A new book by long time autograph collector/dealer Ron Keurajian is being released Monday. “Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide” is a 248-page paperback covering a wide spectrum of topics based on the author’s research and experiences over three decades in the hobby.
The book is priced at $49.95. That may sound like a large investment, but considering the prices of some Hall of Famers’ signatures, the information offered could help the book pay for itself.
“No book has been published that approaches the detail found herein,” Keurajian proclaims in the preface, and based on the preview, it would be hard to argue. The book provides an exhaustive study of the individual Hall of Famers’ autographs, lists sales figures and known forgeries but also details the history of autograph collecting, debunks some autograph myths and, if an online preview is any indication, makes some fairly bold pronouncements that are likely to ruffle a few feathers. In fact, some of Keurajian’s research put in the hands of buyers who’ve spent big money on old signatures could be downright scary for them.
The book, which includes a foreward written by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, includes chapters on forgeries and authentication, the auction market and a section entitled ‘Provenance, the Black Market and Other Things’.
Keurajian, who began collecting autographs in his native Michigan in the late 1970s, says he’s spent countless hours studying the signing habits and forgeries of players past and present, assembling an extensive reference library. He says he’s “seen thousands upon thousands of forgeries being bought, sold and traded” and the book is an attempt to educate both veteran and novice collectors regarding autograph tendencies. He chronicles his dealings with government offices across the country, hoping to find signed documents so he could use them as exemplars. One such effort to track down a firm copy of a rare signature led him to a copy of Rube Waddell’s divorce papers, kept inside a St. Louis courthouse since the unfortunate event in the first part of the 20th century.
The author wistfully recalls a simpler time in collecting some 35 years ago when autographs were almost always free and even famous names could be had for a reasonable amount of money. There’s an interesting story about a personal visit he had as a young fan/collector with a neighbor—Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.
Part of his reason for writing the book, apparently, is the growth of the autograph hobby to a point where it is indeed big business rife with pitfalls for those who don’t educate themselves. Keurajian believes single signed baseballs are “where forgers have concentrated their efforts” in recent years because of their popularity as a collecting genre. However, he also cautions that team signed baseballs from the first part of the last century are often the result of skilled scammers. He says he has examined at least 100 pre-1920 team-signed baseballs in person or through photographs, but claims only three of them were ‘good’. It’s a strong statement, even from someone who has been around the hobby for so long.
Keurajian also maintains most of what he terms ‘museum quality’ or high grade single signed Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig single signed balls presented to the hobby in recent years are phonies. While it’s a virtual certainty that there are plenty of fakes in the marketplace and in the collections of unsuspecting buyers, it’s also not unrealistic to believe that a number of high grade Ruths exist. The Babe signed a lot of balls and many were treated reverently, passed down through generations or even stored away in the same place for decades. Many have a traceable history and it seems a bit harsh to paint with such a broad brush.
Still, a glance at the book would seem to indicate it’ll be a must-have reference for anyone who collects or sells baseball autographs, whether you agree with everything or not. Amid the cautionary tales, Keurajian offers some excellent tips on methods to collect autographs and various ways to build a meaningful collection.
Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, is available through Amazon.com (you can buy the book and see the preview here).
Editor’s Note: A new edition of this book was released in late 2018.