by Sue Hooven
Every so often, situations arise where I find it's time to write about the subject. Here's what sparked the following article:
From: Sith Princess [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, August 22, 2002 3:30 PM
Subject: Fake Autographs?
Why do you have so many fake autographs on your site? You have 2 fake Harrison Ford sigs and a pre-print, at least 2 fake Carrie Fisher sigs, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Ray Park, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee, and many more. How are you helping collectors by putting fakes up on your site?
(note: there were many subsequent emails that may be referenced but I'll not post them all)
This email and subsequent emails from this person were obviously due to that problem a couple weeks ago with another major site. That's ok, it does give me ideas to talk about. I think the person writing was being sarcastic in the last sentence, but yeah, I think I am helping collectors by putting fakes on my site!
I don't want to go into defending my collection, but guess I should explain a few things because in a way, the person was partially correct to write (just not nice about it). If you will go to the pages and mouse over the items, you will see that I tell you it's a pp (preprint), that it might be fake, it auto-penned or secretarial. If some are overlooked it may be because I'd not done that when I first started, or just missed it unintentionally. If you have any questions at all, feel free to always email me with your questions. This person doesn't know what she's talking about either because the McGregor and Lee sigs come directly from agents and are indeed good sigs. So be sure when emailing people, you have correct information. Or else the person responding will roll their eyes at you. The Park sig is nasty too, and others have told me that. I've been approached about that before too by even respected collectors and that's understandable. This I feel is due to a messy signature, but it could possibly be fake. The rest mentioned are indeed troublesome autographs. I'll write about two things here... about this site and why I keep them up and then about fakes in general. I hope this helps others!
ABOUT THIS SITE:
You all know if you've read about me, that everything (yep, even the fakes, even fakes serve a good purpose) I get goes up on my site. With the exception of three items, everything I own in relation to Star Wars autographs is on this site. Why? Because I like it. I have too much to make a scrapbook, so I do it online. It's MY PERSONAL record. Just as the same on my other site. I have all concerts, plays, photos of family, events I attend EVERYTHING on there! Why? Because I like to!!! Am I bragging? No, I am sure many people have traveled the world and I haven't and they are laughing at my trip to the Minot ND zoo with it's whole 20 animals, or looking at my day cruise ticket stub from my anniversary boat ride around the harbor here.. I just enjoy making sites and having something to look at without digging through boxes. Here's my other site (visit or not I don't care and I've had the site over a year and only had ONE email on it, yet I update it all the time!): http://dahoov2.topcities.com/
Why do I put up a preprint, autopen or rubber stamp? I always state it's a PP, autopen or rubber stamp. If I've missed one, just email me and I'll tell you. So far, only Hamill is a rubber stamp and only Samuel Jackson is an autopen. The only PP I have for Star Wars is Harrison Ford (though there is a Rob Lowe and two more I believe in my NON Star Wars items...they are clearly identified as such) and I traded (thanks Matthew) to get the preprint. Yep I gave a nice item for it too. Why? The reason is preprints are a FANTASTIC reference item to finding a legitimate signature. I put it on there for the public to use as a guide. I have no use for it, but had a lot of emails asking about Ford's sig (how to tell a real one from a fake), so I traded for it to help you, the public. Simple as that. Personally? I wrote to Mr. Ford 5 or 6 times with no success. It's also helpful to know that if you mail Mr. Ford, all you will get is a preprint if you are even lucky to get that. I wasn't even that lucky. But the PP is a record of the time he used to send them out and that's interesting in historical context. Likewise for the rubber stamped items Mark Hamill sends out. It serves not only to show what rubber stamps are, but the time when they began. Autopens are even more important to know about because many of these look very convincing! I thought my Samuel Jackson photo was legit till I got a couple more. Then I did the autopen test and realized what it was. So the autopen I have received may still be given out and those who received one may think theirs is real. Mine then, is proof theirs is indeed an autopen. Like I said, never dismiss preprints, rubber stamps or autopens totally as they are good reference material and they are part of that signers history as a signer.
Why do I put up a secretarial? Well, there is one positive and three possible Secretarials on my site. Carrie Fisher (the two index cards and the signed four signature photo) is the known one and I believe that Ewan McGregor and Samuel Jackson may be as well and two of the Dave Prowse signed index cards, but I've yet to prove this. I am going on rumor, signature comparison, addresses sent to when I suspect they weren't there at the time and common sense concerning the busy nature of the celeb.. Anything sent to Carrie Fisher at any address will be secretarial. It's been just known that Ewan's family helps him out. There's no way he can keep up with the demand. The secretarial is probably the b/w photo and color photo on my site. I am not so sure about the color one... that was a purchase. It was bought when I first started collecting. The other POSSIBLE secretarial may be the signed Widevision Sam Jackson. I haven't proved this yet, but I believe his wife and/or sister in law might be helping him out. As for the Prowse, I suspect some of the ones sent to the Fan Club are signed by the guy running it. Even if you pay money, odds are it's possible some might not be Mr. Prowse's sig. People should not be under the illusion these big stars are signing everything personally. We need to get real as collectors, using common sense. They are very busy people! But people need to be aware that anything you get in the mail and I mean ANYTHING could be secretarial. I know you don't want to hear that.... but it must be said. So I keep these on my site because they were received ttm (through the mail) and that you too, might receive one. Compare them! As I learned that I had a secretarial, I've tried my best to obtain a legit sig and I've managed to get Mr. Prowse a couple more times, including one signed at CII. So those on my site that are in question, I've gone out and gotten a good one with the exception right now of Harrison Ford and Natalie Portman, the most elusive ones to get a legit signature from.
Why would I keep a fake on my site? Well, I state that too, if I suspect it to be a fake. I want people to know that even accomplished collectors can be duped too! I am not immune. Especially in the beginning. I've not acquired a fake to my knowledge in about several years, but you never know. The number of fakes on this site is small in comparison to how many signatures I have. I have a couple thousand autographs easily. I'll do the math for you eventually, but I suspect it's much less than 5%. That's actually an extremely low percentage. I'd be happy with anything less than 10% and most collectors have far more than that. Don't send me emails saying you don't have any... you know you do. NO ONE is immune. I hear a couple collector's getting mad at me now, but that very first autograph you purchased..... are you sure? Can you prove it? Not one collector I've ever met in my entire life has a degree in handwriting and not even the FBI experts will tell you within 100% certainty that a sig is fake or not. Fakes known on my site include: One Natalie Portman color photo, One Liam Neeson Color photo, and Harrison Ford (the four sig photo and Possibly the other color photo). Possible fakes might include Peter Cushing (I paid a LOT of money from this and was told by another collector it was fake, but I am hoping it isn't...it's a good fake if it is though). Others that are unverifiable include: Thomas Isley because he's deceased and his signature can't be verified at all. Another fake is Paul Martin Smith. Who? Paul Martin Smith is an editor... who'd fake his sig? I don't know! How do I know it's a fake? Well, I can't be 100%, but someone claiming to be Paul Martin Smith emailed me to tell me. Where did I get it? Industrial Light and Magic! WHAT??? How could this be? I have no clue, but I got it in the mail from a request I sent there. Others have fakes from there too. Amazing isn't it? I guess someone in the mailroom thought he was doing him a favor or something. Why is it on my site? Because I can't prove one way or another it's fake! How do I know that was actually Paul Martin Smith emailing me? I can't. So it stays until Mr. Smith responds to my request for a replacement. But if you ask me about it, I'll tell ya! Did I lie when I said I got it ttm? Nope. I did get it through the mail and I most certainly and not going to list it as a fake unless I can prove it is. But the whole scenario is extremely interesting from an autograph standpoint, it needs to stay on the site. Again, it's a part of collecting history and needs to be documented so that any future stuff received from that address will always be looked at with the consideration it's due. About the totality of fakes, preprints, secretarials, rubber stamps and autopens...the number is less than 2% total of my entire collection. A very small amount. In comparison to most collections, an almost perfect collection, of which I am very proud.
How do I know if it's a fake? You can't. No one can. But you can tell what's a real one! If you saw it signed with your own eyes, then it's real. Anything else, I am sorry to tell you, is always suspect. Now there are times when one can look at something and it's not spelled correctly (I've actually seen that!), that doesn't even remotely resemble any known legitimate signature that you can say pretty much is a fake. There are many I see like that, and often give an opinion because people ask. Though not an expert, I would have a little more knowledge than a new collector. Though it's important to always state that you are not an expert when doing this. I always tell people that.
How many signatures on Ebay are fake? My opinion is that least half of the autographs on Ebay are fake. Some names are faked much more often. You won't find many faked Jerome Blake sigs say because he signs graciously and plentifully, but you will find most Ford sigs are faked. A fellow collector who collects a lot of Ford sigs showed me tons of examples before of ones obtained in person and compared with the ones on the net, you could see right off how many fake ones were probably out there. If you're not sure, then don't bid. Be ready to live with whatever bid you made. If you think the autograph is legit and did your homework, go for it! And if you are confident it's good and others email you to say stuff, don't let it get to you... be happy! A good friend has suggested that to me before and he's right. Why people always want to tear other collector's down is beyond me. YOU are the one who has to live with your collection. Don't worry about what others think. Do it for you and don't let others try to tell you otherwise. You never know their motives! Do they want your items cheap? Do they have a fake and yours is not and they want to pass theirs off as the legit one? Do they just want to make you feel stupid and bolster themselves as a professional? Don't let anyone talk you into anything. You are the master of your own collection and if you end up with a few fakes, as long as you don't knowingly try to sell them to another and just take the hit, then you have learned and grown.
What if I have fakes in my collection? What can I do? Contact your seller and try to get a refund. Be nice about it. Don't accuse. Then, if that doesn't work, try Ebay (they probably won't help you though) or Pay Pal (ditto). But you can stop payment on a check if it's not cashed, you can post it on the net as a known fake. Some credit cards offer buyer protection. Some cards offer it free (most Platinum cards) and others you have to pay. Check to see if you paid by credit card, if you are covered. If bought at a business, you can file a Better Business Bureau complaint. You can contact UACC for help too. You can also warn others. You probably will be stuck with it, but maybe you can help others from making the same mistake. If you don't have a site to tell people you have a fake and are not going to try to rip someone else off by trying to pass it off as legit, here are some good uses for a fake, secretarial, rubberstamp, preprint and autopen:
Lining a birdcage
Use as a Dart Board
Doodle a mustache and beard on while on the phone
Write your grocery list on the back/let kids color back
Attach a popsicle stick to and use as a mask
Send to US government for printing propaganda on the back; make a mass drop to Iraq
Man, I really like that photo and was hoping it's real but it may not be... I am depressed. Don't be. You like it? Then ENJOY it. You want it to be real? Then believe it to be such until you find out for sure it's not. I am not saying go out and buy anything even though it's a fake. I am not saying defend your item to the death. What I am saying is just be honest about it ... that you bought it, that you don't know for sure but hope it is. As long as your honest, nothing wrong with that! I defend my stupid purchases as stupid purchases and in a way, I am glad I was ripped off a few times. Why? Otherwise, I'd not be so prudent about checking as good as I do now. Don't let others put you down though. I hate that. Collecting is about fun or at least it should be. Just quietly research the item and see what you can find out. There's nothing worse than thinking you have a legitimate item, buying something and paying a fortune for it and then people emailing you to remind you. But now that you know there are so many fakes out there that you should try to get good items by doing research! If you know something is fake and who is selling it, maybe contact the celeb and tell them. Some might care and even send you a replacement.
Ok, I know there are fakes out there buy how do you research to find out if their real? Well again, you can never be 100%. COA's don't guarantee anything either. But when buying, look for UACC. That helps though not perfect either. Then, get all the information you can about the item and about the person selling it. Ask if you can send it back unconditionally. Use common sense when using auctions. If a lot of negative feedback is present, that's a clue you might have some sort of problem. If you see what you believe is a fake, keep a list of names that you know sold fakes and use that as a guide to skip over their items. What I mean is remember the days when you'd go to cash a check and they'd check to see if you were on the "bad" list? Same thing here! Also, if the Ebayer won't answer your questions thoroughly, that's a red flag. If they don't provide scans, that's a bad sign. Weed out the bad sellers and make a list of the good ones. Stick with the same ones you're confident in. Read feedback negatives. Maybe was an error that was cleared up? Maybe was damaged by post office? Sometimes, negatives aren't towards the seller. A good rule for me is for every 200, they shouldn't have more than one negative feedback. I myself have 315 feedbacks right now and one is negative. I was so horrified by this. I was the one ripped off and because I left a bad feedback because I never got the item, that person left a bad one back! It's not right, but it happens too. So be aware sometimes, there's more to a story.
Questions to ask seller (do it in one email nicely not to make them mad)
Are you a dealer? If so, are you UACC affiliated?
Why is the cost so low? Why is your auction private (red flag, but not always-never bid on private feedback rating)?
Can I return the photo if it's not good? What's your return policy?
What's your address, phone number, email address, business address, website etc?
Where did you get the item (get specific details like date, place, time and event)?
If the person claims item was obtained in person, ask: What was he/she like (I ask this because if they say, yeah, Natalie Portman signed 5 Star Wars photos for me, she was great, then I know he's lying)?
Can you provide a photo or something that shows they signed it?
If the person purchased it and is reselling, ask: Do you have the receipt from where you bought it (because you might be able to get a refund if a fake from that business)?
If the person got it from a friend, ask them to find out where their friend got it (the more willing they are to oblige, the more honest they probably are; not always, but sometimes).
Provenance is a great thing. I like antiques and provenance means the difference of getting $10,000 for an object you might only get $1,000 or less for without provenance, even if probably legit. Provenance is nothing more than tracing back where the item originated from. It's like being Royalty or a descendent of the Mayflower. Everyone makes a claim for it, but without Provenance, you're not 100% accepted. Provenance should include everything possible like price, dates, addresses, etc. The more complete the better. And when selling or giving away/trading items that you bought or got from another party, include that information too. Send the COA, the Ebay auction ID of the seller or whatever. Pass on complete records! This will help all parties involved. Some write the provenance on the back of the item. Just do so lightly, legibly and small so the next person can add the info. Ever see Antiques Roadshow where a drawer is pulled from a cabinet and it's got names written under the drawer with dates and places? Same thing! It gives the buyer something to research.
Further research would include going to the celebrities website and looking for a sig they posted. Example: www.anthonydaniels.com You'll know then. Facsimile sigs are great. Keep a file of facsimile sigs, whether is be physical or on a PC. For example those dreaded Studio Fan Mail PP's? Great reference! I had a Cat Chow calendar of Celebrities and their cats...each photo had a facsimile sig. Cereal boxes... sigs. TV guide has had them too on the cover... There's a lot out there, but you have to try to find them. not always easy, but invaluable reference material. Keep files!
Best forms of items that are not fake to buy include: photos made for certain conventions and only signed at that convention and never remade. Or items from trading card packages (I've a friend working on a good site of such items only. When it's done, I'll post the link). Or items sold on prestigious auction houses like Sotheby's. You won't find much there, but a couple Star Wars multi-signed posters have been sold before. Ebay is not a policer of autographs... it's always buyer beware and they tell you that when you bid. Paying a little more for items that are proven to be legit is bound to happen.
Photos with items don't always tell you anything. Some sellers get one or multiple sigs and take ONE snapshot. A seller could take that snapshot and sell all fakes still. Or a seller could have all legit items, but the photo of the signer signing isn't of your item. But sometimes, photos can be good. Here's some good experiences I've had: EVENT #1: I got a photo of Hayden Christensen signing what looked like to be my item. I could match up the exact spot which was signed...he was holding the pen over the exact spot! Still, knowing I'd have doubters (because this was a while ago and I knew I'd be accused of having a fake as occasionally happens), I did research based upon what the seller told me (I asked where, what time, the place etc.). The seller stated the item came from an Event at a certain place and date. I didn't just take his word. I went to www.google.com and typed in the event name and date. I found he was indeed at that event. I then looked more to see if I could find an article talking about autographs being signed at the event for further proof. I didn't find that, but what I did find was magazine shot of him at that event wearing the exact same clothing as in the photo that depicted him signing! Proof enough for me at that point. The seller did not lie about being at the event. All roads led to it being legit. Can I be 100%? Nope. But I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt.
EVENT #2 Another incident of a photo being proof enough for me was a recent purchase of a James Cameron signed Titanic item. the seller sent a photo of him signing. I blew up the photo and it wasn't my item. I was a little concerned at that point, but knowing that the seller may have gotten more than one item signed or took a photo of him signing someone else's item, I probed further. I noted something in the photo; Mr. Cameron had just signed someone's Titanic poster and the sig was clear as day in the shot and guess what? That Signature and mine matched beautifully! I was pretty sure before I bid on the item because I had several facsimile sigs in my folder, but this just eased my mind. I'm confident I have a great item that's legit.
EVENT #3 Another site remarked you can't get expensive items for $9.99. That maybe be true to some extent, but here's MY story! I just recently bought a Melanie Kent Taylor signed poster. If you know her work, most of her items sell for between $250-$3,000. No way I could get her sig without buying a poster from her shop. Her assistant emailed me and offered to get me a signature, but I had to do was purchase something. The cheapest thing was well over $100! I said I liked her work but couldn't afford it and the assistant never emailed me back . . . warp many months into the recent past. For $9.99, not only did I purchase her sig, not only her sig on a poster, but her sig on a poster that is very popular and on EBAY (oh the shame....NOT)! The poster easily sold for a couple hundred bucks. Yeah right. I bet you're thinking the sig can't be legit. Well, it's easy to see it is. She signed just under the facsimile sig on the poster! I have the preprinted facsimile and her signature in ballpoint less than an inch apart. So yes, there are deals that can be had and yes, for $9.99! Don't let anyone, including me convince you of anything. RESEARCH. Educate yourself. Make YOUR OWN opinion. If I'd of listened to others, I'd never have bid and never would have not only a good sig, but a great poster from a famous artist. Hayden's photo cost me less than $20 and James Cameron for less than $30. Great prices on legitimate items when I've seen people bid on fakes and spend hundreds of dollars. Believe me now? Great deals and horrendous horrors happen on Ebay. I've been on the receiving end of both! But the lesson here is don't let anyone tell you anything. Only YOU can decide and have to live with your choices. If you like it, buy it. If you are leery, skip it. If you aren't sure, wait for another opportunity and in the meantime gather viable comparisons. But if it's rare and you have never seen another and can't authenticate it before the bid ends, then you should put in the most money you can afford to lose and if it's found to be fake, be ready to throw the item out or whatever without crying over it. But if it's legit, you may have a prize!
Well, that's all for now. I hope I helped everyone use a little common sense when it comes to fakes. I feel redundant as I've talked about this a number of times on this site, but this subject is probably the most important of anything when it comes to collecting. Enjoy collecting and though I hope you escape fakes, I hope that if you find yourself with one, you'll be honest about it and chalk the lesson as experience. Then use that experience to help others! Happy autograph hunting :)