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Certificates of authenticity for autographs

Certificates Of Authenticity For Autographs

Autograph collectors often find some measure of reassurance when buying or selling autographs that are accompanied by a certificate of authenticity or “COA.”  However, the reassurance provided by a certificate of authenticity can be a false sense of security.  Here’s how to properly view certificates of authenticity and avoid disappointment. 

Certificates of authenticity from reputable sources can be helpful.  Professionals with extensive experience with a signature in question may be able to quickly identify obvious fakes.  An autograph by George Washington with a felt marker on a color photograph made on paper for laser printing is an obvious fake.  But many educated and experienced professionals can identify subtle forms of autograph fakes and forgeries.  However, most significant errors in authentication are committed when a fake autograph is labeled as authentic. 

Autographs written in a hurry may not come close to the appearance of a genuine autograph.  Autographs written on a slip of paper or index card do not have corroborating evidence to support authenticity.  These are examples of autographs that can be difficult, if not impossible, to authenticate.  Certificates of authenticity that are issued under these types of circumstances lack credibility. 

Dealers and auctioneers sometimes use services from an outside authenticator to validate the autographs they offer.  Unfortunately, these third-party authenticators are provided special favors or financial incentives for authentication.  Certificates of authenticity issued under these circumstances are tainted with bias.  Use caution when auctioneers or dealers do not disclose their business relationship with authenticators and do not describe their guidelines for authentication. 

Reputable dealers and auctioneers provide a written guarantee for each item they sell that states that the autograph they sell is, in their opinion, authentic.  A simple signed receipt with the notation “This certifies the authenticity of the itemized purchase” is sufficient; wordy certificates of authenticity with elaborate designs do not have more credibility.  Several professional autograph collecting organizations require that the selling dealer or auctioneer sign the receipt.  Certificates of authenticity that are mass-produced and signed in facsimile by a machine are open to question. 

Finally, certificates of authenticity can only be supported by the entity that issues them.  When the dealer or auction house that issued the certificate of authenticity goes out of business or declares bankruptcy, there is no longer support for the certificate of authenticity.  Certificates of authenticity from auction houses may be difficult to enforce when the terms of the transaction defer to an original consigner as the guarantor of authenticity. 

Certificates of authenticity need to be viewed as an opinion.  The validity of a certificate of authenticity depends on the education and experience of the authenticator, any real or perceived bias of authentication, the nature of material that is being studied, and the viability of the company or proprietor that provides authentication.  These factors form a clear perspective when assessing the validity of a certificate of authentication. 


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