Information obtained from:
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.
WWW.autographalert.com 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 www.autographalert.com over this issue was fruitless. He just doesn’t
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.
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
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
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.
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")
****** continued (referring to a response he received from James Spence):
“...is 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
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
****** ****** Auctions will be returning this basically worthless letter to
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!