fake autographed rock memorabilia sold at charity fundraisers

Estimated reading time is 13 minutes.

FAKE AUTOGRAPHS on rock & roll memorabilia being sold at charity fundraisers sounds like the act of a misanthrope or even a sociopath more. Cheating folk who are spending money knowing that it will go to help others is rather dastardly. And yet, huge sums of money are being spent on forgeries every day!

“Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fakes and frauds and forgeries are sold every year through charities,” says Steve Cyrkin, editor and publisher of Autograph Magazine. “And the charities don’t know about it.”

In Cincinnati, the Rusty Ball is an annual fundraiser that benefits more than a hundred local charities and attracts thousands of donors/customers each year. The Ball held on February 27, 2014, featured lots of autographed rock & roll memorabilia, including guitars, posters, and albums.

“It’s crucial that it comes with that certificate,” said one bidder.

“We give to the charity on a regular basis every year and love it,” said Matt Ring, who paid $830 for a guitar signed by the five original Rolling Stones.

Chris Beebe paid $700 for a copy of the BORN TO RUN album signed by Bruce Springsteen, $780 for a guitar signed by Springsteen and the E Street Band, and $517 for a copy of Van Halen’s 5150 album signed by the band. “At the end of the day, the money’s going to a great organization and great people.”

Local Fox 19 News showed these autographs and others sold to two leading experts, who judged the items to be forgeries, and that includes items that came with certificates of authenticity.

“We’ve researched who we do business with as an organization. We trust the people we work with. They guarantee the things they’ve submitted to us and it’s a trust that’s real, so to hear that these certificates or items with certificates could be not legitimate, that’s the disheartening part,” said Steve Fritch, who helped found Rusty Ball.

 

BruceSpringsteen GreatestHits autographed 800

There is no way for anyone who was not present at the signing of this album jacket to know WITH CERTAINTY whether or not this is a genuine signature of Bruce Springsteen. The best an expert can do is offer an educated opinion.

How they evaluated the items

Authenticating autographs is a judgment call by the expert involved. For the Rusty Ball, Fox 19 found two men who are generally recognized by both major auction houses and established memorabilia dealers as reliable and reputable.

High-resolution photos of memorabilia were shown to Cyrkin: “None of the signatures that you sent me were real, in my opinion,” he said. “I didn’t see one real autograph.”

Then they showed the signatures to Roger Epperson, who authenticates music autographs for the auctioneers Christies and Bonham’s and for PSA/DNA, the largest authentication service in the United States.

Epperson looked over Matt Ring’s guitar signed by the Rolling Stones and determined that of all the autographs had been signed by the same person, using the “same pen stroke, same pressure.”

Epperson found the same with Chris Beebe’s Springsteen and Van Halen items along with collectables signed by Guns N Roses, Elton John, and Led Zeppelin.

A standout item at the auction was a pink electric guitar signed by all four members of Pink Floyd that sold for $2,100 to Dr. Joseph Gromada. 

“We have a foundation [for] my son who died of cancer a year ago,” said Dr. Gromada. “So we have used the Rusty Ball for a couple of years for a fundraiser, and it has been very lucrative for the foundation.”

Epperson deemed the Floyd signatures forgeries. 

“We as an organization don’t feel good about our patrons being disappointed,” said Fritch. “Anyone that’s ever come to the event, we’ll make things right for them. So if they see this story and they have some concern, they can contact us.”

 

PSA CertificateOfAuthenticity 800

Authenticity of certificates of authenticity

Many of the signed items came with a certificate of authenticity. “It’s crucial that it comes with that certificate,’ said Gromada. Without it, ‘I don’t know that I would have paid even the original amount that they asked.’

Other buyers showed their certificates when they brought their items for evaluation. Both Cyrkin and Epperson determined the certificates of authenticity to be worthless. “The letter of authenticity is only as good as the person who put their name on it.”

The majority of those certificates came from a company that holds online auctions every month selling thousands of signed sports, entertainment and music acts’ memorabilia, Coach’s Corner. For weeks, we asked for an interview and finally set up a meeting with the general manager, Lee Trythall.

 

PinkFloydGuitar

Guess whose pink guitar this is with four fake Jahn Hancocks? “Pink Floyd has not been together for a long time; they don’t like each other.”

Supply and demand

Trythall says his company auctions items it consigns from individual sellers on a massive scale—3,000 to 4,000 pieces a month. Epperson says it’s impossible to sell that many real items because they’re very limited, particularly signatures of entire bands like Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. Cyrkin adds that those who own such memorabilia buy it to keep it, so it rarely goes on sale. Trythall disagrees and says these items are plentiful and easy to get. 

He says that’s why his company is able to sell memorabilia for hundreds of dollars apiece. But Epperson says real items cost much more. He says Ring’s $800 Rolling Stones guitar would go for $6,500 if it was real, and Gromada’s $2,000 Pink Floyd guitar is ‘way too cheap. They’re that difficult to get. They’ve not been together for a long time. They don’t like each other. Now one of them is dead.’

In a business based on opinion, Trythall questions Epperson’s. ‘I don’t believe any authenticators. I don’t know how he would know that.’

Epperson certainly passed a test the day of his Cincinnati appraisals: among the memorabilia sat a guitar signed by the band Journey. Fritch personally had watched the band sign it. It was the one item Epperson judged to be authentic.

Epperson and Cyrkin say the fake memorabilia business is much larger than the real memorabilia business, targeting charities around the country and around the world. ‘Of course, the last thing a charity wants to do is to sell fakes to one of their wonderful donors,’ said Cyrkin.

Fritch says his organization is changing its procedures as a result of this investigation and will try to get out the word to all charities holding silent auctions. ‘In the world of charitable giving and people giving of themselves, there are people in the world who will take advantage of that, and I think this story exposes some of those companies,’ he said. ‘Our goal going forward is to find out who we can trust.’ ”

 

PerryCox Beatles price guide 800

Perry Cox’s Beatles price guide actually identifies by naming the various girls that worked for the Beatles faking their autographs on photos and memorabilia back in the ’60s!

Multi-million dollar industry

The above is more or less the complete (if slightly modified) article “Fake rock memorabilia sold at charity fundraisers” by Hagir Limor (February 26, 2014). Normally, I don’t pay attention to autographs, as they do not interest me as a record collector. A friend of mine in Cincinnati has a business of buying and reselling tickets to entertainment and sports events.

He interacts both professionally and personally with scads of entertainment and sports figures. As he does donate genuine autographed items to local charities, he is far more sensitive to this issue, and so he called this piece to my attention. I am reprinting it here and very briefly addressing the issue. 

In my price guides for O’Sullivan Woodside and Goldmine published back when man and dinosaur were cooperatively conquering the west, I did not address the issue of evaluating autographed records, as it was to me a separate field of collectables—autographs versus records. My stance was made elsewhere in print (Goldmine magazine) and it was very caveat emptor (“buyer beware”): unless the artist is signing the item to you and in front of you, you can never know that anyone’s autograph is legitimate! 1

During my years of actively buying records for resale, I came across many autographed records (almost always LPs) and decided that if a piece bore the signature of a Gale Garnett or a Joe Jeffries—fine singers but hardly near the top of the list of Highly Collectable artists—it was probably legit. (Who’d fake one if there was no financial gain?) But whenever I found an item signed by Elvis Beatles Dylan Stones Zeppelin etc., I simply assumed that it was somebody decorating their possession with their own handiwork.

This Beatles price guide actually identifies the various girls that worked for the Beatles faking their autographs in the ’60s!

(In his various Beatles record collectors price guides, Perry Cox has included an entire chapter devoted to the many fake Beatles autographs authorized by Brian Epstein back in the ‘60s to meet the staggering demand for autographed photos that the Fab Four received each week in the mail. He has even identified the various secretaries who were authorized to do each Beatles’ scrawl year by year.) 2

I will never know how correct I was, nor will I ever care. I always advertised the piece as being signed but stated that I could not verify the signature nor did I ever expect it to increase the value of the item being sold.

In my books I essentially suggested the same thing to sellers (if you don’t KNOW it’s real, don’t advertise it as such) while warning buyers to beware if you don’t KNOW it’s real, don’t pay for it as such). Ms. Limor’s article above drives home the point decades later!

Fake gold record awards

Two final observations: many of the RIAA Gold Record Awards offered for sale are not “authentic” (real!) in the sense that they were authorized and paid for by the record company or artist for their legitimate use (like giving them as rewards and gifts to those involved in the record’s success or family or friends).

Many of these Gold Records that have found their way onto the marketplace in the past thirty years were in fact ordered from the authorized manufacturers (who made them under the table and against their contractual obligations to the record companies and the RIAA) and paid for by “rare record” dealers to sell to collectors!

Fake sports and political autographs

Type “fake rock autographs” into Google and you get 236,000 results. Type “fake sports autographs” and more than 1,000,000 (a million) results pop up. One might assume that the incidence of fake sports autographs is considerably more common than of rock musicians or that it attracts a helluvalot more attention from collectors. Type in “fake historical autographs” and there are 743,000 results.

That venerable site eBay has had a warning regarding counterfeit signatures for several years: “How to spot a fake autograph!!!!” by 1.million.dollar.man. The editorial opens with this paragraph, which echoes the article above, including my decades-old caveat:

“Heads up for all eBay bidders – there are lots of fakes for sale, and you should really read here what to watch out for! Some sellers can be trusted, but there are way too many more that are deceptive. Some use wording such as UACC (Universal Autograph Collector’s Club) member, or “COA Included” (Certificate of Authority); when anyone that has money to spend can join the UACC—which does not mean they are honest or reliable—and anyone that has a computer and printer can make a phony COA.

Some sellers state the item contains a signature of a celebrity, but they don’t actually state the celebrity signed it themself, or their wording leads you to believe the autograph is real when the seller did not actually state this! Many people have written a famous person’s name on an item and sellers believe the celebrity signed it, when in reality it was not signed at all, it is just a name written by a fan. If you have a question of the seller’s wording, ask them BEFORE BIDDING.”

 

BabeRuth autograph fake 800

Law enforcement officers in Mississippi say [two people] are responsible for selling thirteen Ruth baseballs to pawn shops across five states. Officers in D’lberville, MS were able to recover one of the baseballs along with a fake certificate of authenticity.” (Sports Collectors Daily)

How to spot  fake autograph

After completing the article above, I did some more research, just looking for some numbers. Here they are from “Fake celeb autographs outnumber the real” by Colleen Long, Associated Press (February 11, 2005).

“Only 6% of all autographed Beatles memorabilia is authentic, according to PSA/DNA Authentication Services, a California-based organization that examines collectibles. Only 24% of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley signatures PSA/DNA has examined were genuine, and only 33% of more than 10,000 [Tiger] Woods and Michael Jordan autographs they scrutinized were real.”

According to FBI agent Timothy Fitzsimmons, “The forgers sometimes go to great lengths to get items authenticated. Sometimes, forged signatures were even identified as real ones, and the real ones as forgeries.”

Finally, check out the How to Spot a Fake Autograph website, illustrated with twenty-two photographs.

 

VanHalen MCMLXXXIV autographed 800

There is no way for anyone who was not present at the signing of this album jacket to know WITH CERTAINTY whether or not they are genuine signatures of Van Halen’s band. The best an expert can do is offer an educated opinion.

Make your motto “Caveat emptor!”

In my price guides for O’Sullivan Woodside and Goldmine published back when man and dinosaur were cooperatively conquering the west, I did not address the issue of evaluating autographed records. My stance was made elsewhere in print (Goldmine magazine) and it was very caveat emptor (“buyer beware”): unless the artist is signing the item to you and in front of you, you can never know that anyone’s autograph is legitimate!

During my years of actively buying records for resale, I came across many autographed records (almost always LPs) and decided that if a piece bore the signature of a Gale Garnett or a Joe Jeffries—fine singers but hardly near the top of the list of Highly Collectable artists—it was probably legit. (Who’d fake one if there was no financial gain?)

But whenever I found an item signed by Elvis Beatles Dylan Stones Zeppelin etc., I simply assumed that it was somebody decorating their possession with their own handiwork.

I will never know how correct I was, nor will I ever care. I always advertised the piece as being signed but stated that I could not verify the signature nor did I ever expect it to increase the value of the item being sold.

In my books, I essentially suggested the same thing to sellers: If you don’t KNOW it’s real, don’t advertise it as such!

I also warned buyers to beware: If you don’t KNOW it’s real, don’t pay for it as though it’s real!

Make your motto, “Caveat emptor”: LET THE BUYER BEWARE!

 

Beatles autographs fake 1200

FEATURED IMAGE: “It is a well-known fact among Beatles autograph collectors that road manager Neil Aspinall and assistant Mal Evans ghost-signed countless autographs for the group during the height of Beatlemania; the touring years between 1964 and 1966 being the most prolific period.

As both Neil and Mal were constantly approached by fans for personal access to the Beatles, it was not uncommon for either to disappear behind the stage or hotel door and emerge moments later with autographs in hand.

Both were reasonably adept at replicating Beatles signatures; so much so that all these years later, Aspinall and Evans autograph sets still show up in the marketplace as the genuine article.” (Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

 


FOOTNOTES:

1  And for those of us who look askance at creationism and all of its intelligently designed offshoots, the famed ‘dinosaur with a saddle’ in the Creation Museum is NOT an exhibit! It is a ride for children, just like all those horses you pass in shopping malls waiting for the next mommy with a ready reserve of quarters.)

Museum founder and curator Ken Ham addressed the widely circulated misinterpretation of the Stegosaurus with an English riding saddle atop its back in an article titled “Dinosaurs And Saddles” on his Around the World with Ken Ham website. I am rarely in accord with Mr. Ham on any topic, but he handles this with taste and aplomb (and a bit of justified righteous indignation).

A perspective with which I am in accord is dealt with in the “Saddle Up That Stegosaurus ” by writer Steve Mirsky on Scientific American’s website. It is an interview with Stephen Asma of Columbia College Chicago and author of Stuffed Animals And Pickled Heads. Despite the humorously mistitled title of the article, the issue of the saddled Stegosaurus is not broached by either speaker—but the museum is discussed at length as a museum among other museums worldwide.

2  I have nothing to add here. I just figured that if I was going to go all editorially proper with one footnote I should have at least two to justify calling this sub-section “Notes.”

 

4 thoughts on “fake autographed rock memorabilia sold at charity fundraisers”

    • Thanks, Joe. I figured you might enjoy this piece. While there have been counterfeits and ‘unauthorized reproductions’ of records since the medium was invented, it doesn’t come close to the shenanigans pulled off by the fake autograph business! Funny thing is that you can this article and come away with the impression that some people are forging signatures on items and then donating them to charities. Weird . . .

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