Most of us would prefer to age gracefully. So would our baseball cards and vintage sports advertising pieces. Unfortunately there are some folks who’d rather do it for them. Another in our series on altered baseball cards.
Unsuspecting buyers have spent thousands of dollars on eBay, at card shows, in auctions and even at flea markets, buying pieces that have been doctored to make them look authentic.
Why? It’s done to either hide alterations previously attempted or to blend dark spots left behind by stains, chemicals, water or other additives. All, of course, aimed at increasing the perceived authenticity of the card or piece of memorabilia and increasing its potential value.
Over the last month, west coast collector Kevin Saucier has shared tips on examining baseball cards–vintage, modern and reprints–for alterations. He’s painstakingly studied thousands of cards of varying value and scarcity and found several common denominators.
His research shows the artificial aging process is a key ingredient for card doctors who are looking to cash in by making a flawed card look more natural or turning a modern reprint into a convincing fake. Below is his take on what a vintage card typically looks like and what to watch for when determining whether a card has been given a "fake suntan".
Toning is the color given by the natural aging process. It can be light tan or depending on the cardstock, darker in color. Other times it can show as a gray/tan color. Toning or the lack thereof is the single most important item to look for when examining a card for alterations. Most, it not all vintage cards have some degree of toning and is best displayed on the edges or in the tiny edge-border chips and nicks left from a factory cut of a card.
Retoning a card or sections of a card can also be done after other alterations have been completed. Doctoring a card, in most cases, involve removing some or all of a cards natural tone. It is then necessary for a card doctor to artificially age a card by adding a toning solution (retoning) or by other unnatural means.
Unfortunately if done correctly and with some degree of skill it can be difficult to identify a card that has been toned or retoned by looking solely at the color. Often you will need to look deeper and beyond the falsely aged card to identify other forms of alterations such as trimming or masked stains which can be a shade or more darker.
With enough practice you may even be able to ignore the tone at first glance and dive right into the search for other doctored areas, choosing to look at the tone later.
Not all retoned cards are done with subtle care and expertise. It is these cards that can reveal an attempt at artificial aging. Retoned cards may have had some type of solution added or may have been chemically treated. Hold the card to your nose and give it a quick sniff. As in the bleaching, the human nose can detect abnormal odors. If a chemical odor is detected or the smell of anything that should not be present is suspected, in conjunction with uneven, too even or spotty aged tone, there is a chance your card has been altered.
With a halogen light study the card for inconsistencies in the normal color tone. This can be seen as dark spots, both large or small, an overall caramel-type color or a card that simply looks over toned or abnormally dark in appearance. Smaller areas may actually be dark brown or blackened. Study the edges closely with a loupe and note any grime or tiny dirt specks that may still remain in the pores. This is a sure sign the card has been rubbed with dirt or, sand or mud, since a normally aged card should be void of any foreign debris.
If there are any creases, scuff marks, and deep edge pores looked at them carefully. Retoned cards may have a darker color in low areas, left by any potential toning solutions that sit too long or not long enough when the card was doctored. Under the light, check the surface gloss of the card making sure that it does not have film coating or is very dull and glossless.
Beware of modern reprints of older cards, usually of some value. Although they may seem real they are frequently toned, roughed-up and/or dirtied to make them seem vintage. The tone may be more pronounced on the borders and edges and get increasingly lighter towards the cards center. This is because dirt and/or tone applied easily sticks to the roughed up areas, whereas it may be repelled by the modern cardstock.