Authentication, education and helping the card companies acquire those cut signatures you find in packs is all in a day’s work for one dealer.
Ron Gordon was part of the first autograph authentication team at PSA/DNA. Autographs were part of his life long before that, but it was one of a series of big steps he’s been part of as the sports autograph market grows up.
Gordon has been buying, selling and trading autographs for years, studying signatures and building an impressive inventory. He has thousands of signed items from virtually every sport but specializes in baseball and football.
Travelling to various shows, he meets autograph collectors who pepper him with questions, but the New Mexico resident is almost always happy to spread his years of accumulated knowledge while dealing in the trade.
“I think it’s my job to help educate collectors as well," Gordon said. "It’s part of the business.”
Surprisingly, Gordon says he hasn’t seen a large number of fakes among items he’s asked to look at or consider buying during recent card shows.
“Most of the material I see is genuine. Maybe that wasn’t the case seven or eight years ago. Part of the educational feedback and what the authenticators have done has helped weed out the bad items."
Many times the pieces which are presented to him aren’t the result of an intention to deceive. "The stuff that is non-genuine is sometimes the result of honest mistakes such as ghost signings (where a player’s signature is sometimes duplicated by a family member or friend)," he explained.
Gordon says some of that material comes from those who simply didn’t realize the family heirloom wasn’t the real deal. "The old time collectors who were mailing out for autographs in the 1960s and 70s got them back that way."
Gordon, however, realizes there are still problems plaguing the autograph world. "Of course we do see forgeries. And many of them are really, really good. You really have to study them.”
Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams are the ‘big three’ when it comes to non-genuine autographs, according to Gordon.
While individual collectors still make up a large share of his business, he’s found a new way to liquidate his huge inventory as one of the suppliers card companies turn to for their cut signature programs. Last year, he and his two partners sold between four and five thousand autographs to the card manufacturers. Not surprisingly, it’s a segment of his business he’d like to grow.
"In the last two years, the card company projects have accounted for about one third of my business," he stated. He gives the companies a discount for bulk purchases and those large orders have helped lighten portions of his inventory that normally would take years to dispose of. Card collectors are usually thrilled to find a vintage autograph inside their current year pack of cards–either to save or re-sell on eBay.
“We used to have two hundred Waite Hoyte autographs and are thinking ‘how in the world are we going to sell them?’ When the card companies came up with the signature projects, there’s an avenue to sell two hundred Waite Hoyts.”