Anyone who has ever purchased a piece of memorabilia is at risk that the item is a fake. It doesn’t matter whether the person is acquiring his first autograph of a favourite player, team or they are a seasoned collector; it becomes “buyer beware”. Collectors as experienced as myself have been burned many times and why I continue to harp on people to do their homework before purchasing any item. Again it’s absolutely critical that the item in question has a story. If it doesn’t; don’t buy it.
Auction houses can be lazy and take a consigners word without thoroughly authenticating the history of the item. A few months ago a friend of mine and I noticed a 1964 Toronto Marlboro game used jersey for sale in an auction. The jersey was not from the 1964 year and they even had the wrong player listed wearing it. We both notified the auction house of this error and I’m still waiting for a reply, the jersey sold anyway. And don’t let any dealer or auction house hide behind the fact that the piece in question comes with a Letter of Authenticity (LOA) because the document may have no credibility. I lost count of the number of LOA’s I’ve received over the years and how many of these authenticators are no longer in business, making the letter worthless. It doesn’t mean the piece in question is not as advertised but if the item doesn’t have a valid story, authenticating it years later makes it all the more difficult.
The adrenaline rush experienced purchasing an item is usually quite common, as is buyers remorse once the excitement cools off. Impulsive buying is not a bad thing and we all do it, but that’s the whole problem because during the purchase, the buyer is only hearing the buzzwords that entice them to make the acquisition. Again, it’s so vital to have the facts straight and if the item comes with a LOA, make sure it’s from a reputable company. Even a team official or trainer can add to the authentication of a piece.
I bought a 1909 Ty Cobb promotional giveaway baseball bat many years ago. The sports memorabilia craze was heating up with shows appearing almost daily. At one particular show I noticed a dealer who had a massive array of cards and memorabilia that had the Cobb souvenir bat for sale. I had a good inclination the piece was real, but I pressed the dealer for more information beyond the one-word answers he reluctantly gave. Realizing I wasn’t satisfied with flimsy details no matter how much he pretended to be to pre-occupied to respond properly, he frustratingly said,
“Look I’ve been doing this a long time and I have a reputation, so you don’t have to question whether my pieces are real or not, ok?”
He said this in such an arrogant and condescending way that I wanted to tell him to blow off but I couldn’t let this go.
“Well I’m afraid you do have to explain the item in detail to me because its not about your reputation, this is for my edification and I want as much detail as possible because somewhere down the road someone will want the history behind this bat and for someone with as much experience as you say you have, you should know this. I’ve been doing this for a long time myself.”
“Listen I haven’t got all day to banter with you about this, all my pieces come with a LOA,” he said as a final exclamation mark that was more theatrical for the crowd now starting to gather.
“Great,” I said, “From who?”
“Me” he proudly exclaimed.
Well I cracked up laughing (he wasn’t amused) and bought the piece anyway because I was very confident it was real. But the point is, this guy may have sold that LOA nonsense to some people but here we are 25-years later, I still have the bat but he’s long gone from the business and his LOA is worthless. I also refused to deal with this guy again because I didn’t trust him.
About 15-years ago I bought a Wayne Gretzky Trophy (1995 Victor award for contribution to hockey). It was a beautiful trophy that came with a strong description, detailing how Wayne never attended the awards ceremony and the trophy was left. The auction house was Mastro who at the time was running multi-million dollar auctions and the number one player in the field by a long shot. Playing golf with Wayne a year later I brought a few (hockey bag full) items for him to sign, he had been forewarned. Relaying the trophy story to him as he was signing the award he glanced up and said,
“Mike I did attend this awards show and the exact trophy is on my mantle at home, so this is a fake.” He then winked at me and continued, “But I wont tell anyone if you wont.”
The moment I got I home I contacted the auction house and the minute I brought the trophy up they put the head man himself on the phone, Bill Mastro. In a non-apologetic response he explained it had been worded incorrectly and was a salesman’s copy. I knew this was quite common with every award show, so the recipient can give one to a family member and keep one for themselves. World Series winners as an example can purchase up to 5-additonal trophies to give away. In a very gruff manner he said he’d refund my money, but I now had a real dilemma because how many Wayne Gretzky signed trophies are there in existence? With the commentary from Gretzky himself, it made the story all that much more compelling and now, a priceless piece. I suggested a discount in the price because I knew that if I sent the award back, it would show up in the next auction as a rare Gretzky signed piece and get double at least what I paid, if not a lot more.
“I’m not getting into all that crap with you, you want your money back or not?”
I couldn’t believe the attitude of this jerk; he screws up and attacks me like I’m the one who messed up. I quickly reminded him of that, suggesting doubt whether he would have called to inform me of the error had I not contacted them first. He hung up.
So here’s a case where the LOA is fake but the story that backs the item is strong enough to add value to the piece. In the next few weeks I’ll share some further examples of situations such as this one.
I never dealt with Mastro auctions again and in October 2013, Bill Mastro pleaded guilty to mail fraud in U.S. District Court.