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Author Topic:   Profiling the professional autograph authenticators

Posts: 59
From: Santa Monica, CA
Registered: Jun 2013

posted 03-28-2014 12:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for neo1022   Click Here to Email neo1022     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
LA Weekly (36:19; March 28-April 3) published an interesting article (reproduced online here) on the complexities (and questionable status) of the pro-autograph authentication business ("Certifiable: How a Squad of Self-Appointed Experts Took Over the Billion-Dollar Autograph Industry"). Focuses on JSA/PSA — mostly sports and historical (no mention explicitly of astronaut signatures) — but really draws out the ways in which authentication has become an industry that turns signatures (real or forged) into liquid commodities.

Not a lot of surprises — the industry is about as messy (and shady) as you'd expect — but a fascinating read nonetheless. If you collect signed astronautica, definitely worth reading.

Steve Zarelli

Posts: 429
From: Upstate New York, USA
Registered: Mar 2001

posted 03-28-2014 06:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Steve Zarelli   Click Here to Email Steve Zarelli     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was interviewed for this article by Jake Rossen, as were a number of other people who also "ended up on the cutting room floor."

In my opinion, the nature of the questions led me to believe he was working a particular angle, and I think the final product confirms my suspicions. My sense is that interviewees who did not support the dramatic narrative, didn't make the cut.

While you could argue the article does present both sides to some degree, in my opinion the writer was sharply focused on the specific issues he highlighted and wasn't interested in responses such as, "I review each autograph carefully against many exemplars, take my time and give each item my best thinking and analysis."


Posts: 55
From: Rome, Italy
Registered: Aug 2011

posted 03-28-2014 06:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for vidoz   Click Here to Email vidoz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Extremely interesting.

Thanks for posting it!

David C

Posts: 149
From: Pasadena
Registered: Apr 2012

posted 03-28-2014 11:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No disrespect to anyone around here but I've never considered that autograph authentication actually exists. Unless they were present at the moment of signature they can't possibly authenticate it. All you're paying for is knowledgeable opinion and making assumptions about levels of integrity. They key word is opinion. Plenty of that around here without paying anyone.


Posts: 207
From: cumberland, wisconsin
Registered: Aug 2001

posted 03-29-2014 07:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for liftoff1   Click Here to Email liftoff1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is a HUGE difference between putting your faith in the opinion of truly experienced authentcators like Steve Zarelli (for astronaut autographs) or Frank Caiazzo (for Beatles autographs), for instance, vs. the rest of the pack. If you want the best and most trusted opinion on premium items it can save you a lot of money and heartache by going with authenticators who specialize in a particular field. Period.


Posts: 59
From: Santa Monica, CA
Registered: Jun 2013

posted 03-29-2014 10:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for neo1022   Click Here to Email neo1022     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, I agree. In fact, one of the lessons of the article (although not highlighted at all) seems to be that the small-scale "boutique" experts on the signatures of a small group of people — sometimes even a single individual — are often key to exposing the blunders of the large corporatized authentication companies.

It seems to me that this is role played by Steve Zarelli, Florian Nollar, etc. etc. within the space community — they often catch the blunders of others (and help protect us in the process).

But the overall argument of the article seems important and worth remembering — authentication has become an industry in itself, producing documents that have the potential to transform a mere signature into something much valuable than it was before certification...


Posts: 1730
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 03-29-2014 04:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Agree with neo, the article focused on those people authenticating 2-4-600 signatures per day, the exact opposite of a Zarelli or similar considered opinion.

Dave Clow

Posts: 227
From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
Registered: Nov 2003

posted 03-30-2014 02:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have this article in print here (I'm in LA and the Weekly is free all over town). I'm glad to see it being discussed here because to date among us hobbyists the questions about authenticity have most been around Neil Armstrong signatures, with only a small minority regarding the autographs of other astronauts. I could be wrong of course but I just haven't seen many arguments over the authenticity of a Scott or a Bean, etc.

I fear all that is about to change. The interest in space collecting is expanding, but time will limit the supply of real signatures. The incentive will be there to create fakes for a market that is hungry and not too discriminating.

I've always appreciates collectSPACE not just for the enjoyable community, but because we seek to be practical watchdogs on each other's behalf. This site is in effect a huge peer review exercise--we keep an eye on scholarship and accuracy in historiography; we watch the markets for fakes and forgeries; we help each other in collecting goals; and we keep in mind together how lucky we are to be around now when we can build straight from the sources.

I first found collectSPACE in 1999, just when I started collecting in earnest, and several people here were my early mentors. This group will be indispensable to collectors yet to come. I'd just like to say again that I count myself lucky to be part of it as we all prepare for these changes in our hobby.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 29291
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-30-2014 04:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the LA Weekly article:
Worse, Panagopulos sees the current crop of celebrity and athlete autographs as little more than a spastic wave of a pen, with no distinguishing characteristics to examine.

"Modern stars sign with a scrawl, not like Lincoln or Washington used to," Panagopulos says. "It's almost impossible to detect a Kevin Costner, which is a K with a straight line." A glimpse of Meg Ryan's signature — little more than a pen scratch — invites questions about what subtleties could possibly be detectable, even to a trained eye.

Coincidentally, The New York Times highlighted this very concern in an article on Friday ("In an Era of Squiggles, You Can't Tell the Players Without a Handwriting Analyst"):
In the last generation or so, the classic script of Babe Ruth, Harmon Killebrew and Rivera has largely deteriorated into a mess of squiggles and personal branding.

It is not just baseball, of course. The legible signature, once an indelible mark of personal identity, is increasingly rare in modern life. From President Obama, who sometimes uses an autopen, to patrons at a restaurant, few take the time to carefully sign their names.

I can think of more than a few astronauts whose signatures are barely legible...


Posts: 27
Registered: Dec 2013

posted 03-30-2014 09:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceyInMN     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the article link, Robert. I can verify, as the article states, that Harmon Killebrew had a fantastic autograph, and will also add that he was a class act to meet in person. While I understand that celebrities can be overwhelmed with autograph requests, the goodwill shown by taking the time to provide a nice, legible signature goes a long way. Very few of the numerous autograph encounters I've had with celebrities are as memorable as the one I had with Mr. Killebrew. I will remember it always. Frankly, I'm amazed that someone like John Glenn, who has been fielding autograph requests for over 50 years, still signs as nicely as he does. It really is a testament to the character of these individuals, and others like them, that they have taken the time and care to please their fan base with something as seemingly basic as a legible autograph.

Hart Sastrowardoyo

Posts: 2393
From: Toms River, NJ,USA
Registered: Aug 2000

posted 03-30-2014 11:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wouldn't some of the squiggles of some astronauts' autographs be hard to duplicate? What I call the EKG-style of Hoffman, for example, someone would have to practice really hard to not only get the peaks and valleys right, but do it in a way that doesn't show hestitation. The same could be said for some (a majority?) of cosmonauts, for those unfamiliar with the Cyrillic alphabet, or whatever language they sign in.

As for taking the time for a legible autograph, I can understand why, if they have to sign for a whole bunch of people - about 300 to 400 signatures in an hour for Nyberg and Parmitano each at the U of Maryland event, and that was the end of a busy day that included NASA HQ and the Italian embassy - the signature is reduced to a scrawl. Not that I have any experience with that specifically, but somewhat related is that my signature on a receipt is a scrawl compared to my signature on a legal document, where I take my time.

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