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In the News, July- September, 2005

 
Breaking News:
September 12, 2005
 
Autograph Auction Madness

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 returned!!!!

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 couldn't?

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.


 
Breaking News:
July 29, 2005
 
How Gullible Are Autograph Collectors????

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 educational courses.

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 for shipping.

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 of bias..."

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 Rullo.

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....."

Enough said!

 
Breaking News:
July 28, 2005
 

Image Theft on the Internet

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:

Email #1

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 follow up.

Email #2

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.




Breaking News:

July 25, 2005
 
 
The Utmost PSA/DNA Embarrassment

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 Invisible Signature."

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 time.

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 got us!"

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.

 
 
Breaking News:
July 18, 2005
 
Legendary Hollywood Celebrity Exposes
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 his signature.

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:

www.anthonydaniels.com/darkside/index.html
 

Breaking News:
July 14, 2005
 
New FDR Signature Study

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: www.IsItReal.com

 
Breaking News:
July 11, 2005
 

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 Mastronet.

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.


 
 
Breaking News:
July 4, 2005
 
 
U.S. Presidential Forgeries Unveiled


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.




Richard Nixon signature with four word sentiment written by Darvick


Gerald R. Ford signature written by Darvick


Jimmy Carter signature written by Darvick

Autographalert.com 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:

            11-20-63
            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."
 
Autographalert.com 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.

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