Robert Edwards Auctions/Rob Lifson thanks third party authenticators.

Note To Autograph Authenticators: Thanks!
Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized
REA would like to take the time to express a special thanks to all the authenticators who have contributed to uncovering often ingenious and complicated fraud, and in the process protecting consumers. It’s a thankless job and these guys are often literally on the firing lines of retribution by those whose interests they cross. It is a given that these same authenticators sometimes make mistakes, sometimes even obvious mistakes. It is a given that authenticators sometimes do not agree with each other, or sometimes even change their minds at a later date (which can be very frustrating). That comes with the territory. We sometimes joke that if all of them ever agreed on the same autographed item, we’d have to declare a new holiday!

But at the end of the day, gentlemen such as Mike Gutierrez (who no longer authenticates but was the very first to uncover two of the most sophisticated and elaborate frauds in the field of baseball autographs, one involving an ingenious mixing of extraordinary authentic items with non-authentic items), James Spence of JSA, Steve Grad of PSA, Richard Simon, and many others, while at the same time making themselves targets of ridicule for every error they make, also help identify and put a huge monkey wrench into the plans of the most prolific professional forgers, and in the process help protect the entire market and the collecting world from the most ambitious and egregious fraud in the field. These authenticators play an enormous role in uncovering and stopping the most ambitious and dangerous frauds - some involving millions of dollars in forgeries - perpetrated by extremely sophisticated criminals, and we can’t help but notice that they really don’t any credit for this. In fact, some get a lot of flack. So we’d like to just say thanks to all the authenticators (as humans, flawed though you may be!) for the valuable services you provide, both to your customers and just as important, though far less understood, to the entire marketplace (ironically, even to your detractors). There will always be differences of opinion among authenticators, there will always be mistakes, and a mistake can be made on any given item, but without these authenticators on the front lines, we believe the collecting world would be in far worse shape, the market would be in disarray, and that forgeries would be the rule, as opposed to the exception.

This seems an appropriate place to provide a link to the REA blog post entitled “Autographs at REA or any other auction: Is Authenticity Guaranteed?” that is as relevant today as when we first published it on April 24, 2008, and that further elaborates our thoughts regarding the many merits (and flaws) of third party autograph authentication:


Robert Edward Auctions LLC

December 2nd, 2010

Views: 493

Tags: Lifson, Third, authentication, forgery, fraud, jsa, party, psa

Comment by john reznikoff on December 21, 2010 at 10:41am
His article from 2008... A great read....and BTW Rob, you are welcome!
Autographs at REA or any other auction: Is Authenticity Guaranteed?
Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized
In a word, the answer is “No.”

What? What do you mean authenticity of autographs is not guaranteed?

What about autographs with third party authentication? What does Third Party authentication mean? Isn’t that supposed to be an absolute 100% guarantee of authenticity for now and forever? If it’s not, what good is it?

Some collectors don’t like the idea of third party authentication - they just don’t believe in it. We’re not sure what they suggest as an alternative other than being or becoming experts themselves, (assuming time, ability, and desire would permit), but that is the point of view of some people, and they are entitled to it. Others have confidence in some authenticators, but not others. Fortunately, there is room for all points of view.

At REA, we utilize the services of James Spence Authentications (JSA) to review all signed items. We think very highly of their service. This doesn’t mean that all other autograph authentication services are not good. This is what we have chosen to do because we believe that JSA offers the best authentication service in the business. That doesn’t mean that they are perfect, that they have never made a mistake, or that their opinion could not change on a given item. Some other services and individuals may be very good at providing authentication services. We find that almost 100% of the time (not 100%, but almost 100%) that if a signed item is consigned to REA with a letter from certain companies (such as PSA) or certain individuals, that JSA has the same opinion. We also find that when items are consigned with letters from certain other individuals and companies, approximately 100% of the time JSA is not OK with these items. Obviously, this is not a coincidence. Statistically, that would be impossible. When a signed item is consigned that is already accompanied by a letter of authenticity, the item and letter are separated by us before being presented to JSA for review. At REA, JSA has no idea if an item has previously been reviewed by any other service before being presented with the item authentication review. We have even had cases (very rare, but it has happened) when JSA has told us they are not comfortable writing a letter on an item previously authenticated by JSA. This is very rare but knowledge increases over time, and opinions can sometimes change over time.

One thing we cannot do, and no else can do either, is guarantee the authenticity of any signature we did not see signed ourselves. What we can guarantee is this: that for every REA auction we have an authentication process that we make very clear, and that we follow this process. This process can change over the years. What we did in 1997 is a little different than what we did in 2007; authenticators change, some have even passed away, but we define what the process is, and follow through with that process for better or worse. In the current auction, each and every signed item was presented for review to James Spence Authentication. This process occurred over the entire year. Most items are reviewed two times, and in many cases items have been reviewed three times. Many items are rejected. In fact, literally hundreds of items were rejected by JSA and returned to would-be consignors which, if authentic, would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (that is not a misprint). It is possible that there were a few items that were rejected by JSA that were in fact authentic. We like to remind people that if in 1927 Babe Ruth were signing an autograph, and someone bumped into him while he was signing and because of this his signature was severely affected and ruined, the resulting signature would not look like other Ruth signatures, even though it is real, and JSA would not write a letter on that particular signature in 2008. It is also possible that JSA (or any authenticator) could render a positive opinion on a signature and be incorrect. No one claims otherwise. That comes with the territory of signature authentication and collecting. Even if JSA (or any authenticator) were to be correct well over 99% of the time, it would not be perfect. Remember: All vintage signatures have one thing in common. We weren’t there when they were signed. That’s just a fact. All we can do is have a process we think is the best and stay true to it. At REA, we do not deviate from this process.

What if a collector does not have confidence in JSA’s opinion, but has confidence in the opinion of another service or individual? We are always happy to go out of our way to work with any authenticator a buyer wants to review any item. We encourage it. If a buyer does not have confidence in any authentication service or any individual to provide authentication on signed items, then it stands to reason that person definitely should not be buying any signed items. Similarly, if a baseball card collector felt he could not tell if an old baseball card was authentic or not authentic, and believed that no one else could make this distinction either, that person should not be buying old baseball cards.

The bottom line is that neither REA or any other auction house or any dealer or any collector can truly “guarantee” that a given autograph is authentic. It can even be difficult to prove with certainty that an autograph is not authentic. Occasionally a signed item can be determined to be not authentic with 100% certainty simply due to a common sense fact (such as a ball that was made in 1950 is “signed” by a ballplayer that died in 1940). Many factors go into the opinions of authenticators, including comparison with  exemplars and experience. Sometimes provenance can reflect positively or negatively. If a rare autograph can be traced directly to an unimpeachable source or originates directly from the family of the signer, that is naturally very positive. The flip side is also true: If a seller of a rare autograph claims to have family provenance but evidence suggests that it is not true, and when further questioned the seller pleads “The Fifth,” that is naturally a “red flag”.   

We can’t guarantee what any other authenticator would say about any given signed item, and we also can’t provide a warranty on an opinion, but we can guarantee that when preparing the auction, we presented every signed item to JSA for authentication, and only those items approved by James Spence Authentication are presented in the auction. We don’t play what we call the “mix ‘n match” game with authenticated items. Items that were approved by other authenticators, but not by JSA, were rejected and returned to the consignors. Many of these rejected items have been offered at other auction venues.

So where does that leave the collector? Does third party authentication have any value?  We think it does, but every collector has to decide for themselves. With some types of signed items, like most checks, for example, the opinion of a third party often has little extra value to collectors, because by nature they are always authentic. But when dealing with some other types of items, like rare cut signatures with no provenance, the buyer is really putting his confidence totally in the hands of the authenticator (or relying on his own expertise or the expertise of his chosen authenticator).

When we hear anyone say they do not believe in the value of any third party authentication, that collectors should only purchase from dealers who “guarantee their items for life,” we do have to wonder how it comes to be that an item is later deemed to be worthy of a refund because of this, because such a determination, by definition, itself must rely on the opinion of a third party. We don’t know how to “guarantee” the authenticity of signatures we have not seen signed ourselves, and no one else can either. We all live in the same world. There is no authenticator alive (or in the past) that has not made a mistake at some time or another, sometimes even a stupid sloppy mistake, like authenticating a preprinted or autopen signature in error. We have seen collectors point to obvious mistakes by third-party authenticators as evidence that none of their opinions have value. We don’t think that is fair but we respect that everyone is entitled to their opinion. We are writers at REA, and we would hate to be judged solely by an occasional typo or text of a rare description that has errors. So what is Third Party authentication when it is true that no authenticator is going to be correct 100% of the time? At REA, it is this: we have chosen what we believe to be the best authentication firm in the world for the type of signed items we offer at auction; we can guarantee that when these signed items were processed for auction, they were carefully examined and deemed in the opinion of JSA to be authentic; and we can guarantee that JSA provided a letter for each lot. That’s what it means. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It is important for collectors to understand what they are bidding on, what guarantees are provided (at REA and elsewhere) and not be under any false impression. Sometimes we are asked, “What if PSA does not like this item, but JSA does? Can I return it?” and we have to answer “No. But you have two options: if you only want to buy signed items authenticated by PSA, why not buy items that have already been authenticated by PSA? Or, we will be happy to work with you with any arrangements you want to allow you to have PSA, or any authenticator of your choice, review any item in the auction for you. This can be done by reviewing photos online, reviewing items in person, or we can even make special arrangements (with expenses paid by you) to send items out. That way you can know what any authenticator of your choice has to say about any item. But we cannot predict what they are going to say about any given item or make any guarantees. That would be impossible, and if we had to do that, then we just could not sell autographed items.”

Important note: This essay has not been written in response to any autograph authentication issue with any item at REA, but these are thoughts that we think have merit, are worth articulating, and that we have not seen presented in this form elsewhere.


April 24th, 2008
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Admin on December 21, 2010 at 11:03am

Rob hit the nail on the head.

Comment by john reznikoff on December 21, 2010 at 11:10am
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Admin on December 21, 2010 at 1:32pm



As far as I know neither PSA/DNA or JSA will issue full authentication certification on a scan--they have to see the physical item. In some instances they offer auction pre-certification that way, though.

Comment by john reznikoff on December 21, 2010 at 4:58pm
Blah blah blah
Comment by john reznikoff on December 21, 2010 at 6:12pm
Travis you made your point about 2 months ago. You have nothing to add that we have not already heard. I am NOT from PSA, merely a consultant. I offer my opinions freely on this site YOU do not and remain silent when someone asks for help. THEY(psa or jsa) are not ME. Frankly what you write is so much the same old stuff I don't bother to read it any me I am not alone. If I felt you were helpful and offering new information to collectors ... I would pay attention. I am afraid you have positioned yourself to be part of the problem with our industry and not the solution. I respect you for standing up but ask you at this point to be a little self reflective .
Comment by john reznikoff on December 21, 2010 at 6:15pm
Also PSA and JSA have prevented tens of millions of dollars of fakes from entering the market, as Lifson points out. What have you done in this regard?
Comment by Richard S. Simon on December 21, 2010 at 7:51pm

Steve you refer to auction pre certification.

Auction pre certification?

Isn't that another term for,,, let's stick our hands in the collectors pocket and pull out some more money.


Comment by Lou reves on December 21, 2010 at 9:05pm
This is becoming funny to read!  All these PSA is great blogs, no they arent! Yes they are, no they are not? They were the first to find a way to take money from people for a service an educated person doesnt need. I wont use them, dont need them, but find it funny that there is blog after blog defending them to people who dont care about them. I have a few people I trust and can email and ask about an auto in question FREE OF charge and they are glad to help(and yes they are experts in this field) sorry to offend anyone its just getting old having PSA and JSA spoon fed  to us every other day. Okay we get it, we know who likes them and who does not, to each their own.....
Comment by john reznikoff on December 21, 2010 at 11:13pm
Out of no disrespect, I did not read your very log posts....they say the same things over and over again. I get it, and have tried to appeal on many occasions to see changes made. Essentially what you are saying, ad nauseum, is that PSA is less than perfect in boxing and people should buy from you and your colleagues without question ( also advertising) yet you refuse to help or answer very simple questions about authenticity. Is it because you as the most vocal critic of third parties are terrified of making a mistake?How many names do you need to be proficient in 40,50?Your lack of response to the questions here is very telling. Regardless, no disrespect is intended and let's continue to stay away from any of the harsh words on other strings and keep it light!


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