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Commentary: Is Your Sports Memorabilia Authentic?

Posted by Bill Patterson on Jul 27, 2010 6:26:17 AM
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With Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run imminent, there has been some mention in the media about authentication of game used merchandise.  This is a topic that is both growing in popularity and a stigma for things of the past:  how do you really know if it’s authentic?

Fortunately for MLB, there is a significant program involved.  Through the use of overt and covert markers on the game-used merchandise, MLB can determine if the item is genuinely something that has passed through their hands.  In fact, the overt holograms include a serial number that can be even verified through their own website.  The integrity of the program is ensured through the use of strict guidelines and professional authenticators for each and every item.

Then there is the question of items signed from many decades ago.  Verifying the signature of a Roberto Clemente baseball is a bit trickier when the authentication business didn’t truly exist at his passing in 1972.  Fortunately for collectors, there are companies that provide such a service.  Through the use of expert handwriting analysis, forensic techniques, and other records of the time, companies such as Total Sports Authenticators, will help determine the provenance and authenticity of a particular item.

But what about the everyday run-of-the-mill memorabilia provider?  You should be asking several questions:

  1. Is there a marking (i.e. hologram) that has been placed on the ball that serves as a security device with a unique serial number?  Don’t settle for a shiny piece of label that is there for marketing purposes to confuse the intent of authentication.

  2. What is the database for verifying that serial number?  Does it provide the date it was signed?  By the player that signed it?  Ideally, does it mention the type of item that was signed?

  3. If the item is of a vintage caliber, what are the credentials of the company providing its authenticity?

  4. Do you care?  Sometimes, people just want a good story to go along with their item if it’s going to sit on a shelf in their office.

Personally, I’m not a huge collector, but I do enjoy a good find every once in a while.  I don’t know if I’ll part with anything that I have.  Frankly, unless you’re a big Orioles or Ravens fan, you may not like most of my stuff anyway!  But I do like to know exactly where and how the signature was obtained.  About 75% of my collection was obtained personally.  I keep tickets showing dates and locations of signings or I try and get a photograph of me, the player, and the item being signed as visual proof.  If you’re a collector, that’s part of the fun of getting the item!

As for A-Rod, you better believe that whoever gets that ball will want to turn it over to MLB to verify the covert markings.  The expectation of that particular baseball’s value, once verified, is about $100,000 at auction.  Good luck, fans!

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Topics: Intellectual Property, Product Authentication