When we began MusicGoldmine.com, we thought how great it would be to bring joy to our own and other people's lives by finding and selling cool music memorabilia. And of course we envisioned that a good portion of our items would be autographed by the artists we love and are inspired by.
Early on though, we discovered some stark realities about what is out there in the marketplace. As we searched for genuine autographed memorabilia, we were shocked to find that some items being sold through major auction houses were fake. Even worse, we found major online retailers and even retailers inside major urban shopping malls in various parts of the USA selling items that were not genuine.
Now, for legal reasons we won't name any such unscrupulous store or company here (because we don't want to spend the next several years defending our claim), but we can tell you that every day the sad reality is that innocent consumers are being bilked into buying fake autographed items.
Occasionally the items are "autopen" signatures (signatures produced by a computer-controlled pen used to replicate a real autograph). More often, though, they are the work of clever forgers who have practiced a famous person's autograph and actually hand sign items in the same style.
While we won't name names of those selling fake items, we do want to arm consumers with tips on how to avoid getting duped. Apply them anywhere you are looking to buy an autographed item (even here, we don't mind at all!):
1. Ask for a top tier authenticator's Certificate or Letter of Authenticity COA or LOA): Does the seller have item authentication from BAS (Beckett Authentication Services), JSA (James Spence Authentication), PSA/DNA (Professional Sports Authenticator), or REAL (Roger Epperson Authentication Ltd.)? These authenticators are all leaders in the field as recognized by top auction houses, online auction sites such as eBay, and autograph collector organizations. If they do not -- and especially if they will not let you independently seek authentication from a top company -- consider it a red flag. Are these authentication companies completely infallible? No, but they are the most reliable companies out there providing proof of autograph authenticity. There are also some good specialist authenticators out there as well, it should be noted, such as Frank Caiazzo (Beatles), Perry D. Cox (Beatles and Beach Boys) and Tracks Ltd. UK (Beatles and other rock). Here's an example of a Letter of Authenticity from JSA:
2. Be wary of unknown authenticators and do your research: A favorite trick in the marketplace is for a company to provide a COA or LOA from an unknown, start-up authenticator who is paid a fee to authenticate the seller's items, but who does not truly analyze the item for authenticity. These companies are often named similarly to legitimate companies or with names that instill confidence. Sellers offering such COAs/LOAs as evidence of their item's authenticity will often ridicule the major authenticators or say things like: "Well, it's just the opinion of that authenticator versus the opinion of ours" or "Those major companies don't know anything."
Unfortunately, there are dozens of authenticators out there whose authentication work is questionable at best, and completely unethical at worst. Here, for example, you can see eBay's list of "Recommended Authentication and Grading Companies" which includes BAS, JSA and PSA/DNA. The eBay help area also contains a much longer list of authenticators from which they do not allow COAs/LOAs to be provided as evidence of authenticity.
These lists can be useful but be aware that as soon as one authentication company's reputation is trashed, the same operators will often start another company under a new name and resume business, whack-a-mole style.
There are, however, other legitimate authenticators outside of the major authentication companies. Often they are individuals who specialize in one or a small number of artists. An example would be Frank Caiazzo, a well-known expert on Beatles autographs. However, if you are looking to rely on authentication by someone outside these big names, check them out carefully before you decide to trust one of their opinions.
3. Utilize "Quick Opinion" services offered by authenticators such as PSA/DNA: For a small fee (under $20) you can get a basic "likely authentic" or "likely not authentic" opinion by using this service. Doing this can save you a big headache later, especially if something you are looking at is unauthenticated or you do not trust the authentication provided by a seller. Here is a link to PSA/DNA's service that they offer specifically for eBay buyers: https://www.psacard.com/quickopinion/ebay
4. Learn about what to look for from a real life bust by the FBI: It happened in sports memorabilia and it is happening in music memorabilia too. Here is an FBI report on an investigation that resulted in a group of authenticators in the sports memorabilia being charged with crimes related to illegally authenticating fake sports figure autographs which were subsequently offered for sale to consumers by unscrupulous sports memorabilia dealers who also knew they were fake: https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/sandiego/about-us/history/operation-bullpen
5. Sometimes the most basic advice is best. Simply put, if it looks too good to be true, it likely is. Our heart wants to tell us we can get a guitar signed by, say, all four members of The Doors including Jim Morrison, or maybe all four Beatles for $500, but our head should tell us "that is (way) too cheap!"
The reality is that some autographs are truly very scarce. Autographs of Morrison, John Lennon (or anything with all four Beatles), Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, John Bonham (or anything with all four members of Led Zeppelin) are all very rare. But you wouldn't know it from the inventories of certain stores out there. They seem to have an unlimited supply of extremely rare autographed items. Funny how they'll sell one super rare "autographed" item this week yet they'll suddenly have another one again the next.
Also, remember that unscrupulous memorabilia dealers will go to great lengths to dupe a buyer. If you spot a guitar made in 1980 that an artist who died in 1971 purportedly signed, you clearly know it can't be so.
But just because an autographed guitar is a genuine 1968 model doesn't necessarily mean that an artist who died in 1971 signed it. Unethical dealers have seized upon a new trick: They seek out truly old guitars, aged sheet music and other vintage items for forgers to autograph because they know this helps sell their story. But don't fall for it if they don't have proper authentication.
Conclusion: Buyer beware and be smart
We hope that some of these tips will help you when shopping for autographed music memorabilia. We'll also take this opportunity to tell you that all of MusicGoldmine's autographed memorabilia items all come with top tier authenticator COAs or LOAs and a lifetime authenticity guarantee. You can see our guarantee details here. Happy treasure hunting!
For our current selection of authenticated autographed items, go here.
Read PART 2 of this article--Authenticity: 5 MORE Tips For Autograph Buyers here.
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