I have always said that trading cards hold a special place in sports, as they are one of the only places where 100% verified autographs are available ad nauseum. At least, we have every reason to believe they are 100% authentic in most cases, and with the growing number of fakes sold online, guaranteed authenticity is a big deal. Outside of that, we all know that the authenticity of cut signatures are a matter of “expert” opinion, because most of the time the subject is no longer alive.
Over the last few years, I am starting to believe that all is not what it seems with normal autographs – especially in the ways they are obtained and used throughout the product calendars. In my opinion, and this ALL is solely my opinion, the companies need to adjust the way they use the content. The focus should be in ensuring that all autographs are authentic, as there are some discrepancies that are becoming too alarming to ignore.
Here is what I mean:
Dez Bryant and Cam Newton are the questionable players that many people are familiar with, especially because they are at or near the top valued players in their positions. Newton is a unique case, because his autos started one way, then switched to a different way, then switched back to the original. Its nuts. Other players like Ryan Mathews and Whitney Mercilus have come into question as well, as their autographs are ever changing. This year, Cordarrelle Patterson should be added to the list, as his autographs look to have undergone a shift that seems very unlikely. Here is how he signed when we know the autographs are real. Here is how they look in a lot of Panini’s stickers.
Here is what I consider when taking a look:
Signature content – its very easy to change the content of a signature, as many players like to shorten their autograph when signing lots of cards. Changing your autograph is not the end all and be all of what I look for, but it is where it starts. Maybe a player used to sign his full name, and now only signs a part.
Signature slant – The way letters are formed rarely change drastically over the course of someone’s lifetime. Players can change the above mentioned signature content, but the slant shouldn’t change all that much. This is what is so puzzling sometimes, as fake autos rarely take slant into consideration.
Letter shape – Like slant, the way someone writes a letter is rarely different over the years. If someone changes the content of their signature, the letters usually keep the same shape. When you look at recent examples from Panini of Cordarrelle Patterson, its easy to see that his letters do not match the shape of any of his autographs we know to be legit.
Pen Pressure and Start/Stop Points – Players tend to get streaky lines in very specific parts of their signatures. Because they have to sign so many, pen pressure is usually pretty consistent. A lot of collectors usually state that volume contributes to erratic signatures, but commonalities are still constant.
Additionally, if you are looking for a comparison point to a legitimate auto, I would look to these sets:
Topps rookie premiere autos (2010-present) – Because of so many fakes prior to the cards being serially numbered, I would not look to the examples from 2009 and before. The reason these are legit is because the players are live in front of the company reps at the shoot, so we know these cards are real.
Topps inception on card autos (all) – For the same reason as the rookie premiere autos, these cards are all signed in the presence of a rep at the rookie premiere.
Panini Elite Inscriptions – Again, signed in front of company representatives at the rookie premiere.
Panini Prestige On Card Autos (2012-present) – Cards from before 2012 were not signed at the premiere, so they are not held to the same standard.
In my opinion, Topps has the most reliable autographs, as it is reported that almost all signings are done in the presence of a company rep. Of course, there are some that still go unwatched, but for the most part, I have not seen as many issues with Topps as I do with Panini and UD. In fact, Panini looks to have more issues than anyone, although UD has had their problems in the past.
Bottom line, we have lost the ability to take any company at their word, for a number of reasons. Its not that they have any proven reason to distrust them, but there are many holes in the process that cannot be overlooked any longer. Players are getting harder and harder to force into signing cards, and with the demand for autograph content growing, supply vs demand takes over.
I just hope for our sake that integrity on the side of the players and the companies wins out.