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Are You Sure That Autograph is Real?

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Saturday, September 2, 2006

The buying and selling of sports memorabilia is big business these days and many collectors specialize in autographed memorabilia. But how can you be certain that the autographed baseball or football you just bought is really authentic?

Sure, many items come with a certificate of authenticity, but, unfortunately, those can be just as fake as the item itself.

I collect some sports memorabilia, but I usually tend to stay away from the autographed stuff. Unless I get the personís autograph myself, I am always a little skeptical of a signatureís authenticity on an item. I guess thatís just my nature.

That skepticism was reinforced a few years ago when I actually did purchase an autographed item and then found out later that it was indeed a forgery.

I was in a local sports card shop that I have frequented for many years when the owner of the store came over and said that he had the perfect item for me. He knew that I was a huge Detroit Lions fan and he had recent purchased a couple of 8 x 10 framed, autographed pictures of Lions quarterback Joey Harrington (who was a rookie at the time) to sell in his store. It had a nice black wooden frame and a glass front. The picture was also numbered, showing that it was one of only 30 that had been made. The frame also contained a Lions pin, a gold Lions coin and a certificate of authenticity. It was beautiful. However, it was also priced a bit out of my price range.

I normally would not have considered purchasing such an expensive item for myself, until I noticed that the picture was taken during the first game ever played at the Lions newly completed stadium in Detroit, Ford Field, on August 24, 2002. The Lions played the Pittsburgh Steelers in a preseason game that day and it just so happens that my two oldest sons and I were there at the game. After a bit of haggling with the storeowner, he reduced the price of the picture a little, so I bought it.

When I got home, I decided to hang the picture on the wall near my computer desk so I could look at it whenever I was working there. All I had to do was put a nail in the wall. (At this point, you should know that I am a notorious procrastinator. Therefore, the picture remained on the floor by the computer; in the same sack that I brought it home in, for a couple of months.)

Then one day, a couple of my kids were messing around by the computer and the picture got stepped on, breaking the glass. After my initial anger at the kids, I realized that it was my own fault for not hanging the picture up in the first place. I simply decided that I would get the glass replaced.

A few weeks later I was back at the same sports card shop where I had purchased the picture. I happened to mention to the owner what had happened to the picture and that I was going to have the glass replaced. Thatís when he told me that he had received a notice that some of those pictures might be fakes. He told me to bring it in to him and he would check it out for me. As it turns out, the autograph was a fake. It had to do with where the signature appeared on the picture. The signature on my picture was in the wrong spot. About a month later, I received a replacement picture from the storeowner at no cost. It looked exactly like the previous one, except for the location of the signature and the picture number. As soon as I got this one home, I immediately put a nail in the wall and it has been safely hanging there ever since.

The point of my story is this; what happened to me could happen to anyone. I donít blame the storeowner, because he was the one who brought the forgeries to my attention in the first place and he went out of his way to get me a replacement. But as you can see, even sports memorabilia dealers can sometimes fall prey to forged items.

Take my advice. If you canít get the autographs you want in person, work with a sports memorabilia dealer that you know and trust. That way, even if you purchase an item that turns out to be a fake, the dealer will handle the situation for you, which is exactly what happened in my case.

While there may be some disreputable sellers out there, the majority of them in the sports memorabilia business are honest, responsible businessmen who have their reputation to maintain. They will do whatever it takes to ensure that you are purchasing the real thing, or they wonít stay in business very long.

The Latin phrase Ďcaveat emptorí means, ďLet the buyer beware.Ē It is as true today as it has been for over two thousand years.


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