Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors

Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors

The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to do your own autograph authentication. Rather, it's meant to give a list of guidelines and resources that you can better educate yourself with. It will also help you decide the right time to get third-party autograph authentication for your items. In addition, we'll give you some common examples of problems that can occur during the autograph authentication process and offer potential solutions.

It should be stated that autograph authentication is one of the most controversial and murky aspects of collecting sports memorabilia. The methods employed are far from an exact science. Most reputable authenticators, themselves, will admit that even under the best circumstances, their findings are merely an opinion. It is not concrete proof of a genuine autograph.

Quite simply, the only way to ensure that the autographs in your collection are authentic is to acquire them in person. This process includes handing the item to the athlete, watching them sign it, and having the athlete hand the item back to you. That being said, there are probably items already in your collection that you would like to have authenticated. However, once you make that decision, be prepared for potential disappointment in the results.

The Autograph Authentication Process

There are literally dozens of autograph authentication companies in existence today. From forensic document examiners to so-called handwriting experts, to corporate institutions like PSA/DNA and others that claim to use state-of-the-art technology with fancy sounding names like Color Spectral Deconvolution or Video Spectral Comparator, the autograph authentication choices available to a collector can get confusing.

Regardless of the company, all autograph authenticators use some form of a multi-step process that includes examination and analysis of the ink and medium, object evaluation, side-by-side signature comparison, structural analysis, tagging and certifying.

All autograph authentication starts with the following examination:

Ink/Medium Analysis

This autograph authentication step is used to answer such questions as:

  • Has the ink permeated into the paper or does it lay on top of the paper indicating that it may have been recently applied?
  • Is the ink used in the signature consistent with those used when the autographed was supposedly signed?

Object Evaluation

Depending on what the signature is on, an entirely different set of questions must be answered. To give you an idea of the issues authenticators are dealing with at this stage, a paper document has several characteristics that must be evaluated.

  • Older ink has acid and actually etches the paper over time. Is such etching present?
  • Modern paper deteriorates quickly over time and becomes more brittle. Is the paper’s condition justified for the time the signature was applied?
  • Brown mildew spots, called foxing, can appear on all paper. Is the ink on top of or underneath the foxing?

When the signed object is a piece of memorabilia like a ball, bat, jersey or other equipment, even more complex and time-consuming autograph authentication methods are used to properly age the item to the signature.

Structural Analysis

This step of the process most closely resembles what is often called handwriting analysis or forensic handwriting evaluation. It includes a detailed look at every nuance, component and letter in the signature. These include:

  • Signature Flow
  • Style
  • Spontaneity
  • Letter Angle
  • Starts
  • Stops

Side-by-Side Comparison

By using a verified signature or even a copy of an authentic signature, the submitted signature can be compared to the exemplar. Reputable autograph authenticators have a large exemplar library, which usually contains a wide-range of samples to call upon for easy reference.

After Evaluation

Following the examination, the remaining steps in the autograph authentication process include:

Tagging

Once the authentication process is complete and passed, the item is tagged. This is typically done with some form of a tamper-resistant, foil hologram label that also has a serial number. The number is then recorded in a database for future identification.

Certifying

In addition to the item itself being tagged, a corresponding document, called a Letter of Authenticity (LOA), is issued with a matching serial number. It often comes with a matching tamper-resistant tag as well.

Specialized Autograph Authentication Tools

Some companies use more advanced techniques during the examination stage of the authentication process. This may include:

Color Spectral Deconvolution

This is a process that uses a advanced color algorithm in 3D space to separate or remove color components. It is most often used on documents to help separate the signature from the object background color, allowing for a more detailed analysis.

Video Spectral Comparator Analysis

This hi-tech piece of equipment can be used to examine documents and autographs using sophisticated color and infrared imaging, magnification, coaxial lighting, and side lighting on-screen. It can be used to detect erasures, reveal masked and obliterated signatures, as well as differences in ink types.

Autograph Authentication Companies

As previously mentioned, there are a range of companies to choose from. A simple online search will reveal many that fall outside of what the hobby has established as reputable. In reality, even these companies have been known to make their share of mistakes given the nature of the authentication as just an opinion in the first place. Couple this with the fact that autograph authentication is a for-profit business and you can imagine the potential issue that may result.

That being said, here is a list of the most recognized autograph authentication companies in the hobby today:

Autograph Authentication Pitfalls

One of the most troubling things collectors encounter from time-to-time is when they submit an autograph for authentication that they have acquired in person, only to have it rejected by the authenticating company. What recourse do you have as a collector if this happens? Unfortunately the answer is, very little.

As frustrating as this can be, your only options are to submit the item to another authenticator or simply be satisfied in knowing for yourself that it is genuine. While this may help when the item resides in your own collection, it certainly will make it difficult to sell the item in the future without a reputable LOA.

Earlier we alluded to the fact that there are many pitfalls to the autograph authentication business. Unfortunately, they will likely continue to be part of autograph collecting and authentication. As a result, many spirited debates and differences of opinions have spawned some truly insightful information. Before deciding to spend money on autograph authentication, we encourage you to do your own research. Not simply on the authenticator side of the equation but the detractor side as well. Here are a few resources worth reading before spending your money for an authenticator’s opinion:

In-Person Autographs and Authentication

If getting your own autographs authenticated isn’t a top priority but purchasing them from a reliable source is, there are a handful of reliable event organizers and dealers whose Certificates of Authenticity (COA) have proven to be trustworthy over the years.

Some of these companies oversee regular autograph signing sessions or major shows throughout the year. They issue their own COAs that go with an item. Not only has the item been signed by an athlete, but witnessed by a company official as well. Below is a list of these of companies:

Autograph collecting is a fun and exciting hobby. It can also be time-consuming and expensive. Before investing in autograph authentication, educate yourself. Decide how you want to get your autographs. If you choose to get them authenticated, be prepared for the results, good or bad.

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Rob Bertrand

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Rob Bertrand is an avid collector with over 20 years of active experience in the hobby. He is one of the site's most accomplished writers, as well as the co-host of Cardboard Connection Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @VOTC.

User Comments

  1. Great article! Good job !

  2. i wan seen beautiful my autograph

  3. Recently I’ve been buying autographed baseball memorabilia and have been researching authenticators. Does anyone know My Favorite Players, Inc., Stacks of Plaques, or Old Time Sports?

    Also I have seen autographs certified by Holograms of Willie Mays,
    Stan Musial and Reggie Jackson. Does any one know that these are legitimate companies or fakes using the names of these players?

  4. bob111146 » Personally, I haven’t heard of those companies. That’s not to say they’re not real, but I’d use extra caution before proceeding – like we should be with any signature.

  5. Anybody had any dealings with Justin Priddy of ACE? So far I am not impressed with his follow up with me.

    Thanks.

  6. hi…don’t know if this thread is active, but I can’t find an answer to my question/problem anywhere else: my Ted Williams / Mickey Mantle auto photo came with a PSA/DNA loa from 2006. The loa has a “reference” number instead of a certification number: the number does not appear in the PSA/DNA database. A buyer backed out because of this. I bought it framed with the loa attached to the back (it was a professional–albeit mediocre–frame job). After this experience, we removed the photo and found no PSA/DNA sticker.

    Why reference instead of certification? Why no sticker? Why did Darrell Johnson take Jim Willoughby out in Game 7? Oh, sorry for that digression…

    Any help understanding this would be appreciated…many thanks.

  7. I had Steve Kerr autograph a basketball for me but didn’t think of getting a cert of authenticity as it is a gift for my husbands boss. Can I have him sigh a letter saying it is his signature? Since I have access to him personally it seems silly to pay a company to authenticate it. Thanks for your help!

  8. Paulette Britton » If it were a notarized letter, that would likely work. Unfortunately there are people who forge certificates of authenticity so some might be concerned that the letter could be forged too in a situation like that.

  9. I just got a joe namath football authenticated by Certified Authentic Autographs INC. I cannot find any information on them. Has anyone ever heard of them?

  10. Brittany Woodward » I haven’t, but here’s a website that looks to belong to them or someone with the same name: http://www.onsiteauthentications.com/caai.php

    For me personally, it does not make me feel confident. It doesn’t mean the signature is fake necessarily, but if I were purchasing myself, I would be very cautious and probably want a second opinion.

    If you’re ever looking to sell the football, it would definitely be in your best interest to get it checked by a more reputable company like PSA/DNA or JSA.

  11. Thank you Ryan. I am a little uneasy as well. The gentleman I bought it from stated that it was signed during the Pro Am charity tournament in Kansas City that Joe and his best friend Len Dawson. Apparently CAAI is the local charities authenticator but I just have no idea how to really research it.

    I am slightly confused by PSA. I am not looking to sell it, but it is a christmas gift and I want to make sure it is real. I cant even find someone near me who authenticates them.

  12. j’ai en main sur une même feuille les signatures de joueur des canadien de Montréal vers les année 1960 écrit a la mine figure sur la feuille des nom comme Tim Horton ,Allen Stanley, john Bower , Ron Stewart, Frank Mahavlich, Red Kelly etc … et plusieurs que n’arrive pas a lire combien cela peux valoir

  13. once my Item is authenticated. Will I receive a Certificate of Authentication??

  14. Jason » You should get some sort of authentication, usually in the form of a certificate. However, larger, more reputable companies like PSA/DNA also have other measures as well.

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