The sports memorabilia "industry estimates are at least half the signed sports memorabilia sold online today - hundreds of millions of dollars worth - is fake." Sports memorabilia makes up a substantial portion of the collectibles market. Star athletes are followed and cherished by so many people that anything they sign, use, or touch has value. Whether it be a simple sports card or a game used ball, there is a market for practically anything sports related. The millions of dollars spent each year on sports memorabilia has made this industry extremely susceptible to forgers.
In 1999, the FBI broke up a forging scheme that netted the arrest of 30 people who made up to $100 million dollars in forged sports memorabilia. Greg Marino was the mastermind in this scheme and was the expert in forging signatures. He forged thousands of Babe Ruth baseballs that he would then be able to sell for thousands of dollars. Since there were so many items he forged there are surely many of his forgeries still in the marketplace today. His forgery was so good that he was able to fool countless "forensic experts" into giving out Certificates of Authenticity. This goes to show how completely worthless these certificates can be.
The forgers went to great lengths in making sure the signatures were matched the time in which they were supposedly signed. The forgers purchased old pens and baseballs that didn't have any label and used very interesting aging techniques to give the items the appearance of being old and used. Since older baseballs would often times have a certain odor they would put these balls in dog food or a bag of moth balls for a few days to emulate the odor of old balls. They would also place the balls in the sun or bury them in the ground to give them the appearance of age.
Forgery doesn't only end with individual people, it goes on to large companies. Upper Deck is one of the largest sports card companies in the world. When the card market began to struggle in the late 90's, they were one of the first companies to begin making limited edition signature cards from classic players. They would make cards that had a signature insert in them. Anything from a piece of paper to the bottom of a check that a player signed would be inserted into a card. Since Upper Deck is a large company, everyone assumed that these signatures were authentic, however it was found that they released many cards that had fake signatures.
These are just a few examples to show the importance of getting a proper authentication to your valuable sports memorabilia items. Be very weary of purchasing items on the internet, which has become a haven for forgers. Purchase items that come with lifetime guarantees, and from reputable dealers. If you buy a Babe Ruth signed ball, make sure Babe Ruth signed it and not Greg Marino.
Written and researched by Robert Snell
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 814-8510