This and upcoming columns will offer identification, authentication and collecting tips for sports and related memorabilia. These particular tips aren’t all-encompassing but intended to be simple and easy to remember.
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Is that silverware silver or steel? Try the magnet test
This is a simple but not definitive test to give evidence if that baseball themed spoon or trinket box is silver or steel. If the item is attracted to a magnet, it’s not silver. Silver isn’t attracted to a magnet, while much steel is. The catch is some steel isn’t attracted to a magnet, so it isn’t a definitive test.
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Gutta percha tastes salty
Gutta percha was an 1800s plastic-like substance used to make many items, including jewelry, lockets, buttons, photos and sports equipment. Gutta percha is dark-colored, but can be dark yellow, red, dark brown and black. It is lighter and glossier than rubber. If you rub it vigorously or use the hot needle test, it will smell like rubber, but sweeter and milder. The ultimate test is taste, as it tastes salty.
If you see an old sports-themed item, say a locket or photo holder or golf ball, and it’s gutta percha, you can be confident it is antique.
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A microscope easily tells you the difference between real and fake leather
Collectors want to tell the difference between real and fake leather because of perceived quality and value of the material and because many genuine items, in particular antiques, were made with real leather.
Fake leather is a relatively recent product, introduced commercially in the 1950s, so obviously an antique baseball mitt, football or athletic shoes will be not be made out of fake leather.
There are numerous methods for identifying real versus fake leather, but perhaps the simplest and most definitive is to examine the material’s surface under a microscope.
Under the microscope, fake leather, parchment and vellum is simple to identify due to the obvious machine-made pattern. This microscope test will also identify the difference between genuine parchment and vellum, which were made from animal skins, and their modern synthetic substitutes.
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Diamond testers are a simple way to identify genuine diamonds but have a limit
Some valuable sports items contain diamonds, including championship rings and jewelry. Not only do diamond themselves have obvious value, but authenticating some items involves identifying the gem. For example, the difference between a genuine player given World Series or Super Bowl ring and a salesman sample, is the player given ring will have genuine diamonds while the salesman sample will have simulant.
You can buy inexpensive electronic diamond detectors. You point the diamond tester at the questioned stone and it will tell you if it is genuine or not. It can easily tell the difference between diamond and quarts or lead glass.
These tests do, however, have a basic limitation: they can tell the difference between diamonds and simulant diamonds, but not between synthetic diamonds and natural diamonds.
Simulant diamonds are non-diamond materials such quartz, glass and cubic zirconium that superficially resemble diamonds. The electronic diamond detector identifies these as simulants as the have different material properties than real diamonds.
Synthetic diamonds, on the other hand, are genuine diamonds, but they’re human made in a lab rather than geologically over time by nature. Synthetic and natural diamonds share the same material properties and the electronic diamond detector can’t tell them apart. To the detector, they’re both diamond.
Synthetic diamonds for jewelry is a recent phenomenon, so an electronic pocket detector will tell you if your grandmother’s wedding ring has a genuine natural diamond. There weren’t any synthetic diamonds in 1940. But in other circumstances, especially with modern jewelry and items purchased without certification or from sellers you don’t know, the detector can only tell that it is diamond, not synthetic or natural.