Autographs are one the most popular memorabilia items on the market. So it’s little surprise that autographs are one of the most commonly faked items in the memorabilia industry. It’s little wonder many of our customers ask how they can spot a fake autograph from a real one, especially when shopping online. So here is our guide to spotting the real from the fake!
Authenticating Autographs in Person
If you have the autographed item in hand, you can first turn the autograph upside. This will stop your eyes tricking you into reading the autograph rather than looking at it objectively.
Try running your thumb over the signature. If the autograph is flat then it is most probably a stamped-on fake. This technique doesn’t work with jerseys, t-shirts and other fabric items that absorb ink.
Hold the autograph up to a bright light so there’s a strong shine over the surface of the item. The signature should shine different colours due to the nature of ink and how it ages. The signature should also be slightly raised. If it isn’t raised then it has been pre-printed and is not an authentic autograph.
If you have a magnifying glass, try looking closely at the ink. Stamped on signatures push the ink to the edges of the stamp. If the edges of the signature are thicker or darker than the centre, it is likely a fake.
Stamped autographs are extremely common when it comes to sporting memorabilia like footballs and baseballs. To determine a fake, examine the item for aging and wear. Sporting memorabilia like this tends to discolour with age and older signatures will fade over time.
Like with other signatures, rub your thumb gently over the autograph. You should be able to feel very slight grooves from the pen pressure. Stamped balls and items will be entirely flat with no texture.
Further, check the item under a lamp, tilting it around. The colour of the signature should change in the light if it is an authentic autograph. Stamped autographs will be entirely one colour.
Machine-printed autographs – like those done by auto-pens that try to mimic human handwriting – often have an unnaturally smooth look. When we sign our own names, we move in one continuous motion. This motion starts before we even put pen to paper. Auto-pens, however, start by setting down a dot and then end with a similar dot, something not seen in an authentic autograph. This is easily seen through a magnifying glass.
Check if the autograph looks unnaturally shaky – this can be from the vibrations of an auto-pen. Alternatively, look for unnaturally straight lines that can also give away a robotic auto-pen.
Next, try holding the autograph up to the light. If the ink is too light or it looks like the pressure is equal over the entire signature (without small dents where the celebrity might have pressed harder) then it is likely a fake, not an authentic autograph. Auto-pen signatures are often lighter than an authentic autograph, leaving little impression on the paper, poster or photograph.
A real signature will leave pressure marks on the paper where the pen nib cuts through the wet ink to create tunnels and bridges in the paper or on the surface of the item.
Another sign of an auto-pen is that the signature lines are very thick – something that can only happen if the celebrity is using an enormous pen. However, when writing with a larger pen, signatures tend to get messier, not neater. A signature that is very thick and very neat is a sure sign of an auto-pen.
Photographic Reproduction and Pre-printed Autographs
Photographic reproductions are quite literally reproduced copies of an original, authentic autograph. Some celebrities send these out to keep up with the demand for autographs – however, because the signature is printed into the item and not onto the item, it is not considered an authentic piece of memorabilia.
While those created by celebrities are done with the best of intentions, there are forgers who do this deliberately to fool buyers. They will often use confusing language in auction and sales titles to hide that the item is, in fact, a reproduction and not an authentic autograph.
It is easy to tell if an autograph is pre-printed copy. Tilt the item into the light. The signature, instead of appearing slightly raised on the top of the item, will appear under the surface. It will blend into the item rather than shining brightly.
If the seller has several items that all look identical, this is a clear sign of reproduction autographs.
Buying Autographs Online
When buying online, consider the numbers. It is easy for a forger to create hundreds of fake autographs but a real celebrity will likely only do a couple at a time. If your dealer has more than a couple signed pieces from the same celebrity in a month, then it is likely they are fake.
Legitimate online dealers will be able to guarantee the source of their authentic autographs. They will also be open about their history, past dealings, references and expertise. Be wary of any seller who wants to sell via private auctions.
It isn’t unusual for an authentic autograph to look slightly different from other autographs. Our signatures can change even over the course of a day, depending on our moods and how tired we are. If a dealer has a bulk set of signatures that all look exactly the same, chances are they’re all fakes.
Do your research. If you find a large collection of the same item online, then it is likely that it is either faked or a purposely mass-produced giveaway item.
Studio Fan Mail Autographs
Unfortunately, many celebrities are too busy to respond to all the requests for autographs and often farm the job out to assistants or other fan mail services. These include services like Studio Fan Mail that bulk produce pre-printed, auto-pen signed photographs for fans. Much like other auto-pen forged autographs, look for a robotic quality to the lines, ink that is very light and little-to-no pressure from the pen.
At Legends & Heroes we always guarantee our memorabilia with certificates of authenticity. Feel free to contact us today or come down to chat to us in person.