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By Peter J. Nash

July 5, 2013

A bogus P. T. Barnum autograph on ebay comes with a PSA/DNA LOA. Looks like Joe Orlando has some "suckers" getting cheated.

Earlier this week, I stumbled across a PSA/DNA slabbed signature of 19th century entrepreneur P. T. Barnum and wondered if PSA had ever authenticated a bogus Barnum autograph. I’m currently putting together an article dedicated to the “100 Worst PSA and JSA Authentications of All-Time” so, I thought the “Sucker born every minute” quote would work well if a PSA or JSA blunder on Barnum had been documented.

All it took was one email inquiry to Travis Roste of AutographPlanet.com and I was sent a link to a current Barnum cabinet photo being offered on eBay and some in-depth analysis of Barnum signatures authored by expert Steven Koschal.  For $2,500, an eBay customer can take home a bogus autographed cabinet photo of Barnum with a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity signed by Joe Orlando, the man who coined the PSA motto, “Never get cheated.”

Although it has been documented that Barnum did not actually coin the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute,”  the gem attributed to him could easily be updated to say: “There’s an eBay or PSA/DNA customer born every minute.”  As Koschal has illustrated definitively in his signature studies, the eBay cabinet photo being offered with the PSA/DNA LOA is nothing more than a pre-printed facsimile signature of Barnum embedded in the actual albumen photograph.  Its a classic Barnum humbug or as baseball historian John Thorn might put it, a “jape” or a “Barnum-esque prank.”  It’s a phony and one things for sure:  Someone surely did get cheated compliments of Joe Orlando and eBay’s officially endorsed authenticator, PSA/DNA.

PSA partner eBay is currently offering this bogus signature of P. T. Barnum for $2,500 with a 2005 LOA signed by Joe Orlando, President of PSA/DNA

The cabinet photograph currently being offered on eBay by “JustCollect” is one of many similar facsimile signature specimens which were created by a New York photographic studio operated by Charles Eisenmann.  According to Steven Koschal, who has written several articles on the subject in international autograph publications, there are several poses of Barnum which feature different versions of his facsimile autograph with dates from 1885  and 1886.  The autographs and the dates are identical depending on which version you are presented with and fluctuations exist only in the resolution or quality of the albumen photos created by the photographic studio.

The current eBay offering (left) matches other examples sold at eBay in June (center) and Cowans Auctions (right).

It appears that several auction houses have figured this out without using the services of a third-party authentication company like PSA.  Wes Cowan, of Cowan’s Auctions offered an 1886 example and described it clearly as a facsimile signature.  Even R&R Auctions, which is owned by PSA authenticator Bob Eaton, got it right when they offered another example identified as being a pre-printed signature in the photo.  That Barnum facsimile signature sold for $160.

A similar cabinet photo in the collection of the Oshkosh Public Museum (bottom left) has the identical facsimile signature (bottom top) of Barnum as the eBay offering (bottom right and top). The "P" in both versions (highlighted in the red circles) exhibits the exact same skip of the pen found on the original prototype signature used by the photographer.

Eaton’s own facsimile signature, however, also appears on the 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying as authentic the Barnum signature currently being offered on eBay.  Eaton’s signature appears along with the signatures of Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez, Roger Epperson, Zach Rullo and John Reznikoff, PSA’s authenticator for historical material.

Without the aid of the TPA’s, other sellers and auctioneers have sold the same facsimile signatures as the real deal for the past few decades including several sold recently by Heritage Auctions and others sold by EAC Gallery, Signature House, Goldberg Auctions, EAH Auctions and Donald Steinitz Autographs.   The Barnum cabinet currently being sold on eBay was also previously sold by Lelands as an authentic signature even before it had a PSA LOA.

Joe Orlando's PSA/DNA LOA notes examination of pen pressure and other characteristics of an "authentic signature."

What is most amazing about the current PSA-LOA’d Barnum photo on eBay is the fact that the information documenting that the Barnum signature is bogus is so readily accessible and well known among collectors and dealers.  One veteran autograph dealer we spoke with said, “Most of this stuff was common knowledge thirty years ago.  If someone over there would have taken the time to read a book about autographs once in a while they would have known this stuff already.”

Back in 2003 Cowan’s Auctions described a Barnum cabinet correctly as a pre-printed facsimile and, eight years later, the exact same cabinet photograph was offered for sale in a Heritage auction having transformed into an “authentic signature” of Barnum which sold for over $1,500.  (Cowan estimated the value between $100 and $150)

In 2003 Cowans Auctions correctly offered this Barnum cabinet dated in 1885 as a pre-printed facsimile.

In 2011, the exact same Barnum cabinet previously sold at Cowans as a facsimile was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries as an authentic Barnum signature.

The Cowan’s to Heritage transformation illustrates how sellers, auctioneers and authenticators fail to examine the items they are presented with and how buyers knowingly attempt to pass off non-genuine items as real with the aid of the TPA’s.

Over the past few decades PSA claims to have authenticated millions of autographed items and with each stunning blunder similar to the “eBay Barnum facsimile” the company continues to lose credibility with thousands of prior authentications coming into question.

One hundred of the worst authentications rendered by PSA and JSA will be on public display soon.  Stay tuned.  P. T. Barnum will surely make the cut.


8 Comments

  1. How very true, cause that was PT,s saying all along,COME SEE THE DONKEYS HEAD WHERE HIS ASS SHOULD BE AND HIS ASS WHERE HIS HEAD SHOULD BE and you walked in one door and out and in another and low and behold,he was right, SO, ANOTHER SUCKER WAS BORN and till this day, it holds true, for a lot of things and people out there, as they are being suckered into buying absolute junk from all these crooked dealers and auction houses and throwing away good $ on it.Do you know any one who is interested in buying a BRIDGE, cause I have one for sale ??????

    Comment by Herbie Buck — July 5, 2013 @ 11:00 am

  2. Great detective work as always. And thanks for all the information that you share with us.

    Comment by Robert Cariola — July 5, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  3. Amazing job Pete! This is in your face work!

    Comment by Linda — July 6, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

  4. 10 years ago Cowan’s correctly identified this and we still have places and organizations who can’t do a 2 minute google search and catch these blunders before they happen. These abc companies need remedial training in the basics. Take some time to get it right!

    Comment by Travis Roste — July 6, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

  5. One of our readers just notified us that there is also a 1885 version Barnum bogus cabinet photo being sold on eBay for $15,000 as a Buy-It-Now. It also appears that Leighton Sheldon, formerly of Lelands, is still selling his bogus Barnum for $2,500 on eBay. Here’s the eBay link for the $15,000 bargain: http://www.ebay.com/itm/370580142578

    Comment by admin — July 6, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

  6. Looks like the Barnum cabinet on eBay being sold by Just Collect ended and is no longer available. The $15,000 buy-it-now bogus Barnum cabinet being offered on eBay by History-Direct is still for sale.

    Comment by admin — July 8, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

  7. Everyone makes mistakes. The PSA DNA LOA was not signed by Joe Orlando, that is Steve Grad’s autograph.

    Comment by A friend — July 10, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

  8. Hello, very interesting read. One of these was just discovered in an album from the Cival War era. The album belonged to my husband’s great grandfather. It is also signed and dated 1885. So dumb question….are any of these authentic?

    Comment by Audrey — April 9, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

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