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Third Party Authenticators Will Never Run My Business

Posted 3/6/2011 20:33 | Filed under Third Party Authentication | Comments (0)
Until several years ago, I had little or no knowledge about PSA/DNA or any third party authentication service. I had a vague notion that they knew what they were doing but only because I hadn't heard anything to the contrary.

That changed in 2005, when I sold a Michael Jordan autographed North Carolina jersey to a customer. I had gotten MJ's autograph in person earlier that year at the Mario Lemieux Celebrity Golf Tournament in Pittsburgh. After his round, as was his habit at that event (closed to the public after 2005 thanks to hordes of blabbermouth, out-of-control autograph dealers), he took someone's silver Sharpie -- the only time I remember MJ grabbing a silver pen in my several years of going to the Lemieux -- and went down the line, signing prolifically. Silver Sharpies are notoriously unreliable, but this one was flowing perfectly, and Jordan signed more than usual that day -- probably more than 100. If you own a Jordan autograph in silver Sharpie that looks like this, that's probably where it was signed. Anyway, I got MJ twice that day, on the UNC jersey and on a 1993 Sports Illustrated (shown here but sold long ago).

Michael Jordan autographed 1993 Sports IllustratedWell, the customer sent in the UNC jersey to PSA/DNA. You guessed it, I got the jersey back from the customer and a PSA/DNA letter dated Nov. 2, 2005 saying the jersey "did not pass authentication." As you can imagine, I was furious, but there was nothing I could do. I tried to reassure the customer but he understandably wanted his money back. At the time, my return policy entitled the customer to a full refund, which I provided. I since sold my other Jordan autographed UNC jersey which was signed in blue marker and obtained at the Lemieux the year before, but I still have the one signed in silver that PSA/DNA rejected. I began digging into PSA/DNA's history and those of other third party authenticators and what I found was disturbing. I'll provide details in future blog posts.

Three years after the Jordan incident, a similar thing happened. A customer bought a Barack Obama autographed soft cover Dreams from My Father book. I also had gotten this signed in person, at Obama's first presidential campaign appearance in San Diego, October 2007. On his way into the event at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, Obama signed the book for me with my blue Sharpie. I even had a witness -- I happened to run into my eye doctor and was chatting with him right before I spotted Obama's car pull up.

By this time I had changed my return policy to require rejection from PSA/DNA and JSA for refund. And yes, both companies rejected it so I gave the customer a refund. He actually believed the autograph was probably real but wanted to use the authentication to resell the book for a profit. That was the last straw. Never again would I provide refunds based on third party authenticator opinions. These companies had already cost me two substantial sales of items that were not only authentic, not only obtained in person by myself, but in cases where I could provide exact details on when, where and how it was signed.

This was absolute madness. I realized that I was letting third party authentication companies run my business! I was, in effect, admitting that third party authenticators know more about my own autographs than I do, even though I had spent my entire adult life ensuring that all autographs I acquire for myself or to resell are authentic.

Some of my competitors rely on third party authenticators heavily or even exclusively. Some are even widely rumored to be "in bed" with one or more third party authenticators so their submissions get preferential treatment. If that's the way they want to run their businesses, fine, it's their decision. (If I had to do that, I couldn't sleep at night.) My approach is, I look at items that are "authenticated" by one of these companies as if they had never been submitted. The autograph might be real, it might not be, but I won't make any assumption either way. I have to ask the same questions as if it wasn't "authenticated." If my customers have questions, I am happy to explain my policy and try to educate them on why relying on third party authenticators is not just foolish, but dangerous.
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