The market for autographed sports memorabilia is massive. In 2007, the sports memorabilia industry took in an estimated $2 billion – and that number has grown even gaudier over the past three years.
For collectors paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for sports memorabilia, an item’s authenticity is of primary concern. The industry’s leading autograph authenticator, PSA/DNA, recently claimed that only 33 percent of more than 10,000 Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan autographs it scrutinized were real – just one example of the ease to which non reputable sellers can slip fraudulent items into the market.
In assigning the value of a sports memorabilia certificate of authenticity, some in the industry can’t help but think of the scene in Tommy Boy when Chris Farley’s character attempts to undermine a competitor’s written product guarantee:
Tommy: Why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm, very interesting. Here’s the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ’cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.
Customer: Yeah, makes a man feel good.
Tommy: ‘Course it does. Why shouldn’t it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?
Customer: What’s your point?
Tommy: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn’t a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy; well, we’re not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that’s all it takes. The next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser, and your daughter’s knocked up. I’ve seen it a hundred times.
Glue sniffing aside, there is no guarantee sports memorabilia accompanied by a letter of authenticity is legit, and one should not assume that memorabilia lacking a certificate is fraudulent. That said, a certificate of authenticity for a sports collectible – be it an autographed baseball, signed football jersey or pair of game-worn soccer cleats – holds an important place in the sports memorabilia market ecosystem.
Casual and professional sports memorabilia collectors factoring in the role a certificate of authenticity can play should take into account the following:
Consider the source
Earlier this summer, the former minor league team (Harrisburg Senators) of Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg held an auction that included a pair of Strasburg game-worn, autographed cleats. The cleats were accompanied by a letter of authenticity from the Harrisburg Senators Baseball Club – a credible league organization whose letter holds meaningful weight relative to lesser-known or established authenticators.
Another example is eTopps – a service of Topps – which provides limited edition autographed cards accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). The COA has the sticker number associated with the particular card autographed. In both of these examples the COAs and LOAs come from reputable organizations for which the purchaser has at least some means to communicate with employees and staffers. In other words, the source is important. COAs and LOAs from firms with less brand credibility, or ones that provide limited means for communication (PO Box address, lack of phone number) should serve as a red flag to collectors.
Just because eBay is legit, not all of its sellers are
eBay takes fraud very seriously, and has poured significant resources and funds into doing everything it can to protect honest buyers and sellers. But on eBay – as with any e-commerce site – those motivated to act in a criminal manner will do so. Sports collectors who buy items on eBay that include a Certificate of Authenticity should not automatically assume an item – or Certificate – is legitimate. As mentioned above, carefully examine the seller providing the certificate, because it is possible for sellers to fabricate these Certificates. At the same time, understand that a seller’s positive reviews are most likely for its diligence in mailing an item and ‘customer service’, and should not serve as assurance the items it ships are authentic.
Understand Benefits, Limits of a Sports Memorabilia Certificate of Authenticity
Certificates of Authenticity may accompany an item purchased on eBay or other online sites or, alternatively, fans and collectors can submit autographs, photos, etc. to an authentication service such as PSA|DNA. These services employ signature and authentication experts that will examine, for a fee, submitted items and provide Letters of Authenticity if the autograph is deemed authentic. Services like PSA|DNA guarantee major auction houses (Christie’s, Mastro Fine Sport, Grey Flannel, Hunt Auctions, etc.) will accept items accompanies by their Letters of Authenticity or will provide a refund.