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The three simple rules that could stop you buying fakes!
Having spent over 20 years studying autographs every day, it is fairly easy for me to sometimes go through a pile of signed photos and pick out the real ones from the duds. But for many collectors its a nightmare, resulting in collections filled with printed signatures, fakes and Autopens.
I have already written many articles on the basics of authentication, Autopens etc, but was pushed into writing this one by something a customer said. He suggested that all those words of wisdom are fine, if you have read them all, and more importantly remembered what I had written! But can all the advice be boiled down into a few short rules?
After giving this some thought, I realised that although I do have a basic set of rules in my head at all times, I dont think about them any more. Its a bit like learning to drive, when you first start to learn, remembering to take your foot off the gas and push the clutch down, before changing gear is all very complicated whilst still watching the road ahead and the rear view mirror, but after a while you dont even think about it.
And so, after some consideration, i have put together this ABC of avoiding the fakes. These are simply a few words, which if remembered, will allow you to see the bad, to spot the errors, and avoid the false leads, thereby steering you away from many of the fakes.
Of course if you can find time to read and digest all the knowledge in the other articles i have written, then even better, but until then, remember this…
These 3 simple rules, my ABC of avoiding fakes, when followed, will allow anyone to at least be able to come to some conclusion as to the authenticity of any signature.
So lets start with A and possibly the hardest to put into action. Always Assume its not Authentic, which sounds easy, but you will find it much hard to achieve than you think. We are by nature honest people, therefore we always assume that everyone else is honest, and that everything they might say or do is honest and true. But when it comes to forgers or simple confidence tricksters, the very opposite it true. These guys (and yes, sometimes ladies too!) know that we all think everyone is honest, and that is the first advantage they have over you.
So by assuming an item is fake, and only allowing the item itself (and not just the signature) to prove to you that it is authentic, you are working from their side and not the honest side. Its hard to think like this and takes time to make it work. You will constantly find yourself looking for signs of forgery rather than the signs of authenticity, and you will need to keep reminding yourself about this, but stick to it and you will find that it does work and will save you a fortune.
So always start by assuming the signature is a fake and not the other way around. Begin by looking at whatever it is signed on, is it right for that period, was the photo etc produced after the signer had died? Are there any dates or marks which could help you? Is it signed in the wrong pen, make sure you know when the various pens etc came in to use. Look for signs that prove to you the item is authentic and not the other way around.
You may already have seen that copyright date on the reverse of the item that proves the item could not have been signed at the right time, then again you may have seen something else that helps you to prove that the item is at least from the right period.
What about B? Simple, Believe nothing told to you about the item, not a word, its probably Bullsh*t anyway!. Once the seller has got you accepting anything he has said, you are on the wrong road to convincing yourself that the item may be authentic. By all means listen to what the seller has to say, but accept none of it, at least for now. Wait until the item itself has proved to you that it is genuine, before considering any story that goes with it.
Now we move on to C. Compare Compare Compare and Compare again, and this is where the real skill comes in! To check any signature you need to find at least 6 other genuine examples to compare it with, one is simply not enough, and even 6 should be considered the bare minimum. These signatures should also be like for like, which means they must be from the same time period etc. There is no point in comparing a signature signed on a cheque in 1964 with a signature signed on the back of a cigarette packet in 2009 !
Finding suitable exemplars can be a time consuming business, but they are out there. I often use various auction catalogues and associated websites, plus the many thousands of signatures I have been able to scan in over the past 20 years or so.
If you have Photoshop or something very similar, then you can use that to make the comparisons, but if not then a very good but simple method is to print out the suspect signature, plus the genuine examples on to plain paper. They all need to be the same size, but once printed out you can lay one on top of the other and hold them up against a bright light. This method will allow you to directly compare each signature, and even with the very best forgeries, will often show you very quickly the errors the forger has made in any fake signature.
In some cases you will be amazed at just how close each of the genuine examples are, and how wide of the mark the fake is, even though when put side by side the fake looks like the real thing.
So there you have it the ABC of avoiding the fakes. But remember, none of these rules or guides are ever foolproof, and the confidence trickster may not be a good forger, but he may well be smarter than you, and that is how he will catch you out! So always stay alert to the forger, and never underestimate the lengths he will go to in order to relieve you of your money.
A. Always Assume its not Authentic.
B. Believe nothing its probably Bullsh*t.
C. Compare Compare Compare.
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