Instead of personally introducing myself to the MEARS community, let me just say that I am a sports memorabilia enthusiast, a collector, a wheeler and dealer, but most importantly… Frustrated. Frustrated with the game-used sports memorabilia hobby in general; the collectors, the auction house owners, dealers and the irresponsible third-party authenticators.
That frustration has led me to the focus of my first MEARS commentary, “The Lifecycle of a Fake.”
Let me paint the picture. February of 2005 was the time period. A Brett Favre game-used Packer helmet was the culprit. The continuation of the never-ending cycle was about to kick back into motion.
See, I am a Packers nut. Born and raised in Northern Wisconsin and received my degree from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. If you are a memorabilia guy from that area, you are a Packers collector by default. Curly, Vince, Nitschke, Johnny Blood or Brett… It doesn’t matter, as long as it has to do with the Green and Gold, it’s for me. That said, a Favre helmet would be a nice addition to my collection.
One winter night, while making my daily “Packer” search on eBay I ran across, what at the time I considered to be, a beautiful shiny gold shell worn by the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player. To top it off, it was “authenticated” by a well-known industry third-party authenticator.
The helmet had a hefty minimum bid on it. From what I remember something like $5000. The auction ended without a bidder. This was my chance to contact the seller and see if we could strike a deal.
The seller was a young guy, like myself. Seemed like a good kid, honest and decent enough that we made a trade. He gave me the Favre helmet and $2000 cash for a Michael Jordan Bulls gamer that I had purchased in a major auction a year previous to this transaction. We were both happy… For now.
After a couple days past, alas, I got the sacred FedEx shipment complete with the cash, and what was potentially the cornerstone of my collection.
I opened the package and everything looked fine. Cash was in the box, helmet looked solid and the certificate of authenticity came as promised. I was pleased until I checked archived photos from the year in which the helmet was supposed to be worn by No. 4.
I checked every single game and noticed that the NFL shield decal in the photos did not match the positioning on my helmet. In addition, the American flag sticker was also out of place. I just became a victim of, what I call, “The Lifecycle of the Fake.”
Now, I don’t know if the guy who I obtained this piece from knew it was no good, but I contacted him to find out. He was clueless, and I think felt as bad as I did. I asked him where he bought the item. The now nervous, previous helmet owner referred me to a semi-major game-used equipment dealer where he purchased it in 2005. I called the owner and he spit out words I will never forget. “We don’t give refunds, as we use a third-party authenticator.” “If he says it’s good, we stand behind him.”
Hmm… Sounds like good logic, doesn’t it? Not if you are the person stuck with the helmet. I immediately got very angry, but who I was angry at I was unsure. The guy who traded it to me? The third party authenticator? Myself, for falling into this trap? Fortunately, after contacting the original owner, a full refund was awarded back to me.
So, I received my MJ jersey back. He got his cash and Favre helmet returned with his COA. Done deal, right? Nobody hurt? Wrong. Way wrong.
I will fast forward this story to the Summer of 2006. After skimming through a popular hobby magazine’s classified ads, to my surprise, the kid who I made the trade with nearly two years ago was trying to pawn the same helmet off to some poor soul. “The Lifecycle of the Fake” continues.
Three at fault to keep the cycle in motion– After experiencing this unfortunate situation, the next logical question is “who is at fault here?” I broke the answer to this question into three tiers.
The authenticator: Way too many times collectors have either experienced or read about an authenticator, or (so-called) expert that has misidentified an item as being “real.” Whether the reason was that their process was rushed because of overwhelming demand or they simply didn’t have the resources, the fact of the matter is that these reasons are unacceptable.
I am not going to turn this into a MEARS infomercial, however I will recognize that it is the only game-used authentication company that offers a money-back guarantee if an error is made. MEARS is also the only company that uses a standard grading criteria and worksheet that allows any potential buyer to know exactly what they are looking at.
If authenticators had a 100 percent success ratio, these guarantees wouldn’t be an issue, but what good is an expert opinion if they are not always correct?
The dealer (auction house owner): “We don’t give refunds, as we use a third-party authenticator.” “If he says it’s good, we stand behind him.” Ok. Fine. I can see how this would be a logical answer if no mistakes or misauthentication took place. The problem is, if the dealer doesn’t stand behind the product and neither does the authenticator, who is guaranteeing this? The answer is “nobody.”
Also, if mistakes happen time and time again, wouldn’t it be the responsibility of the dealer to use a different method of authentication?
The collector: Here’s a good one. I know that many people reading this will blame me as being part of the problem. I am not going to totally disagree with you. I received a fraudulent Favre helmet and what did I do? Returned it and put it back in the market. I don’t think many of you would have acted any differently, but I admit that I definitely aided in keeping this never-ending cycle alive.
In a perfect world I would have destroyed the helmet, but lets face it. That’s just not reality. I was fresh out of college. Didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t lose a few thousand dollars on this deal.
The conclusion: After writing this article, I have come to one conclusion. A fake item never dies, but if collectors, auction house owners and third-party authenticators don’t start acting more responsibly, the hobby will.
MEARS’ columnist Chris Nerat is owner of the nation’s largest vintage Packers memorabilia website, Titletownnostalgia.com, and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org