There is a scuffle going in the collector’s community. It appears that a Beatles’ expert is being sued over alleged forgeries. This article brings to light these allegations, and illustrates how the memorabilia selling community has nearly painted itself into a corner. It seems that the authenticators are themselves selling their itmes. Indeed, it is a conflict of interest.
I personally haven’t bought memorabilia online or in-person. I wish I had that kind of disposable income. It is my dream to come across a butcher cover in a flea market or CD Exchange and pay pennies for it. That’s as high as my collecting aspirations get right now. I mean, obviously, signatures would be this Beatle fan’s dream come true, but for now I just have to sit back and drool over some of those precious rare items.
What are some of your experiences buying Beatles memorabilia? Have you bought memorabilia items? Were they appraised by an expert? How do you feel about the sentiments in the article below?
Please comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts about all-things related to Beatles ephemera and memorabilia.
Here’s what we’ve read.
Strawberry Fields is not a stadium, Penny Lane is not a bowling alley and Norwegian Wood is not a baseball bat.
But the Beatles are at the heart of a lawsuit that dredges up questions about how autographed balls and other signed collectibles are authenticated in the fraud-filled world of sports memorabilia: What kind of training and experience are required to become an authenticator? Who is qualified to identify real gems in a world full of fakes and forgeries? Can an authenticator call himself objective if he also buys and sells memorabilia?
Do authenticators really know what they are doing?
“They better know what they are doing because there are a lot of highly skilled forgers out there,” says Bill Panagopulos, the owner of Alexander Autographs of Stamford, Conn., which deals in historic autographs. “Anybody can hang a shingle on the wall calling themselves an authenticator, but it takes years of experience in the trade, not just a few forensics courses.”
The suit, filed last year in Florida state court by a music memorabilia company, challenges the credibility and competence of an autograph dealer and authenticator named Frank Caiazzo, considered by many collectors as the best in the Beatles business. They fear the lawsuit by American Royal Arts of Boca Raton will have a chilling effect – good authenticators, they say, will shut down operations if they think they will be sued every time they issue an opinion somebody doesn’t like.
“Lawsuits are used to scare people,” says Ron Keurajian, a sports autograph collector and authenticator. “They are used to shut people up.”
But ARA president Jerry Gladstone says Caiazzo attacked his company’s integrity and he had no choice but to sue. According to the lawsuit, Caiazzo reviewed a scan of an autographed “Revolver” album cover on behalf of a collector who considered buying it, and he promptly dismissed it as the product of a Southern California forger.
It was improper for Caiazzo to pass judgement based on a scan, Gladstone adds, and if Caiazzo has information about forgers, he should take it to law-enforcement officials. He says the real reason Caiazzo bad-mouthed ARA’s offerings is that he is a competitor.
“He has a terrific conflict of interest,” Gladstone says.
Caiazzo says he didn’t need to examine the actual cover because the signatures are crude forgeries. Caiazzo says he is a self-taught expert who learned his trade by studying Beatles signatures – and only Beatles signatures – for decades. He has acquired thousands of exemplars, and has worked as a consultant to Sotheby’s, Christie’s and other prominent auction houses.
Gladstone, however, says Caiazzo is a memorabilia midget compared to Christopher Morales, the authenticator who originally signed off on the “Revolver” cover and works extensively with ARA. Morales’ Web site says he is a former Secret Service agent with extensive education and experience in forensic sciences.
“He has scientific training,” says Gladstone. He says he submitted the “Revolver” to a second forensic document examiner, E’lyn Bryan, who reached a similar conclusion as Morales. “It appears to be authentic,” Bryan said.
But for many sports memorabilia collectors and dealers, “scientific training” doesn’t mean much, and a Morales certificate of authenticity is not worth the paper it is printed on.
“We will never use Morales,” says Rob Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions. “If somebody says they have a piece they want to consign that has been authenticated by Christopher Morales, we choose not to pursue it. I’m not saying it is bad. I’m just saying it’s not a valuable use of our time.”
Lelands president Mike Heffner is even more dismissive: “I can’t tell you that I’ve ever seen anything he’s authenticated that is actually real.”
Morales told the Daily News he has been blackballed from major sports auction houses because they want to use authenticators who will toe their party lines.
“The field is a virtual monopoly,” he says. “They’ve locked everybody else out.”
But even the general manager of an auction house that sells scores of Morales-authenticated pieces each year says he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Morales.
“There are authenticators whose work seems better,” says Lee Trythall of Coach’s Corner. “There are guys who are more qualified.”
The marketplace, moreover, apparently does not value Morales’ opinion. Memorabilia that Morales has authenticated routinely sells for a fraction of the price similar items authenticated by others fetch.
A ball signed by Hall of Famer Mel Ott and authenticated by Morales, for example, sold for $2,315 in Coach’s Corner’s February auction; an Ott ball sold by Mastro Auctions in 2004 sold for more than $52,000. A Lou Gehrig-autographed ball authenticated by Morales sold in Coach’s Corner for $3,100 – less than half the $7,000 a similar ball fetched in March through Hunt Auctions. In a January 2007 Coach’s Corner auction, a Josh Gibson-signed ball examined by Morales sold for $1,158, a real steal, since the Negro League star’s autograph is very rare and expensive.
“I had a Josh Gibson postcard that sold for $81,000,” Lifson says.
Morales says the price differences aren’t a reaction to his work – they are a reflection of the auction houses and dealers who sell his authenticated pieces, which he says cater to less upscale consumers.
“You have to look at the context,” says Rich Solis, the owner of R&S Sports Collectibles and a Morales business associate. “It’s the Mercedes of auction houses vs. the Volkswagen. One deals with collectors who have money to burn. Others cater to regular people.”
That doesn’t explain why a consigner would settle an auction house that will sell an item for a fraction of what it would get elsewhere, a point that was brought up during a recent 750-post discussion on Network 54, an Internet sports collectibles forum.
The discussion was initiated by Shelly Jaffe, a California memorabilia dealer who was arrested in Operation Bullpen, an FBI investigation into forgeries in the sports memorabilia business. (Jaffe now calls himself a crusader against fraud in the hobby.)
Solis say Morales is the victim of a smear campaign. “There are two sides to this,” Solis says. “Why are unqualified ‘experts’ talking about Chris? Just look at his background. Then look at theirs.”
But many hobby insiders believe Morales is no different than his friend Donald Frangipani, the Brooklyn forensic examiner who was the subject of an HBO “Real Sports” investigation. The segment portrayed Frangipani as an authenticator who could be counted on to issue certificates even for crude forgeries. Morales, too, had a role in the segment; HBO sent several forged pieces to the authenticator, who passed them all.
Morales suggests he was set up – the autographs he reviewed for HBO may have been real, he says, although he can’t explain why “Real Sports” would try to embarrass him. His explanation has not swayed memorabilia executives.
When the value of baseball cards, autographed baseballs and game-used jerseys skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s, forgers and counterfeiters flocked to the hobby for easy money: Signing Mickey Mantle’s autograph on an old photo or baseball was a low-risk, high-reward effort, since many law enforcement officials viewed fraud in the memorabilia market as a civil matter, not a criminal one.
To protect collectors from the cheats, a variety of authentication services popped up. Most authenticators are long-time dealers like Caiazzo, with credentials that come from the years they have immersed themselves in old jerseys and autographs. Others, like Morales, claim they are scientifically trained.
But regardless of their background, authenticators have proven to be more Band-aid than cure. There are question marks even about the biggest names in the hobby. During the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by Indiana dealer Bill Daniels against Mastro Auctions, Daniels’ attorney found that PSA/DNA, a leading autograph authentication service, spent about 16 hours over two days authenticating thousands of pieces offered in Mastro’s December 2004 auction – which translates to just a few seconds per item.
And like Caiazzo, many authenticators also sell memorabilia, which has resulted in allegations of conflicts of interest. One firm, Memorabilia Evaluation and Research Services, now requires its authenticators to disclose if they have a financial interest in a piece they are reviewing. Morales doesn’t sell memorabilia, but he issues opinions on a wide variety of subjects. Coach’s Corner’s most recent auction, for example, included Morales-approved signatures from Abraham Lincoln, Orville Wright, Ty Cobb, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Robinson.
Morales says as long as he has an exemplar, he can determine the authenticity of any signature. “Handwriting is handwriting,” he says.
But FBI agent Tim Fitzsimmons, who led Operation Bullpen, the bureau’s investigation of sports forgery rings, says it’s more complicated than that. Forensic examiners told FBI investigators that because handwriting can change dramatically due to factors such as age, alcohol consumption and stress, authenticators need scores of examples in order to make an accurate determination.
“You would want 100 examples of ‘knowns,’ signatures that you know are good,” Fitzsimmons says.
Because so many authenticators are questionable, the FBI agent says, the best way for collectors to guarantee the authenticity of a piece is to track its provenance – how it was obtained and who has bought and sold it.
“I’ve been preaching that for years,” Fitzsimmons says. “Collectors should demand a record of an item’s history before they buy it.”
Source: NY Daily News