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A Discussion of Authenticity

 

At Gold Standard Collectibles, we never cut corners to make a quick buck.  Doing so is not in line with our values, nor would it ever be worth it for us to tarnish the spotless reputation that we have built through many years of honest dealings.  By combining our own expertise in vintage sports autographs and memorabilia with the independent review of the most highly respected authenticators in the industry, we ensure that every item we sell is of unquestionable authenticity.

 

Each of our items fits one of three categories.

 

Certified at the time of signing or use: 

 

Companies like Upper Deck Authenticated and Steiner Sports specialize in contracting with teams or players to obtain authentic autographs and game-used items.  Then, they tag the item with a tamper-proof seal or hologram, typically with a unique serial number that also appears on the letter of authenticity they provide with the item.  Through this method, you can be assured of the authenticity of your Upper Deck Authenticated Michael Jordan autograph, or your Steiner Sports Derek Jeter game-used bat, because those players are known to be under contract to provide authentic autographs and memorabilia to those companies.  Some players prefer to handle the sale of their autographs and game-used memorabilia themselves, forming companies themselves or allowing their friends and close associates to do so.  Teams and leagues have also developed their own authentication procedures in recent years, typically for game-used items.

 

Certified after the fact: 

 

An autograph collector has the option of looking for the cheapest piece available or the one most likely to be authentic.  These are two very different objectives, and we obviously have an opinion as to whether both are truly "autograph collectors."  Let's just say that one cannot find authentic signatures of superstars past and present from dealers claiming to have massive quantities at bargain basement prices.

 

So how does one find authentic ones, given that there was no one sticking serial-numbered, tamper-proof holograms on each item that Babe Ruth signed?

 

In short, stick with items that are authenticated by PSA/DNA Authentication Services or James Spence Authentication and with dealers who specialize in such items.

 
There are plenty of opportunities to get real signatures of almost all players.  Collectors just need to be willing to spend the money and/or effort to assure they are getting the real thing.  For example, if you want to learn how to identify real Mickey Mantle signatures, you can look at past auction catalogs and eBay auctions to see hundreds of Mantle signatures with letters of authenticity and matching holograms from Upper Deck Authenticated, a company that had him under contract for a few years.  By reading up, you can learn about other signings that Mantle did with reputable sources and see examples of those items, such as the limited edition of 1,000 Ron Lewis lithographs signed by the 500 Home Run Club in 1989.  Then, as you look at Mantle autographs with various letters of authenticity, you will notice a pattern: the ones authenticated by PSA/DNA Authentication Services or James Spence Authentication look remarkably like the Upper Deck Authenticated ones or other ones with good provenance, whereas the $200 Mantle balls with other letters of authenticity just do not look right.  You might do the same thing with Ted Williams, or Joe DiMaggio, or Babe Ruth.  

 

As signatures get more expensive, the forgeries will tend to be better because there is more incentive for forgers to offer that type of material.  But as you see more and more of them and keep track of who has vouched for them, you will notice a clear divide between which ones are real and which ones are not.  You will also see that perhaps there is a good reason why a Babe Ruth ball authenticated by PSA/DNA or James Spence Authentication might go for $20,000 or $30,000, whereas one in similar condition from another authenticator might not exceed $5,000.  Wouldn't the owner submit the ball to PSA/DNA or James Spence Authentication to get the 4-6x price premium if it were that simple?
 
This is not to say that every expensive one is real, or that there are not any real ones that are not authenticated by James Spence Authentication or PSA/DNA.  But it is to say that if you do not have the time, resources, or frankly, the aptitude -- it is not for everyone -- to learn for yourself about a particular autograph, it just makes sense to buy one approved by someone who does.   

 

The market is efficient, in the sense that the top-notch, real material authenticated by PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication commands the highest dollars.  It may require time to educate yourself, and it may require significantly more money to get these items, but in the end, that is how to get the item you truly want.

 

Please note that there are four main types of letters of authenticity you can get from PSA/DNA or James Spence Authentication:

 

Full letter:  This describes each company's full authentication process.  Once an item is fully examined and deemed authentic, it receives a letter of authenticity on proprietary watermarked paper with a brief description of the item, a photo of the signature, and the signature of the authenticator.  A certification number is assigned the item and appears on both the letter of authenticity and a tamper-proof sticker that is attached to the item.  The owner of the item can also choose to have the sticker affixed to the letter rather than the item in order to preserve the item's integrity, which is sometimes done with older items.  The serial number can be verified on the authenticator's website at any time to demonstrate authenticity to subsequent buyers.

 

Full letter with grading:  In recent years, PSA/DNA began to offer grading for autographed baseballs and other signatures for an additional fee and includes the grades in the letter of authenticity.  Sometimes, a high grade can increase the value of an item by 2-3x or more, depending on the rarity of the particular item in that condition.  When grading autographed baseballs, the authenticators grade the condition of the signature and the ball separately on a scale of 1 (Poor to Fair) to 10 (Gem Mint).  Then, they average the two grades to derive the overall grade, with an allowance to raise or lower the overall grade by .5 based on the ball's overall eye appeal.  A ball that grades GEM-MINT 10 will have a strong white color with bold stampings and no blemishes or other flaws.  A signature that grades GEM-MINT 10 will be nice and dark with no skips, smudges, or contrast issues with the background.  PSA/DNA encapsulates each graded baseball in a ball cube with tamper-proof seals and a label denoting the grade, but some collectors choose to remove their graded balls from this case for display purposes.  PSA/DNA also offers autograph grading for items other than baseballs.  For these items, only the signature itself is graded and the 1-to-10 grade appears on the letter of authenticity.  Collectors can also choose to have PSA/DNA grade and encapsulate small items like index cards in the same way it grades and encapsulates trading cards.  In those cases, the certification number and grade appear on the label of the encapsulated item and there is no accompanying letter of authenticity.

 

Auction house letter:  Most of the largest sports memorabilia auction houses retain PSA/DNA and/or James Spence Authentication to review all of the autographed items that appear in their auctions.  Given the sheer volume of autographed material offered in each auction, sometimes including lots consisting of hundreds of signatures each, PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication developed modified processes for authenticating auction house items.  Under these procedures, each lot that includes an autograph is accompanied by an auction house letter of authenticity on the authentication company's proprietary watermarked paper.  These auction house letters contain the auction house name, lot number, item description (per the auction house, not the authenticator), and date of the offering.  These reflect preliminary reviews of the items, rather than the full examination process.  Unlike the full letters of authenticity, auction house versions contain a printed signature of the authenticator rather than a live signature and do not contain a photo of the item, certification number and sequential sticker, or authenticator's description of the item.  However, as many auction houses tend to preserve auction archives on their websites, one can usually conduct a simple search to verify that an item is, in fact, the one matching the auction house letter of authenticity accompanying it.  Typically, the winner of an auction lot has a 30-45 day window to submit the item to the authenticator in order to upgrade to a full letter of authenticity at a discount to the normal fee.  Please note that PSA/DNA recently discontinued issuing physical auction house letters of authenticity.  Instead, auction house items described by PSA/DNA are described as "Pre-Certified" and may be submitted for discounted full authentication by the winning bidder within 60 days of the end of the auction.

 

Certification card:  For lower-value items, PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication offer a certificate of authenticity card at a lower cost than the full letter of authenticity.  This 3" x 5" card includes a certification number that is also attached to the item using a tamper-proof certification label.  There is no photo or information about the item on the certification card, but information about the item is included in the certification database on each company's website.

 

While autographs have been the focus of this discussion, we believe MEARS (Memorabilia Evaluation and Research Services) is the most highly-qualified authentication company for game-used uniforms and equipment.

 

Guaranteed to pass authentication review:

 

Several of our items do not come with a letter of authenticity.  However, all of our autographed items are 100% guaranteed to pass authentication by PSA/DNA Authentication Services or James Spence Authentication within 30 days of receipt or your money back.  We are only willing to carry an item without a letter of authenticity if we are 100% certain it is authentic, based on our knowledge and experience; if we have any doubts, we will submit it for third-party authentication before buying it and offering it for sale.  We have simply found over the years that many of our customers prefer not to have the costs of authentication (often $100 or more per item) tacked onto our prices.  Some of them have submitted 10, 20, or even 50+ items from us for authentication and gotten the thumbs-up on all of them, even though the overall pass rate for items submitted to these authenticators is likely under 50%.  At that point, they know that we know our stuff and would prefer to pay less and have the choice left up to them of whether it's worth getting a PSA/DNA or James Spence Authentication letter of authenticity.  If you would prefer to get your item authenticated immediately after purchasing it from us, we can submit it to the authenticator of your choice directly and then have it shipped to you, provided you pay the cost of the item and authentication up front.  If it fails, we will refund your money in full, including the cost of authentication.