Safe Autograph Collecting 101

Autograph collecting is an exciting and rewarding pursuit, and there are hundreds of dealers and auction houses that are dedicated to selling only no-question genuine autographs. Because every autograph is unique, even the best make mistakes from time to time. But every reputable autograph dealer, and most reputable auction houses, sell autographs with a lifetime money-back guarantee of authenticity that you can take to the bank. The guarantee you want will be similar to this:

Every autograph we sell comes with a lifetime money-back guarantee of authenticity for the original purchaser.

Ask for, in writing, how a guarantee claim will be handled before you buy. Most reputable dealers will consider the opinions of other recognized experts in their field or a generally respected third-party authenticator, such as PSA/DNA, James Spence Authentication, Roger Epperson for modern music, and Frank Caiazzo, who specializes in The Beatles. In fact, most will re-examine the autograph themselves and get opinions from colleagues, if needed, before they ask you to spend money on extra opinions. If a dealer only recognizes the opinions of “court-approved forensic document examiners,” or something to that effect, we recommend exercising extreme caution. There are many superb forensic experts working for law enforcement and in the civil courts. But the ones who specialize in the autograph field have a reputation for authenticating forgeries as genuine. You’re welcome to email me for my opinion on a guarantee, dealer or authenticator.

Always check the reputation of a dealer you’re considering buying from. Most good dealers and auctions are known by other good dealers, unless they’re fairly new. When dealing with new dealers, third-party authentication is especially important when it’s economically feasible. Many dealers belong to respected dealer organizations, such as PADA, the UACC Registered Dealer Program (make sure they’re a Registered Dealer and not just a regular UACC member), and in the UK and Europe, AFTAL. Membership in these organizations doesn’t guarantee safety, so you still should practice safe buying, but these organizations are dedicated to collector protection.

Some top dealers and auction houses don’t belong to any of these organizations, but their reputations are so strong that you can ask members of these dealer organizations about them and find out if they’re reputable or not. Or ask me, and I’ll tell you what I know. Anytime you’re not sure, get a respected third-party authenticator’s opinion on purchases before buying. Most offer Quick Opinions for auction purchases you’re considering for only $7.50 to $15.

More important tips:

• Get opinions on autographs before you buy—not afterwards. This is your most important protection. If you’re dealing with a disreputable dealer, their return privilege and guarantee are usually worthless. And if you buy at auction, even some reputable houses don’t offer a return privilege unless you can show that an autograph isn’t genuine.

• Be wary of dealers who use forensic document examiners. As I mentioned above, they have a reputation for authenticating forgeries as genuine. In fact, most dealers and auctions consider authentication by a forensic document examiner a sign of forgery—not authenticity.

• Know what an autograph is worth before you buy. When a dealer prices an autograph at significantly less than what known reputable dealers charge, or what it would bring in a reputable auction, odds are it’s not genuine. Our “Sanders Autograph Price Guide” can also help you determine fair market value.

• Run, don’t walk, away from any dealer who has a restocking charge for returns, or sells autographs “as-is.” There’s a reason they have those terms, and I know of no reputable dealer that has them.

• Pay by credit card whenever you can. Most credit cards give you 60 days from the statement date to protest a purchase and ask for a charge-back if you didn’t get what you thought you bought. We just assisted a collector in getting a $20,000+ charge-back against Autographs America for Rock autographs the respected modern music authenticator Roger Epperson deemed obviously not genuine.

• Don’t use PayPal for purchases off of eBay. PayPal offers strong buyer protection, but only on eBay. Off eBay, it only offers protection for purchases that aren’t delivered.

As I finished this post, I thought of my good friend Markus Brandes, an autograph dealer in Switzerland and a founder of Markus put the best advice for autograph collectors I have ever heard into one sentence:

“First assume an autograph is a forgery, and then let its provenance, your study and opinions from experts prove it is not.”

Now you’re set. You have what you need to know to buy autographs safely.

Troy Aikman Does NOT Sign Footballs

February 13, 2010
So, my girlfriend was in a store getting a new cell phone. I”m not even sure I should call it a cell phone. It”s an “i” something or other. It”s basically a computer, camera, and about 20 other things all of which are attached to the cell phone.

Anyone else remember when phones were stuck on a wall at the house, and you had to dial phone numbers and wait for the round thing to come all the way around before dialing the next number? It made you hate phone numbers with 8 and 9 in them. But I digest (just ate breakfast).

My girlfriend had a Washington Redskins thing dangling from her old cell phone, and the guy selling it to her commented on it. He grew up in Dallas and was a fan of the Cowboys (the “skins rivals). He told a story I thought I would share here.

He was 8-years-old, and going to see Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman at an autograph signing in some store. He had a football with him. Aikman tells this 8-year-old “I”m not going to sign that.”

Now, for those that don”t know…musicians often times fret (pun intended) about signing guitars. And sports stars don”t care for signing footballs, baseballs, or bats. They know a lot of people get those signed merely to sell. So, if they do an autograph signing for a store, they usually just sign 8 x 10s and nothing else.

Well, this 8-year-old boy does what most kids would do in that situation — he started balling. He cried and cried and cried, as he walked away. Aikmans manager sees this, and sensing a PR nightmare, grabs the ball from the boy and has Troy sign it (which he does).

They try to hand the football back to this kid, but he keeps crying and saying “I don”t want it, I don”t want it!” Of course, his dad made sure he did get it. And he said from that point forward, he never watched another Cowboys game again.

Now, talk about a celebrity not signing an autograph and losing a fan…this guy basically disowned an entire team and sport!

It baffles me that the celebrities can”t explain to the kids, “I”m not signing footballs today, only pictures.” A child would be just as thrilled getting a photo signed. Or, the star can ask the childs name, and personalize the football to him. The kid would like it so much more, and it wouldn”t have much of a re-sale value with the name “Harold” on it.

With that being said…I”m off to watch the Pro Bowl in a few hours.
Enjoy your football Sunday.

This Song’s for You

February 13, 2010
One of the most underrated songwriters ever, is named Stew. He used to be in this little indie band out of L.A. called The Negro Problem. The band sounded a little to pyschedlic sometimes, but on his solo records, Stew wrote some of the best songs in music history.
He’s living in Berlin now, after the success of his Broadway play Passing Strange (which was filmed by Spike Lee).
Anyway, he used to do something on his website where you could hire him to write and perform a personalized song. A few times I thought about doing it.
One of my fellow San Diegans — the famous Jason Mraz — has recorded a personal song for a teenager in the hospital. And no money changed hands!
A musician who had a younger brother died, started up this charity. It gets singers and songwriters to write personalized songs for sick kids in the hospital.
Sure, it was cool when baseball players hit home runs for a sick child. And yeah, it’s always nice when a famous actor or athlete sends an autographed 8 x 10 to the bedside of a sick patient. But really…nothing’s going to beat a song written specifically for you.
Hats off to Mr. Mraz.

Trading Memorabilia for a House

About 30 miles north of San Diego, a woman was making national news for placing an ad for a husband. She was in her late 40s and losing her health insurance. A medical condition meant $3,000 in pills each month.
Don’t feel too bad for her. She had thousands of proposals and will probably work this all out just fine.
Now comes a guy in San Diego that wants to exchange his baseball cards and other sports memorabilia, for a house. He put on ad on Craigslist, and said he’d even consider a home that’s a fixer-upper. Well, as long as it has a scenic view (geez…this dude better have a lot of mint condition rookie cards, maybe a Honus Wagner, Bronko Nagarski, etc).
He’s saying the value of his collection is in the $500,000 price range, and has spent 50 years collection. He specialized in Yankee memorabia (and has about 28 1962 Mickey Mantle cards…although a mint conidtion one is only valued at $600).
This dude is a retired firefighter, who did some college coaching and a bit of scouting or the Toronto Blue Jays. He was even an equipment manager for the San Diego Padres in the late 80s.
He’s divorced and has three sons. I’m guessing they’re a bit bummed that this sweet card collection isn’t getting passed down to them. But he just met his junior high school sweetheart and they got engaged.
I’m guessing when he got down on a knee, and placed a ring on her finger….the collector in him said “There goes that ’57 Topps Jackie Robinson.”

James Cameron on TMZ: Think Again

Sometimes the media jumps on stories without asking enough questions.

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, was one of those days.

The lead video on TMZ’s Web site was an airport encounter with a so-called fan and James Cameron. The “fan” had an “Avatar” poster he asked Cameron to sign. Cameron refused and the guy got pushy. Not like an adoring fan asking again for an autograph. Not even like an aggressive professional autograph runner—unless he was the dumbest one in the world. Because the way he acted, Cameron will never sign for him now, ever. The guy was an A-hole, and had to be a media plant there to make Cameron look bad. With “Avatar” the biggest news in Hollywood right now, I’m not surprised. Anything to do with Cameron is big news, and the more scandalous the better.

The situation escalated, Cameron said some choice words that, in retrospect, he probably wished he never said, and the “fan”—clearly prepared for what might happen—reamed him out. I’m sure that for some of the celebrity-following public, it was great TV. But it unfairly branded Cameron, fans and autograph collectors with the scarlet letter.

In a few short years, TMZ has become the cutting edge of celebrity news. Love it or hate it, no one publishes it faster, and they’re generally stone accurate. But this time they gave Cameron, and fans and autograph collectors, a bad rap. Real fans and collectors—well, at least 99-percent of them—would never have acted like that.

James, as the publisher of Autograph magazine, I want you to know that we think you’ve been done wrong. I don’t know any fan or autograph collector who would treat someone like you were treated. You were set up, and they didn’t care if you or your fans paid the price. It was appalling and I hope you don’t hold it against us.

Watch the Cameron video on TMZ

Cameron is no George Clooney when it comes to signing autographs. He’s not one of the friendliest people in Hollywood and seems to prefer to keep fans at a distance. He does sign, but not that often. That’s his prerogative—and as long as he signs sometimes that’s OK with us. Like all of us, he’s entitled to live his life as he wants to and have his privacy. He should never treat a fan or reasonable collector like he treated the guy in that video, but then again, no fan or collector I know would treat him like he was.

Most autograph collectors know that when a celebrity signs an autograph they’re giving a gift to a fan. We’re not entitled to it—and we really appreciate it when we get one. The guy in the video told Cameron that because he had just seen “Avatar” he owed him an autograph. That’s ridiculous. 400,000 Americans buy Camrys a year, at prices somewhat higher than the cost of a movie ticket last time I checked. If the president of Toyota spent the time to sign an autograph for all of them, the car would be as reliable as a Yugo. If Cameron signed autographs for everyone who saw his movies, he’d be 1,000 years old before he finished signing for those who saw “The Terminator” alone.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather Cameron spend his time making movies like “Avatar.”