The Worst 100: PSA & JSA’s All-Time Greatest Authentication Blunders; Alleged Experts Steve Grad & Jimmy Spence Exposed
By Peter J. Nash
December 4, 2013
Third-Party Authentication giants PSA/DNA and JSA have cornered the market as the official “alleged experts” endorsed by the major sports and collectibles auction houses and even the online auction giant eBay. PSA/DNA’s lead authenticator, Steve Grad, has even snagged a spot on the History Channel’s hit show Pawn Stars as their new-preferred on-air expert for autographed materials.
The TPA’s are advertised as the gold standard of an autograph industry fraught with fraud, deception and forgery. In the past even the FBI has claimed that over 50% of the signed collectibles in the marketplace are counterfeits. That being said, the so-called TPA experts claim to have decades of “hobby experience” and special skills that qualify them to both approve and reject anything and everything that comes their way ranging from books signed by Pablo Picasso to dumbells signed by Babe Ruth.
But do the TPA’s live up to their press clippings and endorsements from auction heads who pay for their services and at the same time advertise on the TPA websites? The incestuous relationship between the auctioneers and the authenticators has been in place ever since Bill Mastro hired autograph dealers Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence to work for Mastro Fine Sports Auctions as authenticators back when he ruled the hobby with an iron fist. Mastro even bought out Grad’s “entire inventory” of autographed material when he hired him. Adding to the incestuous nature of the relationship, Grad and Spence went on to authenticate their own items being sold by Mastro.
Years before Mastro plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and trimming the now infamous Honus Wagner card, he was formulating a system to help protect himself and his fellow auctioneers by establishing and promoting the TPA system. His goal was to create an authentication policy that protects the auction house or seller from any liability whatsoever when selling bogus autographed materials. Likewise, taking Mastro’s lead, the TPA’s have also shielded themselves from any liability by stating that their LOA’s are nothing more than an opinion and guarantee absolutely nothing. For Mastro and his fellow auctioneers the scheme was pure genius.
Over the years the TPA’s have dodged lots of bullets and even survived a not too flattering report published in Barons in 2006 called “Kinda Sorta Genuine.” In that report Barons writer Neil Harris described how a Philadelphia FOX-TV affiliate taped then-PSA/DNA expert Jimmy Spence authenticating an alleged Mike Schmidt autograph that had actually been created by a FOX artist. Examining the signature Spence opined, “Very, very typical of the way he would sign. Good speed, good letter formation, and reflects authority and spontaneity.” When Spence was then told on camera it was created by a graphic artist who forged Schmidt’s signature, he told FOX: “He did a fine job.”
Barons detailed litigation against PSA regarding controversial authentications and noted in its headline: “Sometimes Even The Experts Can Be Fooled.” Nearly a decade after that article was published confidence in the TPA’s appears to be waning as even eBay’s lead fraud investigator, John Gonzales, has voiced his own opinion about the TPA’s, headed by Joe Orlando and Jimmy Spence, stating in an email obtained by Haulsofshame.com: “I know PSA Sucks, JSA too.
Say it ain’t so, Joe (Orlando). What about your motto, “Never get cheated”? Sure, PSA and JSA can pick out obvious Pud Galvin and Old Hoss Radbourn forgeries in the Guinness World Record “Little Cooperstown” exhibit in Florida, but what about the “100 Worst” gems in this report?
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