You can ask the sociologists why the presence of a signature makes a certain item more valuable, and why people want to buy sports memorabilia in general. But the economics is much easier to understand. There’s a demand for them, but often the supply is limited. So the prices go up. But if you don’t want to be fooled, you need to know the basics of how to authenticate sports memorabilia.
I once came across a supposed Babe Ruth signed baseball while doing a house cleaning job for a carpet cleaning company. But it ended up being fake.
So how do you know that a particular sports collectible is authentic and that a signature is genuine? Here are some tips that can help you out:
- Get the signatures yourself. This is the best way to make sure the signature is legit, and you can also choose what item is signed. Better yet, you can record the signing on your smartphone, just in case you want to sell that item in the future.
- Buy only from the most reputable sellers in the industry. It’s best if you have the official imprimatur of the league such as Major League Baseball and the NFL. These have strict rules and rigid authentication practices. You can check the authentication number on the official league website. With smartphones, you don’t even have to wait home to check online.
- Don’t buy from street vendors or at flea markets. Those places are great for getting bargains. But they’re not for real sports memorabilia. These places are just as likely to sell a genuine Rembrandt painting.
- If it’s very expensive, get an expert. Authentication experts can find out more easily and more certainly if a certain item is genuine or if there are doubts. While their services are costly, you get peace of mind when the prices of the items are stratospheric.
- Keep asking questions. Let’s say you want to buy a “game-used” signed jersey. Ask the questions. When was it signed? What evidence backs this up? Who can certify the truth of the evidence? Reputable sellers tend to anticipate these questions, and they have the answers ready. A conspicuous lack of info, however, may indicate a fraudulent sale.
- Don’t let desire drive you. Sometimes your desire can rob you of your senses. What if you’re a diehard LeBron James fan and someone wants to sell you the game used signed jersey that LeBron wore for Game 7 when the Cavs finally won a championship? Check the authenticity first—don’t let your fan instincts make you lose your mind.
- If it’s too good to be true…then it’s a bad idea. Whenever you see very low prices for special or signed items, it’s most likely a fake.
Don’t think that you can’t get burned by fake items. Just before the 2015 Super Bowl, federal authorities in partnership with the NFL arrested 52 people due to counterfeit sports collectibles. There were 326,147 fake items confiscated, and collectively they were worth $19.5 million. So learn how to authenticate sports memorabilia so that you don’t end up getting fooled.