OK, I stole the title from Hillary Clinton but I think it applies to the point of the article. I have been reading a lot lately about authenticating game used bats and game worn jerseys via pictures on the internet. On some forums, several bloggers think this type of authenticating is all that is needed to determine the validity of a piece. But this is not authenticating because without having the piece in front of you, it is merely comparing the photograph of a piece to pictures on Getty or Corbis to determine whether the style, font, size or manufacture is correct for the listed piece. If not, then it is debunking the claim, not authenticating. This is not to say that bloggers who see a piece offered for sale and then check Getty or Corbis or SI along with checking the tagging, etc and then determine that the piece does not match up does not save potential buyers from making a big mistake thus saving someone thousands of dollars. But it is not authenticating. In addition, most of this internet photo only comparisons deals with modern day players of which hundreds of photographs are readily available on line.
But what about a 1927 Washington Senators hat for instance. Who was the maker and how many photographs exist on the internet to determine if they even wore this style. What about a 1932 Minneapolis Millers hat? How about years where teams wore two completely different styles and manufacturers such as the 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers?
There are bloggers out there who feel MEARS would not qualify as dog catchers let along authenticators even though we have almost a million dollars worth of retail jerseys on our current unable to authenticate site. Could you or would you determine the validity of a Lou Gehrig or Ted Williams jersey simply by an internet photograph? We have been involved in the authenticating of just about every six figure piece that has been sold in the last four years and a buyer who is paying upwards of half a million dollars for a piece simply will not relie on the evaluation of such an item as it appears in a photograph.
For instance, I once looked at a early 1960’s supposed Sandy Koufax Dodgers jersey. The font was perfectly photo matched as was the maker and size so for all intent and purposes, if you were going solely by a photograph, it appears to be the real deal. But once in hand, there were some real issues. First, the numbers on the early LA Dodgers jersey had a glue applied to them that after forty years turns brown and cracks. The glue on this shirt was white and pliable, much like a semi hardened Elmers. In addition, all the felt letters were sharp as a tack with no wear of any kind. Without actually seeing the jersey, it would have been impossible to determine that this shirt was actually made from an extra vintage shell and the lettering was cut from a pattern of an original and then applied.
And then there is the size. Just because a shirt is tagged, let’s say 46, which might be the correct size for that player, how do you know that the size tag was not taken from a common shirt and replaced the incorrect size tag. Without measuring the shirt itself, you will not be able to tell simple based on a picture. If everybody knows that a player wore a certain size, then the crooks may know that as well and can easily take a proper tag and switch it. Do you think the photographs can pick up on an extra set of wholes are that the size tag does not match the actual shirt?
Recently, we saw a 1980’s Eddie Murray jersey that you could tell, once examined, that the manufacture tag had been taken from another shirt as there was an extra set of holes where it was now sewn in. We rejected the shirt only to have the same shirt end up at our offices a few months later with the tag newly trimmed of the extra holes and resewn. We measured the size of the tag and found it was an eight inch smaller all the way around thus eliminating the tell tale second set of holes. Again, if looking at a picture, it might look good compared to internet photographs yet how can you tell what size the tag actually is without not only measuring but knowing and having a data base of actual size tags.
That brings me to stitching. How many photographs of offered shirts show the inside of the shirt to determine stitching style? We recently received a New York Yankees pinstripe that looked good from the outside yet when we pulled the full size color plate copies of the inside stitching on a common sample from our MEARS file, the stitching was entirely wrong for a Yankees home jersey of this era. We make such copies on every shirt that has come into our office and file them by team and year. That way, we can determine whether the real deal should have straight stitch, zig zag, pull thru, double stitching, etc.
When dealing with pre 1980 jerseys and especially pre war jerseys, you need to have common examples of how the names were applied, the type of chain stitch, where the placement should be, etc. It would be next to impossible to determine by photographs that a strip tag from a pair of game worn pants had been applied to a jersey or if the chain stitching that might appear a faded red in a photograph was actually new pink thread and by pulling out just a sample from the edge, you would see that it was never red to begin with. And speaking of thread, without running under a black light, how can you possibly determine if the thread is vintage all cotton or if there is poly in its construction? And then, does the person determining the authenticity of lets say, a 1930’s Cardinals jersey, have enough examples of commons to determine what was standard for that era.
MEARS has a searchable data base that allows us to search by team or player, every piece of game used equipment that has ever sold at any auction since 1985. Now some of these entries will have been offered more than once and some were definitely fake but by accessing this data base, we can find patterns of all sorts of data such as shoe size, hat size, shirt size, maker, etc and then, because each entry has the catalog name and date, we can go to the actual listing a examine the photographs and description as well.
But clothing is not the only venue fraught with peril. I was once offered a 36” U1 Roberto Clemente bat with an apparent handle crack that had some tape covering it. When I grabbed the bat to examine, it seemed as if the handle was turning. I removed the tape repair to find the handle of what was probably a common player U1 gamer that had been drilled and tapped into the barrel of an apparent Clemente store model bat. Once the tape was removed, you could plainly see that the grain of the handle did not match the barrel end of the bat. About ten years ago, there was a dealer that was taking pencil rubbings of the ends of store model bats such as a Mel Ott 40MO and was having a tool and die maker do new stamps. He then took vintage blank barrel bats and by placing in a drill press, he would heat and burn in the new logo. He would then try and age this fresh stamping and fill in with wheel grease and dirt. The result was a bat that in a picture would look fine and the style and length were proper but the edges of the newly burned in name were sharp and since the rubbing was made from the outside dimensions of the die, the newly stamped name was thicker. In addition, Louisville Slugger brands a bat on a specially made holder that rolls with the bat so that the stamp is as deep on the top and button as in the center. On bats branded that did not role with the die, the centers were extremely deep and to get the top and bottom to take on a rounded surface, they had to press the die in extra deep which left a flat spot on the area of the name that was deep in the center and shallow on the outer edges. Then, if you were to take a sample of the residue in the original center brand along with a sample of the newly applied residue on the barrel stamp and place under a micro scope, you would find that the newly applied residue did not match in any way and that it was much softer than the hardened residue found in the center. Other fakery includes grinding off the model 40 in center and branding 125, grounding or changing the knob from inch marks to blank or even stamped with fake model or vault marks. And if this wasn’t enough, just because a seller lists a bat at say 36”-36Oz, there is no real way to tell if even this is correct unless you have bat in hand.
And if authenticating a game used item by one of us so called authenticators was a complete and utter waste of a persons time and money and was something that was as simple as looking at a 1908 Cy Young jersey and comparing to the numerous on line photographs and thus delivering the jersey to a client who paid upwards of half a million dollars while giving him/her a lifetime money back guarantee on a piece in which MEARS received only the letter fee , then, based solely on such an examination, there wouldn’t be almost 8000 authenticated items in the MEARS data base, the guy who paid 1.4 million dollars for the Babe Ruth Home Run bat and the countless other six figure pieces that have sold with our letters would be more than comfortable paying these prices based solely on such an examination yet the clients that own such an item have yet to adopt such a policy. And if they did, the million dollars worth of unable to authenticate jerseys would probably be in someone’s collection right now including the Michael Jordon shooting shirt that was examined and listed in our unable to authenticate section weeks before it ever hit a catalog. I know there were several people that took credit for saving potential buyers from this piece but had they gone to our site, they would have seen it listed with the problems long before anyone had ever seen it public ally.
In conclusion, yes, you can look at a photograph of a piece and if wrong, it can be debunked based on numerous on line photographs but this is NOT authenticating and anyone who thinks it is will sooner or later get burned, maybe not on a more modern piece but on more vintage items that appear to look correct in a photograph and bought based on a photograph only, will get what they pay for, at least in the way of authenticity. There will always be bloggers who will claim that their mother who thinks Babe Ruth is a candy bar can do a better job than MEARS and in their straw polls, if we are even listed , we rate below Bozo the Clown and Smokey the Bear but whether these pundits who think that nothing MEARS does is of any merit and will use their public forum to ceaselessly try and undermine our efforts to keep bad product from the public at large and that our 99.999999 success rate is merely a fluke as they wait like spiders at each public offering to try and find a mistake, regardless of what importance, to say “ Ah Hah” , they screwed up, let’s get a rope and hang them? Well, they are entitled under the constitution to their opinion and we would never get any business or credit from those whose purpose is not to inform the hobby of the positive gains but rather, use their freedom to either ignore or impugn our organization and as such, are propelling a personal agenda rather than an objective view and its value to the hobby at large. Fortunately, the majority of buyers who purchase valuable game used items and do not consider themselves qualified enough to make an informed decision before spending tens of thousands of dollars on bogus merchandise do trust us and it is our duty to them, not the self proclaimed guardians of the hobby who seem more intent on throwing the baby out with the bathwater that we continue to make significant strives at perfection and a never ending search for more research material. Yes, we might never make the top ten blogger list of informative web sites or the best qualified at what we do but we do make that list with the people who count, those that put their trust in what we have achieved and continue to achieve. And for any sight that claims to exist to inform the collecting public and then completely disregard MEARS and our contributions and success rate in the name of education is both fraudulent and a disservice to the very public that they claim to serve.