This is part of a series of ‘Quick Tip’ columns written with the notion that a word of good advice from your grandmother remembered is worth more than a college textbook read and forgotten. The columns provide a wide assortment of simple yet significant tips concerning the authenticity of trading cards, photos, prints, posters and other memorabilia.

The United States 5 digit zip code was introduced in 1962

Knowing this bit of postal trivia allows you to identify many reproductions and modern made toys, prints, photographs, china and more. These items sometimes include the address of the manufacturer, distributer or artist. If the US address was put there at time of manufacture and has a 5 digit zip code, the item was made after 1961.

A Babe Ruth autographed photo was identified as a forgery in part because the photo maker’s address printed on back had a 5 digit zip code. Ruth died in 1948.

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‘Silvering’ in the image means a photograph is most probably old

Many, though not all, black and white photos from before the 1940s have a quality called ‘silvering’ or ‘silver mirroring’ that helps prove the photograph old.

Silvering is when it appears as if silver has come to surface of the image. Some describe it as a tarnish or patina. If it exists, silvering is most noticeable at the edges and in the darkest areas of the image, and when viewed at a nearing 180 degree angle to a light. If you change the angle of the photo to a light source, the silvering will be become lighter and darker, sometimes disappearing. Silvering ranges in intensity from photo to photo. Sometimes it is only revealed under close in person examination. Other times it is obvious even in an online auction image.

Important for collectors and dealers, silvering is an aging process. In other words, the presence of silvering is amongst the strongest evidence that a photograph is many years old. If you just paid $500 for a 1909 Ty Cobb photo and the image has silvering, you are in good shape.

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Don’t assume a limited edition print was numbered in the order of printing

Whether by Leroy Neiman or Andy Warhol, limited edition prints are often hand signed and numbered out of the total number printed (1/200, 2/200, 3/200…). Collectors often incorrectly assume that prints are always numbered in the order they were printed: #1/200 was printed first, #5/200 was printed fifth. The artist’s signing and numbering was usually done all at once after the printing was finished, with little consideration given to the order of printing. In other words, #1/200 may have been printed sixth and #5/200 printed second. It is fine to pay extra for a number you think special, just don’t assume the print with Mickey Mantle’s uniform number was printed seventh.

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Glass photographs are old

A number of Pre World War II photographs have the image on glass instead of paper. Most early negatives and photographic slides were on glass, and the first true color photograph, called the autochrome, was glass. By World War II glass was largely obsolete, with almost all photographs on paper and negatives and slides on plastic film. As glass is heavy, bulky, sharp, easily breakable and hard to store and ship, photographers likely praised the day plastic negatives became available. In a 1937 article legendary baseball photographer Charles Conlon wrote that had to destroy hundreds of his glass negatives as he didn’t have the space to keep them. “I found that my plates were running me out of the house,” he wrote. If Conlon was able to use the modern 35mm film negatives he could have carried all of his negatives in his brief case. If he had one of today’s digital cameras he could have stored all his images on a single compact disc.

The key for collectors is that if you find a glass negative, glass slide or other glass photograph with an old time image, you can be confident the photograph is antique. They quit making glass photographs a long time ago.

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If an ‘original’ Salvador Dali print has an infinity sign in the watermark it’s probably a fake

The Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali ranks amongst the most forged artists. While it often takes an expert to tell what is real, here’s a technique for identifying many fake Dali prints.

One of the favorite papers of Dali and other famous artists was the ‘Arches’ brand. Made for many years, this high end French paper has an ‘ARCHES’ watermark. If you hold the paper to the light you can see this watermark.

In 1980, the manufacturer changed the watermark by adding an infinity sign (sideways ‘8’) just below the ‘ARCHES.’ Due to illness and old age, Dali had quit making original prints before the infinity sign was added. Dali himself said that he never made prints on the ‘infinity’ paper. Many of the later Dali print forgeries were made on the modern infinity watermarked paper. All a collector has to do to identify these forgeries is to look and see if there’s an infinity sign in the watermark. If there’s an infinity sign it’s most probably a fake.

While this watermark is easily identified, some dishonest dealers picked the ‘infinity’ paper where the watermark was near an edge so they could conveniently trim off the infinity mark so it appeared to be the original plain Arches paper. A rule of thumb for collectors is to make sure that you buy a Dali print on Aches paper where the watermark is entirely on the paper and away from an edge so you can be sure there never was an infinity sign.

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This “Freeman Hans Wagner” baseball card is a fake, but with an interesting story

From time to time one will see for sale the above pictured Freeman Cigar Co.5 Cent Cigar Card depicting Hans (Honus) Wagner. Though almost always advertised as vintage, the card was concocted in recent years.

There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner tobacco labels, printed on white paper and intended to be stuck to tobacco boxes. The labels are rare and come in various designs. The most expensive examples will most likely be offered by major auction houses or top dealers. One of these labels has a close design to the fake card.

About 1993, a manufacture of collectable tin signs (you those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of just mentioned tobacco label. This man marketed the tin signs as modern collectables, not representing themselves as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. The tin sign maker added the 5 cents sign at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts as he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.

A couple of years ago a different, dishonest man used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs as the fake tobacco cards– scuffing and dirtying the cards to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting people who knew little about baseball cards but had heard of the legend of Honus Wagner and figured they had struck gold.

When shown a picture of one of the fake cards, the tin sign maker said it was impossible for the card to be vintage as it used his 1993 design.

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