2013 PSA/DNA Autograph Report: The Ten Most Dangerous Autographs
by Joe Orlando
Since 1998, PSA/DNA has evaluated approximately three and a half million autographs. Last year alone, PSA/DNA's team of experts reviewed over 400,000 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 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 our opinion, these are The Most Dangerous Sports Autographs in 2013. The values provided range from average quality cut signatures or photos to premium items such as high-end baseballs or jerseys. Please note that truly exceptional examples and special items can bring even more than the prices listed.
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Honorable Mention: Lionel Messi
Even if you are not an avid soccer fan, if you watch ESPN's SportCenter, then we're pretty sure you have seen some of Lionel Messi scoring exploits on television. His performances have been so dominating that he has already laid claim to be considered, perhaps, the greatest soccer player of all-time. Signed Messi replica jerseys can sell for $600-$700 or more, a price level usually reserved for elite athletes in one of the more popular American-based sports. Since collecting sports memorabilia isn't nearly as popular outside of the U.S., a lack of genuine autographed memorabilia has resulted. If Messi continues his dominance, it's scary to think where the price of his autographs may go.
Honorable Mention: Tom Brady
Tom Brady has long been considered one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL but now, as he heads into the latter stages of his career, the appreciation for the New England Patriots great is headed to a new level. The new question, one that is asked frequently on sports talk shows, is whether Brady should be considered one of the best, if not the best, of all-time. The Patriots' win-loss record during his tenure is staggering, but it's what Brady has done this year in particular that has taken his all-time status to a new level. The Patriots, clearly depleted of their offensive weapons, remained atop the division due in large part to Brady's leadership; and there are many who believe that no quarterback has done more, with less, than Brady. Brady has never signed the large number of autographs that some of his contemporaries have, leaving demand to far outweigh supply in the marketplace. Expect to pay $200 and up for a genuine signed photo and $450 and up for an autographed NFL football.
#10 LeBron James
Now that LeBron James has won two championships and continues to carry the label as the NBA's best player, he rightfully takes a spot in our top ten for 2013. 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 one of the most difficult in-person signatures to acquire, making the number of authentic examples relatively low for an active superstar. With the amount of money a modern-day superstar can generate these days, it makes it harder and harder to incentivize potential signers.
PSA AutographFacts: $125 for a signed cut to $450 or more for a single-signed basketball.
#9 Wayne Gretzky
Much like Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan in their respective sports, Wayne Gretzky has become the standard that all other hockey players are compared to due to his unprecedented level of excellence throughout his career. Owner of dozens of NHL records, including some single-season and career numbers that seem unreachable, Gretzky was named MVP (Hart Trophy) an unreal nine times, and eight of those were consecutive (1980-1987)! Gretkzy has signed memorabilia for UDA over the years and has long been considered an accommodating signer during fan encounters. Premium items, such as limited edition hockey sticks and jerseys, sell for far more than the listed prices above and may range from $1,000-$5,000 each. As time goes on, Gretzky has become the symbol of greatness in a sport rich with history. As a result, his autograph values have steadily increased as his place in history is better appreciated.
PSA AutographFacts: $150 for a signed photo to $500 for a signed jersey.
#8 Derek Jeter
Last year, Derek Jeter was out most of the season with an ankle injury. In addition, the New York Yankees missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years and pitchers Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retired. As a result, a greater appreciation emerged for Jeter despite the lack of time on the field. He is now the last active member of the Core Four (along with Jorge Posada), a unit that helped the Yankees pile up victories for nearly two decades. 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. This past year was Jeter's least memorable as a player but arguably his most impactful as a modern hobby icon. 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.
PSA AutographFacts: $125 for a signed cut to $350 or more for a single-signed baseball.
#7 Tiger Woods
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 or more in the past. Still a young man with his future ahead of him, Tiger has a chance to 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. Collectors and fans are often forgiving of most personal issues, as long as they don't impact the integrity of the game, so Woods' book has yet to be written.
PSA AutographFacts: $250 for signed cut to $1,500 or more for a single-signed golf flag.
#6 Muhammad Ali
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.
PSA AutographFacts: $150 for a signed cut to $500 or more for a single-signed boxing glove.
#5 Yasiel Puig
In Los Angeles, a young star emerged in baseball by the name of Yasiel Puig. This highly-touted prospect from Cuba, showed immense power, a rocket arm and an overall level of athleticism rarely seen on the field. Now, at only 22 years of age, Puig seems poised for a bright future. When word got out about his first private signing in 2013, the autograph tickets sold out immediately and at an unheard of price for a rookie - $150 per flat item! If the Dodgers can be competitive moving forward, Puig will be able to play on a big stage. As a result of his sudden rise and the general lack of genuine Puig autographs available to collectors, a large number of forgeries entered the market during the past year. In fact, PSA/DNA estimates that nearly 90% of the alleged Puig autographs submitted in 2013 were rejected. It will be interesting to see where his career and autograph market go in 2014.
PSA AutographFacts: $150 for a signed photo to $300 or more for a single-signed baseball.
#4 Michael Jordan
When Jordan was still an active NBA player in the 1990's, a massive amount of forgeries entered the hobby. Despite signing thousands upon thousands of autographs while under contract with 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. Evidence of that was seen year round as Jordan turned 50 in 2013 and hosts of tributes followed suit.
PSA AutographFacts: $175 for a signed cut to $600 or more for a single-signed basketball.
#3 Mantle Williams DiMaggio
In the world of autographs, these three baseball legends are virtually inseparable. They all were A-level Hall of Famers on the field and top autograph draws during the hobby boom of the 1980's.
Mickey 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.
Like Mantle, Ted 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 Upper Deck Authenticated (UDA) in the early 1990s.
Joe DiMaggio rounds out the big three as he became a hobby fixture during his post-career years while the sports collectibles industry grew. Like Mantle and Williams, DiMaggio signed a large number of items during his lifetime, yet he remains a target of forgers due to his popularity.
PSA AutographFacts Mantle: $500-$600 for an authentic signed baseball.
PSA AutographFacts Williams: $350-$500 for an authentic signed baseball.
PSA AutographFacts DiMaggio: $300+ for an authentic signed baseball.
#2 Lou Gehrig
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.
PSA AutographFacts: $3,500 for a signed cut to $75,000 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball.
#1 Babe Ruth
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 of 2012, 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.
PSA AutographFacts: $3,000 for a signed cut to $60,000 or more for a choice, single-signed baseball.
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