At PSA/DNA Incompetence Is the Name of the Game

I could (and probably eventually will) write a dozen blog posts about PSA/DNA’s utter incompetence and sloppiness. But this particular post might be the only one that deals with an item that PSA/DNA actually got right as far as the authenticity. Of course, any idiot could flip a coin and be right half the time, so that’ s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The item in question is a yellow Ryder Cup Celtic Manor golf pin flag autographed by 10 players from the United States team. I have no doubt that all 10 autographs are real. The problem is with PSA/DNA’s Letter of Authenticity (shown here) and visible on this currently active eBay listing.

Let’s start from the top. In professional golf, in addition to the four major tournaments, there is only ONE event that is equal in stature: The Ryder Cup, which has been contested between the U.S. and Europe every two years (with interruptions here and there)  since 1927. Celtic Manor is in Wales, and the Ryder Cup was played there in 2010. The LOA, which is dated Nov. 21, 2010,  says 2008. Any casual fan of golf would know that the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor was played in 2010, especially given that this letter is dated only 7 weeks after the event. STRIKE ONE.

Next, look at the names on the LOA. Fourth on the list is someone named “Zack Johnson” apparently referring to the winner of the 2007 Masters whose name is actually “Zach Johnson.” Unless you know little or nothing about golf, you would know how to spell the name of someone who won the most prestigious and famous tournament in the world only three years ago. STRIKE TWO.

But that’s not all. Seventh on PSA/DNA’s blunder-filled LOA is the name “Richie Fowler.” Now, Fowler hasn’t won a major yet, but as of 2010 to present, he is far and away the flashiest and most popular young American golfer on the PGA Tour. Fowler has single handedly increased the sales of the brightly colored Puma golf apparel he wears, which is now his trademark. But unfortunately for PSA/DNA, his first name isn’t “Richie” but “Rickie.” STRIKE THREE. Again, unless you were living in a cave for all of 2010, if you were even a casual fan of the PGA Tour you would know who Rickie Fowler is. If PSA/DNA had listed Fowler’s first name as “Ricky” at least they would have the pronunciation right, if not the spelling. But “Richie”?

Bottom line: if PSA/DNA can issue a Letter of Authenticity for an autographed golf item with three glaring errors, what does PSA/DNA really know about golf or golf autographs? The answer is “nothing.” If after reading this, you send PSA/DNA any autographed golf item, you are truly an idiot who likes wasting money.

Put it this way: when I print my certificates of authenticity, if I see even one TYPO, I rip it up and print another one. PSA/DNA, on the other hand, has issued a LOA with three monumental mistakes, NONE OF WHICH ARE TYPOS!

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Why Autograph Dealers Rely on Incompetent Third Party Authenticators

A few days ago I was chatting with someone who’s been in the autograph business almost as long as me. (I’ve been full time since 1999, part time since 1997 and actively collecting in person since 1988).

He has a higher regard for third party authenticators than I do, but not by much. I can’t name him because unlike me, he still has active relationships with these companies. He stated that he thought third party authenticators make more mistakes rejecting good autographs than authenticating fake autographs. I suppose that’s possible, there’s no way to determine that with any certainty. In a previous blog post I cited two instances where they did that to me and it’s happened to every autograph dealer who’s submitted items. For a very detailed story of how James Spence (JSA) rejected UDA items and several items they previously had authenticated themselves, go to this link and skip down to Feb. 14.

The question is, why do some autograph dealers rely heavily or even exclusively on third party authenticators when there is massive evidence to suggest they are all incompetent to some degree? My buddy in the business and I discussed this issue, and on this we agreed on one major reason. The dealers who rely on third party authenticators are lazy. They want someone else — a third party — to say their autographs are real, whether they are or they aren’t. This way, they can blindly buy and sell them without asking questions about how, when and where the autographs were obtained, which is what you are supposed to learn in Autograph Dealer 101. If anyone questions the authenticity, you just point to the authenticator and shirk any personal responsibility.

I believe there is a second, more nefarious reason for certain dealers who have established very cozy relationships with one or more companies. Authenticators from these companies are STILL active autograph dealers and have been rumored to stay overnight at the houses of dealers whose items they are authenticating. Think any of those will be rejected? Stories of these companies “blanket authenticating” quantities of autographs submitted by dealers that have an “in” with third party authenticators are widespread, and I believe most of them. Don’t be naive; these companies treat the same autograph differently when submitted by a stranger vs. a dealer they “work with.”

Again, the more I find out about third party authenticators, the less respect I have for them, and the more determined I am to educate the public about them.

Some Autograph Dealers Don’t Own Any Autographs

Read the title again — it’s not a mistake. Some autograph dealers own no autographs. How so? One of the dirty little secrets of e-commerce is that some retail companies rely almost exclusively on wholesale companies that are willing to “drop ship” products to the end customers.

In the wacky autograph business, “wholesale” is a relative and sometimes meaningless term. Prices can vary wildly on the same or very similar autographed items, depending on how, when and where the autographs were obtained.

Some of our competitors simply establish wholesale accounts with one or more of these companies, upload products from their catalogs and add a percentage markup that serves as their profit margin. If you see a really stupid looking price like $56.43, you can bet that some intern or temp at one of these companies typed in a wholesale price into a spreadsheet and that was the price after the markup. You can also bet that if you order the product, the company will try to place the order with the wholesale company, and as long as it’s not sold out or the price hasn’t increased, will ship it to you . . . eventually.

AutographsForSale.com doesn’t drop ship except for 1) display cases, 2) custom or special orders, or 3) in emergency situations where there was an inventory mix-up or the product was found to be defective or damaged. Many years ago, I did drop ship a small percentage of products, but found that the negatives outweighed the positives. Too often the product had sold out without notice and the customer was disappointed. Or the wholesale price had increased without notice, erasing most or all of my profit. Or the drop ship company screwed up the shipping and I had to clean up the mess. Or the drop ship company’s actual product didn’t match the quality of the image they provided.

So I put an end to drop shipping autographs. I’d rather provide better and more consistent customer service than sell a few more products here and there. If you order any autographed item from AutographsForSale.com, it will be shipped from here directly to you. If you have a question about any AutographsForSale.com autographed product, call or e-mail and I will personally answer your question, even if I have to dig it out of inventory. Try getting that kind of personal attention from one of our drop shipping competitors.

Third Party Authenticators Will Never Run My Business

Until several years ago, I had little or no knowledge about PSA/DNA or any third party authentication service. I had a vague notion that they knew what they were doing but only because I hadn’t heard anything to the contrary.

That changed in 2005, when I sold a Michael Jordan autographed North Carolina jersey to a customer. I had gotten MJ’s autograph in person earlier that year at the Mario Lemieux Celebrity Golf Tournament in Pittsburgh. After his round, as was his habit at that event (closed to the public after 2005 thanks to hordes of blabbermouth, out-of-control autograph dealers), he took someone’s silver Sharpie — the only time I remember MJ grabbing a silver pen in my several years of going to the Lemieux — and went down the line, signing prolifically. Silver Sharpies are notoriously unreliable, but this one was flowing perfectly, and Jordan signed more than usual that day — probably more than 100. If you own a Jordan autograph in silver Sharpie that looks like this, that’s probably where it was signed. Anyway, I got MJ twice that day, on the UNC jersey and on a 1993 Sports Illustrated (shown here but sold long ago).

Michael Jordan autographed 1993 Sports IllustratedWell, the customer sent in the UNC jersey to PSA/DNA. You guessed it, I got the jersey back from the customer and a PSA/DNA letter dated Nov. 2, 2005 saying the jersey “did not pass authentication.” As you can imagine, I was furious, but there was nothing I could do. I tried to reassure the customer but he understandably wanted his money back. At the time, my return policy entitled the customer to a full refund, which I provided. I since sold my other Jordan autographed UNC jersey which was signed in blue marker and obtained at the Lemieux the year before, but I still have the one signed in silver that PSA/DNA rejected. I began digging into PSA/DNA’s history and those of other third party authenticators and what I found was disturbing. I’ll provide details in future blog posts.

Three years after the Jordan incident, a similar thing happened. A customer bought a Barack Obama autographed soft cover Dreams from My Father book. I also had gotten this signed in person, at Obama’s first presidential campaign appearance in San Diego, October 2007. On his way into the event at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, Obama signed the book for me with my blue Sharpie. I even had a witness — I happened to run into my eye doctor and was chatting with him right before I spotted Obama’s car pull up.

By this time I had changed my return policy to require rejection from PSA/DNA and JSA for refund. And yes, both companies rejected it so I gave the customer a refund. He actually believed the autograph was probably real but wanted to use the authentication to resell the book for a profit. That was the last straw. Never again would I provide refunds based on third party authenticator opinions. These companies had already cost me two substantial sales of items that were not only authentic, not only obtained in person by myself, but in cases where I could provide exact details on when, where and how it was signed.

This was absolute madness. I realized that I was letting third party authentication companies run my business! I was, in effect, admitting that third party authenticators know more about my own autographs than I do, even though I had spent my entire adult life ensuring that all autographs I acquire for myself or to resell are authentic.

Some of my competitors rely on third party authenticators heavily or even exclusively. Some are even widely rumored to be “in bed” with one or more third party authenticators so their submissions get preferential treatment. If that’s the way they want to run their businesses, fine, it’s their decision. (If I had to do that, I couldn’t sleep at night.) My approach is, I look at items that are “authenticated” by one of these companies as if they had never been submitted. The autograph might be real, it might not be, but I won’t make any assumption either way. I have to ask the same questions as if it wasn’t “authenticated.” If my customers have questions, I am happy to explain my policy and try to educate them on why relying on third party authenticators is not just foolish, but dangerous.

No Respect for the Autograph Collecting Hobby

As a kid, I collected just about everything, including coins, stamps, comic books and sports cards. When I went to college, I left all of these hobbies behind, except I rediscovered sports cards and that eventually sent me on my career path. When I discovered autograph collecting, at first it meshed well with sports cards. I’d show up at NFL hotels with a few nine-pocket sheets of football cards to get signed, or go to MLB games with a small stack of baseball cards to get signed.

But eventually the autographs themselves became more interesting to me than the cards, so I expanded my autograph collection to magazines, mini helmets, baseballs, etc. I also expanded my interest beyond the four major team sports into golf, Olympics, soccer, tennis and more. Pretty soon I was into celebrity autographs as well, attending book signings and getting musicians after concerts and politicians after campaign speeches.

I was hooked. Unlike coins, stamps, comics or cards, autograph collecting had the nice side benefit of meeting famous people. Not to mention that no one hands out valuable coins, stamps, comics or cards for free, but famous people sometimes give their autographs for free. These are just two reasons why autograph collecting is a fantastic hobby, and why it’s so surprising that it gets very little respect.

What do I mean? Well, the respected About.com website, run by the New York Times, has several dozen topics, some of which are hobbies including Action Figures, Beadwork, Candles and Soap Making, Coins, Comic Books, Dolls, Needlepoint, Stamps and many more. No autographs. What’s especially glaring about this omission is that unlike most collectibles, autographs are commonly given as gifts to people who are not collectors, and people who are not collectors commonly obtain autographs. At your average celebrity book signing, the number of autograph collectors (or dealers for that matter) are significantly outnumbered by ordinary people who are fans of the author.

Which means that you don’t have to be an autograph collector to be interested in autographs! Not only that, fake autographs are commonly bought and sold, meaning that the average person could use more information about autographs, from where and how to get them, how to avoid fakes, opportunities to get autographs from specific celebrities in person, etc. Yet About.com would rather devote an entire topic to . . . Candles and Soap Making?

More evidence of disrespect for autograph collecting: eBay categories. eBay has top level categories for Coins & Paper Money, and Stamps. Fine, I’m OK with that. But Autographs are found under not one, not two, but three different top level categories: Entertainment Memorabilia, Collectibles and Sports Memorabilia. This is confusing to the buyer and seller. Autographs should either have its own top level category with subcategories for genres, or at least be confined to being a subcategory under only two top level categories. There certainly should not be Collectibles/Autographs/Movies and Entertainment Memorabila/Autographs-Original/Movies. What’s the difference?

I’ll get off my soapbox now.