I notice that while there are often beginner collectors looking for advice on specific autographs or tips on starting out in the hobby in general, one thing that seems to be overlooked in the "Autographs 101" department is how this website functions. By that, I mean that new users come to this website without a basic understanding of this hobby and what to expect from this website, and sometimes they walk away (for good) frustrated because their venture into the hobby is so new that they don't understand the very core basics of autograph collecting.
I think perhaps a "Common Sense on Autographs" section might be helpful, beginning with what to expect from this website. Here are a few things that I think new users here should know:
1) There are many members here who have established their competency in different areas - some comprehensive, others quite focused. Ask questions about a Mickey Mantle or the Beatles or Star Wars, and you'll get some opinions that are far more valuable than any paid authentication. There are literally decades of knowledge and experience in those areas right here on this forum. However, outside of the hottest, most valuable names in the hobby, it's important for people to understand point #2. . .
2) Answers on your questions aren't always immediate, and they might not be answered at all. As heavily studied as the biggest names are, there are multitudes of much smaller stars that don't get the same attention. Ask a question about Paul McCartney, and you'll get plenty of feedback quite quickly. As a question about your favorite indie band, and you might hit an immediate dead end. That doesn't mean it isn't worth asking, it just means that your feedback could be limited and take longer to get. And consider that there may be people here who know, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are always online. Be patient, and understand that the level of celebrity and the generation they appeal to might affect what information you get back.
3) Help yourself by helping us. I see so many posts here from newbies with titles that are too vague. On occasion, I even see posts that make no mention of the celebrity name. There are competent people here, but many have busy lifetstyles. They don't click on every post, regardless of the content. Use keywords in your subject lines and descriptions. Titling posts "Please Help" or "Autograph Question" just begs for your question to be passed over repeatedly. When you post, please include the following:
*Clear photos of the item in question
*Details about the source and, if applicable, links to the seller's page.
4) Determine whether you are asking about a signature or a scribble. For instance, if you're looking at an autograph that looks like this:
At the risk of sounding a bit condescending, let me point out the obvious that so many collectors overlook: Anyone on the planet can copy this. Maybe it's real, maybe it's not. Only one person can definitely tell you truth about it, and that's the person who got it. You will not get a competent answer about an ugly scribble like this from a third party. I feel there is a difference between an autograph and a stray mark. This is the latter. Many sellers, even good ones, peddle scribbles such as these as quality products worth large sums of money based solely on the celebrity's popularity or signing habits. Be careful, and understand what you're purchasing might be authentic but can never be proven as such.
5) Understand what a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) actually is. Is it a legally binding contract? No. Does it hold the seller liable? No. Does it enable you to sue for fraud? No. Is it a document offering an expert's opinion? Not necessarily, and usually not. Does it allow you the ability to return an item without question? Almost never.
So what are COA's? Good question. Most don't hold much weight, and many of the best collectors and sellers in the hobby don't even bother with them, because, quite honestly, they're kind of stupid. Here are the facts about them:
*Anyone can create a COA. Think about it. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from creating one right now using Microsoft Word. Scam artists create them to sell their forgeries. Incompetent autograph dealers with good intentions issue them.Good, smart dealers make mistakes and issue their COA with bad items. It's not a magic wand.
*Autographs do not require a COA to be authentic. I see this misunderstanding a lot with newer collectors. Stop and think about how autographs are acquired. If you wait for your favorite musician to sign your vinyl after a show, their tour manager doesn't stop you and give you a certificate of authenticity. If you meet Jennifer Lawrence in a crowd near the red carpet, she doesn't chase you down and say "Wait! You forgot your COA!!"
*Good sellers understand the misunderstanding about COAs and offer them as a peace of mind, mostly for fans unfamiliar with the hobby. It does not mean that sellers who do not offer them are bad.
This being said, there are some COAs that hold a lot of weight - name brands if you will. These are larger companies who hold the signings themselves and authenticate the items on site. The is especially prevalent (and relevant) in the sports collecting arena, which is heavily dominated by organized signings. Companies like Steiner, Tristar, Mounted Memories, Upper Deck Authenticated and others are huge, nationwide companies whose COAs do offer an extra peace of mind and additional resell value.
The vast majority of COAs, however, are worthless. Focus on selecting quality products, not he said/she said.
6) Understand what third party authentication is. Some newer collectors lean heavily on third party authentication, given the basically good reputation of companies like PSA and JSA. While I don't have special insight as to the operations of these companies, I can tell you their authentication, like other COAS, they aren't magic wand. The same common sense issues I noted earlier apply here. Consider that while they have a solid team and comprehensive database, they don't know everything about everything. There are an infinite number of celebrities past and present, and even considering that PSA, JSA or anyone else for that matter has a complete stranglehold on all of them is just absurd.
Even the best of these companies screw up. A lot. Fans of these authentication firms will call these "mistakes," and I think that's still a generally fair assessment. However, it's not just a bad call or two, but goes back to my earlier point on the pros having limited abilities. Furthermore, business operations and the need to turn bigger and bigger profits have affected all of these companies - again, even the best of them - and many of them resort to authenticating based on the source. I've seen the aforementioned scribbles blessed off on by these companies purely on their analysis of the submitter, whether this is a business relationship or (often misguided) trust in the source. This is incredibly problematic, as it opens the door for these sellers the slip in questionable items or straight trash. And, yes, that happens. I've called them out on it a couple times. Others on this forum have as well.
Worse, some of these firms are purely a smoke and mirrors act to help sell forgeries in mass quantities. I'll limit myself to one of the prime offenders in this instance, Guaranteed Forensic Authenticators (GFA). They use their alleged authentication firm as a means of selling forgeries of Mantle, DiMaggio and many of the top athletes of the past in limitless quantities. Oddly enough, seeing these authentication stickers and certificates is actually helpful, as they actually serve as a smoking gun for collectors of all levels that the certified item is fake.
7) Values are tough, and prices will be all over the place. Asking how much your authentic item is worth might elicit a wide range of answers, or a complete shrug. Many of the authentic items on eBay from good dealers and in-person collectors are severely overpriced. Likewise, many deals - even in today's age of the internet and eBay - are still out there.
I'm certain there several other good points I've overlooked, but hopefully this could be a good bit of very basic ideas on what to expect as a novice collector visiting Autograph Magazine Live.