I knew what it was when I opened the email Tuesday afternoon. Another “multi-million dollar sports memorabilia auction” from an auction company outside of the industry. A ‘local’ auction house that might sell cars one week, dolls or glassware the next. It was the second one I've gotten in the last month.
They write to me looking for publicity, I suppose. The sales pitch is usually something like “These items are all from a single-family owner who began collecting when Babe Ruth used to stop by grandpa’s business”. They are selling page after page of signed sports memorabilia and other goods including some of the biggest names in history. It’s quite an attention getter.
It’s also pretty obvious that a large quantity of the stuff in the online “catalog” they usually post through sites like Auction Zip is as phony as a three dollar bill.
The “fully authenticated” memorabilia has usually been signed off on by one of the “forensic document examiners” who are banned from eBay, have been associated with Operation Bullpen or panned by knowledgeable collectors (sometimes all three).
I don’t know if the auction companies (this one was in Las Vegas) holding these auctions are too dumb to know or don’t care as long as they get a check. I do know that someone involved in the process is pulling a fast one…or trying to. Amid some authentic items, they are hoping to pass the bad stuff off to fans or collectors who don’t bother to research anything.
I also worry that the items are being bought in bulk by unscrupulous dealers who have a rapt audience of buyers that don’t know the difference between a real Babe Ruth autograph and a modern day fake and bring it home to sell in their own local auction. Sometimes charities wind up with this stuff where in the name of a good cause, thousands of dollars are spent on bogus signatures. That I’ve seen first-hand.
Local auctions and those outside the mainstream hobby have become the sewer system for bogus sports stuff. Crooks have discovered they can move their counterfeit goods in this platform, where rules and regulations aren’t as tough, fewer serious collectors hover around and there is virtually no online policing.
Certificates of Authenticity, regardless of the source, can allay the fears of a lot of people who simply can’t believe their good fortune at picking up a ‘genuine’ Babe Ruth autograph for $750 and thank someone’s dear, departed ‘Grandpa’ whose collection is in the hands of those who appreciate such wonderful things.
What a guy.
I had the chance to visit by phone with Cary Chow on ESPN.com’s Mint Condition last Friday, as the careers of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Todd Helton were winding to a close. We talked about their careers and the market for their cards and autographs and such.
You can watch it below.