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 IsItReal.com. 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.