Thursday, December 20, 2012

Julien's Michael Jackson auction controversy

The story originally broke on Autograph Magazine Live, and it has now been picked up by the national media. Are the Michael Jackson signatures from The Collection of Tompkins and Bush forgeries?

View more videos at:

Note that Julien's Auctions filed a Copyright Infringement Claim against Autograph Magazine Live (AML) for images used from the Tompkins & Bush sale. AML contends they are allowed to use them under Fair Use laws for discussion and criticism, and AML is filing a counterclaim.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to tell authentic autographs from fakes

Very often you'll see a collector ask something along the lines of, "How can I tell a real [fill-in-the-blank] autograph from fakes?" It seems as though the person expects to receive an answer such as, "If the third stroke of the M is more than 1.5 inches long, it's fake."

Of course, it is not that simple. There are no shortcuts or magic tells. Most anyone can identify grossly malformed fakes. But to be really good and identify the relatively deceptive fakes, you need to train your eyes to recognize the proper look and feel. And this is not something that can be accomplished overnight. In other words, it requires work and dedication.

So, how do you "train your eye"?

  • Look at hundreds of authentic exemplars. Look at them every day for a long time. And make sure you are using verified authentic exemplars!
  • Do side-by-side comparisons with known fakes.
  • Don't focus solely on "shape." Look at speed and pressure and other subtle characteristics. Good forgers can closely replicate "shape," but it's much more difficult to replicate the subtle characteristics.
  • Look for a loose, relaxed hand that intuitively and instinctively signed versus a tight hand "drawing" the signature with too much "thinking."
  • Network with experienced collectors and dealers to compare notes and ask questions.

Follow these steps and eventually the signature will "click," and you will see the difference between authentic and good fakes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The UACC's Pen & Quill Magazine, November 2012

The latest issue of the UACC Magazine Pen & Quill is arriving at member homes. A tip of the cap to the team and editor Tricia Eaton for the November issue, which rounds out a year of terrific issues.
It features articles on Godfather autographs, FDR, the Presidential candidates, and the Marx Brothers. Also a Neil Armstrong autograph article by yours truly.

For those who may not know, the Pen & Quill is the official publication of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC). It is available to members of the UACC. For more info on the UACC, go to

Monday, November 05, 2012

RR Fall 2012 Space Auction

A lot of great items in the upcoming RR Fall Space & Aviation Auction. It's a privilege and honor to review some of these historical artifacts. The flown and signed Apollo 11 Flag Presentation is probably my favorite.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Removed personalization on baseballs

Removing, or “washing,” a personalization from a photo has been a common occurrence for a long time.  If done correctly and pen and paper conditions are right, it is undetectable. Now it appears it is also possible to remove a personalization from a signed baseball.
I saw this Mariano Rivera signed ball on eBay for a very reasonable Buy-It-Now. I was seconds away from clicking the button to snap it up when I saw mention of a removed personalization in the auction description. It was near the bottom of the description, but to the seller’s credit they were disclosing there was a removed personalization. On closer inspection, you can see remnants of the previous ink in the bottom of the World Series logo. If you look really close, you can see the indentation from the previous writing.
It is my understanding that the previous writing is not really removed; rather it is airbrushed over with a near exact matching color. In hand, you’d think the painted area would have a different look and sheen, but unless I could get one real cheap, I’m not willing to invest in a ball with a washed personalization.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012. Patriot, pioneer, hero.

Words cannot express the admiration I had for Neil Armstrong. Patriot, pioneer and hero.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Farewell, Sally Ride - 1951-2012

Not only was she a great American and a pioneer, she was a very good friend to autograph collectors.

Rest in peace, Dr. Ride.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

James Stewart - Suspected Forgery Style Alert

Over the past few months I have noted an explosion of this James Stewart signature style on eBay. It seems as if some sellers have an endless supply of these signatures and they all have the same unusual characteristics.

  • A sharp, "jerky" appearance
  • Letters smashed together with poor letter definition
  • Odd spacing between letters
  • Never personalized
  • Many of them do not appear to be on glossy photos... they are on cardstock prints
I have consulted with other experienced collectors and autograph industry professionals -- the consensus is these signatures are highly suspect.
Note this suspect style also appears on Harvey sketches.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pitiful Neil Armstrong / Apollo 11 Forgery

Finding a Neil Armstrong or Apollo 11 forgery is hardly a newsworthy event. They haunt the hobby like the ghost of phantom forensic document examiner Nicholas Burczyk.

However, every once-in-a-while I run across one so horrific it deserves honorable mention for inclusion in the Autograph Hall of Shame. Check out this train wreck, currently on eBay for a $5,999 Buy It Now...

World's least deceptive Apollo 11 forgery?
Of course, the item would not be complete without a certificate of authenticity from a forensic document examiner. In this case, the "expert" forensic document examiners at Academy of Manuscript and Autograph (AMA) deemed this gem "authentic." 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Operation Bullpen and the Marino Family Forgery Ring: Did anything change?

Ghastly Mariano Rivera forgery being sold today
 in mass quantities. Where is Operation Bullpen Part II?
Over the past few days I have been re-reading Operation Bullpen by Kevin Nelson, the story of the Marino Family Forgery Ring and how the FBI took them down. The last time I read it was several years ago.

Something that really struck me this time around was how self-conscious the ring was about their product being “high quality” and how nervous they got when “someone was onto them.” For instance, the book recounts an incident where a collector returned a Jackie Robinson signed ball and a Roberto Clemente signed ball because he discovered the date of the balls made it impossible for them to be signed by Robinson or Clemente.

The leader of the ring, Wayne Bray, went into a fury because of this sloppiness and was especially angry at James DiMaggio (J. DiMaggio COAs) for issuing certs for these provably fake items. They counted on DiMaggio to rubber stamp items, but he was also essentially quality control. If something was a poor quality forgery, DiMaggio was not supposed to cert it.

Further, they got really nervous when some of the sellers they distributed to were removed by eBay. Once their sellers started getting removed from eBay, they feared law enforcement would soon follow. (Which it did.)

What makes this so interesting is the contrast with many of the fakes we see today certed by the usual suspects on the eBay banned COA list. The usual suspects on the eBay banned list – as well as some others – cert items that are laughably bad and obvious forgeries. There is no “quality control.” They apparently thumb their noses at law enforcement with no fear of consequences.
Blogs and message board threads like this one would have sent Wayne Bray and the Marinos into cardiac arrest. Yet, today’s crop of forgers, sellers and their “authenticating” accomplices don’t seem to care if almost every educated collector and dealer in the world is “onto them.” As long as there is a “greater fool” willing to buy their product, they plow on… offering countless obviously bad items in scores of venues.
So, how is it a decade after the biggest forgery bust in the world, the autographed collectibles market is perhaps flooded with more fakes than ever?

Friday, May 04, 2012

RR Auction Spring 2012 Space Auction

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the space autograph consultant for RR Auction.

RR has put together an amazing array of signed items and artifacts in their spring auction. Check out this promo video for some cool eye candy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kodachrome or Koda-crap?

At Autograph Magazine Live, there are reports of in-person autograph hounds getting signatures on blank 8x10 computer photo paper. Why would anyone do this? First, this way the autograph hound does not have to pay in advance for a real 8x10 glossy that may or may not ever get signed. Secondly, it allows the hound to later print a photo that a celebrity would not normally sign, for instance, a nude pose.

Apparently, many of the eBay sellers who subscribe to this practice are also not disclosing to their customers that the item in question is not a real photographic print.

Of course there are problems with this. The most obvious is that it is not a “real” photographic print on quality photo stock. I suspect computer printed photos are highly likely to fade much more rapidly than a real photograph. Would you pay as much for a computer printed photo as you would for a quality print on Fuji Crystal Archive paper?

The next problem is the signature itself may be underneath the photo, which is printed on after the signature. Yuck.

And finally, it’s about ethics. It’s a sneaky way to get a signature on a pose that a celebrity would not typically sign. Why support this type of behavior? Reportedly some celebrities have caught on and are now refusing the sign blank photo paper. Good for them.

Lesson learned: Before buying a signed photo, ensure it is a real photographic print on quality photo stock.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Signed with just you in mind. Watch John Cena sign 3,000 autographs.

WWE superstar John Cena signing 3,000 photos in a grim warehouse. Not really an appealing view of modern mass-produced memorabilia. But hey... at least they are authentic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Training 2012 = Total Flop

I sent about 20 spring training autograph requests this year and it was a total bust. ZERO successes. Pathetic.

And I was not shooting for the big stars... I only targeted those who I thought I had a chance of getting something back.

I think I am done with Spring Training requests for good. Not worth the time and effort.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Farewell to a friend

Dooger Friedle (bottom right) at WSUC with
other college radio station members, 1990.
My good friend, Doug Friedle, recently left this world much too soon. Doug -- or Dooger as he was known to friends -- was a real character. Cantankerous, funny, ornery, opinionated, and passionate all fit him well.

Doug loved his country, family, the Yankees, and music and not necessarily in that order.

I first met Doug at the college radio station where we formed a friendship that would last for the next 25 years. Doug LOVED being on the radio and would fill in any shift when another DJ was a no-show. He was super reliable that way.

I actually have to thank -- or blame -- Doug for getting me started in autograph collecting. A year or two after college in the early 90s, Doug and I were hanging out and he mentioned that former Yankee Stan Bahnsen was at a nearby card shop signing autographs. He asked if I wanted to check it out. I did, and the rest is history. I haven't stopped collecting since.

Throughout the 90s, Doug and I went to a bunch of card shows in the metro New York area getting autographs from many old timers as well as contemporary players. It was always a fun day out followed by a nice lunch and chatting about college days. At his wake, Doug's family left out some of his personal mementos including a binder of signed photos. Doug often asked for the photo to be personalized to him. It was bittersweet flipping through all those photos signed to him... and knowing we were together when most of them were obtained.

It's funny how one person can affect the course of another's life in the most unexpected ways. Here I am now, a dedicated collector and professional autograph authenticator, and it all started from an off-the-cuff suggestion to go see Stan Bahnsen twenty years ago.

Thanks, Dooger. You will always be missed.

Monday, March 12, 2012

UACC - Special offer for new and renewing members!

Some exciting news from the Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC) ... there are a number of new board members including Tricia Eaton, John Reznikoff and myself (Steve Zarelli). We are looking at new and exciting ways to grow the UACC with a focus on online initiatives, publications, signature studies and more. As always, we are looking for an energized, engaged membership to promote and protect the hobby we all love.
For all those of you that have not joined the UACC we have a special offer. The first 750 who join or renew their UACC membership will receive a FREE Rudy Vallée signed check. Vallée was the Sinatra of the 1920s and went on to perform on film, stage and radio. A $50.00 value, yours free for any renewal or new membership.

For UACC Registered Dealers, the first 70 who renew or join will receive a Ralph Kiner signed check. A $90.00 value, yours for just renewing or applying for membership.
To learn more about the UACC or to join, please go to

Thursday, March 08, 2012

ACE Authentication and CSC inducted into eBay Hall of Shame

You didn't have to be Nostradamus to see this one coming...

As of March 2, 2012, ACE Authentication and CSC Collectibles, have been added to eBay's Banned COA list.

Justin Priddy, formerly of GAI, is the owner/lead authenticator of ACE. If you see Justin Priddy at a card show, perhaps you can ask him what it feels like to join the ranks of Chris Morales, Ted Taylor, Don Frangipani and Operation Bullpen related COAs.

Perhaps Nostradamus has some insight into who else will be joining the eBay Hall of Shame shortly...

Here is the complete list of eBay banned COAs/Authenticators.

Autographed items with COAs and LOAs, or references to COAs and LOAs from the following people or organizations:
  • ACE (Autograph Certification Experts)
  • Coach's Corner Sports Auctions LLC
  • Christopher L. Morales
  • CSC Collectibles
  • Donald Frangipani
  • Forensic Document Services
  • Hollywood Dreams
  • J. DiMaggio Co. / J. DiMaggio Company
  • Legends Sports Memorabilia
  • Nathan's Autographs / N.E. Autographs
  • Nicholas Burczyk
  • Pro Sports / Pro Sports Memorabilia
  • Rare and
  • Robert Prouty
  • R.R.'s Sports Cards & Collectibles
  • SCAA / Front Page Art / Angelo Marino
  • Slamdunk Sportscards & Memorabilia
  • Sports Alley Memorabilia
  • Sports Management Group
  • Stan's Sports / Stans Sports Memorabilia
  • TTA Authentic (formerly STAT Authentic)
  • Universal Memorabilia
  • XMI Authentications
  • USA Authentics
  • Blank COAs and LOAs
  • COAs and LOAs as stand-alone items
  • COAs and LOAs from anyone listed on the FBI's Operation Bullpen web site

Monday, March 05, 2012

Happy Second Anniversary to the CBCA!

The Comic Book Collecting Association is now two years old. With over 100 members on four continents, the organization is growing, but we could always use energized new members!

Here is the Winter 2012 Comic Book Quarterly Newsletter for your reading pleasure.

If you'd like to talk comics or are interested in joining, check out the CBCA Forum.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Steiner COA with half fake Rivera

Authentic Steiner Rivera signature with suspect inscription.
I recently saw this Mariano Rivera signed ball on eBay with a Steiner hologram and COA card.

In my opinion, the signature is 100% legit as one would expect from Steiner. However, something wasn't quite right about it. I think the "Enter Sandman" inscription has been forged.

The inscription appears tentative and does not match well with authentic exemplars. Further, the postioning of "Mariano Rivera" could indicate that it was signed with no intent to add an inscription below the name. Often, Rivera will sign higher on the ball when he plans to add an inscription below.

Authentic Steiner Rivera with authentic inscription

For your comparison, I have included a Steiner certified ball with an authentic "Enter Sandman" inscription.

Sadly, the lesson is that we must closely examine everything. Crooks are out to make money every way they can... including adding fake inscriptions to authentically signed items.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Stoner COA

On January 10, I wrote about junk COA whack-a-mole. When one phony-baloney COA gets banned from eBay, another cheeseball COA will soon appear.

Exhibit A: Certificates of Authenticity from Michael A. Stoner, Esq. Does anyone know this guy? Who goes to a lawyer to authenticate or buy an autograph?

What's next, Marcus Welby, MD COAs?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CSC Collectibles COA = Junk

I recommend you avoid items with the CSC Collectibles Certificate of Authenticity / hologram. These worthless COAs appear on the same junky fakes we've seen with the equally worthless Nicholas Burczyk COAs.

I suspect it won't be long before this rubbish COA is banned from eBay as well. Sadly, the criminals who produce these fakes will just produce another phony-baloney authentication COA to slap on the bilge they pump out. It's like COA "whack-a-mole."

One thing to note about these mass-produced fakes is some of them are on 5x7 photos. Now, if you paid big bucks for a private signing with Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams, would you waste it by having them sign offsize and unpopular 5x7 photos? Of course not. The forgers are so cheap, they probably use 5x7s to reduce costs.

It's even worthless as toilet paper.