How to buy authentic autographs on eBay (or any internet retail site).
Autograph collecting can be fun and rewarding for everyone if a few simple precautions are taken.
Be sure to read this guide and spend some time educating yourself before bidding. Ebay does not police sellers very well and as a result forgers are all over eBay. Ebay told me it's like they have a garden hose and they have to use it to put out a raging forest fire.
You cannot simply login to eBay, search for a signed item by your favorite star, buy it and get an authentic item. If you do not know who to trust you will buy a forgery.
Do you really want to spend your money to buy an item that later will be worthless? Of course not!
Time to Educate Yourself:
1. READ THE AUCTION DESCRIPTION COMPLETELY
Make sure that the autograph isn't being described as a preprint, reprint or copy. There are MANY sellers of these illegal duplications on eBay. Unfortunately, eBay wants money so they allow this illegal junk to be listed (sadly, I see this junk on Amazon, eBid and Bonanza as well).
Improve your search results by omitting results that include pre-printed autographs (which you do not want to buy):
When you search on eBay (or any most any site) be sure to use modified searches and use the dash to remove unwanted results:
-rp -pp -reprint -preprint -print -rpnt -copy
The minus sign omits the results including the word after it and be sure to make sure you clear the box that states search 'title and description' because many legitimate dealers state that they do not sell reprints in their item descriptions and this search would then exclude them from the results as well.
A Johnny Depp search example:
johnny depp signed photo -rp -pp -reprint -preprint -print -rpnt -copy
We also recommend changing the 'sort by' field from 'Best Match' to ending first or highest price or lowest price with shipping. Otherwise you will miss out on really great items from sellers that are not Top Rated sellers.
This is how we search anytime autographs are involved. Some preprints will still show up (just a few from sellers who try to trick buyers) but try a search with and without the string and see the difference. It will be dramatic!
Search Google for autograph collecting web sites. Ask them lots of questions. Buy a book or two on autograph collecting. Buy a few books on autograph authentication. The worst place to try and educate yourself on authentic autographs would be eBay.
Update: be careful with some of the popular autograph collecting websites. Many of the members act like they are experts but in reality have no idea what they are doing. If anyone gives you an opinion about an autograph be sure to ask them for VERY specific details as to why they think it is authentic or not authentic.
3. DON'T RELY ON A COA
They NEVER prove an item is authentic (almost everybody who sells autographs (authentic or not) issues a COA.
There are a few exceptions to this rule- GA, JSA and PSA/DNA COAs' provide proof that the item is most likely genuine. They have thoroughly examined the item and compared it to their in-person database thereby weeding out most bad stuff. We know the authenticators make mistakes but the odds are better that a certified item is authentic in most instances.
Make sure any COA has the sellers full name, address and all contact details including phone number.
Also, never make a buying decision solely based on a COA or guarantee. You must assume that a dealers COA or authenticity guarantee will not be honored post sale. An exception is a trusted dealer especially those that are AFTAL Approved Dealers. AFTAL Approved Dealers must honor their promise.
Also, it is best to avoid any seller who puts a time limit on authenticity claims. The only acceptable time limit is NONE.
4. GET TO KNOW THE SELLER AND WATCH FOR SUSPECT PATTERNS
Check the seller's feedback and history on eBay. Check out their current and completed items. Are they constantly listing high profile and very rare autographs every week? Look at the autographs. Are the signatures unique or do they all seem to look very similar? It is very obvious when the same 'hand' has signed most of the items.
Keep and eye on the sellers inventory and watch for things such as similar handwriting on most or all of the items or the slant or pen pressure is always the same or they use the same pen for all the items. There is this one forger I watch on eBay and the idiot must only have one sharpie- everything he sells is signed with the same worn out pen. It would be funny if it wasn't illegal.
The best guarantee a buyer has for autographs is the credibility and experience of the dealer and the probability of the dealer being in business in the future.
Stay away from sellers who state they obtain their autographs from celebrities agents or managers. That is complete rubbish. Autographs are not obtained that way and you would be surprised how many agents and managers become angered when you ask for an autograph in-person (one exception is of course MAJOR charities especially those endorsed by that specific celebrity).
5. ASK QUESTIONS
Do ask questions before you buy. However, do not ask a seller if the item you wish to purchase is genuine. What seller is going to say no? Plus, now the seller knows that you have no idea what you are doing and will enjoy taking advantage of such an easy target. You also should not ask when and were was it signed as any forger can just look that information up on Google.
An honest seller will have nothing to hide and will not get defensive and happily answer your questions. It might be good to ask about the sellers background, where he collects or purchases the autographs from and etc.
I sometimes contact sellers of forgeries to see what they will say about the fake items they sell and the stories about how they obtained their forgeries are often amazing.
6. DON'T USE FEEDBACK SCORES TO DETERMINE AUTHENTICITY
It has come to our attention that some novice autograph buyers determine if they can trust that a sellers items are authentic based solely on their feedback score. Please do not do this. Many sellers of forgeries have perfect feedback. The collectors who know authentic autographs are not going to buy from the forgers and thus they will receive no feedback warning you of their dubious practices.
Feedback is really only a place to find out if the seller keeps their promises regarding item descriptions, shipping speed and customer service. Remember, high positive feedback numbers only prove a seller has fulfilled their obligations to the seller (and this is important for sure). However, feedback scores rarely prove that the seller lists authentic material.
7. UNREALISTIC PRICES AND $9.99 AUTOGRAPHS
Authentic autographs do not sell for $9.99 (obviously a dealer might throw some autographs up at that price once in awhile and there is one well known dealer that does this every week but that is the exception). Lets do the math, a lab developed photo itself costs around $2.00. That leaves $7.99. Subtract the eBay and Paypal fees and that leaves about $5.80. Do you really think a person would wait all day to get an item signed and then only ask for $5.80 profit for the time and trouble? No! We need to be realistic here.
Additionally, an inexpensive Buy-It-Now price shows the dealer has no confidence (or simply knows it is not authentic) in the autograph he/she is selling and is often a sure sign it is a forgery! One example of this would be a Harrison Ford autograph. An authentic Ford photo would sell starting at $300-$500 depending on the pose. I have seen dealers on eBay (and other sites) selling his autograph for $49 and sometimes with the 'make an offer' option on top of that ridiculous price. The items were obvious forgeries but if they sell them, think of the profit they make.
8. ONCE THE ITEM ARRIVES
Analyze the autograph to make sure that it is not a preprint (photos, books and letters only). To test photos, simply hold the photo at an angle to nice bright light. A real ink signature will actually be on top of the photo and will reflect differently than the rest the photo. A preprinted autograph will reflect exactly the same as the photo and will look as though it is actually part of the photo. Once you see this for the first time you will be able to locate these easily. Books and letters are more difficult but the process is basically the same.
If you are comparing two or more autographs be sure to turn them upside down first. It makes it stops your mind from 'reading' the signature and makes it easier to spot the differences.
9. THINK ABOUT INK
It is easy to fake a signature using a paint pen as it often hides the specific traits of the signers autograph. The felt tip pen has only been around since the 1960s (first Sharpie was made in 1964) and the metallic silver sharpie was introduced in 2002. Any autograph before 1960 will be in pencil or pen.
Watch out for items signed in paint pen. The paint pen is a pain (it often will not work) and takes way too long to dry. You can imagine what would happen to an autograph obtained in paint pen in a big crowd that is out of control. Most collectors never use them (private signings are an exception of course and when the situation is low key).
Also watch out for items signed in odd colors. The forgers seem to like using some weird paint pen colors (especially on multiple signed forgeries).
Most in person guys use blue or black sharpie and the occasional silver sharpie.
10. UTILIZE AN AUTHENTICATION SERVICE
PSA/DNA and GA will check any eBay auction and now you can send them most any item for sale anywhere and give you their opinion on the possible authenticity of the item. This can be done long before you bid and they usually respond in 24-48 hours. This service costs less than $10. Check their websites for details.
UPDATE: Please only use eBay approved authenticators. Currently the Ebay approved 3rd party autograph authenticators are: JSA (James Spence). GA (Global Authentics) and PSA/DNA (Professional Sports Authenticators).
I had more info here but was threatened with legal action when I told the truth about each authenticator.
11. PRIVATE FEEDBACK
If an eBay seller has made their feedback private, just move along to another seller. There is no reason for private feedback other than to hide feedback that exposes a seller as a forger or to hide the unlimited supply of forgeries they have listed. These sellers often state they are protecting their bidders privacy by doing this. That is rubbish. Ebay takes care of bidder privacy already.
NEVER BID ON AUTOGRAPHED ITEMS FROM SELLERS WITH PRIVATE FEEDBACK! EVER!!! GOT THAT? JUST IN CASE, LET ME REMIND YOU, NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER DO IT. If you do, you will purchase a forgery!
UPDATE: watch out for sellers that immediately remove the photo from the listing after you pay (or sooner). I have found a few of these sellers that use 3rd party picture hosting services and as soon as you pay they pull down the photo of the item your won. Very very sneaky. This keeps you from knowing if the item you received is the one you actually bid on and quickly removes all visual evidence of the transaction thus protecting the seller from being discovered as a forger.
12. RETURN POLICY
Make sure the dealer has a return policy that they will stand behind. Also make sure they are a legitimate dealer with a website and easy to locate contact information including a phone number.
13. EBAY DROP-OFF FRANCHISES
These guys help you sell your item on eBay, some unscrupulous forgers are using these outlets to sell their fake goods. They drop off their fake items to these stores and the stores sell them without thought because they are not autograph experts and simply list anything that is not prohibited in order to earn their commission. The forger makes a nice profit selling a worthless item without having to take responsibility for the item. As usual, do some research and compare the autograph to known good examples.
14. AUTOGRAPH ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS THE UACC, AFTAL or PADA
We applaud any group who furthers this hobby and the UACC, PADA and AFTAL are doing their part and no blatant forger will be able to join their ranks.
We recommend that you purchase from dealers that are fully registered with one or more of these organizations. Preferably the AFTAL as they have the strictest vetting process. Any dealer who sells authentic material and is serious about this business will have have put forth the effort and expense to become a registered dealer in one of these groups and you should be wary of anyone who is unwilling to do so.
We are regular members of the UACC and Approved Dealer # AD123 of the AFTAL.
Overall these organizations are a good thing for this hobby and I am glad we have them. However, you still need to do your research on each and every autograph you purchase no matter the source.
15. LIMIT YOUR SOURCES
The more sellers you buy autographs from the more you increase your risk of buying autograph forgeries. Keep autograph purchases to a small group of quality reputable dealers! Preferably AFTAL dealers.
16. MANY SELLERS ARE SIMPLY FORGERS OR HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE DOING
If were to simply login to eBay, search for your favorite autograph, purchase it and pay. In all likelihood, you probably just purchased a fake autograph. Simple as that.
Very few eBay sellers list authentic autographs. Many simply list forgeries (either on purpose or due to ignorance). On occasion a seller here and there will list an authentic autograph for sale. However, authentic autographs are just not available in the quantities you see on eBay/ the web.
What makes this problem worse is that other eBay sellers buy these low priced forgeries (believing they are authentic and somehow got a great deal) and then try to resell them on eBay/ the Web via their accounts and then these forgeries propagate all over eBay/the Web. It is a real mess. Would you really buy an autograph from some account that usually sells totally unrelated items or that has an account name that implies they are experts in some other field but is now suddenly listing autographs. I would not!
Update: Many trusted in-person collectors have recently started selling on ebay so, if you can find them. there is actually been an increase in authentic material as of late. Yay!
17. PHOTOS WITH/ PROOF PHOTOS
More and more forgers are using ‘proof photos’ to try and trick unsuspecting buyers. They steal an image of the celebrity signing or they met the celebrity and got a photo and autograph but kept it for themselves and now use the proof photo to peddle forgeries. In my opinion the only time a proof photo can be implicitly trusted is when the seller has a photo of the celebrity signing the EXACT item listed for sale. So just be careful.
To be fair, there are many legitimate in-person collectors who sell authentic autographs and use proof photos that only show that they were near or met the celebrity. We do this ourselves. Getting a shot of a celebrity signing the exact item is a nightmare. Especially if you are trying to fight a crowd and get more than one item signed. In this case, the proof photo at least gives credibility that the seller is out in the streets collecting autographs in-person. It just should not be trusted as the sole reason to purchase from a seller.
18. PRIVATE AUCTIONS
If a seller has made their auctions private, you must simply move along. There is absolutely NO REASON for private auctions other than to hide something nefarious.
NEVER BID ON AUTOGRAPHED ITEMS FROM SELLERS WITH PRIVATE AUCTIONS! EVER!!! GOT THAT? JUST IN CASE, LET ME REMIND YOU, NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER DO IT. If you do, you will purchase a forgery!
19. NEW BREED OF NON-DEALER AUTOGRAPH SELLERS
There is a new type of autograph seller on the web now. These are young kids (usually young) who realized there is a quick buck to be made right now selling autographs. They run around all day and bug every celebrity they see without concern. These collectors are not fans nor do they care about autographs at all. All they care about is getting your money. They are the scourge of the autograph industry. As soon as it becomes too difficult for them or they get burned out or they finally get a real job they will be gone. And when that crappy, low quality ink-jet printed photo they used (AKA White Sheets) starts to fade and change color and becomes worthless there will be no one to turn to for a refund or replacement.
Be sure to ask every seller you purchase from if you can have their office phone number, office address and website in case you need to contact them in the future. If they cannot provide this information you need to move on to another seller.
If you still insist on purchasing from these people YOU MUST ask them if the item you want to purchase is an ACTUAL PHOTO LAB DEVELOPED PHOTO. The only acceptable answer is YES. Any other answer is the seller trying to avoid the question as they know what they are selling is junk that was printed on an ink-jet printer and will become worthless in a short amount of time.
It has sort of become the new normal that honest dealers are having portions of their autograph inventory certified by trusted companies such as JSA (James Spence) and PSA/DNA (Professional Sports Authenticators).
20. VERY LITTLE OR NONE OF THE SELLERS AUTOGRAPH INVENTORY IS CERTIFIED
As I have mentioned before, these companies are not perfect. However, unless you really know how to spot an authentic signature it would be safer to purchase one that has been examined and certified authentic. If the seller has little or no certified inventory or they 'promise' their items will pass certification processes, I would just move along to another seller.
Also, if the seller is adamantly opposed to 3rd party certification and even attempts to discredit these companies I again suggest you move along and just forget that seller. I am not suggesting that these 3rd party autograph certification companies are all awesome and perfect but just that it seems those most strongly opposed often deal in bad material.
21. WHITE SHEET AUTOGRAPHS
Many newer and inexperienced in-person autograph collectors are resorting to what are called ‘White Sheets’ in order to obtain autographs when they are not prepared, simply do not know what they are doing, are cheap, just too lazy, or simply do not care about their customers.
A ‘white sheet’ autographed photo is a piece of blank ink-jet photo paper that has had a photo printed on it over an autograph. The collector has the celebrity sign the blank sheet of ink-jet paper (usually in a blue Sharpie as most other colors do not work well), then later, once they are home, they load the paper into their ink-jet printer and print an image of their choice onto the sheet and over the autograph. For some reason this works and does not damage the autograph.
They then sell these to unsuspecting autograph collectors who end up with an authentic autograph but printed on a piece of ink-jet paper that has a very short shelf life. Unfortunately, ink-jet photos can start to fade very quickly (sometimes as quickly as a month) depending on the quality of the paper and what types of ink they used to print the photo. They are very cheap to create and of very cheap quality. I overhead one collector who only uses ‘white sheets’ say that if it were not for them he simply could not afford to be in this business.
How would you feel if one day you looked at your prized (and likely very expensive) autographed photo to notice it has faded and all you have left is a signature on a faded blank piece of paper? I know I would be very disappointed to say the least.
Be sure to ask every seller you purchase a signed photo from if it is a ‘white sheet’ or in ink-jet printed photo. Make sure they say that it is an actual Photo Lab Printed (developed) photo. Also make sure they let you know what is printed on the back of the photo.
22. VERY SHORT DURATION AUCTIONS
Another red flag that a seller is likely listing forgeries is use of the short duration auction. This is mostly pertaining to eBay auctions. Because they want to get their fake autographed item sold as quickly as possible with the least amount of exposure to eBay's Trust & Safety agents, EMR members and other 'in the know collectors' they list the item for 1 or 3 days. They usually also try to make sure the auction runs Fri-Sun as they erroneously believe that eBay agents are not working over the weekend.
Many of these short duration items, if authentic, would be of very high value yet they list them for an opening bid of sometimes as low as $.99. I have witnessed complete move cast and entire band signed items like this. If these sellers had authentic material especially multiple signed items they would want maximum exposure on eBay and would be more likely to list the item either at a fixed price or with a very high start price at maximum duration.
Be sure to note auction duration when you consider your purchase.
23. CAST, BAND OR MULTIPLE SIGNED ITEMS
Autograph collectors will often want to purchase items that are signed by multiple members of their favorite TV show, Movie or Band. While these items are very nice, they are one of the most difficult items to complete and very commonly faked.
The problem with completing cast or band photos is that it can take years to complete a piece. We have had items that took 15 year to complete. Also, sometimes there is just one member that you never see or refuses to sign and etc and until you get that person you can't finish the piece. You do get lucky at certain events and the entire cast or band is there and they all sign but that is the exception and not the rule.
Somehow though, there is an endless supply of these items listed at auction on eBay every day. Many sellers of fake cast/band signed items would have you believe that celebrities are just lining up all day to sign their items but it simply is not true.
You have to be very skeptical and VERY careful with these types of items. So much work goes into these and they are so difficult to complete that any seller with authentic material will want a lot of money for their item and are not going to just list it for nothing. Many in-person autograph collectors do not even bother to start cast/group signed pieces as the odds of finishing the pieces are so low that they prefer to focus their work on items that they can obtain and sell right away. It takes a very patient person to start a multiple signed item!
ONE LAST WORD:
REMEMBER: ANYBODY CAN SIGN UP FOR EBAY/A WEBSITE/ IOFFER/ EBID/ BONANZA & ETC, BUY SOME 8X10 PHOTOS, SCRIBBLE SOME WORDS AND THEY ARE INSTANTLY AN AUTOGRAPH SELLER. I CAN ASSURE YOU IF ALL THE FORGERIES WERE REMOVED FROM EBAY/ THE WEB THERE WOULD ONLY BE A FEW OF US LEFT WITH INVENTORY TO SELL.
There are many autographs that just don’t exist in any real quantities. How about Charlize Theron, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Mel Gibson, Salma Hayek, Megan Fox, Daniel Day Lewis, Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Clint Eastwood, Jim Carrey, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchet, Madonna, Justn Bieber, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Twilight Cast, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Lawrence, Jimmy Page, U2, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Bob Marley, Janet Jackson, Bob Dylan, Tool, or Jerry Garcia autographs just to name a few? Or even better, a Pink Floyd, U2, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead or the Beatles by the entire band? If you want bogus stuff there are people selling multiples of these week after week.
Purchasing autographs on the internet is definitely not recommended for the novice collector as you will most certainly purchase fake autographs (Unless you buy from us or a very small handful of other trusted dealers and in-person collectors.).
Your best bet is to buy from us!