Beatles Autographs: Part I

 

By Frank Caiazzo

“Autographs of The Beatles,” by Beatles autograph expert Frank Caiazzo, was originally published in the October and November 1995 issues of Autograph Collector [now Autograph]. One of the most important works on Beatles autographs, this two-part article’s authentication and historical information have stood the test of time. We’re publishing it unedited, with the original B&W images from the magazine. Join Autograph Magazine Live! to be notified when Part II is available.

Among the many areas of Beatles collectibles, autographs of the Fab Four are certainly increasing in interest and value. Autographs are uniquely special in that they represent an occurrence of undivided attention by these legends, a frozen moment in their lives captured and forever treasured. But if you should decide that you would like to invest in anything supposedly penned by The Beatles, from a single autograph to a set of all four signatures, from a letter written by one of them to a manuscript for a Beatles song (often referred to as handwritten lyrics), there are a few things you should know first.

Closing in, you come to the category of Rock and Roll, and somewhere within this category, of course, are The Beatles. That’s a lot of ground to cover, especially in light of the fact that these four signatures alone can be very tricky and tough to get a good handle on without fairly intensive study. Over even short periods of time, their signatures were constantly undergoing minor characteristic changes, an evolution which saw the most drastic transformations during the year 1963—John and George in particular, seemed to be searching the most for a new “autographic identity.” Because of certain characteristic changes, it is actually possible for someone who is highly familiar with their signatures to date them (even to within a month or two) with a fair amount of accuracy. This is possible simply by knowing when even the most subtle changes took place, and applying this knowledge when looking at a signature or set of signatures of The Beatles.

As mentioned earlier, The Beatles signatures are very heavily forged, with these forgeries ranging in caliber from extremely poor to very cleverly executed. But no matter how well done the signatures are, a forger will be much more consistent with his style of “manufactured” signatures than The Beatles true autographs ever were. It is easy for him to “lock in” to a particular style wrought with errors and lacking the true feel and essence of the signatures he is forging.

If he has bad characteristics within each signature (all forgers have several, visible to a well-trained eye) ranging from the proportion of the letters amongst themselves, the formation or shaping of the letters, angles of the letters with respect to one another, or what I call “trade secrets”—things like where and when an “i” might be dotted, where a photo or LP is most likely not going to be signed by each individual, anachronistic errors such as signing a later photo or LP with an earlier style of signature, etc., a forger will always be consistent and his bad characteristics will always be evident. Quite frankly, once pointed out, even to a layperson, it would be easy to distinguish any forger’s distinct style each and every time. But it is only a person who is very knowledgeable of Beatles signatures who can easily spot these characteristic errors and pass along such tips, especially in the case of well-executed forgeries.

As you can see, that because of the variations between authentic Beatles signatures over time, and a great many different styles of forgeries filling in the cracks, this makes for a volatile mix, a virtual landmine effect when the whole picture is viewed at once. For every set of Beatles signatures sold over the past 10 years, at least 50 percent of them have been either forgeries, or “ghost signed” by Neil Aspinall, which brings us to his story.

Aspinall, who was The Beatles’ road manager starting in 1963 (he runs Apple today) [editor’s reminder: this article was written in 1995] , signed literally hundreds upon hundreds of items for them when they were either not available while on tour amidst the hysteria of Beatlemania, or simply did not want to be bothered with autograph requests. Often while on tour, they slept well into the afternoon if they could. Neil’s “Beatles” signatures were not necessarily done to deceive buyers and sellers of Beatles autographs, because at the time, there really was no market for them as we know it today. It was simply part of his job to satisfy some of the autograph requests The Beatles received (through Neil) while on the road, especially after 1963.

His signatures have until recently sold quite well through auctions and dealers alike, but they are really very easy to distinguish from genuine Beatles signatures—unlike many of the deliberate and often clever forgeries created for no other reason than to make easy money and rob the unfortunate person who ends up with them hanging on his wall (although the piece probably passed through at least one unsuspecting middleman or auction house, who also made money on it!).

In fact, on The Beatles’ initial visit to America, the plane ride over from England gave Neil an opportunity to sign the stacks of Capitol promotional photographs he was given in anticipation of a large number of requests. He soon got tired of signing The Beatles’ full names and ended the trip by signing the photos with their first names only. (It is interest­ing to note that a high-ranking New York police official whose job it was to brief the band on security measures before they departed the plane, wound up the proud owner of two of these Aspinall signed photos, even though there are pictures of him coming off of the plane with The Beatles!) Oftentimes when there was a police request for Beatles signatures, Neil was the one who did the signing, merely to keep those who were responsible for guarding their lives in a particular city as happy as he could.

Anyone who wrote to The Official Beatles Fan Club in the 1960s requesting autographs undoubtedly received signatures in response to their request, signatures which were signed by secretaries of the Fan Club, along with a letter stating that “the lads were more than happy to sign for you.” Again, this was done not to deceive, but to satisfy the impossible numbers of people who wanted to own something signed by The Beatles. Keeping people happy, especially Fan Club members, was a big priority. Although these secretarial signatures have in the past sold as being authentic, they are quite easy to distinguish.

But because of variances in the situations surrounding the time and place where the signatures were obtained, The Beatles’ signatures could look markedly different, even when signed within a few days of each other. For example, did Paul use his right hand as a backing for a leaf of paper he was signing, or did he use George’s back? I have seen both in photos because no flat surface was available. Were The Beatles literally “on the run” between their limo and a backstage door as they were signing, or were they seated behind a bar as they were on Dec. 14, 1963 at the Wimbledon Palais in London?

Regardless, certain characteristics within their signatures could vary almost month to month in 1963, their most fertile signing year by far. They signed so much that year because they were touring throughout England the whole time, starting out virtually unknown outside of Liverpool and continuing along on a backbreaking schedule of concert after concert, BBC radio appearances, TV shows and photographic sessions. During this time, the Beatles were very accessible and no reasonable demand was refused, the least of all being autograph requests.

In February, 1964 The Beatles came to America and from that point forward changed the face of popular music forever, while achieving phenomenal worldwide fame unequaled by anyone before or since. It is not surprising then, that from the time they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, until they officially broke up in April 1970, they were increasingly less accessible and, of course, highly guarded.

In Australia in June, 1964 they were greeted by 300,000 fans as they stood on a balcony waving to the massive crowd. Although this sounds extreme, wherever they went they were surrounded by mass hysteria. While on tour they spent most of their time imprisoned in their hotel rooms, often occupying entire floors with guards at all entrances. As time went by they signed less and less. Very few 1965 examples have surfaced, and 1966 is a tough set to get. Contrary to popular opinion, The Beatles did very little signing in the U.S. at all between 1964 and 1966 (the last time all four were in America at the same time). In fact, 90 percent of everything The Beatles signed as a group was signed in England and, of that, most was signed before the end of 1963. The Beatles signed more in 1963 than they did the rest of their career combined!

After they stopped touring in August, 1966, The Beatles were rarely seen together as a foursome, although they did continue to record together until August, 1969. Sets of autographs have surfaced from the year of psychedelia, 1967, and only because they were out in public together for two weeks touring the English countryside in a bus while filming Magical Mystery Tour in September. The only people who got signatures after that were the “Apple Scruffs,” or groups of people who congregated outside of EMI Abbey Road Studios or Apple Headquarters and caught them individually as they came and went. Needless to say, sets of all four signatures from 1968 and 1969 are nearly impossible to find.

One of the most difficult sets to put together would be a set of all four Beatles’ signatures on a single item (LP/photo, etc.) obtained individually as solo artists, post 1970. Yet this is an area heavily targeted by forgers. With the exception of documents signed by all four in the 1970s, I have seen no more than 15 such sets, yet I have seen at least 30 Sgt. Pepper signed albums alone that purport to have been, by the style of each forged signature, signed in the 70s and 80s. I have spoken to an “in-person” autograph recipient who was lucky enough to put together two post-Beatles sets and it took him almost eight years to do it. Of these two sets, George signed one first name only. In 1994, he needed money and decided to sell his in-person Beatles signatures, including these two sets. He offered them to two noted autograph experts, one of whom actually claims to specialize in Rock and Roll. Both dealers said that his signatures didn’t look good to them, to which he reacted with great indignation. Then he offered them to me and, needless to say, I was extremely delighted.

There is a hierarchy of Beatles autographs as far as desirability and value goes. They are, to a degree, subjective and realize possibly the most variance among the many areas of Beatles collecting. The value examples given here are merely recent pricing trends as of mid-1995.

In a very real sense, the item upon which the auto­graphs appear has the most significant effect on value and desirability. First in line is a signed album cover or a 45 RPM picture sleeve from the 60s. These are certainly the most sought after in that they encompass all the desirable at­tributes in terms of historic and aesthetic appeal that relate directly to their claim to fame, because The Beatles were first and foremost about music. Signed LPs command anywhere from $4,000 on up, depending upon factors such as the title, overall condition and contrast of the signatures.

But one thing to keep in mind is that because these are so desirable, they are a big target for forgeries. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Meet The Beatles are the most commonly forged LP titles in America, due obviously to the stature that they hold as far as Beatles albums are concerned. In England however, there doesn’t seem to be any particular favorite for forgers, although they do seem to be clever enough to go for the original mono Parlophone issues (LPs or EPs), as well as the two red label singles, Love Me Do and Please, Please Me. In all, I have seen just about every U.S. and U.K. album title show up at one time or another with signatures that were not authentic. Of these, a small percentage were signed “honestly” by Neil Aspinall.

An equally desirable, yet much rarer item, would be a legal written contract or document containing all four of The Beatles signatures. These are interesting in that they fall into more of a utility/business nature and are not simply the result of an individual or fan’s request. Obviously the advent of items like this are the byproduct of daily business activities. In these cases the collector of such an item will possess a piece of The Beatles’ lives that they themselves had no intention of anyone even seeing other than those directly involved.

In recent years there has been a deluge of Apple signed checks and documents that have entered the market­place for the first time, at first slowly and then more rapidly, almost causing a flood in the market—only to end up in collections and become available only occasionally. There are some collectors who will only buy checks or documents because they feel that these are unquestionably authentic. For the most part this is true, although there have been a few contracts that were forgeries coming from California in the past few years. While these particular contracts appear to be “official” on the surface, with various magistrate stamps, date stamps and seemingly legal verbiage, the signatures (usually Brian Epstein and John Lennon) were very poorly executed.

Contracts signed by all four members are very collect­ible, when they are offered, with prices starting in the $5,000 range. The cost could rise sharply, however, if the body of the contract contains significant information regarding the history of the group and their music.

Next in line of desirability to collectors would be signed photographs, which are actually quite rare and again a big target for forgeries. There are scores of signed magazine photos which have been sold over the years that are not authentic. These are popular with forgers because they can buy a magazine chock full of photos to sign rather cheaply. I have seen Beatles magazines (one that comes immediately to mind is a book put out by PYX Productions in late 1963, with beautiful color photos on the front and back and a variety of black and white “collarless suit” poses within) that have been signed on every usable photo, turning them into a forger’s goldmine.

Authentic vintage signed 8×10″ photographs are difficult to come by but, when they do come along, they are extremely desirable and in the $3,500 plus range, depending upon the condition of the photo and the contrast of the signatures. Signed photos containing classic Dezo Hoffman poses can bring $4,000 or more.

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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.

Operation Bullpen Keeps Making News

BY KEVIN NELSON August 23, 2010

I continue to be amazed—and flattered—by the attention that my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, continues to receive nearly four years after publication. In an interview this month in Collectors Weekly, Sotheby”s consultant and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Leila Dunbar says:

There”s a book about the FBI”s Operation Bullpen, which, in 1999-2000, broke up a ring of forgers across the United States. They estimate that $100 million worth of fake autographs got into the market, and were distributed by all the big sellers. Forged signatures included Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, DiMaggio, and Mantle.

That book was Operation Bullpen, and as I keep writing articles and blogs about forgery for Autograph and other sites and publications—in fact I”ve got a long piece coming out soon about literary forger Forest R. Smith, III—some in the collecting business have come to associate me with the FBI. Why, I”m not entirely sure. I got firsthand accounts and interviews from both the crooks and the FBI in Operation Bullpen; that”s what makes the book so unusual—the story is told from both sides (and fairly too. Both the forgers and law enforcement have praised it as a balanced, accurate account of the crimes.)

Nevertheless, the other day I was doing a story about a collector and I wanted to talk to the dealer who was planning to represent him when he put his collectibles up for auction. The dealer, at first, was a little wary about talking to me because he wondered, mistakenly, if I was involved with the FBI.

Believe me, folks, I”m a writer. And a journalist. If I were in the FBI I”d be getting paid a lot more. And I”d have to wear a suit and tie every day to go to work. But I”m not. I”m just a guy who wrote a book about forgery—here, check out my author”s website if you want to learn more.

Honestly, I figured I”d write Operation Bullpen and then move onto other books and topics, which I have. But I keep writing about forgery and other types of collector crime because it remains an endlessly fascinating subject, with breaking new developments all the time. The dealer eventually relaxed, we had our interview, and I filed the article with the magazine that assigned me to do it.

That”s the way it works in the writing biz—nothing more to it than that. But a writer lives and dies by his sources, and if you”ve got a question or tip about forgery or collecting crimes, drop me a line. I”m interested.

Ty Cobb

By RON KEURAJIAN
Autograph June 2010 [Read more…]

Christopher Morales: The Forger’s Best Friend

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:

Find more photos like this on Autograph Magazine Live!

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.

Morales authenticated forged Beatles guitar offered at a charity auction by Rock Star Gallery

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:

Find more photos like this on Autograph Magazine Live!

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.

http://autographmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/GoDreams-profile-w-morales.jpg

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 steve.cyrkin@autographmagazine.com.

If you find out I’m right, I’ll try to help.