Mantle, Williams and DiMaggio: Authenticating Baseball Forger Favorites

 It is unquestionable that Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio have been American sports icons since the mid-20th century. It comes as no surprise that these three have been favorites of autograph collectors since the advent of autograph and card shows in the 1980’s. Unfortunately it is equally unsurprising, as attested to in the FBI’s famous 1990s Operation Bullpen, that they are also the three most forged sports autographs. Although most experts believe the forgery problem in sports memorabilia has lessoned tremendously since Operation Bullpen (estimated at that time to be “between $500,000,000 and $900,000,000” by the FBI), sadly large numbers of forged material still exist.

While it would require far more than a single article to educate the autograph collector to detect Mantle, Williams and DiMaggio forgeries, there are some general as well as specific warning keys to these three autographs that may aid in detecting possible forgeries.


Genuine Mantle, Williams & DiMaggio signed photo provided by EAC Gallery.
Click to enlarge:



 

As a general rule, one of the first things I examine in an autograph is its feel – how it was written. When an individual signs his name there should be an easy, smooth flow to the signature. We’ve all signed our names countless times, and we don’t need to think about it. An item we offered in one of our past auctions was a sheet of paper signed several times by Joe Jackson. Jackson, who was almost completely illiterate, actually had to practice, in essence work at, writing his name prior to signing documents. Likewise, when a forger writes a signature, he or she is working at it and therefore upon close examination it’s often possible to detect such warning keys as a slowness of motion, stops and starts at inappropriate spots, and possibly even a shakiness in the writing. An invaluable aid to help detect these keys, taught to me by John Reznikoff of University Archives many years ago, is to turn the autograph upside down. When you view an autograph in an unnatural position these warning keys are often easier to detect.

In addition to such general warning keys there are specific warning keys, unique to an individual’s autograph, to keep an eye out for.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s Mickey Mantle stated on numerous occasions that he was blessed to be able to earn more money signing his name at one single weekend show than his father had earned in an entire year working as a coal miner. Because of this Mantle always felt his fans were deserving of a clear, elegant signature. In authentic Mickey Mantle autographs Mickey would always end the “y” in “Mickey” on an upswing, and because he would be quickly flowing through his signature, he therefore started the “M” in “Mantle” on a higher level or plane than he had started the “M” in “Mickey”. Most forgers, because they were “working” on writing Mantle’s signature, would pause after completing “Mickey” and begin anew in writing “Mantle”, therefore placing “Mantle” on more of a straight line with “Mickey”. If one places a ruler or sheet of paper straight across the item Mantle signed (not straight across the signature) all that appears below the ruler or paper of an authentic Mantle is the bottom portion of the “M” in “Mickey”. In the case of most forgeries the ruler or paper completely covers the entire signature. Another difficulty forgers have with Mantle’s signature was his unique way of looping the bottom portion of his “M”. Such curved lines were executed in one easy movement by Mantle, but are most often elongated by forgers who again are “working” the signature. Such slow, elongated forgeries are especially easy to recognize on baseballs as their curved surfaces only add to the forger’s difficulty.

In the case of Ted Williams autographs, with the exception of the capital “W” in Williams, Ted would consistently make the size of all the letters in his last time nearly the same exact size. Most telling is the “illia”, with the “l”s just ever so slightly taller than the “i”s, and the “a” as tall as the “l”s. Try as they may, most forgers simply can’t undo years of training and habit causing their “l”s to be significantly taller than their “i”s, and their “a” significantly shorter than their “l”s. Williams also connected the “W” in “Williams” to the “ed” in “Ted” with a swirl that gave forgers difficulty in replicating in the same, easy, flowing movement as appears in authentic examples. Also of interest, in addition to the many Williams intentional forgeries in existence, Williams revealed late in his life that during his playing days his signature on team signed balls was often a “clubhouse” example, not penned by him.

Regarding Joe DiMaggio’s autograph, problems for forgers begin with the first letter in Joe. Like the “M”s in Mantle’s autograph, the “J” in “Joe”, which appears as two loops, a larger loop on top and a smaller one below, were created by curved lines which are the hardest to duplicate without leaving telltale signs of slowness or inappropriate stops and starts. In addition, DiMaggio would pen his “J”s so that the lower loop would be written on top of (literally written over) the upper loop in two places. For some inexplicable reason, a significant percentage of DiMaggio forgeries flow in the opposite direction, with the upper loop covering the lower one. An inexpensive magnifier or jeweler’s loop will aid in viewing this detail. Finally, the general feel of an authentic DiMaggio autograph is often somewhat sloppy, in the sense that the spacing between letters is uneven, obviously much more so in his second name. Again due to the fact that forgers are working rather than simply signing, the spacing they place between each letter is far more uniform.

Finally, the age-old adage “experience is the best teacher” is indeed appropriate here. The building of as extensive a library of exemplars as possible, of both authentic and fake examples, would be of help to visualize these and additional warning keys, and tremendously assist in the detection of forgeries.

Tags: authenticate, baseball, dimaggio, fame, forgeries, forgers, genuine, hall, hof, joe, More…mantle, mickey, of, ted, williams

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That one was very easy.  I have over 35 various exemplars.  Always remember the variations of Mantle's autograph.  The trained eye (in my opinion) is very important.

The below "500 Homerun Club" signed baseball is also on Ebay right now.  All of the sigs are, of course, forgeries.   The second Mantle I have pictured is the Mantle the forger tried to emulate.   Like Larry wrote, "working" on a autograph as opposed to just signing, reveals all of the defects.  "Thinking" about how to 'sign" an autograph simply "slows" the process which, of course, turns it into a "process" and not a signature.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=130502433004

 

 

Hard to believe some paid $875 for that 500 Home run ball... Not only is the Mantle sig fake the rest are really bad as well! And the cert is from Hollywood and Sports Memorabilia... even scarier!! Ouch!

Question:  Has anyone on this site ever disagreed with a JSA or PSA "authenticated" signature or had issues with the decisions made on autographs by the other companies I have learned are accepted by eBay as "reliable."  Curious, because the whole process - both forging and authenticating seems pretty open to questioning... Thanks

Here are two from my collection Richard Simon recently tagged as forgeries. In my view, these are a bit more deceptive than your standard Marino Family or GAI fake. I can see the issues now, but they are not glaring in my view, and to a less trained eye, they look darn good.

 

The first one is tough because it appears to be signed fairly quickly. The second on has a more "drawn" appearance, but it is still light years ahead of the obvious stop and start fakes. My loss is your learning experience. :-)

 

 

 

While the Ms are shaped differently, the "ickey"  "antle" on these two are strikingly similar. I suspect it may have been the same forger evolving his style as they were both purchased from local dealers in the metro NY area about a 18 months apart.

 

One tip to remember is that a forger "learns" a signature and signs the same way every time with little variance. They do not have the natural [slight] variations seen in a grouping of real signatures.

Good point, Mr. Zipper.  The majority of forgers can only try to emulate a particular circa autograph.   All fail miserably.

the top mantle that was said to be a forgery looks good to me!! not sure mr simon is correct on this one i have seen him mistake many mantles!!! the bottom is obvios bad mantle...

Thanks for your input, Scott. BTW, I saw you on Ball Boys not too long ago. Nice job!

Regarding the suspect Mantles above, they still look much better than the usual junky fakes and to date, I have not seen this style elsewhere. Whoever the forger(s) is, he obviously never produced this style in mass quantities.

I have had others tell me the top one is not fake. I am not 100% certain, but I have to err on the side of caution and go with Richard Simon's opinion. If you look very closely, there does seem to be the slightest whiff of "wobble" in the first M.

I would have to say that the top one is bad also.  Way to much variation in pen pressure, the the i going into the c and then going into the k is a concern.  You can tell it was written slower and careful.

Larry,

Thanks for writing such a valuable and informative piece. We've very glad to have you here. Hope you come back often and keep training the troops!

Great work by everyone here. This is the positive stuff that helps flush out forgeries. 
Very nice study.  I am scared of buying anything from these 3 ball players.

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