A long-time Cincinnati area collector has started an autograph authentication service, but is keeping his feet firmly planted in an era he specializes in. He’s also offering partial refunds on items that don’t pass muster.
He got his first one as a kid in 1960. Since then, autograph collector T. Alan Hartman has accumulated thousands of signatures from sports, politics, music and other fields. Now, the veteran collector is offering his knowledge to those who are wondering if what they have is the real deal.
Hartman, though, won’t authenticate your Babe Ruth or Walter Johnson baseball. In fact, he won’t do anyone with whom he doesn’t have direct experience. It’s why he says he calls his new venture First Hand Authentication. He specalizes in the 1960-early 70s time period when he was most active as a collector, chasing down signatures on a regular basis. He’ll take Roberto Clemente, but take a pass on Ty Cobb. He can authenticate your Roger Daltrey album cover but would rather have someone else take a gander at the Rogers Hornsby autograph album scribble.
"I’m just a long-time collector who is not real happy with the state of affairs in authentication," Hartman explained. "There are many good authenticators out there but it’s preposterous to think they can make judgments on everyone from Ruth to George Washington to Jimi Hendrix. It’s silly and it drives me nuts."
"I don’t feel I’m enough of an expert that I can render a meaningful opinion on people I don’t have first hand experience with. Being familiar with a signature and having meaningful experience are two different things. The subtle things can make or break whether an autograph is real and it’s difficult to really know those things unless you’ve seen someone’s signature over and over again during a period of years."
Hartman offers several plans including a brief opinion he can render from viewing an on-line scan for just a few dollars to a letter of authenticty that runs $20-75 depending on the player. He thinks anyone considering a purchase is best served by making a small investment in the brief opinion.
"I wish people were more careful. When someone buys something and I tell them it isn’t real, I say ‘Why didn’t you get it looked at first?’ Maybe they can get a refund from the seller, but sometimes that doesn’t happen."
However, if a letter of opinion is requested and the signature is deemed by First Hand to be a fake, Hartman offers a 50% refund. "It sort of adds insult to injury when someone buys something that turns out not to be real. I feel bad when someone has gotten burned so the partial refund just seems like the right thing to do."
First Hand will not place holograms on items or encapsulate them. Hartman believes that FHA’s Letter of Authenticity (LOA) service — which includes a photo of the item — provides the necessary documentation while keeping the item in its original state.
Hartman believes most qualified authenticators try to do their best but that too many mistakes are still being made by those who claim to be experts on too many subjects. He would prefer specialization in which an authenticator who specializes in a certain area, such as Hall of Famer autographs, or a certain time period, sticks to that area of expertise.
"We all make mistakes. I’ve made them. But even if the percentage is considered low, it’s too many. If it’s 10% that are judged to be real and are not or judged to not be real yet are, that’s still a lot of items when you consider how much stuff is out there. The field just needs to be more specialized. We need to take it to the next level."
Hartman says he isn’t out to make a fortune with his new service. In fact, he’s a dog lover who has pledged to donate 20% of any proceeds to three local animal shelters in the Cincinnati area.