Recently I received an e-mail from someone trying to sell me a few autographs of high profile celebrities including Michael Jordan, Gerald Ford and a few others. As a rule I never buy a Michael Jordan autograph unless it's from UDA or I personally witnessed Jordan sign it. MJ's autograph is among the most forged in the world, and inconsistent enough to make authentication after the fact extremely difficult.
The Gerald Ford autograph, on a letter referring to the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy alone, was in thin blue marker and dated (Ford served on the Commission). The seller said he had sent this letter and a book to Ford's library and they got them signed for him. Knowing that former presidents were notorious for using autopen machines, I was of course concerned about this possibility.
So I checked eBay for similar items. Lo and behold, there was one almost exactly like it "authenticated" by PSA/DNA. The signatures were a perfect match, indicating that both letters were signed by an autopen machine. The dates were different, but a little research determined that some autopen models are programmable. This is yet another black mark on PSA/DNA's reputation. Isn't the first job of an autograph authentication company to determine first of all, whether the autograph was signed by a human? Epic fail -- especially since someone on eBay was unfortunately fooled into paying $200 for it.
This discovery made me question the three Gerald Ford autographs that were listed for sale on my website, two on cachet envelopes and one on a golf ball. Although none of the three signatures were the same, they were very similar to the letters. Furthermore, I discovered that Ford, like many former presidents, used dozens of different autopen templates, and that some autopen models worked on three dimensional objects such as baseballs and golf balls. I immediately removed all three Ford items from my website as suspected autopen signatures. I'll bet that 99% of Ford autographs offered on eBay and elsewhere are autopenned. Another example of a Ford autopen authenticated and slabbed by PSA/DNA is shown above.
I sent an e-mail to my prospective seller with my findings and, no surprise, received no response. I now wonder if this person had e-mailed several autograph dealers knowing what he was peddling was of questionable authenticity. I'm glad I didn't get burned, and I'm glad I was able to remove my questionable Ford autographs before someone bought them.
The bottom line is that former presidents and other dignitaries use autopen machines for a reason. They don't have the time or desire to hand sign anything except the most personal correspondence. No, they obviously don't care that these items will later be knowingly or unknowingly offered as real hand-signed autographs. If you mail an item to someone who has been known to use an autopen, that's what you'll get returned to you.
Many years ago, when she was still First Lady, Hillary Clinton personally appeared at a book signing for "It Takes a Village" in Dallas in which buyers met Clinton but received pre-signed books. Lo and behold, it was later discovered that none of the books were signed by Hillary, but her autopen machine. I'm not sure who made the decision to defraud buyers like that, but I consider it unacceptable. She got enough flak that on her next book tour, for "An Invitation to the White House" she personally signed the books with beautiful full name autographs.