain by paying $100 for a $1,000 item. Well, they’ve just thrown away $100.”-Kevin Keating, autograph dealer
Price is Right?
If the price is too good to be true, then the item is probably bogus.
Tale of the Tape
“If there is tape on the handle of a bat, you must be extra cautious. If you can’t take the tape off the bat to look at it – and you have to be a serious buyer, not a browser – don’t buy it. A Clemente bat purportedly used between 1965 and 1972 had tape on the handle. The tape was concealing a 2-inch piece of wood that had been inserted to give the bat more length. The bat was worth zero, zed, nada, nothing. It was purchased for $2,000 from a one-horse auction. It’s worth $2. This is a wake up call to anyone who has bought a bat that’s wrapped in tape.”– Dave Bushing, vintage equipment dealer
Not Worth the Paper
A letter of authenticity signed by a dealer doesn’t mean anything. Such a letter won’t make an autograph a good piece or a bad piece.
Go With the Flow
“Many forgers will use a tracing method whereby they use light under a glass and trace the signature. What this fails to consider is the speed of the signature and the flow of the ink. Even with signatures that bear a distinct likeness to a real signature, the differences are obvious under a microscope. The flow of the ink is most evident. With a normal signature, there’s no time for slowing down.”- Steve Koschal
Ask direct questions and be persistent. Think of it as kicking the tires.
Where did the item come from?
Is there any provenance? What? Well, how do you know it’s a game bat? Have any knowledgeable experts studied the item? Who?
Autographs have two man enemies – Forgers and the sun. Collectors may have a better grip on fighting the sun than slimeball forgers, but no one can be sure of that. Non-ultraviolet treated plastic contains protect items only frm fingerprints; and UV-resistant containers are prohibitively expensive, particularly for the weekend collector of single-signed signatures. There is a way to protect your collection from UV light. Krylon. Crystal Clear Krylon (Product 1305) is no invitation to take your collection to the beach, but its chemistry is touted to protect autographs from fading as well as anything else. This product is used by graphic artists and photographers who want to protect grahite and other artwork. Experts recommend a light spray to protect the ball and to preserve the natural appearance of the autographed surface. Place the item on the cap of the can and hold the can about 14 inches away; spray lightly, maybe two seconds. Just a quick shot is all that’s needed. Consider two more coats, but users should use their own judgment. Warning, some people challenge the use of Krylon on signed baseballs, arguing that any coating will act the same as lacquer of old.
Shirt Off Their Back
Jersey authenticators should check tagging to make sure it’s from the right era, the material, piping, flag tags, stitching.(top)BurnedA collector had a glove with the block letters J. Jackson on the heel. A expert eye on such matters noticed that the guy took out a metal set and stamped it on the glove. The dealer could see the box around the lettering. Without the careful evaluation of an expert dealer, this item will easily be passed off as authentic.(top)Gehrig Forgeries”On a ball, Gehrig’s signature was tiny, not prominent at all. These huge signatures of Gehrig are utterly ridiculous.”- Charles Hamilton, late forensic expert
Signature Too Perfect
“A forger has learned to sign them and so the signatures look exactly alike. When a forger becomes an expert, the process undoes him. Even if I were blind, I could smell these forgeries. Ink on the hides of old baseballs have to be treated so that the ink of that time will go on properly.”- Charles Hamilton
Study the Ink
“Most people think that ink goes on paper black or blue and over time it goes to brown. This is not true. Only brown ink remains brown. Now it may fade away to a faded brown. Black inks fades to a very perceptible gray and maybe disappears. This is not chameleon ink. The brown ink was common in the 1700s and 1800s, but by the early 1900s it had long been replaced. To use this ink on a baseball was preposterous.”- Charles Hamilton
Does It Look Right?
Tremulous line pressures, the size of the autographs and the obviously slow, deliberate and contrived signatures point to the fact that signatures may be bad.
Ahead of Their Times
A Ruth-signed ball was signed in ball point and dated 1936. Nope, ball point pens weren’t prevalent back then. Walter Johnson signatures surfaced once that were strangely written in ball point pen. Nope, Johnson lived when ball point wasn’t used that much.
Playing Tricks on Aging
“Forgers of Gehrig’s signature will try to conceal the age of the ink by getting an ink that looks old, something that’s faded to a brownish or greenish color. The curation of ink into the paper is something that can’t be duplicated in a signature that’s 60 years old.”- James Spence, autograph dealer
“Clemente’s signature is full of circles and curves, but it still flows a fairly straight line at the bottom. Forgers think they just have to do a lot of circles, but every circle they make is a noose by which to hang them. Many forgers are careless where they begin a stroke and end a stroke. If hey mix that, then they give themselves away. Even with the most illegible signatures, it is still possible to follow the trajectory of lines. Compare the trajectory in the lines of the forgery and you’ll see all of the differences between a real signature and a forgery.”- Charles Hamilton
“Most of the small auctions are veritable sources of bad material. The forger is going to go to the small guys, who don’t know what’s authentic and don’t care. They are third party sources for forgers and are just launderers for such merchandise. If they get away with selling it, what do they care? The forger goes to these auction houses to launder his operation.”- Kevin Keating
Shopping for Team Balls
The top players on many of the top teams sign a relatively small percentage of team balls. Many of the teams may resort to clubhouse signatures. A high percentage of team balls signed during a World Series and All-Star Games are authentic. Typically, the quantity isn’t as great and the players are a bit more diligent to sign World Series team balls.(top)Whoa, NellieWatch out for items signed “Nellie Fox.” Fox always signed Nelson.
Lost in Time
One of the areas ripe for forgeries are players from the 19th Century. Few people have seen many, if any, examples of these autographs. Forgers have busily produced Wilbert Robinson, Eddie Planck, Harry Wright signatures, among others. (See Price is Right?)