How do you ultimately decide on authenticity with your collection?


     I don't know if this has been covered explicitly as a blog topic...but  I thought I would roll it out and seek some thoughts and opinions.

    What does it ultimately take for you to be comfortable with a particular autograph if you encounter divergent opinions on it?  

     I've been thinking on this a bit for some time. Quite awhile ago, I purchased a signed item from a person who had had it in their possession for about 20 years. It was a classic film star autograph and not much was know about it's provenance as it had been a gift for the person I bought it from two decades before. When I submitted it for a QUICK OPINION with one of the third party authenticators, it was deemed "unlikely to be authentic".  I also put it up here on AUTOGRAPH LIVE under the "Is This Autograph Real" section.  I received a mixed bag of feedback.  A couple of folks seemed to agree with the QUICK OPINION.....a couple also thought it looked to have possibilities of being real.  I also sent a scan to a collector/dealer friend.  He thought it was real based upon his filed exemplars.

    So, there it is...a mixed bag of opinions.  Myself, I first thought it was real...then began to have doubts with the tpa QUICK OPINION and some feedback here  (grateful for it of course, both "yeah" and "nay").  Today I am pretty certain it is real....kind of an interior "spidey sense".

     How do you guys navigate that kind of experience?  Do you trust a particular tpa verdict above all?  What happens when fellow collectors have some different opinions on you begin to have a sinking feeling?  Does a seasoned dealer's thoughts give you strong assurance?  Does it ultimately come down to what you believe about it's authenticity even with mixed opinions?

    Thanks in advance for your consideration of this.  I look forward to hearing back on it and any experiences.



Views: 129

Comment by crazyrabbits23 on Tuesday

I'd say a good 70-80% of my collection has no supporting documentation (being signed books I've picked up secondhand). In those cases, I either trust that the author in question is niche enough that there's no market for someone trying to fake their signature, or that I have enough of the author/celebrity's work to make a strong enough guess as to whether I feel it's legitimate or not.

I also have gained a greater affinity for LOA's/provenance over the past couple of years, though I should stress that I only get such provenance (photos of the signing / letters / other promotional documentation) in 5-10% of what I find, if I'm lucky. One of my biggest finds was a signed 1st/4th of Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" with the original "Compliments" slip from the publisher, Canongate.

Very rarely have I come across something that was from a big name that was faked, and in those cases, it's immediately obvious (due to prior knowledge of exemplars or being an exceptionally-poor knockoff that someone probably did up to fool the uninitiated). 

I had a case last year where a collector I'm good friends with told me that he believed a book I gave him (a signed copy of Phil Esposito's memoir, "Thunder and Lightning") was suspect. I had no reason to believe it was fake, given that I knew for certain where it had come from (a book designer who was involved with its production from the publishing label), who I had emailed personally to confirm prior ownership (it was one of several titles she donated that I found), matches other examples of the sig online, and was a book that I had in my collection for several years before that.

While I may never be 100% certain of the authenticity of every single book I own, I do my due diligence and make sure there's enough evidence (examples I can compare to online / provenance) to assure it's real.

Comment by Etienne on Tuesday

Thanks for your reply.  I was especially struck by your last paragraph concerning due diligence.  It seems like that is an important reality for a collector who really wants to get to know their signers. and their writing style.

It seems like it puts you in the driver's seat as a collector.

Comment by Eric Keith Longo on Tuesday

Hi Etienne,

For me, I do all my own research, observation and authentication. On rare occasion I will seek the opinion of one of my friends in this group who specialize in this or that, but I make my own decisions based on voluminous study. If a dealer or collector questioned one of my items I would not be very concerned. I do not deal with, respect or collect TPA opinions and stickers. They have stockholders and a business model to adhere to, I do not. I believe no one cares more about your graphs than you. I make few purchases now having most of what I want and spend much of my time helping folks here and getting bad material removed from auction houses or reviewing stock for others. So far this week I had 2 Bowie's and a Griffith removed.

Comment by Etienne on Wednesday

Thanks, Eric. That's actually a great place to be when you get to the point of doing your own research and authentication. It also builds your self confidence and mastery in an area that is lifegiving.

Not long ago I was looking at a Montgomery Clift signed piece for sale from a respected dealer.  Before purchasing, I thought about sending in the scans of it to one of the TPA's.  And then I thought better of it.  I realized that I trust this dealer (who has been around for many years and has a stellar reputation). I myself have some experience with Clift's signature and this one really gave me a sense right away that it was good and I did some more research on his signature.

That's actually become a major part of this for me.  I feel like I am gaining a lot by learning more about the people that I am interested in and their signing habits.  It's an education in and of itself and I find it very stimulating.  I also feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can believe in a piece and feel the joy of having it.

Comment by crazyrabbits23 on Wednesday

Indeed -- it's rarely been easier to do your own research. Even with the controversies from some fields over the past couple years (autopenned books, prints and books from celebrities who should know better, and have no excuse), there's a wealth of material on numerous sites to compare examples to. I typically use a combination of Abebooks and this forum to help me ascertain authenticity, and it's definitely helped me in several cases (a book I thought was signed by Hillary Clinton turned out to have an autopenned bookplate, for instance, which I'd suspected but couldn't confirm for some time).

I don't do quick opinions. Most of what I own is either very niche, backed up by some kind of documentation (even if it's a slip from the store it was sold from) or is detailed enough (from an inscription standpoint) that I'm reasonably confident in what I have.

Comment by Etienne on Wednesday

One of my favorite actors (possibly my top one) is Marlon Brando...Clift's peer in the 50's and 60's. Brando's extremely difficult to find in authentic form.  If you look at eBay at any given time, you will see a good number of Brando signed pieces that have tpa letters...some from the leaders in the industry. 

Problem is, Brando is so very difficult to authenticate. Even with official documents like contracts or releases, one of his longtime secretaries claimed that she was instructed by him to practice his signing style for the purpose of signing some of these documents. His father (Marlon Brando Sr.) also signed for his son in the 50's and 60's (not to difficult since Sr. was basically signing his own name).

I had thought at one point of submitting a Brando that I was interested in for a QUICK OPINION.  Then I got to thinking.....he's so chaotic in style...which era would they be looking at in a cursory way?  Even particular letters in the various eras of his life could regress back to an earlier era.  I realized that I needed to do my own study of any particular piece on it's own merits and compare a wide variety of exemplars which had quite reasonable certainty of being real....sometimes letter by letter. I'm the one who lives with it so I need to be convinced as reasonably as possible. 

I think Eric in an earlier post on a separate topic made the observation that a collector with the inclination is probably going to be spending more time examining their autograph than any one else would...even the professionals.


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