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    Autograph education

    The COA pictured above was issued with a special brushed metal version of Kasey Kahne's 2005 Bud Shootout Win that was offered exclusively to QVC - For Race Fans Only.  If you read the language written in the COA that was issued with the car it does not cover authenticity of the autograph. 

    Some sellers on eBay®, and even independent websites have used on-line Diecast Car Registration Services, such as the former MA Din Registry and “Die-cast Registry” to register cars with bogus autographs, then creatively reference the service in their description as a validation tool to support the legitimacy of their bogus autograph.  In simpler terms, they are using the die cast registry service to fool potential Buyers into believing the autographs are real and genuine because the die cast car serial number is registered. It should be noted, Die-cast Car registration sites are only that, a place to register your diecast, and they do not Authenticate Autographs! 

    Look for Sellers who use terms similar to, "Our items will pass Third Party Autograph Authentication with any of the eBay® approved Authentication companies,"  but fail to submit it themselves on your behalf if requested.  Some Sellers use the "Third Party Autograph Authentication Companies as nothing more than a way to gain consumer confidence, but in reality they have no intent of using their services and hope you don't either.  What they ultimately hope for are that potential buyers will be content that if a Dealer or Seller guarantees they would pass Third Party Authentication, then they assume the autograph is legitimate.  What most people may not know is it costs approximately $20 plus on average per autograph to have an Authentication Company  examine the autograph.  That fee is collected whether it passes authentication or not, so it may make sense why some Sellers of bogus autographs might not want to pay for that service ahead of time, especially if they know the item will fail authentication. Our point is this, consider asking Dealers to pre-authenticate the item with Third Party Authentication, and offer to pay for the item and authentication when it is complete. It might be interesting to hear what an unscrupulous Dealer, or Seller may tell you, especially if they know their items are bogus and will not pass authentication.

    In Conclusion - These autograph buying and collecting tips are only meant to provide some basic education and act as a helpful guide when considering the acquisition of an autographed item. We strongly encourage individuals to use these tips as a whole.  More importantly trust yourself in this process, use common sense, and only acquire what makes you feel comfortable.  Understand that Motorsports Athletes make themselves widely available to fans, and provide way more autographs then any other sports athletes.  With that being said, there is an abundance of authentic autographs in the market place and by utilizing these simple tips can help you acquire many of those autographs for your own collection. Have fun collecting and should anyone have any further questions, feel free to contact us.  We are always here  to help.

    The 3 cards pictured above are all different, however, note the exact similarity with each autograph in size and structure.  You will also notice a "dot like" mark at the beginning and end of the signature which is common with autopen as the machine starts and stops.

    The image to the left and above is the back of the 2012 Press Pass Ignite Brad Keselowski signed "Ink Card."  It is shown to illustrate how even officially licensed autographs sometimes slip through the process and can make it into public distribution as authentic autographs.

    The example mentioned above is extreme and rare, and the reality of the situation is if you find yourself trying to decide on a purchase of something you just are not sure about, make sure you still take steps  to ensure the "sale is not final."  Be open and honest with the seller and ask him or her if they will accept a "money back" return if the item fails to pass third party authentication for autograph authenticity.  If the seller agrees, remember to get it writing.

    Lastly, always trust your instincts, especially if they are telling you not to buy it.

    Beware of These Trends - A common industry trend amongst some Sellers of Counterfeit Autographs is to refer to the piece as being an "Authentic Hand Signed Collectible" but make no reference to who it was signed by. In other words, the authenticity is only for the item being "hand signed" and not hand signed by the desired person. This method is sometimes used by Athletes or Stars in “high demand” who have authorized agents that will sign on behalf of the actual person for items submitted to them in the mail. Unscrupulous Dealers/Sellers will sometimes include this kind of language in their descriptions or COA’s to protect them because they know they are selling bogus autographs and it gives the illusion upon first glance that the autograph is authentic and that of the person advertised. 

    Another misleading practice amongst those engaging in fraud is to use the COA of a a special finish car that were commonly issued with cars sold by QVC and attempt to mislead a collector into thinking the COA issued is for the autograph  itself.  An example of this is shown below:

    Private Party Certificates of Authenticity are COA's that are issued by an independent source, usually the person that either acquired an authentic autograph, or is trying to pass a forged autograph.  A Private Party COA is really only as good as the reputation of the person issuing it, and even then, should you want to eventually sell that autographed item, it may be difficult without having to get it authenticated through a third party source.  Generally speaking most experienced autograph collectors will not recognize a COA issued by Private Party as anything meaningful, unless it comes with an authenticity guarantee (see above for further explanation).

    Important Disclaimer about any kind of COA - Even the most reliable COA's have flaws in their system.  For example, there is nothing that prevents a dishonest or unscrupulous individual from forging a "Kevin Harvick" autograph and attaching a KHI issued COA to that item as a means to make it appear real.  The point being, even the best or most reliable kind of COA's are not a guarantee of authenticity by themselves and steps should be taken to evaluate the autograph as a whole.

    Many COA's, such as the hologram COA programs of Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon, and especially those issued by third party have many built in security features that are designed to prevent fraud loopholes like the example mentioned above.  For obvious reasons, many of those security features are not made public.  Often times you can verify the authenticity of an autograph by calling the source of authentication.

    Know the Dealer/Seller – As mentioned above, a COA is really only as good as the reputation of the issuing source, so it only makes sense to get to know the source offering the autograph too.  The best way to do that:  Ask Questions? And ask many of them? An honest Dealer/Seller should talk openly about their autographs and have nothing to hide.  Any honest Dealer/Seller will understand your reason for questions and should be able to professionally respond to your inquiries so long as they are within reason. Listen intently to his or her response, and more importantly, look at the body language as they deliver their response.  Body language alone speaks volumes, especially if the Dealer or Seller is not telling the truth and has something to hide.  If buying from online auction sites, check the seller's reputation and user history. What do others have to say about their merchandise? How long have they been selling autographs? What’s the volume of autographs they sell?  Are their autographs always sold well under market value?  These all are signs to look for.  Those that engage in selling bogus autographs are not in business long before they are eventually shut down by the auction company.  Auction houses such as eBay® have a duty to act in the event somebody is selling known forged autographs for fear of civil liability. 

    What to do when you have an autographed item in hand and you want to buy? -  If the item is not pre-authenticated by any of the above mentioned methods, don’t be afraid to immediately compare the autograph piece you are considering and be your own expert by matching it up with known exemplars you can find on-line thru your smart-phone.  The autograph should still look somewhat similar, and if it does not, this is the time to start asking the above mentioned questions?  If the autograph item is a photo, it's easy to analyze the autograph to make sure that it is not a pre-print or autopen.

    • Pre-print - mass produced pictures where the signature is part of the photograph .
    • Autopen - machines that can sign identical autographs quickly and sometimes accurately

    Since pre-printed signatures are part of the photo, the autograph usually appears to be below the surface gloss of the picture. To test, hold the photo at an angle to a light source.  A real signature is on top of the photo and will have a different level of reflectivity compared to the rest of the picture. The glare of a pre-printed signature will blend right in with the photo. You can also run your finger over the top of the autograph. If it is genuinely autographed, you will feel a difference in texture as your hand runs over the ink. 

    Autopens usually appear to be shaky because the autopen machine vibrates as it signs. With an autopen, there will also be abrupt starts and stops to the signature and the signature will almost be an exact replica of other autopen signatures because it is in essence a programmed machine conducting the autograph.

    The below listed images illustrates an example of autopen signatures.  In 2012, Press Pass released the "Ignite Racing Series" trading card.  A special "Ink Card" insert of Brad Keselowski was included in the series, which featured what was thought to be an authentic autograph of Brad Keselowski.  It was later discovered this card was in fact an autopen signature of Brad Keselowski.  Aside from the fact this was a known autopen signature, it is also is a real example of how even official licensed sources can sometimes unknowingly receive unauthentic signatures.  This information is only being shared to provide collectors with education and specific background on autopen signatures seen below and is not meant to affect the reputation of Press Pass Inc.  Matter of fact, it should be noted that Press Pass Inc. took responsibility for the situation and issued a press release on the matter (Press Release)

    Third Party Certificates of Authenticity are COA's that are issued by independent companies that witness or examine autographed items for authenticty.  These type of COA's are the most common for Dealers or Collectors that obtain autographs themselves.  There are usually two different kinds of COA's that are issued by these third party companies:  

    1. "Signed in the presence of" - meaning the autograph signing was witnessed by a Representative of the Co.
    2. "Expert Analysis" - meaning the autograph was examined by an Expert Authenticator and compared to genuine authentic autographs.

    Each COA comes with a specific serial number associated with the item, a matching tamper proof sticker attached to the autographed item itself, and registration in a web based database that can be researched from their website.  Global Authentics, JSA (John Spence Authentication), and PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) are widely considered the leaders in third party Autograph Authentication.  These are the only three companies that are considered  "eBay® Approved" and of these three, Global Authentics is the only one that has a "Motorsports" division of authentication

    Third Party Autograph Authentication is widely considered the last level of authenticity protection offered to collectors, before it falls 100% on the reputation of the person offering the autograph.  

    The next most reliable forms of Certificates of Authenticity are the COA's that come from licensed sources that distribute the autograph such as the Ofificial NASCAR® Store, Lionel/RCCA, QVC/For Race Fans Only, or Major Distributors that sometimes bring the drivers in for signing events.  Examples of some of  the COA's issued from these sources are pictured to the right.

    The Best and most reliable Certificates of Authenticity are the COA's that come direct from the Driver's themselves.  These COA's are issued in the form of Official Driver Holograms or Certificates of Authenticty that bears the name of the Drivers Official Co. or Foundation. 

    Pictured for reference are the Official Certificates of Authenticty issued by Kevin Harvick Inc and Kasey Kahne Inc.  Also pictured are the Official Holograms of Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon.  It should be noted that any autographed items of Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon that include their holograms, typically do not come with a matching COA in paper form.

    As a general rule, collecting autographs that you have not personally obtained or witnessed should involve your own authenticity process.  This guide and the tips we offer should assist you with that process.

    Educate Yourself & Do Some Research - Search for known Official exemplars of signatures on the internet to help protect yourself from forgeries or secretarial autographs. Make sure the Dealer/Seller has, or can provide a close-up of the signature on the piece, that way you can better compare the autograph with a known genuine autograph.  Most forgeries are easily recognizable just by utilizing this side-by-side comparison. 

    Read Sales Descriptions thoroughly (especially on listings for auction houses, such as eBay®) - Make sure that the autograph isn't being described as a preprint, reprint, copy, facsimile, secretarial, stamp, or autopen (a mechanical machine used to replicate an autograph). Also, make sure to read the "fine print" in the description, or in the Certificate of Authenticity, if one is issued (In the section titled “Beware of these trends” listed below, we’ve included specific examples of what to look for).

    Look for a Money Back Guarantee on the items Authenticity - Be sure that the Dealer/Seller guarantees the authenticity of their items and has a policy for such.  Make sure that policy is in writing and available for you to view or print should you decide to purchase. Often times some Dealers or Sellers claim to offer a guarantee on the authenticity of their autographed item(s), however, the policy itself is nowhere to be found, or does not exist.  Do not take their word on it and get it in writing.

    Know the difference in Certificates of Authenticity - A COA in and of itself, is no guarantee an autograph is real, so don't be fooled by the generic term, "comes with a COA."  While the claim may look good when it accompanies an autographed item, knowing the differences in the different type of COA's is a very important factor to successful autograph collecting.  Stating it in simple terms, it needs to be understood that not all COA's are equal.  For example, a COA that is issued direct from Dale Earnhardt Jr's Company is more likely to be a genuine autograph then a generic COA issued by an independent eBay® Seller for a similar type Dale Earnhardt Jr. autographed item.  This is not to say that both items are not real, and is only meant to illustrate that Collectors should know the difference in the type of COA's issued.  Another way to further illustrate this point is to simply judge each COA by potential motive of the issuing party.  In other words, in the big picture of business, what does the issuing party have to gain or lose by issuing their COA?  Using the example above, it is very unlikely that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Co. will put at risk the millions of dollars in assets to get into the forgery business for a few thousand dollars in return.  In comparison, an independent eBay® Seller may be more willing to take that risk and produce their own COA in hopes they can fool an uneducated buyer.  Stating it bluntly, if somebody with nothing really to lose is willing to offer a known forged autographed, why would that same person not be willing to offer their own COA to get you to acquire their item?

    There is an unofficial pecking order that all autograph collectors should understand as it relates to COA's and their level of credibility in the autograph collecting industry.  This is only meant to be taken as a general rule of understanding, and is not to imply that because an item has a COA issued with Official NASCAR® licensing the item is real, or because an eBay® Seller offers an item with his own COA, the item in bogus. 

    The below listed, are examples of the different type of COA's issued within the autograph collecting industry:

    autographs 101

    autograph buyers & collectors guide

    Before you buy, know the first rule with autograph collecting- The only way to ensure an autograph is 100% real is to witness it being signed yourself.  Outside of that, it should be a common practice that all autographs,regardless of their source,  should be questioned or examined for authenticity.  Here is a simple and fundamental breakdown about autographs that are not signed in your presence that all collectors should know:    

    1. They are authentic and come from an Official Licensed Source     
    2. They are authentic and come from  Reputable Dealers     
    3. They are authentic and come from  Reputable Collectors/Hobbyist    
    4. They sometimes come from the sources named above and are forged by individuals, instruments, or printing devices.

    We created this webpage to help educate people in the hobby of autograph and motorsports memorabilia collecting.  This page is only meant to act as a basic educational guide for collectors when considering the purchase of an autographed item or unique piece of memorabilia.