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Risk Reduction In Acquiring Autographs

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the September 1997 edition of The Vintage and Classic Baseball Collector (VCBC) magazine. We have received approval from the prior owners of VCBC magazine to republish this article in digital format.  We are thrilled to be able to re-circulate the fine works of VCBC magazine for today's vintage collectors. 

by Rich Ferrari

This article is mant to serve as a guide for collectors to become familiar with handwriting (autograph) and document analysis.  Hopefuly, you will be better protected from acquiring a forgery or secreterial signature. 

Document and handwriting analysis is not an exact science, and is subject to error. One could interpret the facts incorrectly, wrong conclusions can be drawn from the facts, and sometimes it is impossible to determine the facts to formulate an opinion.  

With more information and study, you'll be better equipped to trust your judgment, and come to at least a preliminary conclusion regarding your own acquisitions. In my own collecting experience, the items I had reservations about when first purchased, are items that I later confirmed were not authentic.

This article is not meant to promote forgery fear or cast doubts. The goal is to set a standard of excellence in determining the genuineness of autographs.

Standards For Comparison

Authenticity of a signature can not be determined without comparison to a few signatures that have proven to be genuine. The best source of authentic standards are public records such as drivers licenses, bank records, cancelled checks, and legal documents. Collectors may encounter some difficulty locating these for reference.

Some items that could be used for reference are offered at auctions, and most times are pictured. Player contracts, cancelled checks, and some legal documents are included.  Hand written letters and other items may also prove to be good reference sources once they've been compared favorably with known standards. Save the catalogs for your reference library.  Auction houses may have catalogs from past auctions for sale.

A Mickey Mantle signed check courtesy of Goldin Auctions

Note: Be aware of the difference between a standard for comparison and an autograph offered at an auction. Because an autograph is in an auction catalog does not prove it to be genuine.

Circumstances under which a player gave an autograph will affect the autograph only in appearance, but will not change the basic characteristics of the player's handwriting

If this seems like too much to do, then purchasing autographs from autograph dealers and auction houses who have standards for comparison, and are capable of determining the genuineness of a signature should be utilized.

If an auction house or dealer does not have a known standard from which they compare, then how can authenticity be determined? From memory, not 200+ baseball Hall of Famers and hundreds of other non-Hall of Famers.

Without standards for comparison, even an expert in document examination could render a conditional opinion, at best. If one were to specialize in certain players, then a preliminary opinion may be acceptable. There are times when a seller will offer a story to go along with an autograph.

At no time should a story substitute for an autograph having been compared to a genuine example. Listening, although, can be beneficial. I have been in two situations where I had asked questions about how an autograph was obtained. The more the seller talked, the more uncomfortable I became with the purchase.

Editor's Note: I recently had an experience where a collector approached me to try and sell a few Tom Brady autographed rookie cards. These card were supposedly signed very early in Brady's career. He even offered the following picture for proof. 

brady-auto-picture

Tom Brady at an event signing in 2000 or 2001.

Sure, someone might be able to pull this picture off the internet, but it was at least something that gave me a sense that the collector could be telling the truth.  After speaking with him and evaluating the autograph, his story was making more sense and in this instance the autographs were authentic.

Magnifier Or Loop in Authenticating Autographs?

Many times what is not clearly visible to the naked eye can be easily seen with magnification. A hand magnifier or jeweler's loop are inexpensive, but very useful.

loupe

A loupe such as this can be found for $5 on eBay

In making a portion of the handwriting or document appear larger, it may be studied in detail.  Magnifciation is helpful in viewing the crossing of ink lines, alterations or pen lifts where the writer stops then starts gain.

Examining Photo Copies As A Comparison

Photo copies can't be used for examining ink, paper, etc., but may be used for preliminary comparison of signatures related to slant, spacing, character formation and proportions. When purchasing an autograph based on a photo copy, the sale should be conditioned upon viewing the original. 

The bottom line is, you or the person you buy your autographs from have to be better at determining authenticity than the forger or secretary is at imitating genuine handwriting.

Tips On Identifying Handwriting

Some collectors may not want to be bothered analyzing their purchases, but here is a short overview if you have an interest. Identifying handwriting is not
always simple. Handwriting of the same person writtern under different circumstances may often vary within certain limits.  

Variations could occur in size, proportion, space, slant, etc. However circumstances under which a player gave an autograph will affect the autograph ony in appearance, but will not change the basic characteristics of the player's handwriting.  It is also a well-known fact that many players' autographs varied during their lifetime.  An example is Willie Mays, whose signature looks quite different today when compared to examples from early in his career.

Editor's Note: This PSA article discusses some of the changes in Mays' signature

mays-psa

Editor's Note:  In getting back to Tom Brady's autograph, Brady is the perfect example of a player who's autograph has changed significantly over time.  Thus knowing the nuances of the players changes in signature for different eras can be important. 

Early on, before the pros, Brady's autograph was a bit of a mess and morphed into a much clearer autograph, often with a '12' in the signature as shown here:

brady-auto

An early post-2001 era Brady signature

But post 2016, Brady's signature once again became more like scribble again as this great article from Beckett notes

Here's a signed 2017 Super Bowl ticket:

brady-2017-auto

When comparing a signature to a known standard of the same time period, the conclusion of genuineness or difference depends on the combination of identical or different writing characteristics. 

Here are the primary ways you may use to draw conclusions:

1) If there are a sufficient number of identical writing habits and characteristics, and there is the absence of divergent characteristics, then one could safely conclude genuineness.

2) If there are a sufficient number of  divergent characteristics and the absence of identical characteristics, then one can conclude that the handwriting is different (forgery or secretarial).

When more handwriting is available for comparion, conclusions can be drawn in a much easier manner.  In signature-only comparisons, there is obviously more room for error.  This is something to keep in mind when purchasing items with only a signature on them.

The Fischhof Method In Evaluating Autographs

Obviously a forger will do his best to duplicate handwriting. He is looking to make a signature as similar as possible to an authentic example. Unless it is traced, a signatute is forged either through imitation of a genuine signature with an authentic example in front of the forger, or by practicing over and over and using the free hand method. 

The forger's result is based on how observant he is, and how much skill he possesses to reproduce the handwriting attempted. Even skillfully done forgeries are similar in appearance, but not in the details. The Fischhof method is easy to use, especially in difficult situations.

To use the Fischhof method, simply compare a signature to a known standard by viewing them both upside down. Julius Fischhof established the fact that when we are not influenced by reading letters or words, we have a more objective view. By comparing "form" only, without the distraction of seeing familiar names or words, you can notice differences more easily.

I have focused on handwriting comparison for the most part, because if we are attentive to details, comparison can be performed by many collectors. Ink and paper analysis, while informative, takes even more study along with elaborate equipment.

Handwriting Characteristics

The following are characteristics to observe when comparing handwriting:

1) Is the writing skill good, average, or mediocre?

2) Writing speed-Is the freedom of movement very rapid and rhythmic, average or slow and laborious?

3) Are the letter sizes large, average or small? What are the sizes in proportion to other letters in the handwriting example?

4) Letter formations-View how the writer forms each letter and the spacing between each. Be attentive to lower case letters, since there is a tendency to examine capital letters with greater enthusiasm.

5) Pen pressure-Do the writing strokes vary from light to heavy pressure? Is the pen pressure heavy on downstroke and light on upstroke? Or vice versa? Are the beginning and ending strokes thin, light and flowing, or blunt and abrupt?

6) Signature breaks-When does the writer lift the pen from the paper? Which letters most always precede or follow these breaks continually?

7) Writing instruments-Fountain pens were marketed heavily late in the 19th century. They were widely used until the early 1950's. Pencil is a graphite writing instrument used from the 1700's and infrequently for documents.  

Ballpoint pens were introduced into the retail market in the United States in late 1945. The experience of most users from 1945-1949 were unsatisfactory, primarily because of the fading of the inks and the sloppiness encountered when using them. Improved ballpoint pens were introduced in 1949 and became widely used and accepted in the 1950's. 

Thin fiber-tipped pens, like Flair, were utilized by some consumers in the 1960's. Thicker fiber-tipped pens such as the Sharpie saw wide acceptance (for autographs) in the 1980's to the present. It is difficult to distinguish handwriting characteristics with these fiber-tipped writing instruments (especially Sharpie) due to the thickness of the pen tip and the inability to clearly see the pen pressure exerted by the writer.

8) Slant-Does the handwriting slant to the right or left, and to what degree, or is it erect? Is the slant the same as the standards used for comparison? There may even be consistent changes in slant within the signature. An example of this would be the "e" in Babe Ruth.  

babe-ruth-auto

A PSA Authenticated Babe Ruth autographed baseball

By now you may have come to the conclusion that authentication of autographs can be difficult. Often new information becomes available and contributes to the evolution of collecting autographs.  The bottom line is you or the person you purchase from, have to be better at determining authenticity than the forger or secretary is at imitating  genuine handwriting.

How To Spot a Trimmed Card

blowout-trimmed-berraWith all of the latest trimming scandals running rampant throughout the hobby, we’ve had many collectors ask us about how easy it is to spot a trimmed baseball card.

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing how to detect counterfeit cards, but haven’t spent much time discussing cards that have been altered or trimmed. 

My hope is that this guide will become the premier resource for collectors and help educate everyone in order to avoid buying any altered cards.

Let’s face it; PSA, SGC and Beckett are just third party authenticators.  There is no guarantee, whether intentional or not, that the graders will get it right. 

It’s now on all of us, to be a ‘fourth party grader’ of sorts to ensure that we are not getting scammed.  

If you come across any graded cards that look like they might be trimmed, shoot me a note at chris@allvintagecards.com

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An Expert’s Guide To Collecting Vintage Wax Packs

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An unopened box of 1948 Bowman Baseball wax packs

Collectors often dream about some of the unopened wax packs owned by Steve Sabow.  Sabow is one of the hobby’s preeminent dealers of vintage wax packs.  In fact, Sabow has sold more unopened vintage wax in the last three years than anyone else in the country.

I had the opportunity to speak with Sabow recently and found him to be an all-around great guy and a wealth of information in relation to buying and selling vintage wax packs. Sabow has been at this for a while; he started out selling cards at flea markets back in 1976 and started branching out into local card shows while also promoting several shows throughout the NY and CT area.

He’s been selling packs since the 1970’s, but it was only recently that he started getting heavily involved with vintage packs.  In fact, Sabow credits his vintage card business as allowing him to stay alive in this hobby longer than most.  He’s had a booth at the National Convention every year except for the first four.

Steve is retired now, but still quite active as a vintage card and wax pack dealer (although COVID-19 has slowed down business a bit). His list of packs for sale is one of the most impressive lists of packs I’ve ever seen.  We’ve summarized our discussion with Sabow, providing some of the most important points for any collectors interested in vintage unopened wax.

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1933 Goudey Babe Ruth Cards: Overvalued Or Good Investment?

The 1933 Babe Ruth Goudey cards (note there are four of them) have been among the hottest vintage cards in recent years.  Given the significant price increase for the cards, many collectors wonder if Ruth’s Goudey cards are still worthy of an investment?

Ruth’s 1933 Goudey cards (despite the significant price increases) remain one of the best longer-term investments for vintage collectors.  The four cards are not cheap by any means, but if you have the funding, Ruth’s Goudey cards should continue to appreciate over the next several years.

In this guide, we take a closer look at the four Goudey Ruth cards and provide collectors with more information on the current values, scarcity, and the ultimate investment potential. 

four-ruth-goudey-1933

The four Babe Ruth cards from the 1933 Goudey Gum set.

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Cracker Jack Baseball Cards: A True American Classic

1914-cracker-jack-cobbIn thinking of what represents true Americana, the things that come to mind include  – Baseball, Apple Pie, and yep Cracker Jack.

In the 1896 song “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, Cracker Jack was given its official stamp of American approval in the line “Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack“.

While the Cracker Jack brand first got notice at the World’s Fair in 1893, it was its association with baseball which brought it to the forefront of American culture.

Many kids are most certainly familiar with the small toys included in boxes of Cracker Jack, yet it was two years (1914 to 1915) that Cracker Jack showed its true allegiance to baseball by including cards with its caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts.

The Cracker Jack baseball cards are today one of the most revered sets in the history of the hobby.  In this piece, we take a look at the history of Cracker Jack and examine the details of the two card sets.

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Willie Mays Cards: The Definitive Guide

52-topps-maysWillie Mays was one of the best five-tool players to ever play the game.  A rare combination of blistering speed and defensive prowess complemented his blend of power and accuracy at the plate.  

Willie Mays defined the way that the game should be played and his early childlike love for the game earned him the moniker – ‘The Say Hey Kid’.

Despite all of the success on the field, Mays had to endure racial pressures and a bit of an odd relationship with the media and fans alike.

Still to this day, Mays remains well respected as a ballplayer and to this day is considered to be on the all-time greats. 

In this piece, we examine the most important and valuable baseball cards for Willie Mays, most of which are still highly sought after among vintage collectors.  This covers Mays’ cards dating from 1951 through 1960. 

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Ty Cobb Cards: The Definitive Guide

cobb-off-shoulder

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was one of the most fierce, determined and successful baseball players of all time.  

His intensity often got the best of him and despite his immense talents he was known to be hated by many of his peers.

Yet as for his baseball abilities, none will argue that Cobb was among one of the best all around baseball players to ever play the game.

Ty Cobb’s baseball cards remain among the most desired among vintage collectors, ranging from his ever popular T206 Portrait cards to his T3 Turkey Red card

In this piece, we take a look a Ty Cobb’s career as a baseball player, while providing collectors with a list of his most popular and valuable baseball cards.  

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Allen & Ginter’s Chromolithographic Issues

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the October 2002 edition of The Vintage and Classic Baseball Collector (VCBC) magazine. We have received approval from the prior owners of VCBC magazine to republish this article in digital format.  We are thrilled to be able to re-circulate the fine works of VCBC magazine for today's vintage collectors. 

by Dennis C. Purdy, Sr. 

n28-king-kellyThe chromolithographic issues of Allen & Ginter are considered by many baseball card collectors to be the most beautiful baseball cards ever produced. Released in 1887 and 1888, the cards were inserted into brands of Allen & Ginter cigarettes.

The N28 (1887) and N29 (1888) sets were inserted into 10-count packs of cigarettes while the N43 set (also released in 1888) was inserted into 20-count cigarette packs. It is not known if any of the three sets was inserted into Allen & Ginter tins, but no advertising or other evidence has yet been documented to suggest that they were.

Some hobby literature (lore) suggests that the tobacco companies inserted the cards as a stiffener to protect their product. While this may have been true with some issues, it was clearly not the case with the Allen & Ginter issues.

They were inserted solely as a means of getting customers hooked on buying their product and remaining loyal to it, and there is evidence to back this up. This evidence comes from an investigation into the chromolithographic process itself. 

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Jackie Robinson Cards: The Definitive Guide

1948-jackie-robinson-rookieJackie Robinson remains one of the most important figures not only in the history of baseball but in the history of human and civil rights.

His baseball cards leave behind a legend of Robinson’s greatness on and off the field.

For me, revisiting Robinson’s past history was at times heartbreaking.  Robinson was a victim of the rampant racism that plagued the country at the time.

In this piece, I take a quick look at Robinson’s background and success in baseball, while providing collectors with a guide to Robinson’s most important baseball cards.

I always love when there is a reason beyond the statistics to hold the card of a particular player. 

With Robinson, you own cards of both an amazing athlete while also holding onto the legacy of someone that changed the sport of baseball for all that came after him.

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Berk Ross Cards – A Closer Look at An Underrated ‘Champion’

berk-ross-ted-williamsThe 1951 and 1952 Berk Ross “Hit Parade of Champions’ sets have started to gather more interest from collectors in recent years. 

The massive star power across each of the 72 card sets is one reason for the popularity.  The cards are also scarcer than any of the popular national issues from the era. 

I’ve always like the Berk Ross cards; something about the grainy images has always appealed to me. 

Yet it wasn’t until I started diving into some the population reports when I recognized that the Berk Ross cards were significantly undervalued.

Of course, values are often subject to collector interest in a particular issue.  However, the Berk Ross scarcity combined with the star power make these sets one of the better buys for vintage collectors.

In this piece we dive into the background of the sets, more details about the issues, along with the players in the sets and the corresponding availability and values.

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