When Iowa custom home builder Rick Garceau found American Royal Arts, he thought he was in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven.
Owner Jerry Gladstone trumpeted ARA as the world's largest seller of autographed rock 'n' roll, and they had an eye-popping selection of rare, signed, classic rock memorabilia. Garceau spent over $88,000 with ARA in 2006 and 2007, snapping up Beatles-signed "Abbey Road" and "Sgt. Pepper's" albums; guitars signed by the Grateful Dead, Wings, and 32 Rock Legends; Bangladesh, Dylan and Woodstock signed posters, and more.
One of his favorites? A set of Jimi Hendrix Experience autographs, framed with, according to the COA, an "Original, August 19, 1968 First Edition Concert Poster for a Jim Salzer concert at the Earl Warren Fairgrounds in Santa Barbara, California." The price? $3,950.
Jimi Hendrix Experience autographs framed with 1968 poster
Garceau was particularly proud of that purchase. He checked prices before he bought, and found that firsts of the poster alone were being offered at $6,000. A set of Jimi Hendrix Experience autographs were at least $3,000, so he was getting $9,000 in value at less than half-price.
American Royal Arts Certificate of Authenticity.
A year after his last purchase, the collapse of the real estate market left Garceau sitting on new homes that were digging into his savings, so he decided to sell his most expensive pieces: his $16,500 signed "Abbey Road" and $21,500 signed "Sgt. Pepper's" albums. But not long after he listed them on eBay, eBay cancelled the listings for authenticity concerns.
Garceau was shocked. After all, not only were they sold by long-established American Royal Arts—they were authenticated by a so-called court-approved forensic document examiner, Christopher Morales. After getting nowhere with ARA, Garceau contacted a major auction house, which confirmed the albums were forgeries. Shortly thereafter, the auction house connected Garceau with Autograph Magazine, and we recommended he have all of his autographs evaluated by the leading rock authenticator, Roger Epperson Authentication.
The news was not good. The only genuine autographs ARA sold Garceau were on a 2006 Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp poster signed by musicians in attendance. It was the only item not authenticated by Morales.
Garceau's forged Jimi Hendrix Experience autographs, authenticated by Christopher Morales
Morales Letter of Authentication. Click to enlarge.
Facing an almost complete loss of his $88,000, Garceau contacted rare poster dealer Wolfgang's Vault to see what he could reasonably expect to get for the poster in his framed Hendrix display. They told him he needed to remove the poster from the frame to check the condition and confirm it was a first printing, because second printings are only worth a few hundred dollars.
The obvious difference between the two is that second printings have a red border all the way around, while first printings don't. The edge of Garceau's poster was covered by matting, so while it looked like a first printing, the matting had to be removed to confirm it.
Garceau carefully opened the frame from the back and removed the matting and backing that held the memorabilia. Since ARA touted archival quality framing to protect the memorabilia they sold, he was surprised to see foam core board inside. Turning the matting and frame right side up, he gently removed the matting to reveal the complete poster beneath.
This is what he found:
It was a second printing poster, which American Royal Arts framed to hide the telltale border. One that would be worth $300 or less, except for one thing: it was cemented to it's foam core backing...rendering it literally worthless.
That's Garceau's Jimi Hendrix Experience, courtesy of the fine people at American Royal Arts.
Where Things Stand Today
for Rick Garceau...and ARA
Everything Garceau purchased from ARA was a completely worthless fraud...except for the Fantasy Camp poster worth perhaps $500. I'll show you each piece he purchased soon.
ARA owner Jerry Gladstone has been the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, and American Royal Arts filed for an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors, a type of Florida bankruptcy, in 2010. But that hasn't stopped Gladstone from turning several ARA locations into galleries for his two new companies, The Pop Culture Vault and Beyond the Cage. While he has hopefully learned his lesson about selling forged autographs, we assume that Gladstone is still selling fraudulently represented posters and other memorabilia—and ruining even those by gluing them in place.
Garceau filed a claim, but while Gladstone has reportedly paid close to a million dollars or more out of his own pocket to settle actual or potential litigation that might have kept ARA's liquidation from going through, Garceau and others in his position we've spoken to have heard little from the administrator handling the case.
At this point, things don't look good for any of them.