"You can fool all of the people some of the time and you can fool some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."
A point that has never been made in print before is that , in almost every case, any authentication of an autograph is an opinion and not a fact. It is therefore more appropriate to apply the term opinionators to those representinmg themselves as authenticators.Of course this is also true in other collectibles fields-art, antiques, etc. In other words it is a very unusual case where someone can prove in a scientific sense that any autograph or any other collectible is authentic irrespective of claims to the contrary. The only time one can be certain that an autograph is authentic is if someone signs an item and hands it directly to him or her. But there are also special circumstances outlined in the next paragraph where a technology used to create a fake or forged item can be dated that proves a document bogus. Other than these special circumstances, once again, any authentication in autographs is almost always an opinion and not a fact . Therefore, all so called certificates of authenticity (COAs) should be viewed only as expressing a best opinion that the item that has been examined is authentic.We therefore issue certified opinions as toauthenticity and we indemnify that opinion with a lifetime full refund of purchase price guarantee.
A dealer who sells five and six figure sports items stated recently that he really did not pay much attention to all the adverse publicity regarding the authentication services because they are right more often than they are wrong. After recovering from the shock of that statement it was pointed out that authenticators have two choices: bogus or authentic. That means, from a statistical standpoint, at worst their baseline is a 50% chance of getting the right answer by guessing-that is, without even looking at the item. The question is, how much better do they perform above their baseline or coin flip standard ? That information is not yet available.In otherwords, a guessinator has a 50 per cent chance of being correct when there are only two choices as there are with any autograph-bogus or real.
Exceptions to the main point of the foregoing paragraph are a few instances when experienced forensic document experts with vast resources from Federal or other law enforrcement agencies have been able to prove that a document is bogus. To whit: the FBI showed that the supposed marriage contract between Marilyn Monroe and JFK referred to previously was typed on an IBM typewriter that was not invented until after they both were dead and an erasure tape was used that was not available until long after the date of the bogus contract.Several experienced dealers were duped by this fraud but one later testified against those who perpetrated the scam and helped send them to prison. In the case of the Mormon papers, a forensic expert from the FBI using high power examination discovered that the documents had all been hung up to dry at the same angle suggesting that they were all forged. Another recent example of proving documents false was the CBS-RATHER-MAPES Bush National Guard Memo fiasco. Once again, disproving their authenticity was accomplished by demonstrating that the documents were produced by a technology (Microsoft Word) that was not in existence at the time the documents were alleged to have been written.In addition, there were no supporting datato back up[ the authenticity of those bogus documents including participants in the Texas Guard at the time. It is interesting in this episode that the clowns involved allowed that, yes, the documents they were touting may in fact not have been real but that we all should believe CBS because they (CBS) believed the story was true. Now there is a standard for journalism excellence if I ever heard one. This was one of the first examples where a fraudulent activity of a major news organization and its sources was exposed by the web log crowd (the 'bloggers'). (Recently the bloggers have also exposed major news services 'doctoring' their wire service photographs and the beat goes on). So,with the exception of the special circumstance where a technology that can be dated is involved,once again, proving the authenticity a document or autograph or even a photograph may be difficult. And most dealers do not have resources like those of the U.S. government at their command.
So what are the criteria that most dealer-experts use to render their opinion on authenticity? Most dealers have experience or the equivalent of the collective memory of " the minds eye." They often know intuitively when something is not right.But, as Ken Rendell wrote. "you have to authenticate the dealer. The principle I stated in the introduction to Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents still holds true: Ask dealers about their experiencenot just in terms of years but also how much similar material they have handled. Ask about articles in scholarly journals, papers delivered before authentification and library groups, recognition by their peers of their being experts. But, most important, ask dealers how they authenticated pieces in question." But, beyond all that, the first step for most dealers is to compare any autograph with known examples of the subjects writing. There are extensive reference books with reproduced examples (exemplars) of the writings of famous people and experienced, reputable dealers have this reference material at their command. Signatures on checks and contracts are especially valuable references for obvious reasons. With the advent of the internet, more and more signature studies are being done that detail,especially in the case of U.S. Presidents so the signatures of not only all of his secretary or proxy signers have been documented but also all of the known examples of his printed or autopen signatures are cataloged. These studies appear on the web on a regular basis and some have been published in book form (references below). Second, it is important to know the history of paper making and to make sure that the paper matches the era in which the autograph was written. Again there are good articles and books available on the history of paper making and paper water marking and this history is known to experienced dealers. Third, dealers also pay particular attention to the writing instrument and ink** used to produce the autograph. George Washington could not have employed a ball point pen which was not in widespread use until mid-1940s nor did old George use a felt tipped pen which first appeared in the 1960s. Fourth, one can be reassured to some degree if the autograph has been bought and sold several times by reputable dealers or by auction houses that stand behind what they sell as authentic. Fifth, high power magnification will show trace-over signatures and sometimes a pattern of ink application indicating a machine generated signature. Sixth, any reputable dealer has a record of where all his inventory came from-in other words, the dealer's source. Forgers can never produce a source that can be checked. This is a key point.We have the source for every item we sell. Seventh, beware of dealers selling primarily cut signatures on small scraps of paper at bargain prices. An upper Midwest dealer known for selling questionable cut signatures just bought a large archive of old documents with no historical value at auction-probably for the paper. ( BTW-Since this article was first written this character has even been tossed off ebay) These dishonest sellers, like all psychopaths, think legitimate dealers do not notice such things. Many of these forgeries of one sort or another are found all over ebay.Eighth, look for supporting material such an envelope of transmittal that may accompany any letter. And, finally, reputable dealers have one thing that sustains them and that is their reputation and most good dealers offer an open-ended, money back guarantee that everything they sell is authentic. We have all made mistakes and other good dealers, despite best intentions, have missed some forgeries despite what some may tell clients: The point is, admit the mistake and refund the money.
In addition to the basics mentioned previously herein there are certain categories of autographs that are either more likely to be authentic and others that are more frequently forged. For example, certain documents like the standard ships papers signed by the early presidents, the Military Commissions of Lincoln and early documents like Revolutionary War Discharge Certificates by Washington are all authentic. However, cut signatures without a contiguous example of writing are probably one of the most likely types of autographs to be forged-especially signatures of modern celebrities and, recently, Lincoln cuts. Here again, the experience of a dealer is very important in sorting out the real ones from the fakes. That is why free franks are preferred when looking for signatures although attempts at forging free franks before there were postmarks has been reported. Of course, many dealers shy away from modern sports and Hollywood material unless it is obtained by a company at an in-person signing and backed up by a hologram or some such device. In addition to the basics, most experts draw on a wealth of experience that is part of the unpublished knowledge about how certain historical personages signed or did not sign. Dealers have been reluctant to set forth this type of nuanced information because it is the expertise they employ to detect forgeries. For example, certain personalities almost always signed on the darkest part of a photograph rather in a light area where their signature would be seen more clearly and thus was more easily copied. Further, dealers know that some presidents, e.g. JFK and LBJ almost never signed anything during their political careers: they used proxy signers ,secretaries or autopens to sign for them.
The autopen is a mechanical device (See illustration) that is the bane of the autograph collector. It is a mechanical device that, using a genuine signature as a template, mechanically signs documents or photos all with identical signatures. The problem is most individuals, like a president for example, have multiple autopen templates which make detecting them more difficult. The autopen has been used by people you might not think would need to do so like, for example, Wernher von Braun while he was at Huntsville, as well as our presidents or other celebrities who simply cannot answer all autograph requests. And, recently it was reported that Albert Einstein had an autopen to sign checks. This is a major new discovery in the field and was cited by Steve Koshal. Dealers and collectors have worked assiduously to detect and document autopen patterns of everyone from the astronauts to those of our presidents. These studies often appear in the publications of the major autograph clubs that any collector can join or on the internet on sites referenced at the end of this article. Again, there is a rather extensive literature on the autopen and reputable dealers are familiar with this problem and many have autopen archives. Modern forgers have gone to great lengths using photographic and other image reproducing techniques such as screen printing to create forgeries.Some of these techniques were enumerated on the web site http://www.autographalert which no longer exists. These reproductions abound on ebay. One infamous dealer was even detected buying an autopen machine as well as old typewriters on ebay. People are still buying from this dubious character. Although many of the early forgeries by Spring and Cosey, two famous forgers of a bygone era, have now been removed from the market, they still appear on occasion. For example a well known dealer recently sold a Spring forgery of a George Washington signature and the client consulted another dealer for verification of authenticity who recognized Springs characteristic work. However, it is now more difficult to create forgeries of founding Americans because of the unavailability of period paper and period ink. But one venue for special attention is ebay. I do not know what percentage of autographs on ebay are authentic but we can state unequivocally that a very large number are bogus. And, as of the time this was written, PSA/DNA has the ultimate decision on authenticity on ebay. The scoundrels selling bogus material often maintain a favorable feedback profile by immediately returning the buyers money if there is a complaint. But, more regarding autograph auctions in Part II of this series.Harry Truman once said, "The only the only thing that is new is the history you do not know." Thomas Jefferson first acquired a letter-copying device, the forefather of the modern autopen?,which Jewfferson called "the finest invention of the present age" in 1804. It was invented by English-born John Isaac Hawkins, who gave it the name "polygraph." Based on the principles of the pantograph it had two or more pens that were moved simultaneously by the writer's hand, making a duplicate copy or copies strikingly like the original. Hawkins assigned the American rights to the polygraph to artist and museum director Charles Willson Peale a lifelong friend of Jefferson, who began production of the device, making additional improvements to it. Jefferson, who used only the two-pen models, received his first polygraph in March of 1804, soon returning it for another. He bought a second one for use at Monticello and regularly exchanged his machines for new ones, as Peale continued to perfect the design. In 1804 Jefferson abandoned his copying press and for the rest of his life used exclusively the polygraph for duplicating his correspondence. A new book summarizesthe details of Jefferson's polygraph and details how collectors can tell an original hand written letter from a polygraph copy.*****Two of his polygraphs survive, one in the American Philosophical Society, and the other, is on display at Monticello.
PART II OF THIS SERIES DEALS WITH THE AUTOGRAPH AUCTION MARKET ALSO SEE OUTR ARTICLES ON THIRD PARTY AUTHENTICATORS (TPA'S) -PART I AND PART II.
By Paul Carr, U.A.C.C., ca. 1984. Article--The Manuscript Society Criteria for Describing Manuscripts and Documents, Editied by Norman Boas, 1990. Web Site:Astronaut Autopens- http://www.edgeofdarkness.com/astroautopens/ Web Site: http://www.isitreal.com/ Web Site--http://www.richardsimonsports.com/authentication.htm Book---The Sanders Price Guide to Autographs, Ed. Saffro, Smith and Shaw, Sixth Edition (very rough Guide to prices in an ever changing market). Book---From the Presidents Pen, Miner and Verjalik, State House Press. Austin TX Book---The History of Collecting Executive Mansion White House and The White House Cards, Lynne E. Keyes and Stephen Koschal, 2005, Privately Printed-obtainable from the authors. Technology-VSC4plus technology:Foster & Freeman Co-Tel. (888) 445- 5048. Cost of VSC4plus-24-27K.
S: The name of a person written in his own hand when used alone. It means signed, when used with another code letter (e.g. LS = letter signed).
MsS: Manuscript signed (text in the hand of another person; signature in the hand of the author).
AMsS: Autographed manuscript signed (entirely in the hand of the author).
TMsS: Typewritten manuscript signed (signature in the hand of the author).
AMs: Autographed manuscript unsigned (in the hand of the author).
Since manuscript may mean handwritten or typewritten, for these criteria MsS is defined as being written by another but signed by the author. An autographed or typed manuscript is so indicated ( AMsS & TMsS) If a manuscript is printed or partly printed, this notation may be entered before the code (e.g. printed MsS). The codes MsLS and MsDS are frequently used by dealers but do not distinguish between handwritten and typewritten pieces, unless of course the letter or document was created before the invention of the typewriter. This use of Ms is discouraged.
ALS: Autographed letter signed (entirely in the hand of the author).
TLS: Typewritten letter signed (signature in the hand of the author).
AL: Autographed letter unsigned (in the hand of the author).
LS: Letter signed (text in the hand of another person; signature in the hand of the author). With these criteria LS means a letter written in the hand of another but signed by the author, as opposed to a typewritten letter (TLS). If the letter is printed, it should be spelled out (e.g. printed LS). At times letters bear printed, rubber or steel stamped signatures, but more often they are signed by secretaries. These are referred to as "secretarial letters" and should be so indicated in any description.As mentioned inn the authentication primer, for over thirty years it has become the common practice of presidents, movie stars and other celebrities besieged with autograph requests, to respond with signatures, signed photos or letters signed by an Autopen or other letter-writing machines. These are mechanical devices, which reproduce the signatures or even entire letters. A copy of the authentic writing is transferred to a matrix (an inscribed plate). A tracing arm, guided by a pin passing over the inscribed matrix, is attached to any writing instrument that is desired (felt tip, ball point and ink discharging pens, pencils, crayons, etc.). The writing instrument makes a copy of the autograph on the desired medium. Since these recording devices are very sensitive, the signatures often exhibit faintly wiggly lines, a quick giveaway. A legal test of this practice has not been made. Since Autopen signatures are invariably authorized by the author, it has been said that they are as valid as if signed in person. On the other hand, in the wrong hands, illegally fabricated documents could easily be produced. In describing manuscripts and letters, mechanically-produced signatures must always be identified as such..
ANS: Autographed note signed. A very brief message (entirely in the hand of the author).
TNS: Typewritten note signed (signature in the hand of the author). Notes are brief and usually quick forms of communication, by-passing the formality of whole letters. They may be in the form of reminders, making appointments, instructions attached to documents or used for a multitude of other purposes. At times there is no sharp distinction between a note or a brief letter. In the absence of a salutation or complimentary closing, the piece would more likely be defined as a note. Postcards fall into the category of notes vs. letters. Some have recommended the code PC for postcard or C for card. The Manuscript Society Criteria does not, as these letters tend confuse terminology already in place. The words card or postcard should be spelled out in any description of their use.
AES: Autographed endorsement signed (an endorsement on another person's letter or document entirely in the hand of the endorser). Endorsement literally means "to put on the back." The most common examples are signatures on the back of checks. They are seen on other "responses" to a document or letter received. These may include receipts on invoices or promissory notes, sheriff's notations of executed writs or summonses, notarized certificates as well as many other types of acknowledgments or comments. Endorsed documents or letters are usually passed on to another party, often a higher authority. The most famous endorsements are those of Abraham Lincoln. On hundreds of occasions he received letters or notes, which required a response. Rather than write a whole letter, he would write a note on the original letter, forwarding it to others, usually the military. This was also a common practice of the military in issuing orders on a single document, often endorsed by a number of officers. Another form of endorsement is the docket. In the days before modern file cabinets, letters received were folded twice, creating a folded letter measuring ca. 8" x 3.5". They were filed vertically in wooden boxes or other file drawers. As a means of identifying the letter at a later date, a docket or endorsement was written at the top of the folded letter, facing the reader. It included the name of the sender, date and often a note about the contents.
AQS: Autographed quotation signed (entirely in the hand of the author).
TQS: Typewritten quotation signed (signature in the hand of the author).
A quotation is a recitation or copy of a previously written passage or text. Authors often copy passages from their books or poems and sign them as souvenirs for their devotees. They may be handwritten, typewritten or printed, as was frequently the case with the poet Edwin Markham. If handwritten they may be referred to as fair copies. The author may also keep a copy of his entire manuscript for his own files. These are referred to as retained or clean copies. A clean copy may also be produced for the printer for the purpose of typesetting.
DS: Document signed (text in the hand of another person; signature in the hand of the author).
ADS: Autographed document signed (entirely in the hand of the author).
TDS: Typewritten document signed (signature in the hand of the author).
MuQS: Musical quotation signed. An excerpt from a musical score (in the hand of another person; signature in the hand of the composer).
AMuQS: Autographed musical quotation signed. An excerpt from a musical score (entirely in the hand of the composer).
AMuQ: Autographed musical quotation unsigned. An excerpt from a musical score (in the hand of the composer).
AMuDS: Autographed musical document signed (musical score entirely in the hand of the composer and signed).
MuDS: Musical document signed (printed or in the hand of another person; signature in the hand of the composer).
Autographed musical material is a highly desirable format for collectors. It is the expression of the specialty of the composer, much as fair copies of poems, signed baseballs and signed books are expressions of the expertise of their signers. Original musical scores are generally quite scarce, but signed musical quotations as souvenirs have been fairly common during the last century. Examples might include several bars of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa, a few bars of a piano piece by Franz Liszt or a few bars from "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Louis Prima.
PS OR SP: Photograph signed (in the hand of the subject).
IPS OR ISP: Inscribed photograph signed (dedication and signature in hand of the subject).
To conform with all of the previous codes noted above, it has been recommended in The Manuscript Society Criteria that "PS" and "IPS" be used instead of "SP" and "IPS," similar to current European usage and more consistent with the placement of the "S" in the other codes. Occasionally the inscription is in a hand other than the author. This should be noted. Photographs are a highly desirable way of collecting and displaying autographs. They give a sense of animation and reality to the signature. Original photographs signed by the photographer are generally very scarce and highly desirable. Such would be the case with photographs made by Matthew Brady, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams and others.
FDC: First day cover (postal cover canceled on the first day stamp is issued). There are some collectors who collect only signed first day covers. Theirs is a marriage between philatelic and autograph collecting. Addressed or unaddressed FDC's are often signed by celebrities on the address portion. The celebrity is usually connected in some way with the image on the stamp or cachet on the cover. A good example is an "Inauguration Cover", dated on the day of inauguration and signed by the President of the United States or his vice president. A cover might include a famous artist such as Norman Rockwell, a military man such as General Douglas MacArthur or celebrities in scores of other categories. FF : Free Franks. Free franks especially by Presidents of te United States are collected by both autograph collectors and stamp collectors (philatelists).
n.d.: No date.
n.y.: No year.
n.p.: No place.
p: Page - a single side of a leaf or one of the leaves of a book. In the manuscript field it generally refers to sides of a leaf.