Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors

Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors

Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors 1The 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:


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.


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

Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors 2Some 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 an 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 is 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:

  • Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA/DNA)
  • James Spence Authentication (JSA)
  • Beckett Authentication Services (BAS)

How to Get Your Sports Items Authenticated

In order to have a treasured autograph authenticated, you would need to either mail it to one of the mentioned companies or visit them when they appear at an event in your area.

Either way, you can find full details on the process along with pricing and what to expect using the links below.

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, there is very little that can be done.

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 on 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 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.

Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors 3

Related Topics: |

Rob Bertrand

Rob is a former member of The Cardboard Connection Writing Staff and co-host of Cardboard Connection Radio.He is an avid collector with over 20 years of active experience in the hobby.

User Comments

  1. I purchased a Stephen Curry autographed picture. It came with a CoA By “inpersonauthentication”, Do you have any information about this company? Should I consider having it certified by a second company?

  2. We’ve never heard of this company. As with any autographed memorabilia purchase, should you want to sell, buyers will generally look for the most reputable authentication companies: PSA, JSA or BAS.

  3. Good detail I haven’t seen on other sites. I think something to be mentioned is that if it seems to good to be true…probably is. Depsite how much we want it to be true. Most in the market know the value and won’t sacrifice selling it

  4. I appreciate these comments about authenication. I was batboy in 1968 / 1969. My team was AA Memphis Blues farm club of New York Mets. I acquired lots of autographs on baseballs most quite legible. Seems the need for authenicating stills exists while each signing was in person. This includes batboying for several spring exhibition MLB teams. Thanks for information.

  5. I have a 1952 Souvenir Program from the St. Louis Cardinals, autographed by Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges in pencil for that period of time, and later on in time on the same souvenir program signed by Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst…I was 9 years old when I got Jackie Robinson’s and Gil Hodges autograph and later years for the other two…I personally witnessed these signatures…If i were to put this souvenir Program up for sale how can I prove it is there signatures?? Any help in this mater would be greatly appreciated…

  6. You would need to get it professionally authenticated using one of the companies mentioned.

  7. I have an autographed baseball of the either the 59 or 60 New York Yankees. Every player but Roger Maris. Would not sign. Had this in my clothes drawers since I believe I was in 7th or 8th grade. I’m now pushing 75 years old. Not been authenticated yet. What do you suggest?

  8. Nice item! To sell the bat for the most possible, you would need to get it authenticated by one of the main companies mentioned.

    Leave a Comment: