This is one of the most important articles we’ve ever published. It’s critical reading for anyone who is buying, or has bought, autographs. Originally posted on March 22, 2010, we just added over 75 images, so we updated the published date.
Go to Autograph Magazine Live! to learn more about forgeries, safe collecting, and what to do if you think you’re a victim.
It’s a heartbreaking story I’ve heard more times than I can count. It goes something like this:
Someone contacts me who bought signed memorabilia from a legitimate looking business—usually rock albums or guitars, but sometimes sports, Hollywood or historical autographs. Sometime later they needed money, but the seller they bought them from won’t make an offer. They try to sell or consign to other dealers or auctions and are shocked to find that no one wants their autographs. Those willing to explain say that they consider them forgeries.
“I don’t understand,” the collector says. “They came with authentication by Christopher Morales—he’s a court-approved forensic document examiner and there’s no one more respected than he is!”
The truth is that Christopher Morales is the most notorious autograph authenticator in America. I don’t know of one instance where a reputable dealer, auction or authenticator has seen an autograph authenticated by him that they thought was genuine.
The saddest thing for consumers, and the reputable autograph industry, is that most galleries and dealers who use Morales—or virtually any of the forensic examiners who “authenticate” memorabilia—prey on those new to autographs. They’re found in tourist meccas like Las Vegas, Florida, California and Hawaii. They supply unwitting charities with memorabilia for auctions. They’re often the first ads you see on Google. They’re the ones that have a regular supply of your favorite bands, stars and athletes—even signed guitars and albums where few, if any, are known. And once their victims learn the truth, they’re usually done with autographs for good.
I know of only one auction house where you can consign Morales-authenticated autographs: Coach’s Corner, who’s reputation is similarly dubious. They have up to 100 or more of his in every auction, and most sell for only 1% to 10% of market value. In their auction closing March 26, 2010, there was a Morales-authenticated 11×14 photo supposedly signed by JFK currently at $39. They sold the same piece January 1, 2010 for $189. If it were real, it could easily bring $4,000 or more.
But even Coach’s Corner doesn’t think much of Morales. An April 18, 2008 New York Daily News article, Beatles Authenticator at Heart of Memorabilia Suit, quotes Coach’s Corner’s Lee Trythall’s opinion of him: “There are authenticators whose work seems better. There are guys who are more qualified.” The article is a must-read if you own or are considering buying Morales-authenticated autographs.
Here is a photo album of every Christopher Morales authenticated item with an image in a Coach’s Corner auction that closed in January 2010. You can see larger images with comments from collectors, experts and dealers on Autograph Magazine Live! Just click each image:
The reason so many inexperienced buyers don’t question letters of authentication by Morales is that he’s promoted as a “court-approved forensic document examiner” who uses “scientific methods” to authenticate autographs, and has “credentials.” That sounds official and reassuring, doesn’t it? Call a few other forensic examiners, though, and you’ll find that it takes hours, days or weeks to do an evaluation, and most charge $200 an hour or more.
What does Morales charge? Reportedly $75 to collectors and less to dealers—per item. And with his items in Coach’s Corner often selling for under $200, he must charge a lot less sometimes. How can he make a living at that and do a real forensic examination? For that matter, how can he do the thousands of authentications he does a year if they’re true forensic examinations?
I’m sure there are times he charges more, like the time he authenticated a guitar for Rock Star Gallery purportedly signed by the Beatles. After all, he flew with it to Scottsdale, Ariz. for an auction they were holding in 2006, according to this article in News-Antique.com. And when he got there he was going to authenticate all the other autographs in the auction—a charity auction benefiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
I wonder if the buyer of that Beatles guitar has found out that the only recognized authentic one has been in the hands of the same collector since the 1990s? [Editor’s Note: We recently were informed that the genuine Beatles guitar was reportedly destroyed in a mudslide in Malibu, Calif., in 2004.]
Here’s the guitar Morales authenticated for Rock Star Gallery. Ask anyone who knows Beatles autographs what they think of it.
Another claim by those who use Morales is that unlike him, rock authenticators such like Roger Epperson and Beatles expert Frank Caiazzo—two of the most respected authenticators in music—have a conflict of interest because they also deal in autographs. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with the many respected dealers and auction houses who have depended on them for years. Why would they use them if they couldn’t be trusted?
And what about Morales—is he really independent?
In October 2009, Autograph magazine discovered that Florida autograph gallery American Royal Arts was using photos of music artists doctored to appear they were signing the guitars ARA was selling. It was so shocking the story was covered on ABC News 20/20 and Inside Edition.
Here are the altered and original photos:
ARA owner Jerry Gladstone claimed he had no idea the photos were fake; that they were provided by Gallery of Dreams, the supplier of the signed guitars. But he assured everyone that even though the photos were fake the guitars were genuine, because he had them authenticated by an independent court approved forensic examiner.
Christopher Morales was that “independent” authenticator. He’s been ARA’s favored authenticator for years. But not only is Morales also Gallery of Dreams’ authenticator, he was listed as a company executive on their Executive Profiles page until the scandal broke.
Is that what you’d call independent?
A number of the musicians who supposedly signed the guitars said their autographs were forgeries. But we’ve never seen any memorabilia from Gallery of Dreams we thought was genuine, so that wasn’t a surprise. Sadly, Gallery of Dreams is one of the biggest suppliers of signed memorabilia to charity auctions—over $40,000,000 worth according to their claims.
I’m sorry to tell you all this if you own autographs authenticated by Christopher Morales. But the sooner you find out if your memorabilia is bad, and unfortunately, I suspect you will, the sooner you can take action against the parties involved.
Since the seller may say that dealers who don’t use Morales are biased against him, consider doing this: Send images of your items to auction houses and dealers, saying your interested in selling. Don’t tell them where you bought them or that they’re authenticated by Morales. Don’t send images of COAs or paperwork. Just tell them you’re interested in selling and ask how much they’ll pay or what they think it will bring in their auction. Hear what they have to say.
You’re welcome to let me know at email@example.com.
If you find out I’m right, I’ll try to help.