Autograph Authentication on Amazon and eBay: Where Does It Stand?

In April 2000 a joint report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, and U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding the now well-known “Operation Bullpen” began with the following paragraph:

Book Operation Bullpen“According to long-time memorabilia collectors, the market for genuine vintage memorabilia has changed dramatically over the last decade. In the late 1980s, the market consisted of a very limited supply of genuine articles (e.g., vintage balls, checks, old books, letters, and the rare cut). These items were almost exclusively traded among a select group of collectors through a well-defined network. However, the market is literally flooded with tens of thousands of vintage items (including bats, balls, jerseys, helmets, pictures, magazines, pieces of papers, posters, lithographs, record albums, and other items) that are simply counterfeit.”

The resulting fall out from that endeavor (and the continuing scrutiny in the years since) did cause some major changes in the sports memorabilia landscape. Professional sports leagues, led by Major League Baseball, began to create divisions that would be responsible for authenticating items as game-used and, in some cases, legitimately signed. In addition, similar procedures became the status quo at reputable signing companies such as Steiner Sports, Mounted Memories and Upper Deck, among others.

At the time of the aforementioned report eBay was just barely a five-year old company. But it was already a national and social phenomenon as it provided anyone with internet access the availability of an international shopping audience. Sadly, that very user-friendly reality once more brought forged sports memorabilia to the forefront. Soon, multiple sellers were offering their own Certificate of Authenticity, often one that conflicted with an athlete’s well-publicized and totally legitimate signing company.

ebayTo their credit, eBay realized this was a problem fairly quickly and began working on some guidelines for their buyers to have information that would lead to purchases made with confidence. in time, as they came to the sports memorabilia business considerably later, mega-market Amazon also began to put into place some guidelines for their sellers of autographed  items to follow.

It is important to know the differences in what the two internet giants allow when it comes to the selling of autographed material. And it is essential to understand the similarities.

Glancing over the policies of Amazon and eBay it would seem that the more established sports collectibles market on eBay has the more exacting authentication requirements. Indeed, eBay has gone to certain lengths to bring some measure of confidence to their millions of uses. It does not take much searching of their site to find the approved “eBay Authentication companies.” Regarding these companies eBay provides the following information:

“The authentication companies listed below are professional, independent evaluators. We’ve obtained a pledge from these evaluators that they’ll offer their services to both buyers and sellers, and that they’ll maintain independence from any individual party. The authenticators have pledged not to buy or sell on eBay’s core site, keeping them out of competition with the buyers and sellers they are serving. They’ve also promised to provide eBay users with competitive prices.”
List of authentication companies
Authenticate sports autographs and memorabilia with:
• Global Authentic LLC
• James Spence Authentication
Pre-certified autograph companies:
• Mounted Memories
• Tristar Productions
• Upper Deck
• Steiner Sports

Sports collectors with a bit of familiarity will know this list and, for the most part, consider it valid. Each of the companies listed has its detractors and websites dedicated to showing them up as frauds (or worse), but as a whole these are the respected authentication companies in the hobby today.

eBay also goes farther than providing the above information. It also provided a list of Certificates of Authenticity (COAs) that are “banned” on eBay, that is, the presence of such a COA is not allowed to be cited as proof that an autograph is good nor can it be mentioned in the title or description for an item made available on eBay. As of today’s writing the list is as follows:

  • ACE Authentic
  • Coach’s Corner Sports Auctions LLC
  • Christopher L. Morales
  • CSC Collectibles
  • Donald Frangipani
  • Forensic Document Services
  • Hollywood Dreams
  • J. DiMaggio Co. / J. DiMaggio Company
  • Legends Sports Memorabilia
  • Nathan’s Autographs / N. E. Autographs
  • Nicholas Burczyk
  • Pro Sports / Pro Sports Memorabilia
  • Rare and
  • Robert Prouty
  • R. R.’s Sports Cards & Collectibles
  • SCAA / Front Page Art / Angelo Marino
  • Slamdunk Sportscards & Memorabilia
  • Sports Alley Memorabilia
  • Sports Management Group
  • Stan’s Sports / Stans Sports Memorabilia
  • TTA Authentic (formerly STAT Authentic)
  • Universal Memorabilia
  • XMI Authentications
  • USA Authentics
  • Blank COAs and LOAs

However, THIS IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE…items with these COAs are still sold on eBay. The title and description may not mention them by name but many items are made available just stating that a COA will be provided. Granted, such items do not usually sell for the largest amount or even the most often, but they are on the site nonetheless.

amazonAnd this does highlight one of the major differences between eBay and Amazon. Although it does not keep such items from being sold (which would be close to impossible) eBay does try to identify authentication companies that have a less than stellar reputation. Amazon, on the other hand, takes a different approach by only allowing sellers that they recruit to sell in the Sports Collectibles division of their marketplace. It appears their thinking is that, by playing it close to the vest, they can better police the sale and availability of autographed items while keeping out the bogus.

When a seller for Amazon lists items for purchase in the Sports Collectibles area that seller must state who the Authentication company is behind an item OR claim to stand behind the item with their own name. This is what is meant when an item is seen on Amazon and the Authentication says “Seller.” Otherwise, Amazon sellers are allowed to choose from the following list of what is, by implication, approved authenticators:

  • Ace Authentic
  • Athlete Hologram
  • Beckett Grading Services (BGS)
  • Frameworth
  • Grey Flannel
  • Highland Mint
  • Icon Sports Memorabilia
  • James Spence Authentication (JSA)
  • MeiGray Group
  • Major League Baseball
  • Mounted Memories
  • NFL Players Inc.
  • Panini Authentic
  • Prize Authentic
  • Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)
  • PSA/DNA Authentication Services
  • Starguard Collectibles
  • Steiner Sports
  • Topps Collectibles
  • TriStar Authentic
  • Upper Deck Authenticated (UDA)

Obviously there is quite a bit of cross-over between the two online giants. Amazon does go a bit farther in making the leading sports memorabilia companies such as Topps, Highland Mint, Mounted Memories and Panini possible choices, and they spell out the fact that MLB and the NFL authenticate many items. However, it is interesting to note that ACE Authentic is banned by eBay while it exists as one of Amazon’s choices for sellers.

NOTE: Since the initial publication of this article we have received the following update:

The ACE that is banned by eBay is Autograph Certification Experts (Justin Pritty) and is also NOT allowed on Amazon.
The ACE that is allowed by Amazon is tennis company ACE: which is a provider of tennis trading cards and other memorabilia.

But, in actuality, the two internet sites share more in common in this area than they are different. That is not only so in the authentication companies that are approved for use by their merchants, but also in the fact that neither really prohibits the sale of items with weak authentication (or even no authentication). Both have the onus fall most directly on the shoulders of those who are selling such things using their sites. And perhaps that is as it should be.

However, for many buyers the presence of items on either company platform give an implication of having been examined reputably. That is certainly the intent behind the policies that are stated. But this brief examination shows the continued necessity of one of the oldest phrases in all the world of merchandise…buyer beware.