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The Dreaded Certificate Of Authenticity
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By Kenny Lindsay 
Certified Auctioneer 
Picture yourself sitting at a stop light in rush hour traffic when you see a little old lady walking with her cane crossing the intersection as the neon orange sign across the street is flashing "DON'T WALK..DON'T WALK..DON'T WALK".

The little old lady is more focused on the cracks in the weather beaten pavement than her surroundings. An unbearable anxiety consumes your body when you spot a cargo truck traveling at excessive speeds, anticipating the red the light to turn green.

You quickly calculate that within a few seconds, this lady is going to be right in the dead path of the truck which has no knowledge of the woman's presence. Frantically you blow the horn and scream to the lady but she doesn't hear you. Despite your quick reaction - your warnings went unheard and the impending doom is inevitable.

Certainly not to the extent of the above situation, but it's that sickening and helpless feeling I get every time I see the word 'Certificate of Authenticity'. Years ago, there was some legitimacy to the term but today, it's an over used and abused tool which is the snare to steal precious dollars from consumers pocketbooks.

The Certificate of Authenticity are great if you have a 'collectors' plate from the Bradford Exchange, a 'limited edition' (another overused sales term) Barbie doll or a celebrity endorsed weed whacker from an info-commercial. However, in terms of autographs, it's just a blindfold to the customer which more often than not, masks the truth behind the item. Authenticity letters are simple and provide no real benefit to the buyer.

Forgeries and the Certificate of Authenticity (AKA: COA's) DO go hand-in-hand. It appears the public is totally blinded by this fact. The public and shamefully, the dealers have this mentality embedded into their head that if it has a 'Certificate of Authenticity' is must be 'authentic'. I couldn't think of a better misconception.

Over the past several years, I have closely followed reports on FBI autograph raids, private lawsuits from collector vs. dealer and several isolated incidents pertaining to autograph forgeries. I found that an astonishing 98% of all dealers either accused , prosecuted, or convicted for selling fraudulent autographed memorabilia provided a 'Certificates of Authenticity' with the bogus merchandise. As far as I am concerned, this article should stop right here as this paragraph just delivered an accurate and powerful message to you. Nevertheless, I'll go on.

Is the 'Certificates of Authenticity' worthless? Absolutely not! Thousands of criminals are making a fortune off these. I couldn't think of a more prosperous investment where a one cent piece of paper with generic photocopy script has the capability of generating thousands of dollars. There is such a thing as a 'smart' criminal.

Certificates of Authenticity come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. Most look cheap where the vendor fills in the blank with the name of the celebrity/athlete and then signs his supposed real name to so-called attest to the authenticity of the purchased artifact. Others portray a highly professional and elaborate appearance. Some have fancy holograms, fictitious registration codes, phony company names and addresses.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Your attention please. Welcome to Business Marketing and Sales 101.

Our customers have proved that the 'Certificates of Authenticity' is the ultimate sales tool. Did you catch that? That's right, it's an effective sales tool which proves as no benefit to the consumer.

Can you blame the novice autograph dealer or the 14 year old kid with zero authentication skills for distributing authenticity letters to the public? Absolutely not! They are simply delivering what the customers demand. Many dealers are actually pressured to provide the useless certificates because many customers absolutely refuse to buy unless the item has the Certificate of Authenticity. Frankly, the only thing these useless documents provide to the customer is a false sense of security.

Not every autographed item of memorabilia is fake just because it is accompanied with a Certificate of Authenticity. However, the question you need to ask yourself is. "What merit does the signer of the Certificate carry?" "Is the signer of the certificate a nationally recognized authority on autograph authentication?" Probably not. So this leads to my next question, if you answered "no" to either of these questions then what purpose does the certificate hold?

Take for instance that you purchased an autographed item and somehow find out that the item is a forgery? What legal recourse do you have in a case where a vendor sells you a forged item with a Certificate of Authenticity? Let me first start out by saying that the legal consequences for those selling forged memorabilia is less dramatic than a slap on the wrist. 

Certificates of Authenticity are often dismissed in a court of law for the fact that there is no solid evidence that the bogus autograph actually was accompanied with that particular certificate. As insane as this sounds, this is the harsh reality. Basically, your legal recourse is zero unless the seller is proven guilty of selling over $1,000 in bogus goods and the FBI gets directly involved. Unless you get involved in a class action suit which is about as unlikely as it gets, you might as well hang up your efforts. It will be an uphill battle and the most you're going to receive is your purchase price. Authenticity letter or not.

If it were up to me, Certificates of Authenticity would be illegal and those that represent such documents with autographed merchandise would be automatically guilty of a felony unless they possess a degree in handwriting forensics. Currently, there is no legislation opposed to such certificates and until there is, the fraud will continue.

The lesson to be learned is you need to break free from the 'Certificate of Authenticity' myth and always remember that 'Forgeries are supposed to look like the real thing'. Look up when you walk and listen for the warning calls.


  • Forget 'Certificates of Authenticity'
  • NEVER look for 'bargains' on autographs, i.e., 'Sylvester Stallone autographed 8x10 photograph $18.00'. DO NOT EXIST!
  • Limit your dealer base to a maximum of 4
  • Keep detailed records of the origin of your purchase
  • NEVER 'rush' your collection. Carefully choose your purchases
  • Educate yourself on the 'Autopen' (Automatic Signing Machine) These are public enemy #1 within the autograph industry.
  • Subscribe to autograph collecting magazines and gain valuable knowledge
  • Deal with convention promoters and obtain signatures 'in person' where possible
  • Look both ways before crossing the road.


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