When TPA fails your item:
Step 1: Sue someone.
Just kidding, of course.
The first thing a reasonable person would do is keep it in perspective. It's not the end of the world or a permanent marring of the item, unless you decide to go to a message board and announce to the world your item has been rejected by a TPA. Once you do that, is it really the TPA's fault your item has been "damaged"?
The reason this is even a topic of conversation is because too many unthinking collectors and dealers have assigned TPAs omnipotent powers and blindly believe they are infallible. TPAs are staffed by humans, and by definition, all humans are fallible. A good TPA gets it right the vast majority of the time and can help collectors safely build a collection, but that doesn't mean they are perfect.
I could go on and on, but it all boils down to keeping cool, acting professional and having good communication skills. If you play your cards right and make a solid case, the initial TPA may even take another look and make the call in your favor.
Excellent and professional response, Steve.
I can't count the number of times I have relayed to an owner/seller of a forgery that their autograph is a forgery.
Their first response is "Are you an authenticator?"
The quick point I am making here (as Steve did previously) is that they are no different than us.
They may have a larger database of exemplars, and more exposure to both good and bad stuff, but that's it. Personally, I respect the job that the TPA's do. It is not an easy job.
I wouldn't want to be an authenticator. If you're an authenticator, (and I'm not referring to the Rocchi's, Ted Taylor's, Morales, etc. of the world who authenticate everything) you're always going to get hammered by both sides.
As a person relatively new to the hobby (2-3 years) and who has purchased all but one of the signed items of music memorabilia that I own, I've lived through this and had some painful experiences. For whatever it's worth, here are my views based on personal experience. Most of this agrees with Mr. Zarelli. But I do have a different view on a couple of key points.
Collectors have a wide range of experience, from being brand new to expert. The less experience one has, the more TPAs matter and the greater impact they have. The learning curve for me went something like this:
1. No idea of what a TPA is and purchased my first items having no idea that forgers exist. Upon finding out they do, actually shocked that there are people in the world that would fake autographs for money. Lessened my faith in humanity just a little. Try to get refunds on all the fake stuff I purchased.
2. Accept that forgeries not only exist but abound and start to learn about TPAs. Become confused by the number of TPAs, the apparent relative value of their certificates in the marketplace, that some COAs/LOAs are meaningless.
3. Become entangled with the idea that the COA/LOA is worth more than the item. Seek third party authentication that appears to most enhance the economic value of the item.
4. Start to face TPA rejections on items that appear correct, come from trustworthy sellers and generally look good to those with more experience than I. React strongly, and possibly incorrectly at times, to these rejections - including posting here, resulting in tarnishing an item that may very well be good, by advertising to the world that a TPA has issued a rejection letter. Realize that some of the primary TPAs rejections are generic, impersonal, incorrect and that no actual explanation will ever be provided.
5. Move beyond the idea that the LOA/COA matters more than the item. Start to study artists/ bands in whom you have an interest. Learn their signatures and start forming your own opinions rather than relying exclusively on third parties. Begin to develop trust in one or more TPAs based upon integrity, consistency and transparency (which automatically disqualifies some of the big names). And accept that even the most trustworthy are human beings and get it wrong initially, or approve at first and later amend an opinion.
6. Develop more confidence as a buyer; try as hard as you can to be dispassionate about purchases, to maintain objectivity. Narrow the circle of those with whom you interact, other collectors as well as TPAs, to the very few who have consistently demonstrated integrity and transparency and who have similar interests. Ignore most of the rest. Help anyone you can. But never, ever pretend to know something you don't, never present your opinion as more qualified than it actually is.
7. Narrow acquisitions even further to things that must be correct. Items that are artist-issued primarily, and items in which you have high confidence, agreement among your trusted circle of collector friends and the backing of your chosen TPA. In other words, take no chances.
All this goes beyond what James had in mind. I apologize if this is too much. My hope is to be helpful, to explain that for me there was a process, a learning curve, and I've paid close attention. To answer James' question more specifically - I've had one particular big-name TPA get things wrong more than once. When you start to believe that every time you submit something, approval is based upon which side of the bed somebody woke up on, how many items you submit at one time, whether or not there was a full moon the prior evening.....then something is very wrong and it's time to walk. There's one big name TPA I will never, ever use again, precisely for this reason. I simply do not believe they are competent.
If something is signed in front of you, I would think you could get an "exact proof" photo which is far better than a PSA cert. If they don't allow photos, tickets from event, etc also work.
If you are buying to collect and not resell item, I am being very honest here, with a bit of research you should be able to match what PSA does. Do the research, its part of the hobby, its part of the fun to be a mini detective. To me that is like 50% of the hobby.
If you are buying uncertified PSA, to get it certified, and then flip, I've found there is generally no profit in doing this.
So in summary, what do you need a PSA cert for anyway?
Great! I guess getting stuff PSA/JSA can come in handy once in awhile. Depending on the item and the situation, so i shouldn't say, there is never a circumstance where it comes in handy.
I just feel like a lot of the time it is a wash. The amount you will pay to get it certified is about what you are going to make for having the COA. Not always though. You can also consign with auction houses that are reputable and may do better that way. I buy from a guy who runs a reputable major auction house and because I do so much business with him he only charges me 10% to consign, I'd much rather consign to him than to PSA/JSA certify and list on my own. But it all depends! Good luck! :-)
Your point is well taken James and relates to part of what I was describing earlier as the process for determining the purposes of the TPA in the first place. I think there are two. Foremost is authenticity. Second is the idea of enhancing value. For me personally, PSA is no longer reliable and has never been transparent. I realized a long time ago that the best TPA for music memorabilia, which is all I buy, is Roger Epperson. There are reasons for this. 1) It's the only thing he does, so his expertise across the board is greater than the others, 2) You know who is looking at it, 3) I have found Roger to be consistently honest and transparent. I'm not saying Roger is perfect. How could anyone be in such a subject business? But I have far greater trust in Roger than anyone else. He is my first stop for determining authenticity, always. I didn't mention this in my initial post because I didn't want it to come off as a commercial for one TPA over the others. Then I consider the idea of value enhancement. Where I used to believe that a PSA letter makes something more valuable, I no longer am of this opinion (with one possible exception). If selling via RR Auction or Iconic Auction, a letter from Roger is absolutely accepted as validating authenticity, and the items stands on its own merits as well. The only time PSA matters is selling on eBay. So if PSA is unreliable and doesn't really enhance value, other than for selling on eBay, then why go through the stress, as I have done many times, of rolling the dice by submitting to that organization? It's an important question that I've asked myself many times. I think this question first materialized for me when I started talking to collectors with far greater experience than I and realized that a submission to PSA isn't about authenticity. I heard many, many times, "It's real but I don't think PSA will pass it." Anyway, the only answer I can come up with is that as a newer collector I desired mass approval from anyone in a position of significant influence. When I've spent thousands on a piece, I've desired validation of that decision from as many as possible, as officially as possible. I used to think that if I could get a letter from Roger, one from PSA and one from JSA, then I'd be golden. I've come to realize that that was about insecurity, not authenticity or business sense. And I'm over it.
My experience is unlikely to be typical, but I have actually questioned PSA opinions in an email to Joe in the past, and (while he was with PSA) Steve Grad wrote a note on my receipt to the authentication team that the item was good. I no longer think I have the receipt, but it was funny to see, and also an example that people make mistakes.
If you legitimately feel your item is good, and have a reasonable understanding of why it may have failed, you can always approach the TPA about your concerns.