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Chapter V: COA’s, Certificates of Authenticity
As mentioned above, should you have chosen a professional dealer who you have thoroughly checked, you can start purchasing autographs. Remember your bill of sale is all that you will need for proof of purchase should you need to return the item at a later date.

COA’s (Certificates of Authenticity) are generally worthless pieces of paper and have become the joke in the industry. One should be very cautious of a seller who supplies a COA from another party. Most “professional” autograph dealers do not and will not issue a COA. They know their bill of sale is the only legal document that counts. Several years ago a few companies were created that claimed they are capable of authenticating autographs. Most created “instant autograph experts” that no one ever heard of. These companies were disasters for the autograph industry. Some of them were simply mass producing COA’s for a fee and attaching one to everything sent to them. Luckily a few of these companies were exposed and are no longer in business. Unfortunately the garbage they authenticated “as genuine” along with their COA’s occasionally will still appear at auction. There are still a few companies in existence who claim to authenticate autographs. It appears more are getting into the autograph authenticating business. News has spread that you don’t have to know a thing about autographs to offer an opinion, making a fast buck from an uneducated collector. The good news is many autograph dealers will not issue a refund based on a guess from one of these third party authenticating companies. Most of these third party authenticators hire unknown persons and give them a title, thus countless mistakes are made. Not one of these companies will come forth and explain why their so called “experts” still can’t tell ink from a pen from a preprinted signature. Every one of these authenticating companies have authenticated as genuine “rubber stamped signatures,” “preprinted signatures,” “secretarial signatures” and “machine signed” signatures. They have even authenticated the wrong person. The autograph market is inundated with forgeries authenticated “as genuine” by these autograph authenticating companies. At one time, I did everything I could to find out the background of a so called autograph authenticator with a high profile company. Even several written requests to the CEO of the company for this information went unanswered. You have to wonder why they want to hide this information! From my experience if you see someone attempting to authenticate autographs and they claim to be a forensic examiner, it’s best to avoid this person. My rule of thumb is, if an autograph comes with a COA from any authenticating company, that signature needs to be reexamined by a professional autograph dealer. Their may be only one exception to this rule!

You may have an autograph that came with a COA from an authenticating company and later when you go to sell it, discover the signature is not genuine. Try to get the name of the so called “expert” at the authenticating company who made the mistake. Nearly impossible. Companies don’t authenticate, people do!

If for some reason you are in a bind and have no recourse but to spend your money with an authenticating company first find out who will examine your autograph. Get the name of the person. The company is willing to take your hard earned dollars, you should be able to speak with the authenticator for a few moments. Don’t ever settle for the standard answer “he’s too busy to come out from behind the curtain.” If you are one of the few who actually meet one of these authenticators a good question to ask is where did you get your autograph education? Of the fourteen autograph educational courses given over a period of years how many did you attend? Now wait and listen to their song and dance! Observe how they will try to avoid answering the question and state something along the lines that they are self educated. There is almost nothing positive and convincing that they can say which is the truth. This is why it is so difficult to get someone who claims to be an autograph authenticator to talk to an educated collector. The few attempts some Autograph authenticators have made fools of themselves in the few attempts they made on a live news program. They have authenticated forgeries as genuine which were produced by the employees of the news station.

Some companies who claim to authenticate autographs print a list of names near the bottom of their Certificates of Authenticity. You assume the whole list approved the autograph. Not so, not even close! Many of those listed simply allow there names to be printed on the certificate for publicity. There are some cases where for years some names on the certificate were never asked for an opinion. There was even one case where a name was put on the certificate without the persons knowledge. That case ended up in court. I attended a sports show where a collector who had his ball signed “in person” for some reason thought it was wise to spend money and get a COA for his ball. He went to one of the high profile authenticating companies at the show and for a fee of $150, the signature on the ball was determined to be not authentic. He came to me very upset asking how could this happen and what can he now do about it as the company refused to give him a refund for their mistake. I told him to go back to the booth and ask who made the decision the signature was not genuine. Moments later he came back and said the president of the authenticating company said every authenticator whose name is listed on the bottom of the COA said “NO GOOD.” The authenticators could not come out as they were ALL behind the curtain authenticating. I knew for a fact only two people whose names appeared on the COA were in attendance. On the next workday I called one of the “authenticators” whose name appears on the COA who I knew wasn’t within several hundred miles of the show. I told him that the president of the high profile authenticating company said he was behind the curtain all day Saturday. Are you ready for this “spin?” The authenticator told me that “technically” he was behind the curtain as he could have been made available by phone or email.

As for the need of a second opinion on a signature be just as careful when making your choice of who authenticates as you did when choosing a dealer. For example the largest collection of forgeries in the history of our hobby sold for 7 million dollars not long ago. About 140 investors were duped buying documents and letters referring to Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy. There was one main authenticator who authenticated most of the items as genuine and was dealing directly with the forger. The forger went to prison. This seller of autographs is still authenticating in our industry. He is not only on the staff of a few authenticating companies but is also one of the authenticators for an autograph organization. Just another reason why you must do your homework before choosing a dealer. This autograph/authentication scandal dwarfed the Mormon Forgery by Mark Hoffman during the 1980's which sales only yielded approximately 3 million dollars.

Many professional autograph dealers and auction houses will not issue a refund based on an “opinion” from an authenticating company. Recently one major auction house printed the following statement in the rules section of their auction catalog. “Auctioneer does not warrant authenticity of any material that is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity, or its equivalent......” So much for the confidence in these companies.

Chapter VI: Correcting the problems with COA’s and 3rd Party Autograph Authenticating Companies (Continued)