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May 5, 2009


Third Party Autograph Authenticators Spark talks of a Class Action Lawsuit?

1899 Ed Delahanty Secretarial Letter sells for $30,000, Ignites Debate

The buzz on the street is that some collectors and autograph dealers are talking about a class action lawsuit against companies who claim that they can authenticate autographs. The talk is not only against the companies but also against the individuals who are willing to have their names listed as “experts.” It is said that even if one of the so called “experts” never authenticated an autograph for the company, they have offered the use of their name which can mislead collectors into thinking the authenticator is active with the company. The listing of a person’s name as an expert who is not used for authenticating is more common than you would think.

Some collectors have been duped into purchasing an autograph based on the belief it was authentic because of certain people being listed as an “expert.” In many cases the “expert” was never aware the autograph was submitted to the company for examination. Several “experts” we have talked to have confirmed they have never been asked to authenticate an autograph from the 3rd party authenticating company which lists their name.

The list seems to be endless with just the major errors in autograph authenticating these companies have made. Some of those, associated with third party authenticating companies, have made $100,000 plus mistakes even authenticating celebrity hair which was offered at auction. When proven later the hair was not from the head of the person described, the auction was forced to make a refund.

Fifty thousand dollar plus mistakes in mis-authenticating rare autographs by third party authenticators common. Frequent errors in all fields of collecting are made whether it be sports, entertainment or political autographs. In rare cases refunds are made by the seller or auction company but usually with an agreement that the person getting the refund does not make the incident public.

It is beginning to appear collectors have had enough of 3rd party autograph authenticators who accept payment to offer simply a guess or give an opinion and offer absolutely no guarantees. Many feel it is past due, when errors in authenticating are made, the individuals who agree to be listed as “experts” need to be held accountable.

The following example is what has happened in the now complicated world of autographs. It was a sports item that appeared in a Nov.10/11, 2006 **** Auction. Listed as item #474, it was described as a handwritten letter by Ed Delahanty, member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The letter was dated, Phila, Pa Dec.27, 1899. The item sold for a whopping $29,900. The letter was accompanied with an LOA from James Spence Authentication. declared the letter as NOT GENUINE in the article: "James Spence of James Spence Authentication Hits A Foul Ball," dated December 23, 2006 . The story can be found in the archives of this website: September- December, 2006

Some other hobby veteran’s got on board and notified **** Auctions questioning the letters authenticity. Attempts to contact James Spence by over this issue was fruitless. He just doesn’t respond!

To continue, the owner of the same Delahanty letter recently consigned it to ****** ****** Auctions. It appeared as item #913 and the auction was scheduled to end May 2, 2009. This time the Delahanty letter comes complete with what is called “Full LOA’s from both James Spence Authentication, Certificate #B49257 and PSA/DNA Certificate #G56541.” Both James Spence Authentication and PSA/DNA are also authenticators for eBay.


The persons named below have chosen to be listed as autograph authenticators for these companies.


  • Steve Grad
  • James Camner
  • Bob Eaton
  • T.J. Kaye
  • Kevin Keating
  • Kevin Low
  • John Reznikoff
  • Zach Rullo
  • Bob Zafian

 James Spence Authentication

  • James Spence
    Larry Studebaker
  • Scott Cornish
  • Bob Eaton
  • Mike Gutierrez
  • Kip Ingle
  • Tom Kramer
  • Frank Kukla
  • John Reznikoff
  • Roger Epperson
  • Scott Stiwell
  • J. Bardwell

Catalog description stated in part Delahanty’s “...signature in any form is one of the most significant and rarest of all Hall of Famers. It is one of the true Holy Grails of Hall of Fame signature collecting, a virtually impossible-to-obtain stumbling block to any complete Hall of Fame signature collection...only a few examples of Delahanty’s signature are known to exist...”

Immediately upon receipt of the auction catalog, two hobby veterans notified ****** ******, President of ****** ****** Auctions that the Delahanty letter was not genuine. The industry recognized experts are Ron Keurajian who has been dealing in autographs since the 1970's. Mr. Keurajian has written nearly 40 signature studies on members of the Baseball Hall of Fame for Sports Collector's Digest. He has also written signature studies for Autograph magazine and is presently completing a book on the signatures of the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The other autograph expert is Steve Koschal who has studied autographs since the 1960's. He has maintained one of the largest autograph reference libraries in the world and his article on autograph reference books won him a first place award by an autograph organization. He is also the author of several books as well as over 200 articles that have been published on autograph collecting. Koschal also represented the United States of America and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as their autograph expert in Federal Court for “Operation Bullpen.”

Mr. ****** was very responsive with the two experts in an exchange of several emails regarding the Delahanty letter. Keurajian and Koschal both advised Mr. Lifson that Delahanty’s signature on the letter was mis-spelled, "Delehanty" (see below), a common mistake to this day by those who write about Delahanty. However, Delahanty, a graduate of St. Joseph's University, presumably could spell his own name correctly.



In the meantime interested parties were placing bids for the letter. Bidding reached $15,000 the day before the end of the sale. Mr. ******, still accepting the decisions of the two authenticating companies did notify Kerujian and Koschal that he will do and his own research. This is the research the 3rd party authenticators should have done before they charged someone for the costs of the COA’s they issued. Mr. ****** was successful finding information about Delahanty and “requested that PSA/DNA and JSA review the authentication of the item in great detail armed with the research we (******) has provided.” In the meantime, a little discouraging was that Mr. ****** stated: “...we will go with what our authenticators decide....” this was the day before the auction would end. It was not clear with all the prior documented mistakes made by these two companies why Mr. ****** would be interested in what they now had to say.

In the meantime Mr. ****** discovered through Delahanty’s biographer that Ed Delahanty was not in Philadelphia in December 1899.

On the last day of the auction, Mr. ****** sent an email to Steve Koschal indicating “the Delahanty letter has been withdrawn from the auction....”

The Ed Delahanty letter, right (note the mis-spelling: "Delehanty")


Mr. ****** continued (referring to a response he received from James Spence): “ no longer comfortable with their previous authentication, and believes the letter appears to be a vintage secretarial version. I appreciate your communicating with us about this item.”

****** ****** Auctions did the right thing not only by willing to work with Keurajian and Koschal but going the extra mile and doing some of their own research.

This does not end here. James Spence was contacted about the authenticity of this Delahanty letter shortly after the Hunt sale. Because Spence was unwilling to discuss his decision on this letter with experts, the winning bidder paid for the item not knowing the letter's authenticity was in question.

****** ****** Auctions will be returning this basically worthless letter to the consignor.

If the consignor had bought the letter from a professional dealer who “guarantees” what they sell, he would have received a refund long ago.

Who will admit or take responsibility for the original sale of the Delahanty letter? The auction house or James Spence Authentication?

This $29,900 authenticating error could be added to a class action lawsuit!