The Fundamental Problem with Third Party Autograph Authentication

The autograph business is trickier than other collectibles businesses. Fake autographs are much more widespread than fake coins, comic books, sports cards, stamps or any other collectibles simply because any dishonest person can produce a forgery in a matter of seconds.

Therefore, one might think that companies dedicated to “authenticating” autographs would be beneficial to the autograph business. That’s what I thought many years ago, until I learned more about them.  All three of the major third party authentication companies (Global/GAI, JSA and PSA/DNA) have demonstrated incredible carelessness and incompetence. They also have been accused of playing favorites, they don’t know what the term “conflict of interest” means and one company has even been suspected of outright corruption by knowingly authenticating fakes.

In future posts I will detail some of the most glaring mistakes and problems with each of these companies. But for now, I want to discuss what the fundamental problem is with the very concept of third party authentication.

I’ve been actively collecting autographs for 23 years. I’ve obtained thousands of autographs in person from the celebrities themselves. Over the years I’ve also bought, sold and viewed tens of thousands of autographs. It’s my job and my business to differentiate fake autographs from real autographs and I’m pretty good at it. Yet do you know how many signatures I am able to consistently “authenticate”? Maybe two: Cal Ripken and Tiger Woods. Ripken and Tiger both have changed their autographs drastically over the years, but within the same era, their autographs are extremely consistent. Show me 10 questionable Ripken autographed items and 10 questionable Tiger autographed items and I am pretty sure I could give you a definitive real or fake answer on 9 of each. There might be one that I would be unsure about.

Cal Ripken's autograph from 1985 versus . . .

Cal Ripken's current autograph

Dan Marino is my favorite NFL player of all time, and I’ve gotten him in person several dozen times in many different situations dating back to the 1980s. But Marino’s autograph can look very different depending on when and where it was signed. I can spot obvious Marino fakes, and I can spot ones that are definitely real. But probably close to half of the questionable Marino autographs I see, I couldn’t tell you one way or the other.

I distinctly remember a TV news magazine show about fake autographs several years ago. They interviewed Marino and had him review possible fakes on eBay. He spotted many of them, but on one or two he said even he couldn’t be sure. If Dan Marino can’t give a definitive answer on the authenticity of some Dan Marino autographs, then what business does any third party authentication company have stating they can?

These companies claim to be experts in thousands of different signatures from every genre, every sport and every era. They’re in the business to collect fees so of course they’re going to claim they can authenticate anyone and everyone’s signature. Unfortunately, that’s literally impossible no matter how many so-called “experts” they have. These companies rarely, if ever, return an autographed item with a refund and an admission that they have no idea whether it’s real or not.

When you submit an autograph for third party authentication, what you are paying for is at best an informed opinion, and at worst an educated guess. No matter what these companies claim, there is no scientific means of determining whether an autograph is real or not just by examining it.

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3 Responses

  1. I agree with some of this statement but disagree with most of it. The reason these 3rd parties were created is to help identify fraud and i think overall by FBI standards it has helped lessen the amount of fakes that are being disbursed, the ones with the 3rd party authentication. I have dealt with all of them and have seen them turn down hundreds and thousands of items. They do keep records and if you really want to know you can get the data. Obviously a witnessed signed autograpn is the best but unfortunately if you cant get one, if you dont live near or cant get to a place where the athlete is you have to either pay an outrageous price from upper deck, mounted memories, tristar etc, the companies that only authenticate witness signings. I do beleive the avid collector cant always afford this so i feel these 3rd parties are important to help give the collector a better chance at a real autograph rather than purchasing it from somone who said they got it and its real. Thats my opinion.

    • The reason the third party authenticators were created was NOT to help identify fraud. They were created to make money. Period. If you read the FBI reports from Operation Bullpen and Operation Foul Ball, the ONLY mention of authenticators is as follows, “The counterfeit market has been able to flourish because of the role played by authenticators who fraudulently (or mistakenly) certify forgeries as genuine signatures.” There is NO positive mention of ANY third party authentication company. And knowing that, there is a tremendous incentive for these companies to favor dealers that do large volumes of business with them, regardless of whether the autographs they sell are real or fake. If you believe that third party authentication is anywhere NEAR as solid as Upper Deck, Mounted Memories, TriStar etc, you are sadly mistaken and likely have numerous fake autographs that have been falsely “authenticated.”

      • Hello, I have a shoeless Joe Jackson signature I know is 100 percent authentic. I know how scarce these are, and I know PSA would never authenticate it because I don’t do large volume with them. In 2003 I purchased a very large Goudey card collection from a 85 year old man in my home town. He asked if I collected autographs, when I told him yes he left the room and came back in with a folded up piece of paper with the autograph. I have the story to go by, but no third party backing me, so it will never be seen the way it should. A true piece of baseball history that will remain hidden. Good thread guys! Eric

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