There are plenty of questionable autographs out there. Maybe you know the difference. Chances are the guy bidding in the fundraiser doesn’t.
A local sports memorabilia gadabout was showing off some of the autographed items he was placing in a local charity auction today. He’d come to the media outlet where I spend most of my time during the day to do a little ‘plug’ for the auction.
I knew the charity had likely hired him to find the stuff and was probably paying him a commission. It was their big event for the year. This guy is involved in another local fundraiser each year doing essentially the same thing. He has some connections and I’ve seen and heard the stories about how he obtains some of the items he turns over to the folks doing the fundraising. I’ve seen him in action. Much of what’s involved is fairly innocent. He uses his connections to get access to players. Nothing really wrong with that, especially if the result is the charity makes some money. He’s not shy about asking for autographs and he’s friendly enough that he often gets his wish(es).
Yet I was always skeptical of the pieces that showed up in the auctions with signatures of deceased Hall of Famers. They were signed, framed photos and jerseys that wouldn’t sell for much more at a local charity auction than you’d have to pay to get them if they were real. And that was the key. I’m not an autograph collector so I couldn’t pass judgment but I suspected many were fakes.
Today, I took a closer look at what he was preparing to give to the auction and it made my stomach turn. On the back of a large photo containing Sharpie scrawls of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, I saw it. A certificate of authenticity. Signed by one of the guys who is often labeled as perhaps the most incompetent autograph authenticator in the country. A guy written about in a recent book Operation Bullpen detailing the Marino forgery scam. A guy exposed on a cable network sports news investigative program. A guy who’s COAs are banned from eBay.
There was another one on the back of the Jackie Robinson autograph cut and picture that someone would no doubt shell out big bucks for at the charity event. There were other autographed pieces too. Some appeared to be legit. Others I couldn’t tell. To be honest, I can’t say for certain if the signatures with the certs were phony. Again, autographs aren’t my specialty. But they didn’t look right and when they carry the stamp of a guy with such a shady reputation, it’s not a big leap to say I’m almost certain at least a few of the items are bad.
I don’t know if the memorabilia guy knew the history of the ‘authenticator’ and didn’t care or if he got the stuff from someone else who was ripping him off and he didn’t realize it. In the course of a busy moment, I didn’t have time to learn exact details about where he got them. However, he actually seemed proud they carried a COA. Anyone who knowingly publicizes fake items may be redefining the term ‘brash’ so he may be completely innocent but I felt he should know that there may be problems with the stuff and that if he did know the items might be bad, someone was onto him.
We talked. I expressed my concerns. He knew the names of some of the hobby’s more respected authenticators but seemed to feel that they were no better than the one who’s signature adorned the very official looking cert on the back of his pictures. That makes me think he had enough knowledge to know he was dealing in bad stuff but figured no one would know the difference at the charity auction. If that were the case, I hoped to at least make him uncomfortable. He promised to look into what I had told him. But I know better. The auction will be here in less than 48 hours. There is no time for second opinions. And it’s too late to find some more things to fill the auction catalog. Someone is going to bid enthusiastically for what will no doubt be described as a "priceless" piece of sports memorabilia, take a $1000 tax deduction and hang an item in their office that might be worth about $3.50.
It was a difficult position to be in. Strongly suspecting that fake memorabilia was about to be sold but not having much power to do anything about it. Of course if someone would question the pieces, both the authenticator and the distributor almost always argue the COA was "just an opinion".
I just hope that somehow the ‘authenticator’ actually got these two right.