Collecting Advice: Don’t Make This Mistake With A Collection

I am posting only briefly to say that I am minorly traumatized by recent events that happened in the actual physical location of The Vault.

Upon opening a giant (4 foot long, i.e. so big it had handle openings cut into its ends so it can be moved) cardboard footlocker-sized box of posters I have not looked in since 2003, I discovered the remains of what was a rodent ‘condominium development’. I say the remains, because the mice responsible were evicted well over 2 years ago (their food source was eliminated as soon as I became aware of their presence in the house). So I wasn’t confronted with any actual mice or their corpses.

What I did find were some destroyed posters, thoroughly chewed and shredded. Color me upset and mildly grossed out.

Most of the posters I lost were thankfully not VDO related…in fact the only posters like that affected were my 3 US single sided styles A B & C posters for ‘The Cell’. Thankfully these weren’t expensive posters and will not be hard to replace (in fact I will probably go ahead and spend a little extra for the double sided versions I had wanted in the first place). But the mess that had to be cleaned up was not fun and took me several days to straighten out. And I lost some of my other lesser movie posters and many promotional and concert music posters (from an earlier collecting phase) which I liked and was saving to get framed at some point so I’m kind of mourning their loss and frustrated that it was so easy for the mice to ruin them.

At least I had the good sense to store the most important and/or valuable posters inside thick walled poster tubes with plastic end caps…mice were unable to enter these at all. The posters either not in tubes or in a few cases in partially capped tubes towards the bottom of the box were the ones that got shredded into confetti. But I have definitely learned not to store anything “shreddable” and “organic” like paper or wool or cotton in cardboard boxes in the basement (the same mice destroyed a few sweaters of mine stored in cardboard wardrobe boxes, the kind you get from a moving company that have a metal pole from which you can hang hangers and the same offending handle openings cut into two of its sides).

I think what happens with the violated cardboard boxes is some of the mice enter through the handle holes, get stuck in the boxes and shred up anything between them and getting back out of the boxes. They all eventually figure out how to escape but they leave a lot of damage in the aftermath.

This not so subtle wake-up call prompted me to upgrade every kind of item I am storing related to VDO that will fit into the following nifty storage container made by Sterilite:

Sterilite Wheeled Footlocker

I have invested in 9 of them so far and have plans to buy at least one more (for VDO TV appearances and movies on DVD, VCD, VHS tapes and laserdiscs which are currently split between 2 18 gallon Rubbermaid tubs). Unlike the locker pictured in the photo, the ones I found are black with a white handle although they also come in a deep blue with a silver handle. They strike me as extremely rodent-proof, easy to move around and easy to store. They’re not exactly cheap, but they are easy to find in my area and give me piece of mind should critters decide to try and move into the house again (living in the country this is always a strong possibility). And transferring everything into what I think of as safer containers has made me better organize and catalog what I have. So this is something of a blessing in disguise. I just wish these had existed when I started collecting…they would have saved me some grief (but then so would me packing away the posters more carefully in the first place).

I still need to find something more suited to posters that are more than 4′ in their smallest dimension (things like banners and subway sized posters) but I have some ideas about how to better protect those than with only capped cardboard tubes stacked on their ends in lidless plastic Rubbermaid tubs.

So I and the stuff are going to be okay. In the relative scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal and it could have been worse. And 99.8% of my VDO stuff is unaffected although it’s been eye opening to find that I needed to get so many of these footlockers to house 6+ years worth of collecting efforts.

Still I don’t understand why the mice picked my collection to shred when they could have done the same to papers stored in cardboard boxes with handle holes…those they left untouched…go figure.


Music “Don’t Ask Me Why” Acoustic Version by The Eurythmics (from the promotional only ‘Acoustic Eurythmics’ CD Sampler released in 1989)

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Fan Folly FeeBay Auction of 2007: ‘Salt On Our Skin’ German Press Kit Worth $510.01?!?!

Yikes!

Well some fangurl with a far greater limit on her credit card than amount of common sense just ‘won’ a German press kit on ebaY for $510.01 (that’s *before* shipping)!

I don’t follow feebay auctions all that religiously, but that’s got to be some kind of record. It surely breaks the $400+ ‘Guy’ press kit record I blogged about several months ago.

In my case, I got my first German ‘Salt On Our Skin’ press kit back in 2001 for what I though (then) was a hefty $25.00 including shipping. Of course mine came with the booklet (which I have yet to upload an image of because it won’t fit on my scanner, it’s the size of a vinyl record album or a laserdisc) 2 more black and white 5×7″ photos than what the high bidder will receive (6 vs. 4) plus 13 different slides (the winner is not getting any slides but at that stupidly high price, she should be getting everything I got hand-delivered to her by VDO himself).

My second copy of the same kit only has one photo and 2 slides and thus cost me $10.00. However that one has already been passed on to another owner who wisely wishes to remain anonymous.

Looks like VDO has become more popular and profitable than I would have predicted…boy if I had the email address of the winner I could *seriously* cash in (I do have other extra press materials etc acquired at less spectacular prices from many different countries that I put away for many reasons, just one of them being an educated guess that VDO’s popularity would soar thanks to LO:CI)

But I’ve at least scanned the photos so that if you’re not the auction ‘winner’ you don’t have to spend muy mucho $$$ to see them for yourself…they’re in my 100th flickr photo set at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vdo_vault/sets/72157600298064868/

One of the nicer ones this winner isn’t getting is:

Appropriate music ‘Deeper And Deeper’ by Madonna (as in the winner is putting herself ‘deeper and deeper’ in debt to a soul-stealing corporation)

Oh Happy Day! Film Butchers Rye By Post Are In Receivership

Well I just got this bit of *excellent* news from one of the many collector/preservationist discussion boards I hang out at.

Apparently some aspects of the made-up movie and TV memorabilia business are not as profitable as they are cracked up to be…the UK’s Rye By Post which takes *reprint* photos and *butchered* bits of film which they call ‘filmcells’, a couple of metal plaques and some glassed in picture frames and matting and make the whole lot up into ‘movie memorabilia’ to sell at grossly inflated prices is *bankrupt* and has been taken over by receivers as of today!

Hallelujah! Amen…overpriced home-made collectibles aren’t worth what Rye By Post thought they were and the market has voted with its complete and utter apathy! I *love* it!

The spin Rye By Post puts on this in an ebaY ‘guide’ (and these guides are supposed to help collectors not serve as press releases or crappy advertising so no way am I reproducing their link for you, they don’t deserve the free recommendation) is absolutely priceless (the typos and misspellings are all theirs):

“Ryebypost is in administration !

Ryeby post makers of filmcells also known as film cells cels cells or film media are now out of business, this is a huge shock to the memorabillia world. Ryebypost ceased trading on the 07 05 07 when the admistrators were called in to sort the companies finance. Ryebypost held licences to produce film cells like spiderman 3 the wizard of oz and Scarface, many of the orders placed by distributors have not been fulfilled.

We have many items still in stock but these are now HIGHLY COLLECTABLE as they will NEVER BE REMADE.

There are literally thousands of website advertisements for items that will simply not be delivered, many companies now have to go through databases to remove the much saught after stock.”

This is great news for those of us who collect originals…I will be glad to see them stop reprinting photos and butchering up classic movies (‘Full Metal Jacket’, ‘Ed Wood’, ‘Men In Black’ and ‘The Cell’ are the only VDO movies of which I am aware have received this treatment, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear of others being cut up in the name of commerce). It makes me want to strangle the idiots who think nothing of cutting up perfectly good prints of my favorite films like ‘Chariots Of Fire’ or ‘Blade Runner’ or even silent films like Lon Chaney’s ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ just to make a buck. People who prostitute my and millions of other people’s happy moviegoing memories in this fashion deserve a lot worse than to lose all their money.

Oh and I’ll bet that a lot of their music and sports memorabilia is bogus too…won’t it be fun when this crapfest of faux collectibles hits FeeBay at low low prices?

Not.

(Music: ‘I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’ The Alan Parsons Project)

Full Metal Rant: Now that ‘ full of “it” ‘ ebaY’s been hacked by vladuz, what can I do to protect myself?

I spent my weekend (including my 38th birthday yesterday) learning about a story that ebaY and PayPal would rather you not have a clue about.

Too bad for them that I’m going to spill the beans so you can protect yourself from a security compromise the impact of which is too huge to get your mind around.

The bottom line?

ebaY has been hacked. Big time. Multiple breaches even. And your ebaY accounts, your PayPal accounts, and all of the financial information attached to them could be seriously compromised.

Most Americans are unaware of what has happened as most of the auctions affected were run by non-US sellers but somewhere around December of 2006 it became clear that certain nefarious people (generally outside of the USA) were able to take over innocent people’s accounts (a TKO in ebaY speak), run all kinds of scamming and infringing listings, divert funds from the sellers PayPal accounts, stiffing both buyers and sellers and generally cause a lot of grief and harm for these innocent sellers and their unsuspecting bidders.

ebaY wants you to believe that this was a couple of isolated, minimally damaging incidents, that they’re all in the past and that sellers and bidders are either too careless in how they come up with their passwords or that they are too trusting and will easily allow themselves to tricked into clicking on a link in an unsolicited email and thereby duped into giving sellers their names and passwords.

To spin one of their slogans: ebaY is full of “it”

Over the past few days a Romanian hacker calling himself (or herself) “vladuz” has posted screenshots of a few pages from ebaY’s internal databases…one showed a taken over seller’s account history and the more sinister one showed ebaY employee names, email addresses, and passwords.

Take a look at http://www.auctionguild.com/generic148.html and feel free to shudder. I know I did when I saw what was there.

I am certainly not very knowledgeable about executing hacks and cracks but I can sure tell you this…what vladuz showed off, you can’t get access to via mere carelessness with an ordinary user’s email address and password or clicking in email links. Possibly if you did act so ‘carelessly’ with an ebaY.com account, you could have let someone into the ebaY system, but until vladuz surfaced, presumably you had to be an ebaY employee to have an ebaY.com email address and access to their databases, servers and the information of millions of registered users around the world. And presumably ebaY employees were taught by ebaY not to be so careless with an ebaY.com account…but I digress..

As of yet no one is really sure what all vladuz has access to…over the past several hours, ebaY users (especially those in the UK and Germany) have seen vladuz take over other people’s auctions (and as proof vladuz includes either ‘zudlav’ or ‘vladuz’ in the auction listing text), compromise two existing ebaY employee accounts and post using their ids to ebaY discussion boards (which are often called ‘pink’ accounts or ‘pinks’ or ‘pinkliners’ for the pink header line that is automatically attached to an ebaY.com account’s posting to an ebaY discussion board), and even *create* his or her very own pink account (vladuzsgi).

So what the heck has ebaY been doing about this?

Well besides pulling hijacked auctions as fast as they can find them and essentially chasing their own tails because new auctions are constantly and repeatedly taken over, ebaY has been actively doing everything it can to KILL THIS STORY. Those in charge at ebaY have not only been deleting vladuz’s discussion posts on ebaY discussion boards, they delete any postings mentioning the name ‘vladuz’ by other ebaY users, they delete postings with the word ‘hacked’ in them, and they suspend users who keep discussing the same from being able to post to the ebaY discussion boards.

While I find this a somewhat questionable use of their time money and resources (while they chase discussion board posters away, vladuz keeps popping up to show off what else he/she has access to and can exploit) ebaY at least has some justification for trying to gag their own users on their own site.

However as of yesterday ebaY went too far.

ebaY is attempting to supress the information of which an increasing number of its users are already aware…that the implications of these hacking incidents are that a large quantity of sensitive information (financial and otherwise) are at extreme risk and that the problem is so huge that ebaY has to come clean with the whole wide world.

Instead the powers behind ebaY are intimidating both ordinary registered users and those who are online authorities who cover online auction related news. In particular the treatment of the people behind The Auction Guild is especially suspicious: TAG’s legitimate questions about vladuz and the purported security of ebaY and PayPal were fobbed off onto an inexperienced ebaY PR spokesperson

http://www.auctionguild.com/generic149.html

and now for some strange reason if you visit TAG’s site using an the Opera browser, their site is on a list of ‘suspected fradulent sites’

http://www.auctionguild.com/generic150.html

The fact that according to the article above ebaY’s legal team is attempting to intimidate vladuz’s web host (who is in Germany) into following US tradmark law and the DMCA to stop a purportedly Romanian hacker (who could be anywhere in the world right now) not withstanding, all signs point to the fact that whoever is running ebaY has officially lost their collective mind.

Strongarming internet users and journalists into silence isn’t going to solve the problem…coming clean with users (which if PayPal has been compromised may be *required* under California state law at least as far as ebaY users registered in California are concerned and it would not be hard for the powers that be in Sacramento to get jurisdiction over the company up the road in San Jose or the company they own a few states over in Omaha) and taking the business of online security more seriously is the ONLY VIABLE WAY out of this morass.

My more knowledgable friends say that solving ebaY’s security holes may not be possible given how cobbled together the whole architecture of the ebaY-PayPal system is. I don’t know if that is true but it is time to address the most important question:

If I’m an ebaY and/or a PayPal user, what do I do to protect myself?

First, from now on watch your ebaY and PayPal accounts and the bank and credit card accounts attached to them *like a hawk*. If you see something suspicious, notify the appropriate parties immediately.

If you have largely inactive or abandoned ebaY or PayPal accounts you should close them *immediately*. Keep your balances in your still used PayPal account(s) low and transfer money out of them (preferably and ultimately to a more secure bank account not attached to a PayPal account) often.

In terms of bidding on ebaY auctions that require payment by *PayPal only*, consider setting up a PayPal account for payment whose only source for funding is one of the preloaded fixed limit credit cards you can purchase at your local bank/shopping mall/grocery store…the fees for these run from $2-$10 but the peace of mind they could provide may be worth that many times over. Such card numbers can also be attached to a throwaway free email account if you further want to protect your privacy and minimize spam and phishing emails.

In terms of accepting money via some kind of third party online payment system, you might consider signing up for Google Payments, but if you are selling items on ebaY, be aware that ebaY cancels ebaY auction listings that state that they accept Google Payments (talk about being anti-competitive and monopolistic).

I really don’t have a good solution for ebaY sellers short of just not offering PayPal payment as an option…they may be forced to go back to money orders and possible personal or business checks and get merchant accounts for credit card processing for payment, but better safe and a little slower and possibly more expensive than fast cheap and sorry.

It also goes without saying that you should *never* send wire transfers (Western Union, MoneyGram, etc) to pay for anything you buy online…once the money is wired it is G-O-N-E forever.

Finally tell your friends and family who use ebaY or PayPal know what is happening there and discuss ideas for protecting yourselves when you bid or buy online with them.

Anyhow here are some story links to get you started educating yourself on this situation (it’s too bad I have to do what ebaY should be doing):
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/23/vladuz_strikes_again/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/20/ebay_conspiracy

http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m02/i22/s03/:
http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m02/i23/s01/

Typical screen captured ebaY discussions are available at:
p://www.ebaymotorssucks.com/
http://firemeg.blogspot.com/

Groups discussing this issue off of ebaY and in their own forums are at
http://www.pheebay.com/
http://www.powersellersunite.com/

Oh and for the powers that be at ebaY/PayPal who might want to have their legal teams send me harassing letters, etc…it might behoove you to know that I happen to be a licensed attorney (my bar card is from Texas) and I can figure out what all my rights and legal protections are….enough said.

VDO Signature(??) Examples: The Evolution

Well I finally had a chance to upload the 2 VDO signature examples I have seen out there so now you can see for yourself what I mean when I say that I think VDO has changed his signature style.

Here is an example of what I call VDO’s “old’ signature style:

Vincent D'Onofrio Old Style Signature(?)

Now here is an example of what I call VDO’s ‘new’ signature style:

Vincent D'Onofrio New Style Signature(?) 

Personally I liked the old style signature better — while it looks a little less ‘movie star-ish’, it looks like a complete signature. The new style is very stylized but you can see that very few letters (a ‘V.’, a ‘D’, and maybe ‘Onf’ then nothing) are actually made (in this case also on a Full Metal Jacket movie poster reprint). Somewhere around the time of ‘Men In Black’, I think the VDO signature style change happened (which would coincide with an increase in his popularity and increased demands on his time to sign autographs). Almost everything I have seen that is supposedly signed by VDO since LOCI began in 2001 has the new style signature on it.

This newer signature is probably designed to save the amount of time & effort VDO would have to make to complete each signature request (most of which I bet don’t come from fans but from autograph dealers and/or online auction sellers who seize an opportunity to make a few $$$ should they run into someone with some fame like VDO).

Do I think either or both of these signatures are fakes? Well I know the posters on which these signatures appear are reprints. So it’s possible the signatures aren’t authentic either. One of the posters had a ‘Stanley Kubrick’ autograph on it which made me *very* suspicious (at least of the Kubrick signature as well as of the poster). Kubrick was loath to do much publicity especially in his later years and was not known to leave England much once he moved there in the late 1960s. And he died not long after ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was released back in March of 1999.

But I don’t think that VDO is having someone else sign for him (autograph collectors call signatures like these ‘secretarial signatures’) or using a mechanical device to sign for him (these are called ‘autopenned’ signatures in the autograph collecting hobby), at least not yet. Give it some time though, some more career success and some more unpleasant incidents with the fans and the public in general and either one or both types of answering autograph requests could become standard practice for VDO (and that’s a pity).

To me I would be very suspicious of the newer style of VDO signature; because it is so simple, it would be easier to forge. It’s bad enough that the old style could be forged too.

Anyhow, fans & collectors beware.

Want To See More Of VDO? Get An ‘All-Region’ DVD Player

As I type up this post, I am happy to report that while I am behind most fans in watching LOCI episodes, I have seen *EVERY* project VDO has been in except the as yet unreleased ‘The Break Up’, a situation I will rectify in June of 2006 when it is theatrically released and the short film ‘Five Minutes, Mr Welles’ (which I am still figuring out who to put the pressure on to get this seen in the USA). And there are a lot of really obscure things VDO has done, so I consider this to be quite an accomplishment.

In most cases if I want to watch a VDO performance it’s just a matter of grabbing the right piece of media and popping it into the right media player. In a few cases that still means VHS tapes (most notably for ‘Household Saints’, because that is the only kind of media on which it was released). Given how magnetic media is subject to degradation and damage, I strive to get most of my VDO projects on DVD, a much more stable recording medium than videotape, but unfortunately that’s not always possible. I have horrific nightmares that some day I’ll go to put something on VHS tape into my VCR and *poof*! There goes my copy of a work I can’t replace.

Further I read stories about LOCI Season 2 DVDs being released in England and I grind my teeth at NBC-Universal until I remember that I bought an ‘all-region’ DVD player, so if I don’t want to wait out NBC-Uni Home Video USA, I could fork over some extra cash and catch up sooner rather than later (right now I’m sticking to my guns and my principles and not buying the UK DVDs, but remember that I am a LOCI fan and sooner or later I will need my fix…).

There really is no such thing as an electronics company that sells an all-region DVD player right out of the box. But I learned that people who are far more clever than I am when it comes to tinkering with their home electronics have converted their ordinary DVD players into DVD players that can play DVDs from any country, region encoding be damned.

For those who don’t know what DVD region encoding is, it is a way for studios to control who sees what films and TV series on their DVD players and when. The DVD regions are as follows 

1: U.S., Canada, U.S. Territories
2: Japan, Europe, South Africa, and Middle East (including Egypt)
3: Southeast Asia and East Asia (including Hong Kong)
4: Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean
5: Eastern Europe (Former Soviet Union), Indian subcontinent, Africa, North Korea, and Mongolia
6: China

For example the first Spiderman movie with Tobey MacGuire was released to DVD in the USA while it was still playing theatrically overseas. Were it not for region encoded DVDs, overseas theater owners would have had to worry about lower boxoffice receipts if their potential customers could have ordered the film on DVD from the USA and watched it at home. This is all well and good if you’re only an American movie fan, but what if you wanted to complete your set of ‘Friends’ DVDs at about that time? If you were an American, you couldn’t do that, but if you lived in the UK, you could buy more seasons of ‘Friends’ than you could if you were an American. And at that time Homicide: Life On The Street wasn’t yet out in the USA, but the French were able to buy the first 3 seasons on DVD. While I didn’t give a flaming one about ‘Friends’, knowing about H:LOTS being out there and me not being able to watch it on DVD really bugged me.

When I learned that my then boss’s spouse had an all region DVD player I knew that I had better look into buying one too — luckily I had not yet bought my first DVD player so I grilled him about his player.

It turns out that many brand name and no name DVD players (as well as DVD recorders) are made by the same companies in China and Taiwan. One such company is Sampo. My boss had bought a Sampo DVE-620 and by pressing the right sequence of keys on the DVD player’s remote control to override the region encoding and you could watch a DVD from anywhere in the world.

So then I went to the Internet to do a search on Sampo.

It was then that I discovered Area 450, a ‘fansite’ for Sampo DVD players. Several guys around the world who had bought Sampos and other mostly offbrand DVD players had figured out all sorts of neat tricks they could do to ‘tune’ their players. Through them, I learned which model of DVD player would be the best for me to buy and through them I got my first Sampo DVE-631CF. Since then I bought 2 more of the same model plus a Sampo DVE-612(N) and the VDO home video world has been my oyster and I lose less sleep worrying about the vast majority of my copies of VDO’s filmography.

While Sampo is no longer selling cheap DVD players in the USA under the Sampo brand, it is possible to get similar players that bear the Maxent or Coby brand names (which are made by Sampo) in the USA and hack them. Area 450 has all of that information available at their site (their forum is still active even though the site owners stopped doing news updates to the main website in May of 2005) If you visit Area 450, I guarantee that you will find ways to see more of VDO’s work now :)

Check out the neat stuff they’ve done (and others are still doing) at:  http://www.area450.com/ 

A big thanks to Craig Clayts and David of Area450 — without them it would have been damned hard to see as much of VDO’s work as I have seen :)

The Truth about Autographs by John Reid

(As promised here is John Reid’s eyeopening article on autograph collecting. Comments about this article can be sent to its author, John Reid, owner of John Reid Vintage Movie Memorabilia in Australia.)

The Truth about Autographs

Before I get into the nitty gritty of autograph collecting and dealing I want to give you some background on why anyone should listen to my opinion. I rarely sell to the public, but I have been a wholesaler of genuine “in person” autographs to a number of large retail outlets for many years. I have sold thousands of autographs in this way ranging from Cary Grant to Brad Pitt. My sources have been very reliable and I can authenticate all of the material I sell. I do not sell any “autographs” that have been obtained through the mail. Because I am a wholesaler, I do not attract or look for publicity. I have a steady market and I am content with that. The following comments will not be popular with many autograph dealers but they represent the real story that is rarely expressed in the industry. I think it is important that the dark side of the business is exposed. It is unfortunate that the questionable practices of many dealers damages the credibility of the hobby and the honest dealers. .

Autographs obtained through the mail

The reason I do not sell autographs that have been obtained through the mail is that I believe a huge percentage of those that are sold as genuine are clearly secretarial. There are a number of dealers who have teams of workers who send letters to hundreds of celebrities. They use a number of different PO Boxes and basically pose as genuine collectors. They receive a great many responses – ranging from signed index cards to signed photos and then sell these as genuine autographs. Now, you really don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that celebrities receive a huge number of requests for their signature. The more famous the celebrity the more requests. I spoke to Chris O’Donnell recently and he told me that he had no way of keeping up with the demand. Think of the mail Tom Cruise would receive. Can you really imagine that these celebrities sign everything that is asked of them? You would have to be incredibly naive to think that that is the case. It is more likely that many of the responses are secretarial or autopen or printed signatures – basically signed by someone other than the star in a manner that looks genuine .

So how can you determine if they are genuine or not?

Of course it is true that some stars genuinely sign some material through the mail. The problem is that if you did not see the star sign the item there is no way you can be 100% certain that the signature is genuine. Staff of various celebrities become extremely skilled at signing autographs. This is where the dealers come in. Many dealers are quite happy to provide a Certificate of Authenticity for an “autograph” that has been obtained through the mail. They argue that they have years of experience in authentication and that they can tell a genuine autograph from a secretarial version. That’s how they make money. The fact is that in most cases it is impossible to be certain that an autograph is genuine unless it was obtained “in person”. It is, however, very easy to provide a C of A and pass a questionable signature off as genuine. The truth is that any dealer who obtains signatures through the mail should NEVER provide a C of A. .

Autograph Magazines and periodicals

There are a number of publications where dealers can advertise and where the hobby of autograph collecting is discussed. Articles providing information on addresses of celebrities and events where celebrities have signed appear. There are tasteless exposes on the best signers and the worst signers as if celebrities have a contractual obligation to sign anything that is placed in front of them especially when a large percentage of autograph hunters are dealers posing as fans. Over the years these publications have listed advertisements from hundreds of dealers advertising autographs ranging from Lincoln to John Wayne to the Beatles. Anything is available for those who have the money. The problem again is that many of the autographs that are offered by dealers in these magazines are fakes. How can I be so sure of this? You need look no further than the FBI investigation of a company which sold thousands of fake “autographs” many of which were advertised in the prominent autograph magazines. I became concerned when they were offering as many John Wayne autographs as you wanted for less than the going price. I contacted one of the magazines with my concerns and they never responded, running ads for at least a year after my first letter raising concerns. The amount of people who were ripped off by this unscrupulous company must be huge but I believe that the magazines which ran the ads also carried a responsibility and that their credibility has been scarred.

Autograph clubs and alliances

There is always a need for a hobby to have a forum or a club where collectors can compare notes and find others who have similar interests. The problem is that many dealers use these clubs as a form of Approval. They list their memberships of various clubs in their advertising as if that means something. The fact is that membership of these organisations does not mean that the dealer is reputable, honest or trustworthy. It simply means that they are a member of a club where membership is available to anyone who is prepared to pay the joining fee.

Authentication

I was amused to read recently that a prominent autograph dealer was giving courses in authentication. It is a fact that your signature will change and evolve with time. There are times when a signature is little more than a scrawl and times when it is discernibly different to other occasions. It is simply impossible to determine absolutely positively that an item is genuine or not unless you saw the act of signing. Unfortunately many dealers who did not see the item signed “in person” are happy provide a certificate proclaiming a “lifetime guarantee of authenticity” when they should be saying something along the lines of “in my opinion the signature appears to be genuine”. Of course they know that the less certain they appear in the certificate the less autographs they sell. They also know that it is hard to challenge any opinion.

The Major Auction Houses

There are a number of auction houses that regularly have autographs sales. Many of the items auctioned are vintage pieces where the star or celebrity has been dead for many years. These auctions do not provide certificates but rather use the coded phrase “some secretarial or printed facsimile” to describe lots. This is a form of disclaimer, where they are not being specific. It is, however, a more honest approach and generally the autographs have been obtained from fairly reliable sources – they have some “provenance” that gives them credibility. Of course many dealers purchase these autographs and then resell them with Certificates that proclaim a “lifetime guarantee of authenticity”. These certificates are little more than educated guesses.

There are some honest dealers

There are some reputable dealers who obtain their autographs in person through hard work. They attend major events where stars and celebrities are likely to be and are honest in selling their wares. Unfortunately, these dealers are few and far between. The majority of dealers sell autographs that have not been obtained “in person”. They buy large collections, they buy at auctions though the mail, etc etc. No matter how good their intentions are the larger and more diverse their stock, the more likely it is that there will be fakes or non genuine material sold. In many cases they make honest mistakes but the problem lies with their Certificates. If they are not 100% certain they should make that clear.

So what should you do?

If you are buying an autograph from any dealer there is a good chance that it will not be genuine. That is the sad reality. You are taking a gamble and if you cant be sure about the authenticity then what is the point of buying? I would love to have a self portrait/caricature signature of Alfred Hitchcock. Up until recently these items were extremely hard to obtain. Since the introduction of eBay, they have suddenly become available on a regular basis. It is likely that many are fakes and I am certainly not prepared to risk my hard earned cash on something that is unlikely to be genuine. There is too much greed in the hobby where the lure of the dollar has become irresistible to many and the Certificate of Authenticity has become an easy umbrella to hide under. The old axiom always applies – “Buyer Beware.”