What began as a thread in an online forum became national news on Wednesday as word spread of the apparent use of an autopen on Panini Prizm trading cards of Dak Prescott.
USA Today, ESPN and its parent company ABC News, the Washington Post, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, The Sporting News, all of Dallas’ local TV stations and newspapers and the major NFL-oriented websites all carried the story about machine-generated ink on cards that were supposed to have been signed in Prescott’s own hand.
Prizm Redemption Cards
Prescott has signed hundreds of items for Panini, the NFL’s exclusive partner, but Prizm was released before he was able to sign cards for inclusion in the product last October. Instead, collectors pulled a redemption card they could mail in. Once the signing was completed, Panini would send the cards out. Collectors who had them were notified last week that they were being shipped but upon arrival, some realized Prescott’s cursive signature and the number “4” inscription were virtually identical, something that wouldn’t happen if a player signed his cards by hand.
Early indications that the cards returned to Panini carried autopen signatures came in that same forum late last week. Beckett Grading had already rejected early submissions of the card.
“The signatures looked to be from an autopen machine, simply based on the uniformed, non-flowing look we have seen from authentic Dak signatures in the past,” Beckett Director of Grading and Authentication Jeromy Murray told Beckett Media. “We alerted the team at Panini America immediately so they could address it with Dak’s representatives and the NFL Players Association.”
However, the crush of national attention during a holiday week appeared to catch Panini off guard. A.J. Perez of USA Today reported that a person answering the phones at Panini told him they were “looking into it” but then hung up on him when he asked for a name to put with the quote. As of Wednesday evening, there had been no explanation from Prescott, his representatives, the NFL Players Association or Panini as to why the cards were signed by machine, making them virtually worthless. A reasonable expectation would be that Panini will try to replace the autographed cards with authentic examples but Prescott would have to agree to a signing session. As of late last week he still had hundreds of unfulfilled autographs from various 2016 products in Panini’s database.
After his highly successful transition from fourth round draft pick to successful NFL quarterback, Prescott’s autographed cards have been among the hottest sellers on the secondary market with many bringing $300 and up and some low serial-numbered rookie cards going for as much as $2,000-$3,000 each.
Autopen Not a Friend to Collectors
The use of an autopen isn’t new. Years ago, before autographs had much of a monetary value, numerous athletes, historic figures and entertainers used them to respond to fan mail. Some still do. The unfortunate prevailing attitude seems to be that fans won’t notice or won’t care.
Even NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s autographs in Pro Set’s 1992 were done with an autopen. The signatures of politicians responding to mail from constituents and others have long been generated by such machines, which can crank out hundreds of signatures in a matter of minutes. Wayne Gretzky recently drew the ire of collectors and fans when his new book when the promise of autographed copies turned out to be machine signed.
Collectors demand the real deal, especially in a trading card market where the perceived value of a box is often tied to the autographs inside.
That demand has led to players being asked to sign cards and stickers on the honor system rather than in front of a trading card company representative. The items are sent or given to a player’s representative and not seen again until they’re received by the card company that has paid for real signatures and can only hope that’s what they’re getting.