Reliance on third-party authentication has taken on a new meaning in recent times. Some collectors will simply not consider purchasing an autograph without proof that it has received a passing grade from one of the respectable services available. There is also the great debate over stickers. Do collectors prefer them? Do collectors not prefer them? Should they be affixed to the front or back of a photo? Should they be affixed to the actual item, or to a Letter of Authenticity? There is also the endless debate over the qualifications of forensic examiners.
Let us begin by considering forensic examination. It is without doubt that a document must be examined for more than the characteristics of the autograph presented. When did the signer live? Are they still alive? If not, when did they pass away? How old is the paper? What type of writing instrument was used? An experienced forensic examiner would be helpful in answering such questions.
Imagine an Alexander Hamilton autographed copy of The Federalist Papers. Also imagine that the book was signed with a ballpoint pen or Sharpie. Any experienced collector would recognize it to be a preposterous forgery, regardless of how typical the autograph appeared to be. Now imagine the forensic examination to require a more complicated analyses. There is a proper place for forensic examination in our hobby.
An examination of Alexander Hamilton’s autograph would certainly require more than just a quick glance in order to determine authenticity.
Forensic examiners are not always experts in the identification of forgeries based solely on the appearance of the autograph. This requires a separate skill entirely, and neither expert should be critical of the other. They are both necessary to remove forgeries from circulation.
That brings us to the importance of third-party authentication. The services of third-party authentication have undeniably improved our hobby. The concern is the effect on our hobby when a company creates a track record of errors. What will become the fate of the many authentic autographs that received passing grades prior to a controversy? Will collectors be mature enough to look beyond a sticker?
For these reasons, I prefer to collect autographs that have passed fourth-party authentication. Not the seller. Not the buyer. Not the third-party authenticator. Instead, I prefer the experts who have spent years engaged in a hobby that they feel passionate about. Many of those people are members of Autograph Live. I trust their opinions and their expertise to any forensic examiner or third-party authenticator, because they will typically qualify their opinion with an explanation. We all know who the primary fourth-party authenticators are, and what their expertise is. They are always more than willing to assist, because it is not a business for them to participate in. It is a hobby.
The next time you have a question about an autograph’s authenticity, regardless of whether or not it was passed by a third-party authenticator, ask the opinion of a fourth-party authenticator who has been collecting for years. After all, it is not necessary to conduct a forensic examination on a Daisy Ridley autographed photo, signed with a Sharpie. As long as the autographed photo in question is not a print, you will be able to rest easy with more than one passing grade.