It’s National week in Chicago and Beckett’s Steve Grad is a very busy guy. You couldn’t tell that he’d just flown back to his home city from an event in London. The hobby’s biggest event kept his energy level somewhat akin to a third grader at recess.
Grad, also well known as the autograph authenticator on the hit TV show, Pawn Stars, has been a collector since the age of eight, meaning autographs and collectibles have been in his blood for 41 years. He has set up at card shows, bought, sold and traded all over the world and has a vested stake in the industry. Having been a collector who sought out athletes and entertainers for a signature long before he made a living in the hobby, Grad says he’s passionate about educating collectors, especially those who don’t have much experience.
While he doesn’t walk show floors much anymore since people who know him usually start asking about individual items they are holding and he can’t offer opinions on anything he can only glance at for a few seconds.
Grad does have his pulse on what is happening at The National, and some of it should concern collectors and investors.
“It’s pretty interesting,” sighs Grad on the show floor. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff that looks real, but it’s printed. Dot matrix printers, yes. Two Babe Ruth things today, and a Princess Di yesterday.”
He said that one of the Ruth autographs looked like a pencil, but upon closer inspection, it was done with a printer.
Grad is the main authenticator for Beckett Media and business at the company’s booth has been brisk.
Having gone to card shows and visited shops throughout his life, Grad offers some bits of advice, not only for card shows, but also for buying online.
“Buy certified product,” is his first suggestion. “Don’t buy cheap and use common sense.”
Grad said part of his job is to call attention to fakes and people who make a living creating and selling them, but he says it’s also important for collectors to learn as much as they can about the autograph end of the hobby before making a potentially expensive mistake.
“I hate to see collectors get hurt. It’s time to educate yourself and be careful what you buy.”
With the fakes he’s seen this week in Chicago and at other recent shows, Grad is worried.
“It’s getting worse and worse and collectors, you have to be very careful. The forgers are always going to be a step ahead. They think just like authenticators, or I do.”
Grad said the issue with popular athlete’s and star’s signatures being faked has always been an issue, but now it’s bleeding down to more mid-level celebs. He said that some forgers are staying “baseline.” That means they are forging the likes of Ken Boyer and Norm Cash. Popular or well-known athletes who may have passed away in the 1970s and 80s don’t attract as much suspicion. It’s easy for a good forger to find an old baseball and fake a deceased player’s autograph.
It’s also a big problem with Presidential signatures on sports items.
“Fans want to buy bargains. They want to buy low and that is when they get into trouble. Baseballs with Obama or Trump on it, start at $1000. That stuff is worth so much money. The forgers don’t care about you, me or the industry.”