Advice when buying

There are no qualifications required for someone to become an autograph dealer and anyone with a photo or a piece of white card and a pen can become a forger. Anyone with a computer and a credit card can be an internet auction autograph dealer. This is the main area of concern here and the rest of this article will focus on how to avoid buying fake autographs on internet auctions. I am mainly looking at eBay auctions because eBay is by far the biggest auction venue, but the problem of forgeries is just the same on all internet auctions.

Examining the Autograph

Collectors cannot hope to know what all their favourite celebrities' autographs look like and, of course, everybody's signature varies from day to day. There can be quite wide variations, depending upon the circumstances, whether the celebrity is seated, standing or walking, whether there's a long queue or just one collector, whether the celebrity is rushing to catch a plane or has plenty of time etc. Autographs also change over the years and many young celebrities are still experimenting with their signatures. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with a celebrity's signature before buying, but this can be difficult. Although most internet fakes are fairly easy to distinguish from the real thing, there are also some very good fakes. If art forgers can forge a Rembrandt and fool the experts, a good autograph forger can easily fool an inexperienced dealer or collector.

So how can a collector work out if a signature is genuine just by looking at it? The answer is - you can't. You can easily eliminate the poor forgeries by comparing them with genuine examples, but the better forgeries can't be detected just by looking at them. My advice to everybody buying autographs is to spend more time investigating the seller than the item. If the seller is honest and experienced and accessible, then there is a good chance that the autograph is genuine. The trick is to work out how to tell the difference between these types and the ones who just appear to be honest, experienced and accessible. Here are a number of things to look for when examining an auction page.

How to read an internet auction page

When looking at an internet autograph auction page, these are the principal things to look at, other than the autograph itself.

Identity of the Dealer

The dealer ought to be telling you who he or she is. It's not sufficient to simply give a user name or even a company name. Anyone can call themselves Supreme Autographs or Fine Collectibles - this doesn't tell you who they are. You should want to know who you are considering buying from. You should also want to know what associations and experience they have. If someone says they have 30 years' experience, it doesn't mean that's true. If, however, they are a member of a respected body, like the UACC, Manuscript Society, PADA or IADA, you have a better chance of being able to check them out and they have rules they should abide by. The UACC also run a registered dealers' program and there are a little over 200 registered dealers worldwide who are bound by the UACC's Code of Ethics and have more to lose than gain by selling a forgery. A list of these can be found at:

www.uacc.org/rdlist.htm

It's fair to say that there are some very good dealers who, for their own reasons, don't belong to any societies, but those dealers will always volunteer plenty of information about themselves and will usually give verifiable details about their experience and about the authenticity of the item that's for sale.

Location

On eBay, this is found in brief in the top right hand corner of the auction page. The dealer should give the city or town in which they are located. Sellers who deal in fakes often put other things in that box, such as SEE MY OTHER COOL AUCTIONS or FASTEST SHIPPER ON EBAY. If you see this kind of thing in the location space, it is hardly worth continuing to look at the auction, because the autograph on offer is almost certainly a forgery. Even if it isn't, would you really want to commit yourself to buying something from someone when you don't know where they are or even who they are? And are you going to send them your credit card details? All good dealers will state their location and many will give their address and telephone number in the main description section of the auction. However, bear in mind that most genuine autograph dealers only operate small businesses and a large number of them work from home. As their inventory can be quite valuable and they don't want their houses broken into every other day, few dealers will give their exact address. Also, many forgery dealers do state where they are. So, a proper location given in the location space doesn't mean that the autograph on offer is genuine, but a vague or non-existent location should set the alarm bells ringing immediately.