Since 1998, PSA/DNA has evaluated approximately two million autographs. Last year alone, PSA/DNA's team of experts reviewed over 200,000 autographs from collectors and dealers worldwide. Unfortunately, as a result of the popularity and value of many autographs, a good portion of them are forged by unscrupulous individuals.
In fact, it is not uncommon for the rejection rate at PSA/DNA to meet or exceed 50% on some of the more prominent names. What is most startling about that statistic is the fact that PSA/DNA does not often receive obvious forgeries since hobbyists are well aware of our expertise and standing in the industry. In other words, if the rejection rate for a particular autograph approaches 50% with PSA/DNA, you can only imagine how high that percentage of forgeries might be in the overall marketplace.
That is why it is so important to find and buy from reputable sellers; ones who use third-party authentication to protect the interests of their customers. There are a lot of so-called "deals" that can be found on the Internet, at local flea markets and even at some collectibles conventions, but most of these "deals" are too good to be true. Genuine autographs do not often come with a huge discount. As the saying goes, you usually get what you pay for.
Below are the lists of the ten most dangerous autographs in two distinct categories, sports and historical/entertainment autographs. Each list was prepared by the experts at PSA/DNA, based on third-party observations in 2010.
There were some names that thrust into the top ten since the last time we generated this report, like Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali, and others that fell off due to declining popularity, like Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter. Now, that is not to say that large numbers of forgeries do not exist of names which didn't make our top ten.
In our opinion, these lists are composed of The Most Dangerous autographs in 2010. Approximate values of genuine autographs are in parentheses. The values provided range from average quality cut signatures to premium items such as high-end baseballs. Please note that truly exceptional examples and special items can bring even more than the prices listed.
Babe Ruth - ($3,000 for a signed cut to $50,000 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball). The King of Swing is the most sought-after autograph in the hobby. As a result, Ruth leads our list with a rejection percentage in the 60% range. With autographed Ruth items worth between a few thousand dollars to well over six figures, it is easy to see why forgers focus on this baseball icon. In fact, a PSA Mint 9 single-signed baseball sold for $160,000 in November, the highest price ever paid for an autographed Ruth ball. It is also important to note that large numbers of non-malicious secretarial "Ruth" signatures exist. In fact, during his final battle with cancer, Ruth's nurse was believed to have signed a large number of items on his behalf due to his failing health.
Lou Gehrig - ($3,500 for a signed cut to $60,000 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball). Gehrig's personality and signing habits were the antithesis of his legendary teammate – Babe Ruth – but the demand for the Iron Horse's signature rivals the demand for autographs of The Sultan of Swat. Even one of Gehrig's signed contracts from his playing days sold for well in excess of $100,000 just a few years ago. While all mediums containing Gehrig's signature are scarce, single-signed baseballs might be the toughest of all. This results in very high demand and a large volume of forgeries. Even on team-signed balls, Gehrig would often leave the sweet spot open for his boisterous teammate.
Mickey Mantle - ($150 for a signed cut to $600 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball). A few years ago, Mantle topped our list of most dangerous autographs. While two other Yankee legends have passed him, Mantle remains one of the most desirable autographs in the hobby. Even though Mantle signed an enormous amount of items in the 1980s and up until his death in 1995, the number of forgeries is greater than the amount of authentic examples available. The majority of those forgeries are attempts at his post-career signature style, which is quite different compared to his early-career style. In addition, non-malicious secretarial and clubhouse forgeries found earlier in his career, are not uncommon. Baseballs signed by Mantle can range from several hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars each depending on condition.
Michael Jordan - ($175 for a signed cut to $600 or more for a single-signed basketball). When Jordan was still an active NBA player in the 1990s, a massive amount of forgeries entered the hobby. Despite signing thousands upon thousands of autographs while under contract with Upper Deck Authenticated (UDA), the supply was not nearly enough to satisfy the demand. Most signed photos, basketballs and jerseys range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars if authentic. Today, since Jordan remains one of the toughest modern autographs to find, forgeries remain a major problem.
Muhammad Ali - ($150 for a signed cut to $500 or more for a single-signed boxing glove). Even though Ali has been somewhat of a prolific signor in the past, the number of authentic Ali autographs fresh to the marketplace has decreased in recent times. This has caused Ali to vault onto the list of most dangerous autographs for 2010. Even when he was making public appearances at collectibles conventions not too long ago, the autograph fees started at a few hundred dollars so, today, be prepared to pay at least several hundred dollars and higher for items such as photos and boxing gloves. Vintage "Cassius Clay" versions of his autograph sell for a premium due to the relative scarcity but both versions of his signature are forged in large quantities.
Lebron James - ($125 for a signed cut to $450 or more for a single-signed basketball). James autographs have been in demand since his high school days when pro scouts were watching his every move, which means that forgers were already producing counterfeits before he ever stepped foot on the NBA court. There are very few athletes that ever live up to the hype, especially when the hype starts so early, but James has been an exception. Like Michael Jordan, James signed a deal with UDA and even signed photos tend to sell for hundreds of dollars. James remains on of the most difficult in-person signatures to acquire, making the number of authentic examples relatively low for an active superstar.
Ted Williams - ($100 for a signed cut to $350 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball). While the demand for Teddy Ballgame's signature has declined slightly over the past several years, the amount of Williams forgeries in the marketplace is staggering. Like Mantle, Williams signed a very large amount of items during the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, he eventually signed for his own son through a memorabilia outfit called Ted Williams Family Enterprises after joining Mantle as a part of UDA in the early 1990s. Authentic signed baseballs tend to sell in the $350-$500 range but it is not uncommon for signed bats and jerseys to command a significant premium.
Tiger Woods - ($250 for signed cut to $1,500 or more for a single-signed golf flag). Even though Tiger's popularity as an athlete and person has taken a serious hit in the last year, he remains on the list of most dangerous autographs. Even in this down market, it is not uncommon for signed photos to sell for $500 or more. Like Michael Jordan, Tiger signed a deal with UDA to provide autographed memorabilia to the hobby but, it was not nearly enough to satisfy the demand. In fact, signed golf balls are extremely rare and have sold for $5,000 and more in the past. Still a young man with his future ahead of him, Tiger will still likely go down as the greatest golfer in history despite his personal trials.
Kobe Bryant - ($100 for a signed cut to $400 or more for a single-signed basketball). Kobe, unlike some of the top athletes of the last two decades, has actually signed quite a bit since his rookie season with the Lakers. After suffering a temporary setback in popularity a few years ago, Kobe made collectors forget the controversy by performing on the court and avoiding further criticism off the court. Today, signed photos will cost the collector about $200 or more with basketballs and jerseys selling for around $400 and higher. With five championships under his belt, and perhaps more to come, Kobe has become a real target for forgers the last couple of years.
Albert Pujols - ($100 for a signed cut to $300 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball). Pujols has put up numbers during his first ten seasons in MLB that rival some of the greatest hitters in the game's history. His consistency as a hitter, positive overall image and the lack of authentic autographs provide ample reason for forgers to target this perennial MVP contender. Pujols, much like Lebron James, is a tough modern-era autograph to acquire since he has participated in a relatively low number of signings over the years. Signed baseballs command $300 and higher on the open market, which is the highest going rate for any active baseball player.
Historical and Entertainment Autographs
Elvis Presley – ($1,500 for a signed cut to $35,000 or more for a signed contract or letter). The King of Rock and Roll leads our non-sports list in 2010. Passing away at only 42 years of age in 1977, the amount of authentic autographs is extremely limited. Elvis' popularity is global. For example, large numbers of forgeries can be found in Europe, not just the United States. More specifically, Germany and the Netherlands. Very few handwritten letters, which are extremely desirable, are known of this American Icon. Signed photos are the most prevalent type of authentic Elvis autographs but they still have been known to sell for thousands of dollars at auction.
The Beatles – ($5,000 for a signed cut to $15,000 or more for a signed photo). They are, quite simply, the most heavily forged band in the autograph world. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr made up The Fab Four, a band that was together for a relatively short period of time (about 10 years from 1960-1970). Lennon's early passing, at the age of 40 in 1980, also contributes to the low number of complete, authentic examples of this mega-popular hit machine. Even vintage signed baseballs of the group have sold for over $40,000 at auction.
John F. Kennedy – ($1,750 for a signed cut to $25,000 or more for a Presidential letter/document). Beyond being one of the most popular Presidents in U.S. history, there has always been a mystique about Kennedy. Shot and killed at the age of 46 in 1963, the number of authentic signatures is very small. In addition to large amounts of forgeries, non-malicious "Kennedy" autographs were produced by secretaries and via autopen during his tenure in office. A small group of love letters made out to Gunilla von Post of Sweden (a woman he had an affair with prior to his marriage) sold for $115,537 in March of 2010 at auction.
Marilyn Monroe – ($2,500 for a signed cut to $15,000 or more for a signed photo). Yet again, another celebrity who passed away at a very young age (36 in 1962), which resulted in a very limited number of authentic autographs for fans of the iconic actress. Forgers tend to target photos of Monroe as their primary medium. Monroe signed checks and documents do exist and both mediums are very popular with collectors. A dual-signed baseball of Monroe, and her former husband Joe DiMaggio, sold for an astonishing $191,200 in 2006. A photo signed and personalized from Monroe to the Yankee Legend sold for over $60,000 in November of 2010.
Michael Jackson – ($200 for a signed cut to $1,000 or more for a signed photo). The King of Pop found his way into our top ten this year. With his recent passing in 2009 at the age of 50, Jackson forgeries flooded the marketplace in 2010. A subject of great controversy throughout the later half of his career, Jackson's contribution to music has received greater appreciation following his death than ever before. While genuine signed photos sell for $1,000 and higher on the open market, forgeries are often listed online for a fraction of that price. In 2010, a ball that was signed by Jackson and basketball star Michael Jordan sold for $294,000 at auction in China.
Jim Morrison – ($1,200 for a signed cut to $4,000 or more for a signed photo). As the lead singer of The Doors, Morrison became a virtual overnight sensation in the late-1960s but the rock-and-roll lifestyle contributed heavily to his undoing. In 1971, he died at the age of 27 in Paris, France and there is still a cloud of mystery surrounding the circumstances of his passing. Most of the genuine autographs found today come in the form of check endorsements but forgers target albums, photos and even simple slips of paper.
Neil Armstrong – ($1,000 for a signed cut to $5,000 or more for a signed photo). It may come as a surprise but astronauts are one of the popular autograph collecting themes in the hobby. With that in mind, it is easy to see why an autograph from the first man to set foot on the moon (1969) would be the pinnacle of these collections. In fact, authentic signed photos of the Apollo 11 crew can generate upwards of $5,000 or more. Over the past three decades, Armstrong has had a virtual no-autograph policy, making it even more difficult for collectors to obtain the genuine article.
Jimi Hendrix – ($2,500 for a signed cut to $7,500 or more for a signed photo). Much like Jim Morrison, this guitar legend died at the age of 27 after vaulting to the top of music world. His death was also not free from controversy and the way it happened is still a subject of debate today. While there are some similarities surrounding their deaths, Hendrix autographs, a common target of forgers, are considered even tougher than Morrison's. In fact, the earliest known Hendrix contract (1965) sold for just over $200,000 at auction in 2009.
James Dean – ($2,000 for a signed cut to $8,500 or more for a signed photo). With so many famous figures passing at early ages within the top ten list, none passed earlier than silver screen icon James Dean. At only 24 years of age in 1955 and after starring in his signature film Rebel Without a Cause, Dean perished in a car crash. It is not uncommon for Dean signed checks, a popular medium with collectors, to garner $5,000 or more at auction. Like Marilyn Monroe, forgers often target photos of Dean as the "canvas" for counterfeits.
Walt Disney – ($650 for a signed cut to $3,500 or more for a signed photo). This entertainment icon was successful and inventive in a number of areas, including motion pictures, animation and theme parks. Today, his remarkable company (founded in 1923 with his brother Roy) generates well over $30 billion annually. Disney passed away in 1966 but, up until that time, he did sign a fair number of items. In addition, his signature is one of the most unique and attractive of autographs in any genre, which increases the demand. It is not uncommon for checks and documents to sell for a couple to several thousand dollars each at auction.
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