June 1, 2012
Any authentication company specializing in baseball autographs and charging a fee for its services should know Ty Cobb’s signature like the back of its own hand. The Georgia Peach’s scrawl is quite distinctive and authentic exemplars from every stage of his life are abundant for the experts to study. Cobb autographed items regularly flood the big auction house catalogs and eBay stores as highly marketable commodities.
That being said, we’ve recently seen big authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA (James Spence Authentication) make critical errors in authenticating forged Ty Cobb signatures as genuine. One was a bogus signature signed on a baseball manufactured almost fifteen years after Cobb’s death (reported on Deadspin) and another was a suspected laser-copied forgery of a genuine Cobb autograph that PSA/DNA certed and encapsulated in one of its cut signature holders. The item was removed from eBay by its fraud division after being listed for sale for almost $2,000. No one knows for sure what has since happened to the item and it still appears in the PSA database as genuine.
Now, it appears PSA has made an even more egregious error in relation to another Cobb item; they have certified and slabbed as authentic, a cut signature that was actually signed by Ty Cobb’s wife.
EBay seller, “khw,” a top rated seller with a 100% positive feedback rating, listed the cut along with two others paired with Perez-Steele cards of Cobb. The three cuts appear to have been submitted together and have PSA registry numbers in succession. Two of the cuts were authentic, but the third was signed by Mrs. Cobb. The “Tyrus R. Cobb” that PSA authenticated in no way resembles an authentic signature of the baseball legend. In particular, the letter “T” in “Tyrus” is executed in a formation that does not resemble any authentic Cobb signature. That fact alone should have tipped PSA off. Further research should have revealed other specimens of Mrs. Cobb’s handwriting that would have confirmed for PSA that the alleged signature was not signed by Cobb. One would think that an operation like PSA, a subsidiary of public company Collectors Universe (CLCT-NASDAQ), would have exemplars of Mrs. Cobb’s handwriting at their disposal?
The seller (or another party) appears to have taken an authentic check signed and endorsed on the back by Cobb, himself, and then sliced up the check in order to have “cut signatures” encapsulated by PSA along with the Perez-Steele cards. Checks have long been considered the safest medium for collectors to acquire a genuine signature of a Baseball Hall of Famer, and even trading card companies have cut up authentic checks to create special cards for contemporary issues.
The check allegedly used to create these cuts was sold by R&R Auctions in 2006 for $1,582.70, but it only featured two signatures of Cobb along with Cobb’s name written as the payee on the front of the check. As was their practice at times, Mrs. Cobb wrote out the checks and then had her husband sign them. In this case he also endorsed the check on the back when he cashed it. R&R correctly sold the item as having only two Cobb signatures:
“Check, 6 x 2.75, filled out in another hand and signed by Cobb, “Tyrus R. Cobb, Pres,” adding “United Apt. Co. Aug. Ga.,” payable to Tyrus R. Cobb for $943.13, December 30, 1947. Check is also endorsed on the reverse in green fountain pen, “Tyrus R. Cobb.” In fine condition, with expected cancellation stamps and holes, mild showthrough from stamps on reverse and front signature a bit cramped. COA Steve Grad/PSA/DNA and R&R COA.”
When the check was authenticated by PSA and Steve Grad in 2006, they recognized the check itself was written out in a different hand. However, when the three cut signature items were recently encapsulated, PSA certified the handwriting of Mrs. Cobb as a genuine Ty Cobb. PSA had to have examined all three cuts at the same time and still failed to recognize that the third signature was not Cobb. All of this, with PSA having originally certified the item correctly for R&R in 2006. The eBay seller with the user name “khw” appears to be one of PSA’s big customers. The registry numbers on his three Cobb items do not currently appear in the PSA database.
The source who gave the tip to Haulsofshame.com in regard to the Mrs. Cobb signature first reported his concern that all three of the cut signatures slabbed by PSA, along with the Perez-Steele cards, may be laser- printed forgeries. He suspected they were like the other example removed from eBay a few months ago. However, upon closer examination it appears it is more likely the cuts are actually from a check and not laser copies. Of course, in both situations, one could only be certain if the questioned documents are removed from their plastic tombs.
The alleged Cobb autograph removed from ebay last month appears to have been created from an authentic signed post card owned by Cobb expert Ron Keurajian. Experts believe the forgery was created via laser printer, but the eBay seller and original PSA submitter, Donavon Arabie, claims that he sent the item back to PSA and was told the Cobb was the creation of a master forger using a pen. He also threatened to destroy the cut by burning it.
When Haulsofshame.com first exposed the PSA Cobb cut as a forgery, the eBay seller responded:
As the owner & seller of this cut, I am currently seeking an explanation from ebay. I personally sent the signature in to PSA/DNA for grading & no, it is not laser printed as the author of this article has insinuated. The cut is written in clear green ink & the paper it is written on is clearly antique paper. Ebay & I are currently in a debate over the issue as we speak, and I expect full apologies from those involved in the misrepresentation of it’s authenticity. Considering that this cut was found with an array of 1930’s & early 1940’s original Goudey cards, I have little doubt that PSA/DNA missed this one. Ebay & the author of this article, however, should have done a little more digging before passing judgement.
Hobby veteran Richard Simon has called out Arabie on collector forum Net54, asking him not to destroy an item that, if examined in person, could shed some light on how to properly expose these types of forgeries and also help ascertain how often laser-copied forgeries are certified as authentic by PSA. Arabie, however, has vanished from the memorabilia scene and has not responded to inquiries. Simon and another collector, Travis Roste, have been vocal in challenging Arabie and both doubt that he ever sent the slabbed cut back to PSA/DNA. Arabie did not respond to our request for confirmation that he sent the Cobb cut back to PSA.
In regard to the Cobb controversy, Simon told us, “Seems like when a Cobb signature has to be authenticated, considering the entombed one of a prior story, care goes out the window.”
The eBay fraud division removed the latest “Mrs. Cobb” cut last week after it was being offered by seller “kwh” for $1,175. It appears eBay has also removed the other two cuts paired with Perez Steele cards. Sources indicate that there are still lingering questions as to whether those two cuts were authentic or laser-copied forgeries. We asked PSA/DNA CEO, Joe Orlando, for an explanation as to how Mrs. Cobb’s handwriting was certified as an authentic Ty Cobb autograph and also for PSA’s explanation of how the company certified the alleged laser-printed Cobb forgery that was removed by ebay’s fraud division last month? We also asked Orlando if he could confirm that Donavon Arabie had sent his PSA-slabbed Cobb cut back to the company for examination? Orlando did not respond to any of our inquiries.
Considering the likelihood that his experts have already slabbed a laser-copied Cobb forgery, Orlando has to have some doubts about the thousands of other cuts PSA has certed. PSA customers, dealers and collectors we spoke with are understandably concerned.
Richard Simon told us, “Are we to believe this is the one and only time this forger has tried this?”