Elvis signature 1957 1500 crop

fake elvis autographs on records and memorabilia

COUNTERFEITING ELVIS ITEMS has been going on since at least the early ’60s when the FBI be­lieves that mob-related or­ga­ni­za­tions printed mil­lions of copies of sev­eral best-selling al­bums from the 1950s and early ’60s. Other records in­clude fine re­pro­duc­tions of the Sun 45s and 78s, var­ious pieces of mem­o­ra­bilia, and fake sets of the 1956 Topps bubble gum cards. And faking Pres­ley’s sig­na­ture has been big busi­ness for decades.

Fake au­to­graphed mem­o­ra­bilia being sold at charity fundraisers sounds like the act of a mis­an­thrope at best, a so­ciopath more likely. Cheating those who are spending their money knowing that it will go to help others is rather das­tardly.

This is re­ally not some­thing that even gets dis­cussed much, es­pe­cially by those folks putting on these events.

 

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.

 

And yet, “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.”

What fol­lows is more or less the com­plete (if slightly mod­i­fied) ar­ticle “Fake rock mem­o­ra­bilia sold at charity fundraisers” by Hagir Limor (Fox19Now, Feb­ruary 26, 2014). Nor­mally, I don’t pay at­ten­tion to au­to­graphs, as they do not in­terest me as a record col­lector, but this needs more at­ten­tion.

I have sep­a­rated the text from Mr. Limor’s piece by placing it be­tween hor­i­zontal lines.

So, read on …

 

EasterPostcard1967

This post­card was pro­vided to re­tailers for Easter 1967 and given away cus­tomers at stores across the country. That is, this was a piece of RCA Victor pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial.

We trust the people we work with

“In Cincin­nati, one of the largest fundraisers of the year takes over the en­tire floor of the con­ven­tion center. The Rusty Ball ben­e­fits 162 local char­i­ties and at­tracted 3,300 donors this year. For its six-year run, the Ball has fea­tured a large as­sort­ment of au­to­graphed music mem­o­ra­bilia: gui­tars, framed CDs or al­bums, and posters fea­turing the sig­na­tures of all the mem­bers of Led Zep­pelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Guns N Roses, and other such top acts as Bruce Spring­steen and Elton John.

‘We give to the charity on a reg­ular basis every year and love it,’ said Matt Ring, [who] shelled out $830 for an elec­tric guitar signed by the en­tire orig­inal lineup of the Rolling Stones.

 

Many cer­tifi­cates of au­then­ticity are just as fake as the items and are only as good as the person who put their name on it.

 

‘At the end of the day, the money’s going to a great or­ga­ni­za­tion and great people,’ said Chris Beebe. He [paid] $700 [for a] framed Bruce Spring­steen BORN TO RUN album, $780 [for a] elec­tric guitar signed by Spring­steen and the en­tire E Street Band, and $517 [for a] Van Halen 5150 album signed by the en­tire band.

Fox19 showed those sig­na­tures and others sold at the Rusty Ball to two leading na­tional ex­perts, who judged the items to be forg­eries. That in­cludes items that came with cer­tifi­cates of au­then­ticity.

The event’s or­ga­nizer says he and all the char­i­ties rep­re­sented at the event had any idea any items might be fake. ‘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.

His pop­ular ‘80s cover band the Rusty Gris­wolds orig­i­nated the Rusty Ball ‘to help as many folks in our com­mu­nity in one night as pos­sible. It is our hearts that make this thing happen.

 

VanHalenAuto

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

How we evaluated the items

The au­to­graph au­then­ti­ca­tion busi­ness is all about opinion. Head on­line and you can find dis­paraging com­ments about just about everyone in­volved in the busi­ness, often from in­siders speaking about their com­peti­tors. Fox19 sought out au­thor­i­ties rec­og­nized by major auc­tion houses or mem­o­ra­bilia dealers and whose names came up re­peat­edly as pos­sessing im­pec­cable rep­u­ta­tions.

We took high-resolution photos of mem­o­ra­bilia bought at the Rusty Ball. We first showed more than a dozen items to Cyrkin. He’s studied sig­na­tures for more than a decade, starting as a col­lector be­fore be­coming pub­lisher and ed­itor of Au­to­graph Mag­a­zine. He’s served as an ex­pert for na­tional news mag­a­zine shows among other venues.

 

All the au­to­graphs were signed by the same person, same pen stroke, same pres­sure, plus the sig­na­ture does not have the shape or form of what a real one would look like.

 

‘None of the sig­na­tures that you sent me were real, in my opinion,’ said Cyrkin. ‘I didn’t see one real au­to­graph.’

To be doubly sure, we turned to the man [that] Cyrkin calls the world’s top au­then­ti­cator of modern music au­to­graphs, Roger Ep­person. [He] au­then­ti­cates music au­to­graphs for Christies and Bonham’s, two of the world’s top auc­tion houses. He also served as the music au­to­graph au­then­ti­cator for PSA/DNA, the largest au­then­ti­ca­tion ser­vice in the United States.

Matt Ring brought in that Rolling Stones guitar signed by the en­tire band. Ep­person looked it over and said all the au­to­graphs ‘were signed by the same person, same pen stroke, same pres­sure, plus the sig­na­ture does not have the shape or form of what a real one would look like. This one’s def­i­nitely not au­thentic.’

Same thing with Chris Beebe’s three items. It was a process that re­peated throughout the day with item after item: Guns N Roses. Elton John. Led Zep­pelin. Pink Floyd.

 

BornRun_Auto

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

Pulling on heartstrings

Dr. Joe Gro­mada bought that last one, an elec­tric pink-colored Pink Floyd guitar with band sig­na­tures [that] Ep­person called forg­eries. Gromada’s not only a donor—but he also runs one of the char­i­ties ben­e­fiting from the Ball.

‘We have a foun­da­tion, and it’s [for] my son who died of cancer a year ago,’ said 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, up­wards of $5,000 each year.’

Gromada’s sur­viving son is a huge pink Floyd fan, so the doctor de­cided to spend $2,100 for the guitar to give as a gift to his son while sup­porting the cause. ‘It has some le­git­i­macy through the event and also some­thing that has an emo­tional con­text to it, my son dying and my other son wanting this guitar. I’m dis­ap­pointed to learn this. I still be­lieve in the Rusty Ball. The fact that they’ve been hood­winked a bit is sad.’

‘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.’

 

PSACert

A PSA/DNA Cer­tifi­cate of Au­then­ticity. Con­vincing yes, but who watches the watchers? I mean, who vouches for the au­then­ticity of this cer­tifi­cate of au­then­ticity?

Un-authentic certificates of authenticity?

On the backs of many of the signed gui­tars and framed al­bums, an at­tached en­ve­lope held a pre­cious letter: the 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.’

The other buyers also re­peat­edly pulled out their cer­tifi­cate of au­then­ticity s when they brought their items for Ep­person to eval­uate. Both Cyrkin and Ep­person say those cer­tifi­cates of au­then­ticity are just as fake as the items. ‘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.

Even though we showed Try­thall a clearly la­beled Coach’s Corner cer­tifi­cate of au­then­ticity, he in­sisted, ‘We don’t au­then­ti­cate. We sell items al­ready au­then­ti­cated.’ In­stead, he says they ‘cer­tify that the item is real.’

When we asked how he knows the sig­naures are real, he said. ‘We don’t. I’m not stupid enough to know all 4,000 lots are real, but most are.’

For those that are not, he says buyers have thirty days to re­turn the items and get their money back. In the case of charity auc­tions, most often the ul­ti­mate buyers can’t meet that 30-day time frame, and all of the buyers in Cincin­nati said they counted on the cer­tifi­cates they got, never ques­tioning that their goods might be fake.

We then showed Try­thall some of the same photos of items our ex­perts eval­u­ated. He looked them over and said they ‘may be au­thentic; to me it’s not an ob­vious forgery.’

Try­thall touted 23 years in the mem­o­ra­bilia busi­ness with never an of­fi­cial in­quiry by a public agency. Our public records search con­firmed that fact, but we also found that eBay has banned Coach’s Corner, re­fusing to allow it to sell on the site, and the Better Busi­ness Bu­reau has is­sued the com­pany an ‘F.’

 

PinkFloydGuitar

Guess which group this pink guitar be­longs to? And guess whose au­to­graphs (there are four of them) ain’t legit?

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.

Multi-million dollar industry

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.’ ”

 

EasterPostcard1968

This post­card was pro­vided to re­tailers for Easter 1968 and given away cus­tomers at stores across the country. That is, this was a piece of RCA Victor pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial.

You can never know an autograph is legitimate

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!

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.

 

Cox_Beatles

Perry Cox’s Bea­tles price guide has been around ad­dressing the is­sues of fake sig­na­tures by the Fab Four longer than most col­lec­tors have been paying for fake au­to­graphs. He ac­tu­ally iden­ti­fies and names the var­ious girls that worked for the Bea­tles faking their au­to­graphs on photos and mem­o­ra­bilia back in the ’60s!

Paperback writers

(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.)

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!

 

FakeElvisAutos400 2

The above are all gen­uine sig­na­tures that Elvis gave to RCA Victor for use on var­ious pro­mo­tional items, in­cluding bonus photos pack­aged with al­bums and the reg­ular Easter and Christmas post­cards given away at re­tail out­lets during the ’60s. These are easily copied from those items and forged onto other items. 

Fake RIAA 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!

 

BabeRuth

Three Babe Ruth au­to­graphed base­balls that sold for as much as $300,000 in the past few years. Ac­cording to hand-writing ex­perts, each was signed by a dif­ferent hand, none of them the Bam­bi­no’s. And these came from a col­lec­tion as­so­ci­ated with the hall of Fame in Coop­er­stown!

Fake autographs of sports stars

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.”

 

EasterPostcard1969

This post­card was pro­vided to re­tailers for Easter 1969 and given away cus­tomers at stores across the country. That is, this was a piece of RCA Victor pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial.

Fake Elvis autographs and others

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.”

There were also sec­re­taries who were hired and trained to sign Elvis’s name to photos and let­ters to fans. These are easily copied from those items and forged onto other items. For ex­ample, the sig­na­ture that re­sides at the top of this page as a header may be gen­uine or not; I don’t know nor do I care, as my point is made ei­ther way: caveat emptor!

Only 24% of Elvis Presley and Mar­ilyn Monroe sig­na­tures and a paltry 6% of au­to­graphed Bea­tles mem­o­ra­bilia are au­thentic ac­cording to PSA/DNA Au­then­ti­ca­tion Ser­vices, Click To Tweet

Elvis signature 1957 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: This au­to­graph from 1957 (?) was signed by Elvis on the back of a fan’s per­sonal check from the Pre­ston State Bank in Dallas, Texas.

 

Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000

POSTSCRIPTUALLY, the number of scams pulled on Elvis col­lec­tors may be un­par­al­leled in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. The few times that I made it down to Mem­phis during the reg­ular Au­gust com­mem­o­ra­tion events, I was ap­palled at the number of dealers pulling the wool over the eyes of cus­tomers.

I know al­most nothing about au­to­graphs; I re­pub­lish the ar­ticle below as a warning against spending large sums of money on autographs—even those sold by rep­utable dealers with au­then­tifi­ca­tion from rep­utable ex­perts.

Fi­nally, check out two other sites: “A Col­lec­tor’s Guide to Elvis” by Bill White and “How to Spot a Fake Au­to­graph” web­site, both il­lus­trated with hand­writing sam­ples.

Again and ever, buyer be wary …

 

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Neal, Word to the wise, my friend, word to the wise. I never got into col­lecting au­to­graphs, ’cause you can’t play ’em! I love records!

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