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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I see your point Zipper, the e connecting to the D is usually a good sign... The Mantle on that pic is no question authentic, what are you and Terrier's opinion on the Williams on that same pic?

Here is a close-up of the Williams from the picture


the Williams is fine

Mr. Zipper - good point re: pens and the session - if memory serves (no guarantees there) - the shows had DiMaggio for 2-3 days - so it could be same show but different days of the show

I distinctly remember a conversation a fellow I worked with and I had with the promoter of the autograph show where DiMaggio was appearing - we were about to send in materials and the advertisement said Mr. DiMaggio reserves the right to refuse to sign items sent in - we called and asked about this with respect to what we were sending - I remember this distinctly because his response (at the time) struck me as so peculiar. He said we will be there at all times  when Mr. DiMaggio is signing items sent in - we asked why - he said that Mr. DiMaggio has in the past done some damage to items he didn't want to sign (e.g. the DiMaggio albums, anything with Marilyn Monroe on it) and he said that DiMaggio was not happy about signing items which would/will bear multiple signatures if his was not the first signature on the item. All second hand as I was not at the signing and did not see this sort of thing - but it does fit in with what I have heard / read many years later.

Dimaggio was a dickhead. I believe he would do something like this.

The hissy fit over not being the first signer does not surprise me at all and fits the theory I first proposed -- it is a "pizzed" off signature.

The last of the items from the boxes and old show signings - a couple of Ted Williams things - how do they look?

thanks - Steve


the Williams are authentic

I posted a DiMaggio signed 16x20 from a San Francisco show back in the mid 90's. It is somewhere in this thread. Anyway, he signed it so bad, that nobody would ever think it was legit. He was mad at me because I asked him to put HOF and his year under his signature on a home plate with over 40 other hall of fame players. If you never met him in person, he was not a nice person.

I attended 3 diff DiMaggio signings, he was pretty much all business, just signing, no conversation or eye contact. Williams was a little better but he and schmidt  would flip balls once in a while after signing them. Of the "oldies" I always liked getting brooks Robinson, he would shake your hand and thank you for coming. Bob feller once balked at signing a perez steele card for me,telling me those bastards aren't authorized! He did sign it for me though and was usually nice.

Biggest jerks I have come across at a signing were Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, and Reggie Jackson (jackass all the time). The nicest were, in no particular order, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Johnny Unitas, Stan Musial, Whitey Ford, Jerry Rice, Joe Namath.

Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays, and Yaz, are the only two living HOF players I don't have on my home plate. I know one of them is super nice (Brooks) and one is up there with DiMaggio and Aaron (Mays).




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