The Quest for Neil Armstrong’s Autograph

Apollo 11 crew photo signed by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin

Originally published in the July 2009 print edition of Autograph magazine.

My quest started in 1979. While browsing in a bookstore, I picked-up a copy of The Book of Autographs by Charles Hamilton. The large and impressive Neil Armstrong autograph on page 95 blew me away. I was hooked.

Although I grew up in Houston near NASA, I was not a space enthusiast, much less an autograph collector. But there was something worth investigating in that signature and in autograph collecting. Soon thereafter, Linn’s Stamp News published an article on the First Man on the Moon numbered prints by artist Paul Calle, the lithograph that was the model for the First Man on the Moon stamps. I purchased one print for a nominal $50. In the same year, I joined the UACC and haven’t stopped collecting since. [Read more…]

PSA and PSA/DNA Opening New Jersey Office

(Woodbridge, New Jersey) — To meet the increasing needs of collectors and dealers in the eastern U.S., especially in autographs, Professional Sports Authenticator and PSA/DNA Authentication Services are opening an office in Woodbridge, N.J., this summer.

Only in-person submissions will be accepted at the new office, by appointment. All mailed and shipped submissions should still be sent to PSA and PSA/DNA’s Calif. office unless pre-approved by the staff.

“We’re very excited about the New Jersey office,” said Joe Orlando, President of PSA and PSA/DNA. “It is near I-95 and centrally located between New York City and Philadelphia. Considering the concentrated customer base on the upper east coast, and the growing popularity of PSA/DNA-certified autographs, the time is right to provide an additional location for our customers.”

Orlando said the new office will improve turnaround times on many submissions.

“We’ve had three consecutive record quarters for PSA/DNA, and some members of our staff have been traveling over 100,000 miles each year to service our customers. A few of our California employees will be relocating to the New Jersey office, and we’ll be hiring additional employees. By being able to process autographs on both coasts more efficiently, our turnaround times will naturally improve.”
Only autographs will be processed in New Jersey, but, the new office will accept all other submissions, including trading cards, tickets, photographs, sports memorabilia and game-used items for evaluation by PSA and PSA/DNA authenticators and graders in California and elsewhere.

“We’ll be able to encapsulate authenticated items in the New Jersey office, such as autographed cuts and autographed cards,” Orlando said. “It also will be easier and more convenient for eastern U.S. collectors and dealers to submit larger items, such as autographed bats and helmets, without mailing them.”

The New Jersey office will host open submission days, similar to PSA Fridays in Calif., where the public can personally submit items and meet PSA and PSA/DNA staff members.

“People have been asking me for several years, ‘When are you going to open an east coast office?'” Orlando said. “The answer is this summer, and we’ll have additional information about it in the weeks ahead with a formal announcement at the National Sports Collectibles Convention.

For a list of PSA and PSA/DNA services go to

For additional information, contact PSA Customer Service at 800-325-1121 or by email at


Q&A on Forgeries, Fakes and Corruption vs. Love

BY KEVIN NELSON  Recently I received an email from Stephen Andon, a PhD candidate in Communication at Florida State University, who is writing a dissertation on sports memorabilia. After having read Operation Bullpen and the blogging  I’m doing for Autograph Magazine and at my Bullpen website, he wanted to ask me a few questions about forgeries (such as this Babe Ruth fake, penned by Greg Marino) and corruption in the sports memorabilia industry. Here are excerpts from our discussion:

Is it interesting to you that we keep finding forgeries today — even important pieces – such as pieces in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Can we simply attribute that to how widespread the forgery problem was up until Operation Bullpen?

Kevin Nelson: I do find it interesting that forgery is just as prevalent now as it was in the late nineties when the FBI busted the original Bullpen gang. At the time federal officials estimated that 90 percent of all signed pieces sold on the Internet were fake. After a ton of criticism the feds changed their tune to say only 50 percent of autographs were fake. The truth is, nobody knows. But the number is, without doubt, substantial. Forgery remains a big problem.

Now, I’m using the “forgery problem” in the past tense, but is it accurate to use the past tense? In other words, has the memorabilia industry changed enough that forgeries are no longer as prevalent?

Kevin Nelson: Nope. I receive emails all the time from people who see fakes being sold on eBay and elsewhere. John Olson was one of the greatest Ali forgers, who worked with Chuck Wepner in defrauding people and who was busted in the second phase of the Operation Bullpen investigation. He called me the other day just to check in and said that he still sees his stuff being sold online.

One of the consequences of Operation Bullpen is that leagues, teams, and memorabilia companies have partnered together to create a new era of authenticity, with professional authenticators, holograms, Internet-tracking, and the like. Were these procedures necessary to re-establish the credibility in the memorabilia industry? Or, again, is that claim overly simplistic?

Kevin Nelson: The latter. The efforts to combat fraud have had a real but limited impact in part – in large part, one might say – because of the consumer. People think they’re getting a bargain online when they see a signed Mickey Mantle photo being sold for 75 bucks, and they scoop it up. It is, of course, almost certainly a fake. But either these people don’t know what they’re buying, or they don’t care. In either case, they are buying fakes and often feeling good about it because they’ve gotten it for such a good price. Forgeries usually sell for less, and often considerably less, than the real thing.

Furthermore, through Steiner (and other companies, of course), I believe you can pre-order game-used baseballs or bases or jerseys, etc. Does that ruin any of the spontaneity of sport, a la a Mean Joe Greene’s Pepsi moment, or am I drunk on nostalgia?

Kevin Nelson: No, you’re not nostalgic at all. Sports fans love this stuff. That’s why there is such a huge and growing market for game-used material and continuing strong demand for autographed material, despite a bad economy. I live near San Francisco, and people out here went nuts for the Giants this year. They had to have something associated with the team. That’s why forgers and fraud artists have such a thriving business. They are exploiting something that is real: people’s love for sports. People feel passionate about these athletes and they want to connect with them, somehow. Collecting is one way they can do that.

All that being said, are fans more savvy to the perils of Internet or E-bay shopping than they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s?

Kevin Nelson: Collectors are definitely more sophisticated than they were in the nineties. Although they were aware back then of the potential for fraud, most people did not understand how widespread it was until the Operation Bullpen busts. First there were the FBI busts in Chicago mainly of Michael Jordan fake merchandise. But those were local stings. Then came the much larger busts of the Bullpen ring, which exposed a national operation doing tens of millions of dollars of business as part of a very clever and formidable criminal conspiracy. Most serious collectors are aware that a good deal of the supposedly legitimate stuff that is sold on eBay is actually garbage.

As a follow-up, when stadium dirt or player jerseys or some other kind of game-used memorabilia is broken up into hundreds of pieces and sold off in pieces assembled in frames and such – to the point where it seems they are not so different from mass produced items – does that water down what’s special about the item when it’s whole?

Kevin Nelson: Well, it depends. If people are aware of what they’re buying, and it’s legitimate, I don’t think it’s a rip-off to sell them a piece of turf from old Yankee Stadium if that’s what they’re interested in buying. They have a lot of great memories of what happened on that turf and to have a piece of it in their house, well, that’s kinda cool. Derek Jeter and A-Rod walked on that piece of dirt there, that’s now in my living room. It’s a great conversation piece when you have the guys over to watch the game.

Kevin Nelson is the author of Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Fraud in American History. Contact him here.

Taking a bite out of New York’s Big Apple Comic-Con

By David Stone

Where can you see Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Captain Kirk, and baseball legend Yogi Berra all in one room? New York City’s Big Apple Comic-Con! I attended the show at Pier 94 on October 16-18, 2009 . The convention featured over 150 stars in attendance—an autograph lover’s dream come true—including Burt Ward (Batman), Lee Majors (Six Million Dollar Man), and The Suicide Girls. Over 77,000 comic book, sports and nostalgia fans attended the event. The celebrities were there to greet admirers, reminisce about past works, and most importantly…sign autographs!

The Big Apple Con has been going on since 1996, when it started in a church basement. Over the years the locations and guest rosters have progressed. Just last year the show was purchased by convention giant, Wizard World, and to guarantee its success it booked a large cross-section of celebrities for their first New York show, so there really is something to fit everyone’s taste.

The night before the convention I heard that at least 30,000 people were expected to attend, so to make sure I didn’t miss anything, I left extra early to get a good place in line. After a two-hour wait we were finally allowed into the registration building to get our wristbands. There was a mad rush once the doors opened!

I had hoped to interview some of the celebrities at the show, but unfortunately, the stars either didn’t want to do the interview or were too busy signing autographs. The most disappointing experience I had was from Christopher Knight (Peter Brady). Mr. Knight thought about my request for what seemed to be forever, and then informed me that if he wasn’t making money on this interview then he should be making money selling his photos (which were selling for $20—some of the cheapest at the convention!)

William Shatner

One of the highlights was an appearance by William Shatner (Captain Kirk). Imagine everyone’s disappointment when it was announced that the signing, originally scheduled to last all day, was only going to last for one hour. Naturally, many attendees, myself included, rushed to his spot at Lightspeed Fine Arts’ booth. And just like at sports signings, I couldn’t purchase Mr. Shatner’s autograph directly. I had to get a ticket, sold with the photo of my choice, including $75 for his autograph. There were a variety of photos to choose from, including Star Trek, T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal. Even a shot of him as the Priceline Negotiator! Shatner greeted me warmly, shaking my hand and thanking me for coming to the convention. Despite being rushed with his photo op and Q&A sessions later in the day, he took time with each fan.

Iconic Figures: From Batman to the Incredible Hulk

Another 60s TV icon at Big Apple Con was Batman himself, Adam West. There was a long line going from behind Mr. West’s booth and onto the convention floor itself. Mr. West is another celebrity I heard could be rude and denigrating to fans, but he was exactly the opposite: he joked with us, posed for photos, and of course,signed autographs galore! There were a variety of Batman photos available for $50, though I was a bit disappointed Mr. West didn’t have any Family Guy shots available. He’ll probably always be remembered as Batman anyway. So I got a photo taken with him and went on to my next group of stars.

Another highlight of the convention was Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, signing autographs for $25. For an extra fee you could snag handwritten lyrics signed by Mr. Dolenz or an autographed drumhead. I was the only one waiting for him when he arrived at his table, which was surprising. He invited me to look at photos, including a Monkees cast photo. Mr. Dolenz couldn’t have been nicer, even agreeing to an interview later in the day. Unfortunately, when I returned for the interview his agent didn’t allow it to happen. But I still left his table happy, with a beautifully inscribed 8×10.

Another television icon of yesteryear, Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), was selling his signed photos for $25. Despite it being slow at his booth, Mr. Ferrigno brushed off my interview request, barely speaking to me while signing the photo. His assistant even asked me to leave! To make up for that unpleasant experience, Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame was more than gracious and kind to each and every fan that came by his table. Mr. Hudson had a large assortment of photos from his many films, selling for $25 each. I asked him what it was like to perform live for President Obama in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone on Broadway when the Obamas were in town. He told me it was the greatest thrill of his professional career and then proceeded to sign a photo inscribed with “Who Ya Gonna Call?” What a nice guy!

Photo Ops

Finally, the main three leads from The Dukes of Hazzard, Catherine Bach, Tom Wopat, and John Schneider, were all selling autographs for $25 apiece. I bought a photo from Mr. Schneider, who is also known for his more recent role on Smallville. Mr. Schneider seemed to be overwhelmed (in a positive way) by the legions of fans stopping by his table. But he handled it all with grace, talking to each fan, asking them their names, and even posing for (gasp!) FREE photo ops! Okay, this is what puzzles me: Why is it that celebrities not only charge for photo ops, but they charge more than for an autograph? As a collector I may be biased, but I will always believe that something written is worth more than a photo. A photo just proves you’ve met the star—there isn’t anything tangible from the star’s effort.

Other celebrities appearing at the show included Billy Dee Williams ($40 for a signed photo), Ric Flair ($50), Dwight Gooden ($30), and Nichelle Nichols ($30). All in all, it was a successful event for me—I only wish I could have been able to share the perspectives of the celebrities with Autograph readers. Hopefully next time around!

P.W. Costello: A Master Penman and the Golden Age of Theater

By Kimberly Cole


Like the train tracks that threaded Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, two stories run parallel. One is the story of what has come to be known as the Golden Age of Theater in the United States (1880-1920) and one is the story of a Master Penman, Patrick William Costello. It is the story of how those tracks converged in Scranton, Penn. to produce a body of work: Costello’s magnificent drawings of the leading actors and actresses of that Golden Age, signed by the performers, capturing an era that is almost impossible to imagine in this day of paparazzi, Internet and global celebrity.

P.W. Costello

Patrick William Costello was born on March 11, 1866 in Scranton, Penn, the only child of Irish immigrants. His mother died when he was two, and his coal miner father fled the economic downturn and high unemployment in the United States to return to Birmingham, England in the early 1870s.

Coincidentally, Birmingham was the world center for the design and manufacture of steel pen nibs. Inserted into wooden holders and dipped in ink, these sharpened metal points of varying dimensions and shapes led to the development of new styles of penmanship. The mass production of the steel nib democratized writing, allowing the populace to learn the art of lettering and the skill of writing.

Costello’s father was able to find work in the Birmingham mines and the 5-year-old Costello was enrolled in school. While it wasn’t standard for the children in the grammar schools Costello attended to use steel nibs, their teachers certainly did. Something or someone sparked his interest and inspired a decision to practice lettering and drawing, for by the time he returned to Pennsylvania with his father in 1877, Costello had begun to develop skills that would lead to a career as a masterful penman, portrait artist and engrosser.

When the Costello’s returned to Scranton, the depression they had hoped to escape had worsened and young Costello left school to labor for two years as a “breaker boy” at the Bellevue Colliery. Boys as young as eight would sit on pine boards, perched above metal chutes, stopping the flow of coal with their feet in order to pick out foreign material. The boys were not allowed to wear gloves, and the sulphur-covered rock left their fingertips cracked and bleeding. Even as an eleven-year-old breaker boy, Patrick practiced after his job in the colliery, sketching on slabs of slate he found near the mines.

In his teens, Patrick escaped the mines and found work as a grocery clerk, a job that taught him people and business skills. After a nine year post as an appointed clerk for the City Engineer, he was elected to positions as Auditor of Lackawanna County and City Controller.

In his spare time, he continued to practice, refining the technique of stippling and cross-hatching in portraits and developing a style that began to earn him renown as an illustrator. In the mid-1880s, Costello opened his engrossing studio and began producing work that brought him to the attention of Charles Paxton Zaner, founder of the Zanerian College of Penmanship. In 1903, Zaner traveled to Scranton to meet with Costello. Zaner was amazed at the self-taught Costello’s skill, and a lifelong friendship began. Zaner encouraged Costello to leave politics and devote himself to his work as an engrosser. By 1910, Costello was at the top of his profession. Upon his death in 1935, an editorial in The Scrantonian Tribune wrote:

“Mr. Costello was possessed of the soul of the poet and the artist. Even in the nineties [1890s] when he was in politics, which are calculated to harden a man against the beauties of the world, he dreamed his dream – and out of that dream grew an art that made him famous throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. [He] was a great artist, a lover of beautiful things – but better still, he was a lover of his fellow man, and hundreds of them, who treasure his work and who admire his character, will mourn his departure…”

The Golden Age of Theater

The 19th Century saw an explosion of theater throughout the United States. Laws forbidding the performance of plays in the 18th century were repealed, the railroads made touring feasible, regional theaters were built, and by the end of the 19th Century, theater was America’s mass entertainment.

European stars and plays were imported, but America soon began producing, and exporting, its own stars and companies. While Broadway was growing, spreading tendrils from the Bowery up the Great White Way, touring companies were making national circuits. To ensure profitability, a syndicate was formed under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, a booking magnate who dominated the southern states. Legitimate theater, offering plays ranging from Shakespeare to adaptations of popular novels, and vaudeville shows, featuring musical and comedy acts, crisscrossed the country.

Pennsylvania, home to several of the oldest theaters, became an important touring destination, and the tough audiences, comprised of poor coal miners and immigrants still struggling to learn English gave birth to Scranton’s reputation as an important try-out for Broadway plays: “If you can play Scranton, you can play anywhere.”

In the late 1890s, as Costello was building his reputation as an engrosser, he was also co-owner of Costello and Fleming’s Arbor Cafe, a popular restaurant located in the heart of Scranton’s theater district. The restaurant was lined with Costello’s portraits and sketches of local and national figures, and it soon became a popular gathering place for the stage stars performing the Pennsylvania circuit. Stars such as Al Jolson, Gorge M. Cohan, Lillie Langtry and Edwin Booth played the Scranton cicuit. Costello drew their portraits from photographs, engravings and portraits, adding signatures from the stars, and providing for us an incredible collection of the faces and autographs of this Golden Age.

Collecting Golden Age Autographs

This era, extending from the late 1800s to the 1920s, is a rich field for collectors—and not an impossible one financially. It also offers aesthetic bonuses—vintage photos, carte de visite, playbills, posters, playing cards and beautiful signatures.

Pricing for signatures ranges from $15 for stars such as Maude Adams or Viola Allen to the $200-300 range for George M. Cohan, Will Rogers or Lily Langtry. You can find autographed letters in the $35-$1,000 range with Will Rogers topping the prices due to superior content. Signed photos are harder to come by, but can be had for as little as $25 or as much as $500 for Langtry or Rogers.

Finding items to pair with signatures for display is easy. Hundreds of items are available on eBay with tobacco cards and postcards selling for $1-$5, programs and posters in the $25-$250 range and a beautiful assortment of carte de visite for around $50.

A Master Penman and The Golden Age of Theater

Costello created a Marriage Engrossing to celebrate his marriage to Mary Agnes Mahon and their nine children. The flowers, which symbolize the children, were sized and positioned according to the children’s birth order. The large flower along the right border, just below center, represented Anna, the oldest, and moving clockwise, additional flowers represented the other children. All flowers were connected to the vine except for the one that represented John, who died at the age of seven months in July 1900. Costello positioned this flower to the left of the red capital letter “P” in his own name, to keep him close. (6×10, courtesy John Beemer)

Stars of the
Golden Age of Theater

Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was nicknamed “The Jersey Beauty,” a nod to her birthplace on the island of Jersey and to her renowned beauty. While still in England, she had a string of prominent lovers, including the future King of England, Edward VII. When Sir John Milais’ portrait of Langtry was exhibited at the Royal Academy, ropes had to be set up to control the crowds. Her close friend, Oscar Wilde, suggested a career on stage. Her London debut was followed with many tours in America, where critics savaged her and the public adored her. (8×11)

Maude Adams (1872-1953) was born in Utah, the daughter of an actress. She began her career at the age of nine months, carried onstage by her mother, but her greatest success came as the lead character in Peter Pan and helped her become the highest paid performer of her day. Known to be shy, Ethel Barrymore called Adams “the original ‘I want to be alone’ woman.” Quiet and dignified, Adams was known for her generosity—augmenting the salaries of fellow performers out of her own pocket and giving small gifts to stagehands. (7×9)

Katherine Cornell (1893-1974), known as the greatest American stage actress of the 20th century, was famous for her portrayal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the 1931 production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. But her greatest impact may have been as a producer. With husband Guthrie McClintic, she was responsible for bringing many of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century to roles on Broadway. Cornell also appeared in one film, Stage Door Canteen, and in several television adaptations in the ’50s. (9×13)

Al Jolson (1886-Oct. 23, 1950) was lauded as “the world’s greatest entertainer.” A singer, actor and comedian, his musical style influenced Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Bob Dylan. Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had nine sell-out shows in NewYork’s Winter Garden and more than 80 hit records. He’s best remembered today for his role in the first full-length talking picture show, The Jazz Singer, in 1927. Jolson enjoyed performing in blackface make-up, a theatrical convention of the 19th century and, while he was the first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America, he helped break the color barrier on the American stage—fighting discrimination and, with his introduction of African-American music, paving the way for Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. (8×15, courtesy John Beemer)

William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers (1879-1935) was, in addition to being a Cherokee cowboy and social commentator, a vaudeville performer and an actor. He made 71 films and wrote a series of New York Timesarticles that were syndicated in over 500 newspapers, bring his social commentary and homespun wisdom to millions. His work in the Zeigfield Follies led to the first of his many film roles and, in the 1930s he was the top-paid actor in Hollywood. Rogers’ aphorisms are still quoted today, including his final epigram. Buried in the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma, Roger’s grave stone reads: I never met a man I didn’t like. (8×15, courtesy John Leahey)

Edwin Booth (1833-1893) was famous as an actor both before and after the infamy of brother John Wilkes Booth’s, assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Born into a theatrical family, Edwin Booth toured throughout America and Europe and founded Booth’s Theatre in New York. In an odd twist of fate, Edwin Booth is credited with having saved the life of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln. In a New Jersey train station, young Lincoln had fallen into the space between the railway car and the platform when the train began to move. He was pulled to safety and recognized his savior as the famous actor Edwin Booth. Booth was forced from the stage by the infamy, and was, according to the friends who comforted him in his exile, comforted by the idea that he had saved Lincoln’s son from injury or death. He made his return in 1866 playing the lead in Hamlet, which became his signature role. (9×16)

Tyrone Power (1797-1841) was as famous in his day as his namesake great grandson was in the Hollywood of the 1950s. Born in Ireland, Power joined a troupe of traveling players when he was 14. He became a star in England’s Drury Lane before conquering America. In addition to acting, Power was a speculator, buying the land upon which Madison Square Garden rests today. Returning to England, he was lost at sea on the SS President, leaving behind descendants such as Sir William James Murray Tyrone Power, the Commissary General in Chief of the British Army, notable British director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Tyrone Power, Sr., a silent film star, and Hollywood star Tyrone Power, Jr. (8×13)

Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain, before she toured the States in Henry Irving’s company. Famous for her portrayal of Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, she toured the U.S. and England for more than two decades. In 1903, she took over the management of the Imperial Theater in Britain, championing the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen. Terry’s descendants include her son, actor, designer, director Edward Gordon Craig and nephew Sir John Gielgud. (9×13)

Viola Emily Allen (1867-1948) was born to a theatrical family and first appeared on stage in the title role in Esmeralda at Madison Square Garden at the age of 14. Allen performed in both Shakespearean and modern plays, and starred in the 1915 silent film, The White Sister. She signed Costello’s portrait in person, perhaps one of the actors who celebrated Scranton success at Costello’s Arbor Cafe. (12×18, courtesy of Joyce Costello Deitrick)

George M. Cohan (1878-1942) did it all. A playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and producer, he was known as “the man who owned Broadway.” He started his career as a child, writing the songs and skits he performed with his parents and sisters in vaudeville as “The Four Cohans.” Cohan wrote and starred in over three dozen Broadway shows and is considered the father of American musical comedy. His life and music were the subject of the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy and the 1968 musical George M!. One of the founders of ASCAP, Cohan penned such popular songs as “Over There”, “Yankee Doodle Boy” and “Give My Regards to Broadway”. The Man Who Owned Broadway is still on Broadway today—his statue presides over Times Square. (6×16, courtesy of John Beemer)