Operation Bullpen is history but an uptick in fake sports memorabilia has one auction house warning customers. Is there a Bullpen-like scam operating in the Buckeye state?
Robert Edward Auctions sent it’s customers an e-mail this week about what it believes is a spike in scam artists using modern printing techniques to create "vintage" items. But that’s not the only iceberg in the pro sports memorabilia waters.
They weren’t naming names, or providing samples, but did accuse one auction house of employing someone to doctor cards (the positive vibe around art restoration doesn’t usually apply to vintage baseball cards).
Here’s what REA wrote to customers and to SportsCollectorsDaily.com "in the hopes of educating buyers and maybe saving someone money":
1) Practically every day we are seeing fake items. Fake printed items. Posters that are actually reproductions of vintage posters. Stand-up cardboard counter displays that are not real. Babe Ruth Candy wrappers that are not real. Fans that picture baseball player portraits that are reproductions. Photographs that appear to be old but are not vintage.
There is no limit to what can be made with computers, especially with printing equipment available today that is very economical and which years ago did not even exist. These items are being intentionally made to fool people into parting with their money for worthless items. These items are being made to cheat buyers.
Many of these items are somehow reproduced from books and auction catalogs, often enlarged from small quality illustrations to their correct original size. With computers these days, it is possible for some criminals to produce very real-looking reproductions and also to produce “fantasy pieces” (defined as those items that are not actually reproductions, as there is no original, but are made to look old to fool buyers). This is a BIG problem. These items are offered to us practically every day, and they are being offered to us by collectors who themselves are victims.
Most of the sophisticated fake items of this type that we have seen appear to have one thing in common: They were purchased by sellers in the state of Ohio. It is obvious to us that the individual(s) responsible for most or all of these imaginative quality fakes is located in the state of Ohio, though these items are now circulating throughout the country. It is easy for us to tell in almost all cases whether an item is real or not, often just from a scan. We understand from experience that not everyone can, including the numerous victims who have sent us these recently produced fake items which at a glance appear to be vintage items. If you think that you have purchased a fake item of this type and would like our opinion, we will be happy to be of assistance. Please write and/or send scans.
2) In recent weeks we have received a number of consignments of graded cards that has motivated us to adopt a formal policy regarding altered professionally graded cards that we have not previously seen a need to articulate. The altering of cards is so widespread, and “card doctors” so brazen, that REA has actually been receiving cards submitted for auction to us that are the very same cards that have been sold by REA previously – in some cases just months earlier – and which, since purchase, have been significantly altered, reholdered, and now grade higher according to the grading label.
In some cases a given card has changed hands and the new consignor was not even aware it was a seriously altered card. It is our policy that when we are aware of such a problem, and we ARE looking, we will be happy to auction the card in question – but insist on providing all information describing the alterations which have occurred to the card of which we are certain. So far, the potential consignors of such cards have elected to have these cards returned rather than have a proper description provided by REA. Last week we returned a $10,000 card. The consignor couldn’t believe it was the same card that we had just sold (in a lower grade and looking quite different) in a previous auction. Only after being provided with images of the card as it appeared when we previously sold it was the consignor finally convinced.
We’re not guessing here. We are talking about cards that we know for a fact are problems. The fact that we have to address situations such as this at all suggests a greater underlying problem than is generally recognized. And while it is bad enough that the altering of cards is an epidemic, it is particularly disturbing that some of the most sophisticated “work” on cards (including the previously mentioned $10,000 card) has actually been executed by employees of auction houses that also deal in cards. We have to ask ourselves “What is going on here?”
Turning a blind eye to this issue, in our opinion, has far greater and more significant negative potential consequences than our calling attention to it and promoting discussion. We all know that there is a subjectivity to grading and that sometimes there is an honest difference of opinion regarding a grade, or sometimes even an honest mistake. We’re not talking about honest mistakes here. Active and sophisticated collectors, dealers, and auction houses know that this is a problem. They just don’t talk about it, except among themselves. In the end, the collector loses. We want to be clear that we think the major grading services do a valiant job and we can’t imagine what the landscape of the marketplace would look like without them. That doesn’t mean there are no problems. At the end of the day, we have this advice: “Buy the card, not the holder.”
REA has never been shy about calling attention to what we think are significant problems and issues facing the field. It is our hope that openly communicating about issues which deserve attention, which are so important to so many people, will help us to come up with better ways to address these issues, and in the long run will have a positive impact. That’s how progress is made. Your ideas and suggestions are always welcome.