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.

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Comment by Eric Keith Longo on June 16, 2020 at 3:44pm

Reminds me of  experts in painting attribution - some use style and content, another set of experts uses clinical chemical analysis - both with the same goal in mind.

Comment by Dan Morris on June 16, 2020 at 3:48pm

Very well said. I'd take the opinion of someone with an expert eye and many years experience over an authentication company. Sadly though often for sales the buyer wants that nice ugly and shiny sticker to give them comfort it's "real"

Comment by Joe W. on June 16, 2020 at 4:03pm

Everybody has their own comfort level. I have come to realize that experienced collectors are the most accurate. I also believe that quick opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. Now when it comes to Epperson, Zarelli, or Phil Sears their quick opinions carry a higher consideration.

The bottom line is each collector is accountable for their own decisions. That's the one that carries the most weight. A sticker may help you sell your autograph down the road more easily. That is, as long the the company stays in the good grace of the marketplace.

Comment by Eric Keith Longo on June 16, 2020 at 4:07pm


Comment by Mike Shepherd on June 17, 2020 at 8:43am

That is a great comparison, Eric.  Thanks for the comment.

Comment by Mike Shepherd on June 17, 2020 at 8:44am

That is a great system, Joe.  Thanks for the comment.

Comment by Mike Shepherd on June 17, 2020 at 8:47am

I do not mind the stickers on photos, but I prefer not to see them on other items.  Thanks for the comment, Dan.

Comment by Mike Shepherd on June 17, 2020 at 8:54am

Exactly, Joe W.  If we treat our hobby the way that it should be treated, there would be no need to consider selling anything.  What we need is a database for collectors to post images of all of the autographs that they achieved in person.


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