Image Theft on the Internet
- Autograph Auction
Hardly a week goes by that we don't get complaints from collectors
and dealers about their dealing with a handful of autograph auctions.
Lately one New England auction house stands out amongst the worse
with outstanding complaints. Although we have received many complaints
about this auction house in the past, on September 10th was the
first time we received complaints from two different consignors
on the same day.
First complaint was the auction house received a very valuable
autograph album and did not auction the item. Five months or
more later the consignor contacted the auction house regarding
the sale of this item and was told that the house wanted to tear
out just one of the signatures, place it at auction and return
the rest of the album back to the consignor. What would have
happened to this album if the consignor never called?
Second complaint regards authenticity. This same auction house
claims to guarantee everything they sell at auction. They claim
to have a large staff of "autograph authenticators."
Before accepting an item for consignment, their "expert
staff" reviews each item to determine that the item is authentic
and they issue their own "Certificate of Authenticity."
In many cases another COA from a high profile company who advertises
that they authenticate autographs is also created.
One consignor to this auction house was recently told, for the
second time within a year, that an item that was sold in 1995
was being returned. The item was personally authenticated by
the owner of the auction house. The owner of this auction house
claims to be an autograph expert! The item sold in excess of
$1,000 and that the refund to the buyer will be deducted from
items the consignor has in this auction houses next sale. The
auction house refuses to tell the consignor why the item is being
A similar situation happened not long ago in 2001 with the same
consignor and auction house. It is over another big ticket item
(over $1,000) that was personally examined and authenticated
"as genuine" by the auction house. The refund was deducted
from a future check due the consignor without explanation."
What is horrifying about this story is the auction house refuses
to tell the consignor who said the item is not good or questionable
and why they accepted the return. Many questions arise from this
practice. Who was the buyer? Could it be someone associated with
the auction house who later tried to sell the item for more and
The consignor has repeatedly asked the auction house for a simple
explanation. The auction house refuses to reply.
Because of many other complaints regarding this same auction
house, Autographalert.com has attempted to contact the owner
of this high profile autograph auction house for an interview
on three different occasions. Just like the above consignor was
treated, the auction house refuses to respond to our request.
- July 29,
- How Gullible Are Autograph
Remember the days when autograph experts were really experts?
They were leaders in the autograph field, they were educators,
wrote reference books, signature studies and some even taught
Today, it appears anyone can be called an "expert."
There can be a position in a company opened for an "expert"
and that is what you instantly become if you get the job. You
get the title of "expert."
All these people running around with the title of "expert"
has become a pet peeve for many seasoned collectors and dealers
who understand the industry. However, in most cases the average
collector has been fooled to date. The spins printed by authenticating
companies can get out of control. Such an example could be: "our
latest autograph expert has handled millions of dollars of autographs."
After some investigation you may find that is absolutely true,
he worked in the shipping department of a competing company and
did handle millions of dollars of documents as he wrapped them
Another pet peeve for the experienced in this field is what's
known as "a conflict of interest".
Even some heads of authenticating companies would lead you to
believe that they feel very strongly about "authenticators"
having a conflict of interest. A perfect example would be two
email exchanges from Mr. Michael Haynes, CEO of Collectors Universe,
parent company of PSA/DNA. On April 15, 2005 in the early afternoon
Mr. Haynes sent an email and we quote in part: "...we are
satisfied that our employee-authenticators do not have a conflict
of interest, and accordingly these employee-authenticators do
not buy or sell in the industry. As you know, there are authenticators
who have a conflict of interest in that they buy and sell the
very collectibles on which they opine."
Later on that day Mr. Haynes writes another email stating in
part: "we consider it a conflict of interest for a seller
to be the authenticator because this places the seller in a position
Has anyone seen a recent Certificate of Authenticity from this
company? Five preprinted names of "experts" are listed
at the bottom of the Certificate.
Four of these five preprinted names are known for buying and
selling autographs. Roger Epperson,
specializes in Rock and Roll autographs and buys and sells under
the name of Signed, Sealed and Delivered. Next we have Bob Eaton
who travels around the United States buying autographs and selling
them through his auction house R&R Auctions with many items
in the sale that comes with a PSA/DNA Certificate of Authenticity.
Next is John Reznikoff who buys and sells autographs and related
material under the name of University Archives and www.autographalert.com
has knowledge of recent major purchases of signed items by Zach
Refer to July 29, 2005 back page ad in Sports Collectors Digest.
It appears that another new "expert" has been added
to the staff of PSA/DNA. In one part of the ad it states: "We
are proud to announce our CEO/Pres. T.J. Kaye has been chosen
by PSA/DNA as their newest consultant/authenticator..."
In another area of the same ad it states: "All Autographed
Memorabilia Guaranteed To Pass PSA/DNA....."
- July 28,
by Elwin Fraley
The History Buff
The Internet, like any other technology, has been a mixed blessing
for the autograph and manuscript field. On the one hand, dealers
can display their merchandise to the world through their web
sites without the cost, time and effort required to produce catalogs.
In addition dealers can attend' auctions anywhere without
leaving their office or home by just booting up their computer.
Further it is possible to communicate rapidly and cheaply with
clients via email and financial transactions can be kept confidential
in all respects.
But the Internet has also had a devastating effect on the economics
and the collegiality of the field. Ebay and other Internet auctions,
but mainly eBay, have eroded the price structure of most autographs
in part because the Internet has promoted the sale of large volumes
of bogus material. The resulting avalanche of low priced'
albeit counterfeit material coming on the market has given consumers
the idea that great things can be bought on the cheap'
so, for many of them, caveat emptor might just as well have been
the motto on Roman coins or the name of an extinct dinosaur.
Also, because of the net, long gone are the days of attending
auctions and trade shows where you could examine the material
and take the measure of fellow collectors, dealers and sellers
in an exciting and spirited pursuit of the dream find. Auctions
and trade shows were not only a break from the daily routine
but they were also a meeting place where information could be
exchanged and new friends were made.
Well, if the aforementioned litany is not depressing enough for
the reader there is a new net threat to autograph dealers and
that is the practice of image theft via the Internet. I was first
exposed to this when a couple of years back I was perusing the
web site of a well known and somewhat infamous west coast dealer
where I discovered three of the items on our web site were listed
on the web for sale by him at considerably higher prices. He
even plagiarized the write ups. Needless to say, after a phone
call from me, the items were taken down in less than thirty minutes.
At the time I was told by an attorney that any image that is
not already copyrighted is in the public domain' if put
on the world wide web. Therefore, such images can be taken by
anyone and used for any purpose without risk of their being sued.
I have never verified this legal opinion but have been told the
same thing by several computer experts. But the practice of other
dealers representing your material as their own is not where
image thievery ends. Just recently I received an email from a
collector who noted that the exact same Charles Dickens quote
I had on our web site was up on eBay from England and he asked,
"which one is real?" The following are the emails I
sent him in response:
Thanks for your email and for your observation. The Dickens we
had was real and it was sold several months ago to a US collector.
We moved our business in April and I am still cleaning up loose
ends on our web site and I neglected to mark the Dickens quote
$OLD which I will do today. Our Dickens had an unimpeachable
source and unless the collector resold the piece I really wonder
about the offering in England. Note that the two documents have
an entirely different appearance and the seller does not have
much of a track record. I will contact the seller in GB and pose
the question as to his source for his item. I will give you a
I followed up on the two Dickens pieces. The one we sold is still
in hand of our collector. Based on a conversation I had with
another leading US dealer there is someone in England stealing
images off the web, printing them and selling them as originals.
In fact it happened to him. Draw your own conclusions. I wrote
the eBay seller about his piece and received no answer. I cannot
really do more. eBay does almost nothing about these matters
in my experience and the seller on ebay has little track record
and is unknown to me. We know our Dickens was genuine and we
know where it is-that is all I can say. This incident certainly
explains why buying on eBay is caveat emptor IN SPADES.
In any event, law suits are a waste of time and resources in
most instances so the question is what is the most practical
way to protect a dealer's images on the web.
Fortunately, there is a simple
technique called watermarking' whereby a software that
is familiar to most dealers or their webmasters called PhotoShop
(Adobe) allows you to type a watermark' (we use our web
address) on a jpg image. We use PhotoShop 6.0 but the 7.0 version
is now available and there is a PhotoShop Dummy book in print
for both 6.0 or 7.0 that illustrates watermarking'. It
is really a simple technique that can be learned in a few minutes.
We have decided henceforth to watermark' every image that
we put up on the web using our web site address as the watermark.'
We started out using the name of our company as our watermark'
but switched to the web site address because we thought, as long
as we had to do the work, it was better advertising. Although
it was a daunting task to go back and watermark' all of
the images on our web site but we believe it was well worth such
effort to protect our property.
I do not have the expertise to know whether committed thieves
can find a way to circumvent or remove said watermarks'
but technical experts on software assure me that it would be
almost impossible to do so. They claim that their opinion is
based on the science of a jpg image that is stored as a mathematical
equation in a single layer.'
Every dealer who has a web site or who lists on eBay knows how
to create and manipulate images for the net. It is no great technical
feat to add a watermark' as described herein. But anyone
with questions about some of the nuances of watermarking'
should contact me because I would be more than happy to share
what I know about the technique. There are multiple examples
of watermarked' images on our web site--- http://www.ehistorybuff.com.
- July 25,
- The Utmost
When one thought every possible mistake in authenticating has
been made by the authenticating "experts," Jim Caravello
tells how PSA/DNA has authenticated what is now known as "The
In the past these authenticators, whose printed signatures appear
on PSA/DNA Letters of Authenticity (names mentioned below) have
authenticated "as genuine" printed signatures, machine
signatures and on more than one occasion have described and authenticated
the wrong person. Another recent blunder was running full page
ads for the company with one signature illustrated and that was
a machine signed signature of Bill Clinton. PSA/DNA was notified
of this inexcusable mistake and those ads were stopped. Not long
ago an entire handwritten item by a modern United States President
(which was a complete forgery) was passed "as genuine"
by these same expert. Matter of fact the owner was not happy
with the poorly worded original PSA/DNA Certificate and asked
for a new certificate. The "experts" at PSA/DNA asked
the collector to return the original certificate along with the
item for reexamination. PSA/DNA reissued a new certificate with
a more appropriate description however still after reviewing
the same item a second time failed to realize the item was a
forgery. The owner of this very valuable piece has since received
a Letter of Examination from another authenticating company stating
the item is clearly a forgery as he has received a refund. There
is much more devastating news to this story but that's for another
This latest embarrassment refers to a PSA/DNA Letter of Authenticity
made specifically for an April 2005 auction sale of an Ernie
Banks Game-Used bat. This Letter of Authenticity clearly states:
"This item has been examined by one or more PSA/DNA experts.
On behalf of Collectors Universe, it is our considered opinion,
that the signature(s) is/are genuine. Yours In Signatures, (signed
with an unidentifiable signature).
Now read what Jim Caravello has to say.
"I recently won the Ernie Banks Game-Used bat in the American
Memorabilia Auction from the 50's. The bat I purchased is unsigned
- the way I like my gamers. Its an incredible piece of wood and
I couldn't have been happier in winning the auction. It had a
COA from Taube and Malta, game used examiners. Then I received
a letter from American Memorabilia with another COA on the bat
- this one from PSA/DNA authenticating the autograph on my Ernie
Banks bat! What autograph! I pulled the bat down from my rack
again - there is no auto. I checked the auction catalog again
and it didn't mention it was autographed. The bat has no autograph
yet I have a full COA from PSA/DNA on the autograph on the bat!!!
What a joke! I guess if I sign the bat, the autograph is real?!?!?!
It appears PSA/DNA's "experts" can now authenticate
an invisible autograph. One response from a high profile autograph
professional regarding this issue was: "Well it will be
hard to prove an invisible signature is fake! No disproving the
incorrect lettering of a signature on an invisible one. They
The printed signatures of the PSA/DNA "experts" that
appear on the bottom of the Letter of Authenticity are: Bob Eaton,
Roger Epperson, Steve Grad, John Reznikoff, Zack Rullo.
For additional information about this and more about PSA/DNA
go to: www.gameusedforum.com Game used Memorabilia Discussion
Section posted on July 16.
- July 18,
- Legendary Hollywood Celebrity
R&R Enterprises Autograph Auctions and Other UACC Members
For Selling Forgeries Of His Signature!
- Anthony Daniels, known worldwide
as C-3PO from the Star Wars saga, has taken up the fight,
on his website, against those who he claims sells forgeries of
Daniels played the part of C-3PO in Star Wars and had
parts in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the
Jedi. Mr. Daniels also appeared in a San Diego U.S. Federal
Court along with Steve Koschal as expert witnesses representing
The United States of America and the F.B.I. regarding forgeries
of Daniels signature as well as many others. Their testimonies
in this 12 member jury case, helped land the forger in a federal
prison for three years.
R & R Enterprises owner, Bob Eaton, in his latest auction
catalog claims to take authentication to the next level. He is
a member of the PSA/DNA Authentication team and his "printed"
signature appears on PSA/DNA Certificates of Authenticity as
one of their autograph authenticators.
For more information click onto Anthony Daniels website:
- July 14,
- New FDR
For those collectors and dealers who are interested in Presidential
autographs, a new signature study has been published on the autograph
of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
www.autographalert.com wants to thank Markus Brandes, Rolf Ramseier
and Andreas Wiemer of Germany for putting this study together
and for sharing this information with the International Autograph
Community. The study can be found by clinking onto the link:
- July 11,
DANIELS VS. MASTRONET
In the December 2004 Mastronet
Auction, long time hobbyist and show promoter Bill Daniels won
lot 2322, which was advertised as over 2,000 8x10 autographed
photos authenticated by PSA/DNA with Letters of Authenticity.
When his package arrived, upon
inspection he found that the advertised "mother lode of
autographed 8x10 color photos average nm/mt 9-10 signatures"
-- Translation: condition on a scale of 1-10 condition is 9-10
and photos are near mint to mint -- was not to be.
Over 80 percent of the photos
were damaged, more than 50 autographs were smeared and the photos
in lesser sizes than 8x10. The photos were shipped in a box with
no packing protection.
Daniels had big questions for
It has since turned up that PSA/DNA
did not view each item, did not tag each item with their serial
numbers or DNA, did not photograph or catalog each item or issue
full letters of authenticity. PSA/DNA has released a statement
that "the items are presented for a cursory review only
prior to the sale. In addition, PSA/DNA Auction Letters contain
text written by the auction house, not PSA/DNA."
Daniels has retained a lawyer
in this matter. In addition, Ohio attorney Barbara Smith is advertising
weekly in trade publications for Ohio residents who have purchased
items through auction houses with PSA/DNA certificates and doubt
authenticity to contact her.
- July 4,
- U.S. Presidential
Someone, once well known in the autograph community was very
adept at forging the signatures of modern presidents of the United
States. If asked, he would with ease, write out the signatures
of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.
Herman Darvick, elementary school teacher and former President
of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC) wrote the presidential
signatures illustrated below during a UACC New York City autograph
show years ago.
Nixon signature with four word sentiment written by Darvick
Gerald R. Ford signature written by Darvick
- Jimmy Carter
signature written by Darvick
exposes these forgeries as examples may be in collections or
appear in dealer and auction catalogs. One can now identify the
style of these forgeries by using the above as exemplars.
Not only was Mr. Darvick capable of signing the names of modern
presidents, he also wrote out short notes which appeared to be
in the president's hand. One of his favorites was:
Dear Lee (Harvey Oswald)
Will Be in Dallas Friday.
Remember our deal!
Lyndon B. Johnson
- Making matters worse,
in 1981, Herman Darvick wrote an autograph reference book. A
96 page beginners guide. The following illustration is a partial
inscription by Herman Darvick in one of his books. He admits
that two of the illustrations in his book were actually signed
by him. In this inscription he clearly believes that the signatures
he signed are so good "you will never be able to guess
which autographs in this book were actually signed by me."
exposes these forgeries as examples may have worked their way
into collections or can appear in future dealer and auction catalogs.
We have attempted to call Mr. Herman Darvick at his Rockville
Center, New York home, but our calls were not returned.