March 12, 2012
Hot on the heels of their reported authentication of a fake Ty Cobb signature on a Little League ball made fifteen years after the Hall of Famer died (as reported by us on Deadspin last Friday), PSA/DNA has made another monumental authentication error. A Cobb item appearing on eBay for the past few weeks as an alleged cut signature of Cobb that was certified authentic and graded in one of PSAs air tight encapsulated holders was just pulled by eBay’s Fraud Investigation Team.
Collectors refer to these items as “slabbed signatures” and they have become an extremely marketable commodity thanks to PSA who has sold consumers on the belief that such items certified by them are unquestionably authentic.
The eBay seller BigDaddySportsCards of Alexandria, Louisiana, was offering it for almost $1,300.00 until the item was removed from the site earlier today. The seller was apparently sold on PSAs expertise stating that the, “Gorgeous Green Ink Cut” has been graded a “Mint 9″ by the company that is a subsidiary of Collectors Universe (NASDAQ: CLCT).
Unfortunately for “Big Daddy” and PSA, the nation’s leading authority on Cobb’s signature happened to be browsing the eBay Cobb offerings and immediately determined the offering was a counterfeit.
Ron Keurajian is the man who in 2009 told the Baseball Hall of Fame its Ty Cobb diary, purchased from Barry Halper, in 1998, was a fake. The FBI agreed with him and the diary, forged by Cobb’s biographer Al Stump and once displayed in Cooperstown, has been wished away into a cornfield.
When Keurajian saw the slabbed Cobb cut on eBay he noticed something looked familiar about it. It was familiar because Keurajian actually owns the exact same authentic original signature that Cobb actually signed on a full-size government post card, not on a cut signature. PSA authenticated what appears to be a laser copied piece of paper (perhaps old) that features a facsimile of Keurajian’s original example. The PSA holder would have to be opened to determine what process was used to create the forgery.
In 2009, Keurajian wrote an article for Autograph Magazine about Cobb’s handwriting and utilized this same Cobb signature as an exemplar in the article, which is still posted on the magazine’s website. The forger simply grabbed the screen image of his authentic exemplar and then proceeded to manufacture his fake. (The signature is also being utilized as an exemplar in Keurajian’s soon to be released book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, by McFarland).
That bogus signature was submitted to the experts at PSA/DNA and was subsequently authenticated and graded a “Mint 9.”
PSA/DNA CEO, Joe Orlando, wrote a column in June of 2010, on the company website detailing the success of PSAs system of grading and slabbing cut signatures and also stated that the process created a great marketing tool for the sale of cut signatures, which have long been considered suspect by collectors and dealers.
In his article, “The Hobby of Holders,” Orlando wrote, “There is no doubt that if a collectible can be encapsulated inside of a PSA holder, the collectible tends to become more marketable.”
Orlando added, “Even with autographs, when we decided to utilize the various holders we already had in-house to encapsulate signed items such as trading cards, index cards, postcards and cuts, it changed the entire market so we decided to expand the holder selection. Over the last several years, we have slabbed hundreds of thousands of signed items because the hobby demanded it. Just like with cards and tickets, the PSA holder completely changed the market.”
But is it a real market? Is this Cobb fake indicative of other fakes included in the “hundreds of thousands” of autographs PSA has already slabbed? How many? Does this problem warrant a recall of all PSA slabbed cuts? Is this the only time this forger (or others) has fooled PSA in this manner? Nervous collectors holding PSA products in their own holdings are asking the same questions.
One collector and vocal critic of PSA, Travis Roste, responded to the news and told us, “How can a laser copy ‘autograph’ have flow? Pen pressure? Or did they mean printerhead pressure? As the auction houses put it, ”Encapsulated by PSA/DNA for unquestioned authenticity.”
Veteran dealer and authenticator Richard Simon was not surprised by the news, “I guess that they don’t look very closely to see if anything they are examining is laser copied as they had apparently made this mistake before.”
Once these cuts are encapsulated there is a barrier placed between the item and any future examination that could determine if its authentic or a laser copied forgery. One prominent collector told us he has one way to get around that problem. He said, “I could care less about those slabs, when I buy one of those slabbed items I have them cracked open and put the plastic in the trash.”
Sources close to eBay operations confirmed to Haulsofshame.com that the Cobb cut was removed from the auction site “for authenticity issues.” The identity of “BigDaddySportsCards” was not available in order to ask who actually submitted the alleged Cobb signature to PSA for certification.
Sources indicate the FBI, who have recently been taking a closer look at the business practices of the third party authenticators, are aware of the situation, which could represent an important lead in cracking down on forgery rings that have been flooding the market with fakes.