What do you do when the Third Party Authenticator gets it wrong?

This discussion is buried treasure from early 2017 and deserves to be revived.

The purpose of this discussion is not to bash Third Party Authenticators (TPAs)...although that might happen. Lol. But that is not the intent because I truly believe TPAs like PSA/DNA, JSA, and Beckett are very important to the hobby. But they do, of course, make mistakes.

I thought this could be perhaps an insightful discussion about people's experiences when they get a rejection letter, regarding their sent-in autographed item, that states that the item is not genuine...when, in fact, they (the TPA's client) know without a doubt their item is truly the real deal.

Has this happened to you? Perhaps you were lucky enough to get an in-person autograph from a celebrity, and you sent it in to one of the major TPAs only to be told it's not real even though it was signed right in front of you!

Or perhaps you sent in an item that you got from an extremely reliable source, and you know beyond a reasonable doubt that the autograph is authentic, yet it still gets rejected. And maybe this is an autograph of a celebrity with whom you have a very strong knowledge of the celebrity's signature, as does your source...and the TPA still rejects it.

So you know the TPA got it wrong, but what do you do about it? I mean after all...the TPA's mess-up may cost you loads of money...perhaps thousands of dollars, pounds, euros, or pesos.

Does anyone have any stories he or she would like tell? I think it would interesting and enlightening to hear people's stories in regard to things like this. And it might increase our knowledge. Please let us know which TPA got it wrong, and why you are certain the TPA made an error.

Plus, are there certain authenticators that are good in one area, but even though it's not their area of expertise, they authenticate autographs of celebrities where their knowledge is limited.

This site is about increasing our knowledge about how to survive in the rough and tumble of the autograph world. So let's do that.

Tags: BAS, Beckett, JSA, PSA, TPA, authenticators, mistakes, psa-dna, third party authenticators

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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"?


  • Be honest with yourself about the autograph. Even though you may have seen it signed, is it a sloppy atypical mess? If so, how could you reasonably expect a TPA to cert it?
  • What TPA did you send the item to and is that really their strong suit? While the big box TPAs are very strong in certain areas and do their best in my opinion, they may have areas where they are not as strong. Did you send an obscure historical autograph to a TPA that really is best for sports or entertainment? Are you sure their historical specialist looked at it? In other words, maybe the rejection should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • Seek out someone who is a specialist for the type of autograph it is. Either a dealer, authenticator or experienced collector. Do they agree with the opinion of the TPA?
  • Bear in mind, that sometimes items may fail or be inconclusive because they are too atypical, not necessarily because they are fake. On rare occasion, there are items I thought were probably okay, but it was too close to the border that I didn't want to put my name on it. I don't want to cert "51 percenters." In those cases, I share my thoughts with the submitter and I don't charge for the inconclusive. You may not get this level of transparency from a big TPA, but it may be what happened.
  • Frankly, if you KNOW the item is authentic, the only time a TPA rejection should matter is if you are going to sell it. In this case, try another TPA and hope they get it right, or consign to a reputable auction house. If the item is obviously authentic, then you should have no trouble getting it accepted.

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.

Steve, what a tremendous response! You are a highly-regarded member here, and obviously there's a good reason for that. You made excellent points all throughout and really gave collectors great advice on how to proceed and things to consider. That's a great plan of action for anyone who believes their rejected item is real. Thank you.

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.

I agree with your points, Christopher. And we actually have some great people here on AML that I would trust even more than the TPAs on certain things. Christopher, you are great with baseball (and other things as well I'm sure), Wascher is tremendous with Michael Jackson, Terrier is great with sports autographs (and others), and Randy is great with baseball. Also, Kamran is outstanding with Madonna autographs. And is anyone better with Star Wars autographs than Pete Chuka? I sincerely doubt it, not to mention he's great with modern celebrity autographs as well.

And Steve Zarelli is so good with space autographs that he's already an authenticator!

So I think there are several people on AML that are quite likely better at certain things than the TPAs are. And if these friends of mine on here said a particular autograph was real, even though a certain TPA rejected it, I would actually be inclined to believe these members on AML.


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. 

Christopher, thanks for a very thoughtful reply. It's always interesting to hear the process that a new collector goes through to become more competent in this hobby. It's certainly not easy, and as you say, there is a learning curve, and it can cause both emotional and financial pain. As you grow as a collector and study autographs more intensely, you develop the ability to make reasoned, informed decisions on autograph purchases oftentimes without the need of an LOA from a TPA. But for good or bad, the major TPAs exert tremendous power in this hobby. So when the time comes to sell an item that you may have paid two or three thousand dollars for, and that you are absolutely certain is authentic, you are likely going to need an LOA from a TPA. And when that TPA won't pass it, you may be out big time. I'm sure that has unfortunately happened to more than just a few members here. And this is the part of the hobby that can be brutal. More often than not, the TPAs get it right...but then again they should...it's their profession. But what is an acceptable error rate? I don't know what percentage is acceptable, but, of course, if it's your multi-thousand-dollar item that's at stake, the acceptable error rate is zero. And not that this happens all the time, but it can unfortunately depend upon who you are and how many items you submit. As an example, many people have talked about the seemingly cozy relationship between Presspass Collectibles and PSA/DNA which has now changed to a cozy relationship between Presspass and Beckett. So obviously Steve Grad is involved there. But one thing is for sure...when buying, never rely solely on the authentication papers.

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 reply, James. I'm with you. Doing your own research is part of collecting. I have several items I've bought without a TPA's letter because I was extremely certain the item was real. I plan to keep these items for many years. I love them. If I ever decide to sell, that's when I feel like I might need that LOA from PSA or JSA, and hopefully it will work out.

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.



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