By STEVE CYRKIN
—Autograph February 2009
The Beatles…Elvis…The Stones…Jimi Hendrix…Led Zeppelin. Classic rock ’n’ roll autographs connect us with the music we love and are hugely popular. Not only is it exciting to own these pieces of rock history, they’ve been good investments over time and many have excellent future potential.
While it’s easy to buy rock with a high degree of safety, most people buy forgeries—and rarely find out until they try to sell. You don’t have to be one of them. Follow these simple rules of successful collectors and you can buy rock without getting rolled.
Rule 1: Get a Little Education
You don’t need to learn how to authenticate autographs. But you do need to know how rare what you want is, what it’s worth, and who the reputable dealers, auctions and authenticators are that serve the rock ’n’ roll market. And you need to know the sellers to avoid, so you don’t get burned like most people who jump in before doing their homework.
Scour the websites of reputable dealers and auction houses (see Rule 3), and talk to the dealers to learn more about the groups and artists you’re interested in. Search Google for “rock autographs” and the names you’re interested in for fan and collecting sites, like ours, www.autographmagazine.com. But beware: some sites are shills for unethical sellers.
Sanders Autograph Price Guide is a good source for prices, as are reputable dealers and auctions. Some auctions have years of past sale data and images online that you can search for free. Heritage Auctions (www.ha.com) and RRAuction.com are two examples, but RRAuction has taken their archive down, at least temporarily.
Rule 2: Know What’s Rare—and the Signs of Sellers to Avoid
Most classic rock autographs are rare—especially signed albums, photos, posters and particularly guitars (classic rock signed guitars are almost unknown). For instance, only about 11 genuine band-signed U.S. label Beatles are known, and only one guitar (it’s also signed by the Rolling Stones and other artists—all in ballpoint pen). Only a couple of Doors albums signed by Jim Morrison or the entire band are known. Perhaps only one album signed by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and no guitars. There are very few Elvis Presley signed albums, and perhaps less than 20 Led Zeppelin albums signed by the entire band including the late John Bonham.
But search Google or visit autograph galleries in vacation spots from Florida to Hawaii and you’ll find dealers with almost anything you’re looking for. There is even a gallery offering framed sets of all of the albums of a particular band or artist. Most come with certificates of authenticity (COAs) from forensic document examiners, such as Christopher Morales, AAU/Drew Max, Don Frangipani and E’Lyn Bryan. But talk to respected rock experts and auction houses and not only will you find out that inventories like these of classic rock autographs are unheard of; you’ll learn that they consider COAs issued by forensic document examiners a sign of forgery—not authenticity. And talk to the unfortunate customers of these dealers and you’ll find that their guarantees of authenticity are virtually worthless.
Warning: Watch out for so-called “Legends Guitars,” typically signed by 15 to 30 top artists like Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen. Hundreds or thousands have been sold, but we haven’t found one our experts call genuine yet.
Rule 3: Only Buy from Respected Dealers and Auctions
We can’t say this strongly enough. Only buy from dealers and auction houses that are known and respected by their peers and collectors. Don’t do business with anyone else, unless you’re an expert yourself. To do so is inviting disaster.
There are three major dealer associations that carefully screen their members. Buying from one of their dealers doesn’t mean you can’t have problems, but these organizations are very careful about whom they let in, have dispute resolution services and will remove members when they find cause. Not all reputable dealers belong to these organizations, but they’re a great place to start:
- UACC Registered Dealer Program (www.uacc.org). Make sure the dealer is a UACC Registered Dealer and not just a UACC member, as it is primarily a collector’s club and regular members are not screened.
- Autograph Fair Trade Association Ltd. (www.aftal.org.uk). AFTAL is an association of UK and European dealers.
- Professional Autograph Dealers Assoc. (www.pada.org). Only one or two PADA members deal in rock ’n’ roll.
- Autograph magazine also screens dealers and auctions it allows to advertise and seriously responds to complaints by collectors.
- All reputable dealers will give you a meaningful lifetime guarantee of authenticity. Make sure you understand the terms of the guarantee, including how disputes are settled, before you buy. They should honor the opinion of at least one of the authenticators mentioned in Rule 4.
- Some auction houses, even highly respected ones, sell items “as-is” and don’t offer a lifetime guarantee of authenticity. But they should offer a 30-day return privilege to give you time to get what you buy authenticated. If the item you want is not independently authenticated, be sure to get it authenticated within that period. Notify them and promptly return it if it doesn’t pass authentication.
Rule 4: Buy it or Have it Authenticated by a Widely Accepted Authenticator
Protect yourself against buying forgeries and assure that your autographs can be sold at fair prices later by making sure they are certified by an authentication service whose COAs are widely accepted. The most widely accepted ones for rock ’n’ roll are PSA/DNA, Roger Epperson Authentication Ltd. (REAL)—who specializes in rock and other popular music, and Frank Caiazzo, who authenticates Beatles autographs exclusively. James Spence Authentication, one of the top sports authenticators, is also becoming a force in the rock autograph market.
Be sure the COA is real. Some unethical sellers make fake COAs of these authentication services to try to fool you—or forge autographs to match a legitimate COA. That’s an important reason to only deal with known reputable dealers. All authentication services will verify their COAs; sometimes for free, sometimes for a nominal fee. Do it—especially in the case of expensive autographs.
An important thing to understand is that when an authenticator examines an item, if they are not 100-percent sure of authenticity, they won’t issue a COA. That means that occasionally genuine autographs are rejected. You want an autograph you won’t have trouble selling in the future—so even if you’re buying from a reputable seller, ask for a refund during the return privilege period if you can’t get it certified by one of the authenticators above.
Rule 5: Always Pay by Credit Card
Paying by credit card can provide you with important protection against being cheated. Most offer a buyer assurance program to protect you against problems when you buy, plus you may have some protections under federal law. This can be powerful. In most cases you have only 30 days to file a complaint. Be sure you understand the program and comply with the rules of the program. If you’re a day late, you’re usually out of luck.
Now Go Have Fun!
Armed with these five simple rules—and your common sense—the excitement and investment potential of rock ’n’ roll autographs can be yours.