Memorabilia Fraud: When the Autograph Doesn’t Match Up

I have several autographed items in my personal collection.  In terms of sports memorabilia, I own the following:

  • A collection of Albany Patroons trading cards from the 2006-07 season, signed by all players from that season (including Jamario Moon, TJ Thompson, Kwan Johnson and John Strickland)
  • An Albany Senators autographed baseball, circa 1949, signed by the entire team
  • A copy of Basketball Digest, signed by Larry Bird on the page where my article on Larry Bird’s coaching career was published
  • An autographed souvenir Pittsburgh Steelers helmet, signed by announcer Myron Cope
  • A Rochester Americans hockey puck, autographed by one of the greatest Amerks of all time, Jody Gage
  • A copy of the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs yearbook with Ron Guidry’s autograph, on the page where my article on Guidry’s minor league stint with the A-C Yankees was published

Now here’s the thing.  When it comes to these autographs, they were either signed right in front of me, or they were purchased from someone with a direct provenance to the authenticity of the item.  And with that in mind, I tell this story.

And it’s a sad one.

Peter Nash is a baseball memorabilia expert; he’s also a member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), one of the foremost sports history organizations around.  He was also a member of the rap group 3rd Bass, they of the hit “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

A student of baseball’s formative 19th century origins, Nash collected hundreds of pieces of memorabilia from that era.  But over time, as Nash investigated the history and origins of his personal archive, he discovered that many of the pieces he came across were either forgeries, or were stolen from library holdings.

To that effort, Nash now had a new goal in life – to bring to light the seamier side of the memorabilia hobby, where that autograph may not have come from the person whose name was signed; where the jersey may have fibers and stitching that doesn’t match up to the time period of which the jersey purports to originate; and to return, whenever possible, stolen memorabilia back to its rightful owners and archives.

It was Nash’s efforts, for example, that caused the Baseball Hall of Fame to remove several items attributed to Shoeless Joe Jackson – including a bat, a glove and a uniform – from display. The lettering was sewn into Jackson’s uniform with polyester threads – which weren’t available in the 1920’s.  And the uniform colors featured dyes that were not even in existence in the era from which the jersey purports to exist.  Plus, the uniform featured pinstripes – which differs with a photograph of Joe Jackson taken during the 1919 season, which shows the slugger wearing a pinstripe-less White Sox jersey.

Through his efforts, Nash has uncovered several other historic memorabilia frauds and thefts, most of which can be seen on this page at his website.  He’s also uncovered information regarding stolen Ty Cobb letters and correspondence; a stolen Last Will and Testament of Babe Ruth; and stolen photographs of legendary pitcher Christy Mathewson that still contained Baseball Hall of Fame markings on the photographs’ reverse.

Nash is currently working on a book, “Hauls of Shame,” which is scheduled for a release next year.

Sadly, his is not the only story of the uncovering and discovery of fraudulent autographs and faked apparel. And it won’t be the last.  The only way one can really authenticate an autograph is to have the person sign the item directly in front of you.  Maybe even have someone photograph them as they’re signing it.

But for now, visit Peter Nash’s Hauls of Shame website and see for yourself what’s happened to the sports memorabilia market.

It just makes me sick to see this.