Autograph Authentication: Where to Get Autographs Authenticated...and More March 12 2021
Autograph authentication is an integral part of the autograph collector’s journey in building a fine collection of signed memorabilia. Whether you have purchased an autograph or had it signed in front of you, it may be important to get it authenticated as it provides solid third party verification of its status as a “real” signed piece, as well as increasing its monetary value.
Other collectors look for authentications to know they
are looking at legitimate autographs, and as such will pay extra money for the certification. Without verification from a trusted source and their invoice or Certificate of Authenticity or both, you might find yourself inadvertently devaluing your collection, which if you come to eventually sell, end up getting less for the many dollars you spent.
For some collectors, getting proof from independent companies is the absolute most important thing when it comes time to buying or selling, especially as how easy it is to fake certain signatures these days. With printers able to recreate a perfect scan in any kind of ink style as well as artificial ageing processes for the paper or whatever medium its signed to, autograph authentication could be a must if you don´t trust your seller.
So where is the best place to get your autographs authenticated? Autograph authentication is best carried out by well known and established autograph authenticators such as PSA Authentication and Grading Services, Beckett Authentication Services, and JSA (James Spence Authentication).
Keep in mind that - according to research published in professional autograph collecting magazines - autograph authentication companies offer, at best, up to 60% accuracy in their results.
Note well that these businesses have a role distinct from the work and responsibility of an autograph dealer: whilst many dealers do of course have a high level of expertise and experience of evaluating an item’s genuineness, it is autograph authenticators and their place as an independent party outside of the buy/sell process who are fully dedicated to authenticity as a business.
This is like car dealers and those that repair cars, both are in the car business, but one sells cars, while the others offer a service related. Well, in a similar fashion you have autograph dealers and autograph authentication services. Some dealers also offer paid authentications, but most don´t.
Although it is important to say, this does not necessarily mean they are the best source and the last word on that.
There are certainly dozens of autograph authentication companies in existence today. From forensic document examiners to so-called handwriting experts, to corporate institutions and others that claim to use state-of-the-art technology with fancy-sounding names like Color Spectral Deconvolution or Video Spectral Comparator. As such, the autograph authentication choices available to a collector as well as the process itself can get a little confusing, so in today’s article we’ll explain the key things autograph collectors need to know about autograph authentication.
FOR AUTOGRAPH AUTHENTICATION in PERSON, read below under EVENTS.
What is autograph authentication?
Autograph authentication is a paid-for service utilizing a multi-step process that includes examination and analysis of ink and medium, evaluation of the object, side-by-side signature comparison, a structural analysis, tagging and certifying.
After a comprehensive analysis, autograph authenticators will provide their opinion on whether an autograph is authentic or fake, and give you a letter of authenticity (LoA) or certificate of Authenticity (CoA) to formalize their verdict.
How to get an autograph authenticated?
As a client, the process begins with completing a submission form, either filled out in person or online. This form allows the authenticator to take possession of the item and properly authenticate it, leading to the first stage in the autograph authentication process: examination and research.
There are also “quick opinion” services at a lower cost - some professional authentication companies offer these services - where you only upload a scan of the item in question, you do not send it.
The first thing an authenticator will look to establish is the date of the item. It’s important to determine the supposed era of the autograph since a person’s handwriting evolves over time. For example, a Babe Ruth signature from 1920 will look very different to one signed at the latter end of his lifetime in 1948.
Authenticators will be on the lookout for other elements
to back up the piece’s providence, such as the fact that older inks tend to have acid that actually etches the paper over time - thus one must look to see if such an etching is present.
Equally, modern paper deteriorates quickly over time and becomes more brittle, so again, an authenticator will see if the paper’s condition is justified for the time the signature was supposedly applied. If the signed object is a piece of memorabilia like a ball, bat, jersey or other equipment, more technical and complicated methods may be involved to properly age the item with the signature.
In addition to their dating techniques, authenticators will also use various equipment to examine the item in more detail. High magnification loupes (essentially professional magnifying glasses) determine if the ink is “live” i.e. hand signed rather than done by an autopen or a facsimile (printed, part of the image if it is a photo).
This is especially common in the knock-off market today where the internet is flooded with inkjet laser printed items being sold as “authentic” or labeled as “RP”, which means they are reproductions of autographed photos, without clarifying what RP means.
Fakes can be difficult to detect unless an authenticator has them in hand and put under a lit-loupe where they can see the printer’s dot matrix around the autograph. Color Spectral Deconvolution can also be used, which helps separate an autograph from the colour of the background, allowing for a more detailed analysis, as well as Video Spectral Comparator Analysis, that reveals erasures, detects different ink types and shows up masked signatures that might otherwise be hidden.
Having confirmed the date of the piece and the fact it has been signed with “live ink”, there will be an intense handwriting analysis, research where the autograph will be compared and contrasted to an exemplar autograph database containing a huge library of noted celebrities and persons on interest in chronological order, as well as examples of facsimiles and fakes.
Once your item has been through this process, you will receive a certificate of authenticity (COA). There are two types of COA you can get to prove an item’s authenticity. One is your basic certificate that’s usually appropriate for inexpensive items. It will come with a unique certification number, and your item will have a sticker with that number on it.
You might choose to have a Letter of Authenticity (LOA) instead, which is an upgraded (and hence costlier) version of your basic certificate, featuring more details specific to the item and images.
Collectors tend to choose this option for more expensive items, and indeed some authenticators will only have this choice available for items over a certain threshold (e.g. JSA insist on a Letter of Authenticity for items valued at more than $200). With the Letter of Authenticity you will get the option of having the sticker on your item or just on the letter of authenticity. LOA’s will also have a photo of the item on the letter as additional evidence of your piece’s authenticity.
If your item is not authentic you will receive a one page form outlining some of the reasons why your item was not authenticated, including reasons such as inconsistencies with the slant, flow or pressure of the pen.
The result will either say it was not an authentic item or that the professional is unclear about its status. If the result is deemed inconclusive, you will usually be issued with store credit.
Your item will be tagged once the authentication process is complete. As mentioned above, either your item or the Letter of Authenticity will be tagged with a sticker that is usually a foil hologram label and is also tamper-resistant.
This label will have a serial number which is then entered into a database for future identification, which you can access easily online too, on the authenticator’s website.
Important companies in autograph authentication
In the US there are three authentication services with a particularly higher reputation. They are:
PSA Authentication and Grading Services
Beckett Authentication Services
JSA (James Spence Authentication)
There are also professional sport authenticator companies and individuals, many of them unfortunately would take an autograph of a celebrity in another area that is not their expertise and issue a letter with a verdict. This is why we narrowed down to the above 3, which, in our opinion, offer more reputable services.
So how do you decide out of these three which to use? There are a few factors at play. The first could be based off your location. PSA is based out of California, Beckett is based out of Dallas, Texas, and JSA has two locations in New Jersey and Florida. So if you live nearby, one might be a better option over the other. Of course you do have the option with each of these service-providers to pack and ship your items to them. Each authenticator has its own shipping guidelines on their site, but essentially involves packing your item securely enough that no external damage comes to it, but not so tight that you inadvertently damage it yourself.
It is very important to note that a very large number of autograph dealers and auction houses do not consider authentication companies in general as accurate and reliable services, hence do not accept their judgement about their inventory. Do not be surprised if they are only 60% accurate at best. This is a highly controversial point and opinions vary from one person to another, and there are many different business interests in play.
In our experience we have had cases of great, accurate results but also autographs we obtained in person that were labeled by authenticators as fakes, while known fakes that were certified as authentic. Inaccuracy is high and you never know who did the actual authentication work, if it was done by a real expert, or an assistant and the expert just signed the certificate (most likely).
Opinions and comments aside, let’s look into the various services these three heavy-hitters of the industry offer.
Services on offer
Authentication - ALL
The authentication service will be similar between the three companies, but PSA has authenticated far more autographs than JSA and Beckett, at some 35 million collectibles. You need to keep in mind that PSA items will many times tend to fetch a higher resale value, so that might be something to consider also.
Pricing: authentication fees will depend on how many items you’re getting certified (with discounts for bulk orders), as well as who the signer is.
The fees vary within similar ranges:
Basic Certification/Letter of Authenticity:
PSA: Items with an authentication price lower than $50 will be issued with a small Certificate of Authenticity, with upgrades to a Premium Letter of Authenticity at an additional $15. These premium LOA’s are available for +$50 items for no extra cost.
Beckett: As per PSA! I.e. Items with authentication price lower than $50 will be issued with a small Certificate of Authenticity, with upgrades to a Premium Letter of Authenticity at an additional $15. These premium LOA’s are available for +$50 items for no extra cost.
Encapsulation - ALL
It used to be the case that only PSA offered this service, but now Beckett and JSA have added this to their roster of available services. Encapsulation preserves your autographs from the elements with a hard plastic case to ensure protection from most damage.
Moreover, they are usually tamper-evident, and sonically sealed so that you and others know it has remained unopened since authentication and remains in the best condition possible. It’s important to note that not all items can be encapsulated as your autograph has to be able to fit in the holders available. In addition to the ordinary plastic cases supplied, PSA has special Funko POP! Holders to add extra flare to your prized autograph.
Encapsulation also means you are not in need of the Letter of Authenticity as the details of authenticity, serial number and other item information are on the plastic case. Collectors can choose to have both encapsulation and LOA but this will incur an extra charge.
PSA: For items with an authentication fee of $50 or more, this service is free. For those under, encapsulation is only $10 (additional Certificate/Letter of Authority +$10).
Beckett: $30 (additional Certificate/Letter of Authority +$10)
JSA: $40 (additional Certificate/Letter of Authority +$10)
Grading - ALL
All companies offer autograph grading. Once a celebrity autograph is authenticated it can then be "graded" on its condition on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest quality. This looks at the item’s contrast, strength of signature, autograph placement, streaking-smudging, creasing, stains, and tears in the item. The amount of the grading fee depends on the piece’s authentication price.
PSA: from $10-$50
Becket: from $10-$50
JSA: from $25-$100
Quick Opinion (PSA)/Beckett Signature Review/First Look (JSA - "coming soon”)
If you’re purchasing an autograph online and are after a preliminary review/opinion of a professional PSA, Beckett and JSA all offer such a service. Of course authenticity cannot be guaranteed, but it might give you more confidence and peace of mind with the transaction. This usually involves sending an Ebay Auction URL or scan of the item, and for $10 you will be told if it is “likely genuine” or not.
Fast opinion/quick authentication is a good option for pre-purchases of autographs online if you have no idea. And some people stay with just this.
For example, AutographCOA.com, a rather new company in the autograph authentication services, has certified 100,000+ autographed items in just 2 years, and about 65% of them has been inspected in person while the rest has been inspected only on scans. This means that about one third of requests do not proceed to full authentication and stay with quick opinion.
Anti-Counterfeiting (PSA Only)
PSA have a unique anti-counterfeiting service that provides additional assurance to collectors and buyers alike: once an autograph is noted as genuine, the item is marked with invisible ink that contains a “synthetic DNA sequence specific to PSA”. Along with this sequence you will also be provided with a corresponding alphanumeric serial number.
Pricing: on request
Personal Statement of Final Wishes (JSA)
Collections can be a deeply treasured part of a person’s life, and when it comes to their passing, it’s only appropriate that an expert should be on hand to guide the departed’s estate on how best to properly distribute the property. JSA offers this “Personal Statement of Final Wishes”, a consulting service that provides guidance on fair market value and authenticity. They remain as autograph authenticators only during this process, so that you know you are dealing with a neutral third party and no conflicts of interest.
Pricing: on request
House Calls (JSA)
If you have a collection that is difficult to transport or might be too confidential/valuable to remove from its place of storage, JSA will come out to you home, office and warehouse and bring their authentication services to you.
Pricing: minimum $2,500, not inclusive of travel and hotel accommodations (if needed).
It might be the case that either you don’t want to ship your item to an authenticator, or that their location is not in the immediate proximity. Despite that, PSA, Beckett and JSA all attend events and autograph roadshows across the country, meaning wherever you are in the USA, there’s a good chance that one of them will be near you soon.
At any given time, both JSA and Beckett have dozens if not hundreds of upcoming events all across the USA.
Our Final Thoughts - Directions to Take
As you can see there is much to think about when it
comes to getting your autograph collection properly certified and authenticated. Whilst there might seem a lot, it is certainly well worth the time and expense to get it done properly and with a reputable authenticator.
Autograph dealers guarantee authenticity, and professionals are usually very knowledgeable and experienced in the skills needed to authenticate their own autograph offers, but they rarely do authentications as a separate, independent service for the items they do not own themselves. Their invoices, CoAs and opinion is backed by their reputation - something that means everything in this business - so the vast majority of those who buy autographs from reputable dealers do not require anything else besides a printed invoice - and they do not need more than that.
When choosing an autograph authentication service, keep in mind a couple of important factors
- The number of autographs the authenticators have in their databases is key to their success, so is the quality. In consequence, companies that obtain autographs in person tend to have very good databases for modern autographs (which nowadays are the majority of authentication requests these companies receive). This is something you need to look for if you have a modern autograph you want authenticated.
- Look also to the type of autograph category their expertise is in. Do they mostly show sports autographs as examples in their websites? or do they show mostly film and entertainment? Ask them. All that will give you some clue about what their expertise is and who is right for your current needs.
Keeping in mind all the above will certainly help those who need authentication services - professional authentication by independent companies fully dedicated to that aspect of the business.
Keep also in mind that experience and research has shown that their average accuracy is lower than two-thirds of their delivered results, so expect authentic autographs being rejected and (less likely) fake items being declared authentic.