2014 PSA/DNA Autograph Report
The Ten Most Dangerous Autographs
By Joe Orlando
Since 1998, PSA/DNA has evaluated approximately four 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 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 2014.
There were some changes to our list since the last time we generated this report, such as MLB superstar Mike Trout joining the elite group while Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers fell out of the Top Ten in our sports section. 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 2014. Approximate values of genuine autographs are in parentheses for most individual entries on the list. 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.
We also made mention of notable auction prices realized in 2014 for many of the subjects.
For additional information about autographs, please visit our new website - psacard.com/autographfacts - a free online resource with pricing, articles, biographical summaries and thousands of terrific images.
1. Babe Ruth - ($3,000 for a signed cut to $65,000 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 pe rcentage 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 is believed to have signed a large number of items on his behalf due to his failing health. The bottom line is Ruth remains king.
In 2014, a 1918 Babe Ruth signed contract - the earliest known contract from his playing career - sold for $1,028,500 at auction.
2. Lou Gehrig - ($3,500 for a signed cut to $80,000 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 (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.
In 2014, a 1931 Lou Gehrig signed passport sold for $262,900 at auction.
3. Mickey Mantle/Ted Williams/Joe 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 1980s. 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. The majority of those forgeries are attempts at his more recognizable post-career signature style, which is quite different compared to his early-career style. Expect to pay a minimum $150 for an authentic signed photo and $500-$600 for a signed baseball. In fact, a PSA/DNA Mint + 9.5 single-signed baseball sold for $3,107 in November of 2013.
In 2014, a 1949 Mickey Mantle signed New York Yankees signing bonus check sold for $286,800.
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. 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. In the past 12 months, a Ted Williams signed and inscribed 2,500th hit baseball sold for $23,431 at auction.
In 2014, a 1960 Ted Williams signed/game-used glove sold for $86,282 at auction.
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. You can acquire genuine single-signed baseballs in the $300+ range but, as with the two aforementioned legends, special inscription-based items sell for premiums such as items featuring references to his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 or those that include "The Yankee Clipper" in addition to his autograph. Earlier this year, a 1954 Joe DiMaggio handwritten letter to Marilyn Monroe sold for $78,125 and a 1948 contract sold for $35,850 at auction.
In 2014, a 1992 Joe DiMaggio signed Marilyn Monroe baseball artwork by LeRoy Neiman sold for $95,600 at auction.
4. 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 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. As time goes on, Jordan's legacy seems to improve with each passing year.
In 2014, a 1994 Michael Jordan signed Minor League baseball contract sold for $15,535 at auction.
5. 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 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.
In 2014, a pair of early 1980's Muhammad Ali signed trunks sold for $9,560 at auction.
6. Mike Trout - ($75 for a signed photo to $150 or more for a single-signed baseball.) With Derek Jeter now retired, baseball is looking for a new face of the game. There are some bright young stars in the game like Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen, but it would be hard to deny Mike Trout the leading role. Trout has been nothing short of amazing in his first few years in MLB and, at only 23 years of age, his potential seems limitless. Trout has all the tools and the smile to go with it. In arguably his "worst" statistical season, Trout was named AL MVP in 2014 after being named runner-up the prior two seasons. That's how good he is. Trout has been signing autographs and offering game-used items since his rookie year, although in limited quantities. It will be interesting to see how accessible he remains as his career continues.
In 2014, a 2013 Mike Trout signed/game-used professional model bat sold for $9,480.
7. Derek Jeter - ($125 for a signed cut to $400 or more for a single-signed baseball.) This past year, Derek Jeter said goodbye to baseball. In Jeter-like fashion, during his final home at-bat in Yankee Stadium, the modern-era icon rifled a game-winning single to right field to secure the victory. The walk-off hit was, arguably, his most memorable in 2014. Throughout the year, Jeter collectibles were on fire, reaching new heights in the market with each passing hit and milestone. Unlike many of the top stars from his era, Jeter avoided any link to PED use and he was the face of the MLB's most popular team - and the game itself - for nearly two decades. 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 2014, a 1996 Derek Jeter signed/game-used World Series bat sold for $155,350.
8. Tiger Woods - ($150 for signed cut to $1,000 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 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 but have come down a little in price due to his recent struggles. Still a young man with his future ahead of him, Tiger has a chance 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.
In 2014, a Tiger Woods signed 2008 tournament golf shirt sold for $3,520 at auction.
9. LeBron James - ($125 for a signed cut to $450 or more for a single-signed basketball). LeBron James is back in Cleveland and the expectations are high for basketball's best player. 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.
In 2014, a 2012-13 LeBron James signed/game-worn Miami Heat jersey sold for $18,043 at auction.
10. Wayne Gretzky - ($150 for a signed photo to $500 for a signed jersey.) 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.
In 2014, a 1989 Wayne Gretzky signed Saturday Night Live contract sold for $2,629 at auction.
A 2013 Movie Propels an Old Icon
Jackie Robinson - ($650 for a signed cut to $8500 or more for a single-signed baseball.) Jackie Robinson collectibles certainly didn't need a push in the marketplace, but a well-received movie about his life doesn't hurt. In 2013, the movie 42 hit the theaters and it reminded us of the courage, talent and importance of this man to the game of baseball and beyond. Robinson has always been very popular with collectors and, of course, it is just as much about breaking the color barrier as it is about his 1949 NL MVP and 1955 World Series title. Since Robinson died at a relatively young age in 1972, his autographs are much tougher than other stars who played during his era. In 2013, a 1961 Jackie Robinson typed signed letter to Dodger's General Manager Buzzie Bavasi sold for $41,825 and a Jackie Robinson signed baseball - graded PSA/DNA Mint 9 - sold for a record $104,765.
Historical and Entertainment Autographs
1. The Beatles - ($5,000 for a signed cut to $15,000 or more for a signed photo.) We have a new #1 in 2014. 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. A fairly recent example, dating to 1965, sold at auction for $65,725 in May of 2012. Finally, in 2013, a signed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album sold for an astonishing $290,500, setting a new price standard.
In 2014, a Beatles signed photo album cover from their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 sold for $125,000 at auction.
2. 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" fell to #2 on our list in 2014, but he remains near the top on our Most Dangerous list. 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.
In 2014, a 1956 Elvis Presley signed contract with the William Morris Agency sold for $30,000 at auction.
3. Neil Armstrong - ($1,500 for a signed cut to $4,000 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, 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 in 2013. 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.
In 2014, a Neil Armstrong (in cockpit) signed NASA photo sold for $4,687 at auction.
4. 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" 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. In 2013, a JFK signed "First Pitch" baseball from a Washington Senators game in 1961 sold for $47,800 at auction and a 1963 signed Christmas card sold for $21,013. 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.
In 2014, a 1959 Power of Attorney document signed by John. F. Kennedy sold for $4,560 at auction.
5. Michael Jackson - ($350 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 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. In 2010, a ball that was signed by Jackson and basketball star Michael Jordan sold for $294,000 at auction in China. It is not uncommon for Jackson's handwritten lyrics to bring well into five figures at auction.
In 2014, a Michael Jackson signed custom jacket sold for $8,960 at auction.
6. 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. In 2013, a signed letter from Monroe to Lee Strasberg in which she expresses her struggles with the pressures of Hollywood, sold for $156,000. Finally, in the past year, a 1946 Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Dougherty) signed release form sold for $11,250 at auction.
In 2014, a Marilyn Monroe handwritten letter to Arthur Miller sold for $43,750,
7. Jim Morrison - ($1,500 for a signed cut to $4,500 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. In fact, a very simple, signed piece of paper sold for over $5,000 at auction in 2012.
In 2014, a signed high-school yearbook (1961) sold for $5,247 at auction.
8. Jimi Hendrix - ($2,500 for a signed cut to $7,500 or more for a signed photo.) Just 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.
In 2014, a Jimi Hendrix handwritten note sold for $7,500 at auction.
9. The Rolling Stones - ($1,200 and up for a signed photo and $3,500 and up for a signed guitar.) Since the early 1960s, The Rolling Stones have been making hit records. Their longevity is remarkable. Not only does their music remain popular, but they are still performing like they were 50 years ago! There have been some changes to the band over time, but the most recognizable members are Ronnie Wood, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards and, of course, maybe the most charismatic lead vocalist in music history - Mick Jagger. Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Mick Taylor, Dick Taylor, Tony Chapman and Charlie Watts have also been members of the legendary rock group at different times. Since the two key figures are still alive and well in Jagger and Richards, items signed by the band are actually relatively affordable, compared to those signed by The Beatles (including Lennon), considering their place in history. In 2013, a 1964 Rolling Stones signed Promo LP sold for $18,750 at auction.
In 2014, a Rolling Stones band-signed Sticky Fingers lithograph sold for $13,750 at auction.
10. The Walking Dead Cast - ($500 and up for a cast-signed photo and $50-$250 for individual key cast members.) Rounding out our Top Ten list in 2014 is the cast of the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. Based on a popular comic book series, director Frank Darabont launched the television show in 2010 and its popularity has grown ever since. One of the interesting aspects to the show is that you never know who will meet their fate week to week, which makes it even more interesting for autograph collectors. Actors such as Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Danai Gurira (Michonne) and Norman Reedus (Daryl) are amongst the regulars. Most of the cast has a reputation for being accommodating signers for fans and that fan base has been growing in size with each passing season.
A Tough Rapper to Find
Eminem - ($300 for a signed cut and $600 or more for a signed photo.) Marshall Bruce Mathers, otherwise known as Eminem, has been generating hit songs since the 1990s. After his initial release (Infinite) in 1996, the popular rapper reached the mainstream in 1999 with The Slim Shady LP, an album that earned the artist his first Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. Eminem would win two more, consecutively, after The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) and The Eminem Show (2002) became global successes. To date, he has won 13 total Grammy Awards for his work. Despite all of his success, Eminem remains somewhat elusive in his personal life. This, in turn, makes opportunities for autograph seekers few and far between. With the pent up demand for his autograph combined with his general inaccessible nature, forgeries are common in the marketplace.