Official Star Wars Autographs & Photos Now Offered by Lucasfilm, Topps & MLB Division Partnership

Official Star Wars 16×20 framed photo signed by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. $1,049

Disney’s Lucasfilm, Topps and Major League Baseball’s Authenticators, Inc. subsidiary launched Star Wars Authentics, starwarsauthentics.com, on December 21, offering witnessed autographed photos of Star Wars actors, and official unsigned Star Wars photos. The launch follows the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Authenticators, Inc. and Topps have prior Disney connections. Authenticators is run by Major League Baseball, and Disney just made a billion dollar investment in their BAM Tech subsidiary. Topps is partially owned by Tornante, a company owned by Michael Eisner, the former chairman of Disney.

“We identified a hole in the entertainment industry, a need for certified authentic pieces for the Star Wars brand, and with this collaboration we are able to meet consumer demand. Topps excels in visual arts and printing technologies and we are thrilled to bring our expertise to Star Wars, building upon our trading card and Major League Baseball memorabilia business.” said David Leiner, Topps’ General Manager and Vice President of the North American Sports and Entertainment division. [Read more…]

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 www.psacard.com/services.

For additional information, contact PSA Customer Service at 800-325-1121 or by email at info@PSAcard.com.

 

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!