New Product... Old Problem
First of all, let me start by stating that the intent of this particular column is not to scare collectors. The intent is to illustrate, clearly, why the hobby needs to continue to educate, move forward and embrace third party authentication. At the end of this column, I am sure most of you will agree.
Recently, a dealer contacted me about a particular card that was up for bidding on eBay. The card was a modern production but it featured a vintage star - Lou Gehrig. Also included was a cut signature from Gehrig... or at least that is what he thought. The bidding for the card was already up to $6,000 and climbing. These limited edition, modern (yet vintage) signature series cards are very popular with collectors.
I had the misfortune of alerting this dealer that the autograph on the card was not that of The Iron Horse - it was a clubhouse version. A clubhouse autograph is one, for those of you who do not know, that was signed by a clubhouse attendant, batboy or some other person in the organization other than the athlete. This practice was commonplace years ago and was done without malice. The demand for the autographs would sometimes exceed the supply and athletes had trouble keeping up. Hence, the clubhouse signature was born - a forgery produced by someone else at the ballpark.
This card was manufactured by a major company and the dealer could not understand how a major card manufacturer could insert a clubhouse signature into one of their cards. Let's face it, everyone makes mistakes, including PSA so I am not about to criticize them for making one. What I will ask is why they do not have a reputable third party authenticating the autographs?
About one year earlier, a similar situation arose. This time it concerned a different player, Babe Ruth, and a different card manufacturer. It was a modern production with a cut signature included. This card was also listed on eBay and the bidding exceeded $10,000 if I recall correctly. Once again, unfortunately, the autograph was questionable. The Bambino did not sign this one, and it didn't even appear to be a secretarial version, it just looked like a low quality forgery.
A secretarial signature is much like a clubhouse autograph. There is no malice intended. A secretary or assistant would sign for the athlete due to demand, especially with the abundance of autograph requests via mail. In Ruth's case, as we have mentioned before in recent columns, his nurse would sign many items towards the end of his life while he was bedridden in the hospital.
In this second example, the manufacturer did not require third party authentication before they decided to include the autograph in the construction of the card. Their authenticator did not make the mistake of certifying a Ruth forgery. That would have been somewhat acceptable. There was no authenticator to begin with! Is it just me or does something seem wrong with this picture?
In the end, it is up to the consumer to demand authentication from the manufacturers. Many collectors just assume that if the card is produced by a major company that the autograph must be real. Well, would you assume that an autograph is real just because it was being sold by a certain dealer? No, so why would you in this case?
It's your money; make sure it is well spent.
Never get cheated,
Editor In Chief
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