Since 1998, PSA/DNA has evaluated approximately three million autographs. Last year alone, PSA/DNA's team of experts reviewed over 350,000 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.
In addition, remember that forged signatures come in a variety of dangerous forms. Not all forgeries are created with malice. There are also non-malicious types of forgeries such as secretarial signatures, used by everyone from baseball players to U.S. Presidents, and clubhouse examples in the world of sports. These forgeries were not made for financial gain or produced to harm anyone else. These were often signed to satisfy autograph requests through the mail or to complete a team-signed item that was missing a player or two.
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 our observations in 2012.
There were some names that thrust into the top ten since the last time we generated this report, like Neil Armstrong and Derek Jeter, and others that fell off the list, like LeBron James. Now, that is not to say that large numbers of forgeries do not exist of names which didn't make our top ten because there are many autographs that are considered dangerous .
In our opinion, these lists are composed of The Most Dangerous autographs in 2012. 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.
For additional information about autographs, please visit our new website - psaautographfacts.com - a free online resource with pricing, articles, biographical summaries and thousands of terrific images.
"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 + 9.5 single-signed baseball was auctioned for $388,375 in August, 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. The bottom line is Ruth remains king.
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 (1935) sold for $115,000 as far back as 2004. While all mediums containing Gehrig's signature are scarce, single-signed baseballs might be the toughest of all, so finding a top notch example is almost impossible. In fact, the highest grade ever achieved by a Gehrig single-signed baseball is NM + 7.5. 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 outgoing teammate.
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. Perhaps the best illustration of this autograph evolution could be seen in a 2005 Guernsey's auction where Mantle's family offered signed player contracts from every season of his career. Mantle-signed baseballs can range from several hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars each depending on condition and/or content.
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. In fact, it appears as if Jordan's legacy has improved with time, with all new stars ultimately compared to him. Jordan, like Babe Ruth in baseball, has become the standard that all others are measured against.
Even though Ali has been somewhat of a prolific signer 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 in recent years. 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. Since Ali's autograph has deteriorated with age, earlier "Muhammad Ali" signatures will also often sell for premiums for aesthetic reasons.
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 as his career starts winding down and he continues to rise on the all-time scoring list with over 30,000 career points.
Even though Tiger's popularity as an athlete and person has taken a serious hit in the last few years, 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. If Tiger can resurrect his career in a dramatic way, his autograph will certainly take another jump in demand.
The last time we produced our Most Dangerous list, Jeter had slipped out of the top ten due to a couple of mediocre seasons for the perennial All Star. In 2012, Jeter looked like his old self, hitting .316 and leading the American League with 216 hits. More importantly, Jeter has started to climb the all-time charts in hits, passing several Hall of Famers like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Willie Mays. With over 3,300 career hits and climbing, Jeter will almost certainly pass a few more in 2013 with a legitimate shot at top three when he decides to call it quits. Unlike many of the top stars from his era, Jeter has avoided any link to PED use and he has been the face of the MLB's most popular team for nearly two decades. As a result, Jeter collectibles surged in 2012, including his autograph. Jeter has been signing for Steiner Sports, a collectibles retailer based in New York, for several years and he has been a somewhat accommodating signer in person as well.
In 2012, Pujols got off to a very slow start but ended up looking like the hitter we have come to know by the end of the season. Pujols has put up numbers during his first twelve 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 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. With Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton batting in the same lineup, it's scary to think what Pujols may be able to do next year. The fact that he is also playing for a serious World Series contender should mean even more national coverage, resulting in upside for his autograph values.
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 inscription baseballs, signed bats and jerseys to command a significant premium with vintage examples carrying the biggest premium of all. Of the three baseball legends who signed significant amounts of material during their post-career years - Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams - Williams single-signed baseballs are the toughest to find in strict mint condition.
The world of sports witnessed one of its greatest rookie classes in both baseball and football in 2012, with several young stars living up to and even exceeding the hype. That class was led by outfielders Bryce Harper (20) and Mike Trout (21) in baseball, with quarterbacks Robert Griffin III (22) and Andrew Luck (23) shining on the football field. It was not uncommon to see Harper and Trout single-signed baseballs reach $200+ in 2012. Photos signed by Luck and Griffin have sold in the same range, but premium items such as helmets and jerseys have garnered much more. In fact, Griffin-signed premium items routinely sold in the $500-$1,000 range during the season. When you consider how young these athletes are and how spectacular their performances were in 2012, it is obvious that the sky is the limit. As fans, all we can hope for is that they can remain healthy. Can all four men avoid the sophomore jinx in 2013? Stay tuned.
Historical and Entertainment Autographs
"The King of Rock and Roll" leads our non-sports list in 2012, for the second time in three years. 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. In fact, even a 1953 Draft card, signed by the music legend, sold for $26,290 within the last few years.
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. In 2012, an autograph purported to be Lennon's last (dated December 8, 1980), sold for $72,000 at auction. Even a few vintage signed baseballs of the group have sold for over $40,000 at auction. The last example, from 1965, sold at auction for $65,725 in May of 2012.
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, especially in light of his passing in 2012. In fact, authentic signed photos of the entire Apollo 11 crew fetched more than $7,000 each at auction this past year. Over the past three decades, Armstrong had a virtual no-autograph policy, making it even more difficult for collectors to obtain the genuine article. One of the most sought after Armstrong signed items is the familiar NASA studio-style photograph, which the late-astronaut signed for fans. But beware, it is also a popular medium for forgeries.
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" forgeries 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. Like most U.S. Presidents, autographs that were signed during his time in office usually sell for price premiums versus examples that were signed before election.
"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 latter 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. It is not uncommon for Jackson's handwritten lyrics to bring well into five figures at auction.
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. In 2012, what is believed to be Monroe's last signed check, dated August 4, 1962, sold for $15,000, and a personalized photo from circa 1956 sold for $32,500 at auction.
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. In fact, a very simple, signed piece of paper sold for over $5,000 at auction in 2012.
Much like Jim Morrison, this guitar legend died at the age of 27 after vaulting to the top of the music world. His death was also shrouded in 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 about $200,000 at auction in 2009, one of the highest prices ever recorded for a signed contract of any sort... even in the sports genre.
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. In 2012, the company acquired Lucasfilm for slightly more than $4 billion, a deal which could further cement Disney as an entertainment powerhouse. Walt 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.
There are certain movies that will always be a part of our culture and The Wizard of Ozis one of those iconic films that will be forever introduced to future generations of children. In 2013, a prequel to the 1939 classic will be released by Disney entitled Oz: The Great and Powerful, and it is sure to generate a lot of interest. While Garland was not limited to her starring role in Oz, she will always be remembered most for her portrayal of Dorothy in, perhaps, the most beloved musical production in cinematic history. When it comes to Garland autographs, as one would expect, the most desirable items tend to be the ones that link the performer to the unforgettable movie. Garland passed away at the early age of 47 in 1969, which adds to the difficulty in finding authentic examples.
Eastwood has enjoyed a long and storied career as an actor, director and producer. Rising to popularity in the 1960s, Eastwood became a symbol of toughness in Hollywood, especially after his role as Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harryfilm series. Later on, Eastwood would make his mark in other ways, winning Academy Awards for his directorial work on Unforgivenin 1992 and Million Dollar Babyin 2004. Through his body of work, Eastwood has become an icon to multiple generations, creating demand for his autograph. Since Eastwood is a relatively private person, obtaining his autograph can be challenging, which adds further appeal to authentic examples of his signature.