Certificates of Authenticity

Many people think that there is some agency regulating such certificates and that they are as reliable as a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. This impression is fostered by the worst people in the field, who use authenticity certificates or letters as a marketing tool. It is false; issuance of certificates is not regulated in any way. Anyone can make up certificates with fancy engraved lettering and bright gold seals, and they can swear every which way that the items are real, but that leaves you nowhere if the person doesn’t have expertise and integrity. Certificates, like guarantees, are worth no more than the dealer who issues them. Be suspicious if an autograph is sold by pumping its certificate of authenticity as much if not more than the autograph, as that is a sure sign of trouble. Be aware that a number of forgers work hand in glove with certain persons who claim to be forensic experts and who provide certificates of authenticity for the questionable items the dealers peddle.

The more people tell you about how much trouble they went to having an autograph authenticated, the less you can believe it. One person claimed to have “spared no expense” to authenticate a signature of Grover Cleveland, worth maybe $150 at best, which was as phony as a three dollar bill.  And the more apologies a person makes about his or her autograph (I think it is good but can’t be positive; my grandmother told me she thinks my grandfather got it in person; we found this in my aunt’s husband’s sister’s attic), the more the chances are they know it’s no good.

We once had occasion to go into an “autograph boutique” shop. Virtually all their entertainment signed photographs were forgeries, and some came with certificates of authenticity not from the shop itself, but from the dealer from whom they were purchased. This is similar to the auction practice of having third parties expertise their offerings and provide certificates. A good rule of thumb might be that the more certificates an item comes with, and the more the sales presentation relies on certificates, the less chance it is authentic.

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