In response to a number of requests and questions about if MEARS would consider entering into the area of grading autographs, I have decided to begin looking at what would be involved from a procedural standpoint. It needs to be stated up front that MEARS would not be involved in authenticating the signature as we would leave that to an outside source. The issue for the autograph collectors that have approached us is that they like what MEARS has established for game used items and would like to see us establish something along those lines for autographs as well.
I found this to be a fantastic exercise from an intellectual standpoint as it got me thinking about what and why people collect signatures. If you collect autographs or just follow this aspect of the hobby from a certain point of interest, it is clear that not all signatures of a player are the same in the eye of the buyer. What is it drives collectability and in turn, value within the market place? There are any number of factors once you get passed the basic and fundamental opinion that the signature is that of the persons whose name is inscribed on the object.
This is my FIRST CUT at “thinking about” what are the graded areas of an autographed item. Please notice I did not say autograph as there is a difference. I think collectors will uniformly agree that the value of a piece lies in the totality of the offering. Say you wanted a jersey Joe DiMaggio wore while playing a game in Yankee Stadium. Would you place the same value on a 1941 home flannel as you would on a 1970 home flannel wore in an Old Timers Game at Yankee Stadium? The same thing could be said for a Mickey Mantle Bat…one from 1956 or one from the same 1970 Old Timers Game.
Those graded areas for an autographed item would involve the evaluation and grading of five distinct and separate aspects. It is the totality of these five separate evaluations that give rise to any final grade:
The Strength of the Signature as defined by the quality and overall consistency of the signature without respect to its age and in contrast to the surface it is on.
The Period of the Signature as defined as the point in time when the item was signed by the person. The closer the signature is to that point in time when the person(s) was at the pinnacle of a playing carrier or public notoriety, the higher the grade.
The Quality and Condition of the Object on which the signature appears as defined how this item compares to others in the same category.
The Physical Means of the Inscription as defined by the writing implement used to create the signature. For collectablity and grading, an autograph is considered most desirable when done with:
1. A correct period ink device either fountain or ball point pen.
2. A pencil.
3. A soft tip ink producing implement such as a Sharpie.
4. A rigid tip non-ink producing implement such as a paint pen.
The Quality of The Item is assessed based on the concept of most desirable for a collector and are listed in descending order and will be awarded point as such. Items are only compared to items in the same category.
A Baseball is most desirable when it is:
1. A period correct and league correct professional ball.
2. A period correct ball that may be from another league.
3. A period correct ball that may of a lesser quality.
4. A non-period ball that is league correct.
5. A non-period ball that may be from another league.
6. A non-period ball that may of lesser quality.
A Check is most desirable when it is:
1. A check that the person signed on the front.
2. A check that the person endorsed on the back.
Checks that are made out to or from other persons of prominence are considered a plus as well.
A Letter is most desirable when it is:
1. Written entirely in the person(s) own hand.
2. Typed or mechanically produced, yet signed in the players own hand.
Historical Document such as a player contract is most desirable when it is:
1. Issued and signed as part of the agreement to play in the sport in which prominence was achieved.
2. Issued and signed as part of an endorsement related to the actual sport such as contracts for endorsing equipment.
3. Issued and signed as part of an endorsement for a commercial venture associated with the promotion of the sport such as trading cards or sports figurines (Hartland’s etc…)
4. Issued and signed as part of an endorsement for commercial ventures not directly related to the sport.
An Index Card is considered most desirable when it is:
1. Signed on an unlined card or the unlined side.
2. Signed on a lined card.
A Cut Piece of Paper is considered most desirable when it is:
1. Trimmed in such a manner to not effect the signature in any manner.
For the purpose of photographic evaluation and grading, MEARS would look to adopt the definitions provided by Mr. Marshall Fogel as outlined is his work “A Portrait of Baseball Photography.”
A Photograph is considered most desirable when it is:
1. A first generation photograph developed from the original negative during the period (approximately within two years from when the picture was taken) Type 1’s, because of their vintage and originality, are the most desirable and valuable of the four photograph types.
2. A first generation photograph developed from an original negative during a later period (more than approximately two years from when the picture was taken).
3. A second generation photograph developed either from a “duplicate negative” or a “wire transmission” within approximately two years of when the picture was taken. A “duplicate negative” is produced by taking a photograph of an existing original photograph thereby creating a second negative that is of inferior quality to the original.
4. A second generation (or third or fourth generation) photograph from a duplicate negative or a “wire transmission” more than two years after the picture was taken.
5. A recent and mass produced image designed for the purpose of collecability and possible subsequent inscription.
Using this as a point of departure, the next steps would involve developing a “worksheet” for each type of item. Part of this would have to be some quantifiable metric or point allocation for each of the five aspects of the autograph. From there, there would also have to be a supporting training plan with examples to ensure consistency in the process. Much the same as I would suspect is involved in any like type endeavor such as grading cards, coins, or stamps. In my mind, there are no points added or subtracted for rarity for either the signature or the item as the market will bear that out from a collectors interest level. The other problem with giving points for rarity is that they could quickly be undone in the case of say a hoard of vintage signed checks appeared from a player who was considered a “signing recluse” back in the day.
Another issue we would have to address from a policy standpoint since we are not “authenticating the signature,” would be to establish a list of individuals or organizations that we would recognize and thus grade. Functionally, we would have to add various data fields to our internal (MEARS only) and external (MEARS On Line) references and data bases. Other considerations would involve encapsulation and labeling, but preliminary research shows these are not sticking points.
Other requests have come in for us to begin to look at addressing the grading of:
Programs and Scorecards
I feel all of these items could be done with the same basic tenants we have done with game used items.
1. Define your grading criteria
2. Establish and use of relevant data bases
3. Develop repeatable and consistent procedures
4. Show your work and the result in the form of a worksheet
5. Stand by your work
From a business standpoint, this seems very doable as there are experts in all areas, some who have expressed a desire to run these as divisions within a larger MEARS structure. The problem for us, and it is a nice problem to have really, is that we really have options for more work than we are resourced to do right now. I will keep you posted as all this unfolds, but thought it was worth some time sharing my thoughts on a topic that others have asked us to address.
MEARS Auth, LLC
LTC Grob can be reached for questions or comments about this article at either:
DaveGrob1@aol.com or by writing to him at:
LTC MEARS Auth, LLC
14218 Roland Court
Woodbridge, VA 22193.