I have a small online company that I run out of Albany, NY. A huge portion of my business focuses on the sale of autographed memorabilia. The autographs that I sell are obtained in one of two ways. They are either obtained directly by me in the Albany area or they are obtained by my top associate who resides in Buffalo, NY. The autographed items that I typically get in the Albany area are New York Giants players (obtained at their University at Albany training camp facility), as well as other current or retired players who may be in the area for charity golf events and other NFL Alumni functions. My associate in Buffalo, along with having access to the Buffalo Bills summer training camp, also tracks down visiting teams who come into town for 10 home games per year (8 regular season and 2 pre-season) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He is able to obtain autographs at the hotels when players get on and off the team bus or in the lobby area. He also has numerous times each year when Jim Kelly does signings at the local malls and golf tournaments to benefit his foundation. For example, last month, NFL greats such as Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Steve Young, James Lofton, and a number of others came into town and were all very good about signing autographs. In addition to all of that, my associate also takes a trip to the Pro Bowl every year in Hawaii. There he attends practice sessions and other player events throughout the week where he is able to get autographs from most of the big name players in the league today.
Once my items are autographed, it’s time to give each of them a certificate of authenticity. All of my certificates include an item description, an item serial #, the date on which the item was autographed, my personal signature guaranteeing its authenticity, and my companies name. Also, I place a tamperproof hologram on the certificate that is sequentially numbered to match the items serial #. I then place a matching hologram with the same serial number on the item itself (i.e. a mini helmet). This insures that no one can remove the hologram and use it to sell a different item. In addition to the serial # on each hologram, it also includes my company’s name.
I recently encountered my first problem with this process. It happened when a customer purchased a Michael Vick autographed Falcons mini helmet on eBay for $75.00. In my description I disclosed where the signature was obtained, as well as information about the certificate of authenticity and of course numerous photos of the item itself. Immediately after having received the item the customer gave me positive feedback (which I have received for over 99% of the items I have sold). About 2 months later I received an email from this customer. The email stated that he mailed the mini helmet to an authentication company called PSA/DNA and received a letter back from them saying that they did not feel comfortable giving their authentication to this particular item because it was not up to their standards in at least one of the following categories. It then went on to list about 10 categories, but never actually specified what was wrong with the signature. This particular customer then asked for a full refund of his money. I had no choice but to deny his request because, as I explained to him, I can not set the precedent of giving a refund every time another company doesn’t think that the autograph I obtained fits their mold for a perfect autograph. I went on to tell him that it is clearly stated where the autograph was signed, and that if he was looking for a perfect signature then he would probably be better off either going to a show (where he would be paying in the neighborhood of $200-250 just for an autograph ticket), or buying from a Company like Steiner (where he could expect to pay $300 and up in many cases for the same item). When you buy from a small company like mine that obtains autographs in settings such as practice facilities and other public events, you will not get a perfect “sit-down” autograph every time, which is the term I would use for a signature that is done at a private signing or an autograph show. This is what enables me to sell a Michael Vick autographed mini helmet for only $75.00.
The other thing that I find very troubling is that these authentication companies also sell autographed items of their own, so it seems logical that they would want as few autographed items from other companies out on the market as possible. And when you factor in that they cannot even give you a specific reason why the autograph was deemed fraudulent, but rather a laundry list of possibilities, then to me it just seems very contrived and like a system set up to make the rich richer, and keep the smaller companies from selling affordable memorabilia.
One of the main reasons that I have certificates of authenticity with all of my items is because, in addition to abiding by the law, I also understand that customers like to feel safe and protected that they are buying autographed memorabilia. But it seems that over that last few years what has happened is that the premium has been placed on the company name that is on the certificate, rather than the athletes name on the memorabilia. I would urge everyone that if you have a favorite player whose autograph you really want, try and obtain that autograph yourself if possible. But if you cannot, try not to get caught up in the hype of the name on the certificate. An autograph is an autograph, and if the same person signed two identical items, then those two items should hold the same value. Educate yourself on signatures so that you can become your own authenticator and avoid paying that extra $100 just because if has a big fancy company name on the certificate of authenticity.
Adam Riccardi is the owner of Adam's Allsports Collectibles and can be contacted at email@example.com