Over the years there has been one question, above all others that I am asked with increasing frequency. That question is “where do I think the fake flannels are coming from?” Before I begin to offer my thoughts on this, let me make a few things very clear:
1. The better question might be where have they come from and why? Many of the flannels I have found problematic have been in the hobby for probably 20 years. This element of time is critically important and something I will come back to.
2. I have no firsthand knowledge or proof as to the source or sources. As such, I will confine my response to developing what I think is a profile that could be used as a possible point of departure for anyone looking for the founding fathers of forged flannels.
For me, time is an essential element of information. If you can trace a bad jersey to having been offered in a dated public forum, you know the jersey had to have been produced or altered prior to that date. In my mind, I would begin looking at a period in time no later than 1993-1994. Why? By this point in time the market for flannels was strong, the disposable income for collectors was there, auction venues were expanding and there was a small and well established network of advanced collectors/dealers. We also can begin to identify and trace faked or altered flannels to this point in time by way of Richard Wolffers Auctions. The only inference you should draw from that remark should relate to certain jerseys, not the auction house itself. You can just as easily find other problematic flannels from this time frame and before offered through other venues. My naming of Richard Wolffers Auctions (RWA) is intended to add factual context to my observations. Additionally, RWA hasn’t existed for years so I need folks reading this to be clear that I am not targeting a competitor in order to grab a headline.
With pre-1994 as a point of departure, think about what had to have transpired up that point in order to support a market for forged flannels. Working in reverse order:
– Auction houses are now aggressively seeking and offering vintage baseball uniforms. Why?
– Auction houses and the collecting community now value vintage baseball uniforms. Why?
– A small population of advanced collectors/dealers have created a secondary sales market for vintage baseball uniforms. Why?
– A small population of advanced collectors/dealers where the first on the scene.
In my mind,these founding fathers of forged flannels would have to have had knowledge of flannels that exceeded that of the general population. I am inclined to think of the advanced collector/dealer because they would have had a better idea than most of what right should look like since their own collections and or dealer inventory would have served as templates. Remember the purpose of forging or altering a flannel is to have a low cost-high demand product available for sale or trade. The advanced collector/dealer would have been in the best position to locate and acquire suitable products, either stock jerseys or legitimate jerseys they felt where candidates for alteration. Availability of candidates or donor jerseys is essential to this endeavor. Who would have been buying this product without suspicion at this time frame? Advanced collectors/dealers and much of this was likely done at shows/flea markets, in cash, and with no record or paper trail or little concern about the traceability of the product in the pre-internet days.
The advanced collector/dealer would also have been in a position to move bad product as well based on an established reputation that few would have had reason to question at the time. Additionally, I would also be looking for an advanced collector/dealer with the nexus of offering opinions on items and/or some relationship with another retail outlet such as an auction house. This relationship would most likely be as either as an employee or steady consigner. This would further serve the purpose masking identity, minimizing doubt as to authenticity, and all the while retaining the ability of the forger to move and reacquire product. If the forger brokered the bad jersey through a private sale prior to it reaching an auction venue, their personal and professional relationships with the various auctions houses would afford them the continued ability to vouch for the jersey as it moved through hobby.
In addition for the well established advanced collector/dealer, if the jersey was later found to be problematic, they could always claim that the jersey was obtained years ago when no one was really paying much attention to these items. They might likely also claim they don’t recall exactly where they got the jersey based on the nature of the hobby when they first got started. The problem I have with this defense is what was the incentive to forge a product before the market existed for legitimate flannels? Think back to what I mentioned about the environment, only now in reverse order.
-A small population of advanced collectors/dealers were the first on the scene with respect to vintage baseball uniforms.
– A small population of advanced collectors/dealers created a secondary sales market for vintage baseball uniforms.
-Auction houses and the collecting community valued vintage baseball uniforms.
-Auction houses were then aggressively seeking and offering vintage baseball uniforms to an eager and under informed collecting community.
We now have a dynamic in play where demand begins to outpace the supply of legitimate flannels, thus creating the financial incentive to forge or alter jerseys. All of this would have had to have transpired in the years prior to 1993-1994 in order for the product to have been sought by the hobby/industry and entry into the market place. Based on this and as a function of time, my profile for these founding fathers of forged flannels would focus on that small established community of advanced collectors/dealers on the scene in the mid to late 1980s.
With this profile and timeline established, I would now begin to assemble a list of individuals who might fit this particular profile in one form or another. I previously mentioned the nexus between the advanced collector/dealer and authentications/auction houses. As such, I would then begin to assemble an association diagram and begin to explore the relationships between these individuals/organizations on both a personal and professional basis. This is important because of how product and individuals have traditionally moved throughout this industry since its earliest days.
Visually seeing and understanding the existence and nature of relationships over time can be a very powerful analytic tool. Think about those connect the dots books we filled out as children. At first blush the picture on the page is without much context. Once you begin to connect the dots in some sort of logical progression, you start to see things that at first were not readily apparent. Use of the association diagram supports inclusionary and exclusionary analysis in that it helps you identify sub-groups and related networks within a given problem set or environment. When the element of time is factored in, you can also begin to trace actions or relationships back to their origins. It is my sensing that an association diagram constructed to look at the issue of the founding fathers of forged flannels would very likely be in line with the timeframe I have presented. As a tool, this association diagram would also likely begin to highlight other relationships and problems that have plagued the sports memorabilia industry over the same period. This is because many of these same individuals are likely to have had multiple associations and roles based on the nature of the environment.
Please understand that fitting a profile does not necessarily confirm or imply illegal activity any more than associations do. What profiles and associations do facilitate is the narrowing of a focus in order to begin asking the relevant questions to potentially relevant individuals as quickly as possible. Since we now realize we are likely dealing with a problem that is 30+ years in the making, time is not on our side in our quest to identify the founding fathers of forged flannels. All of this is just my opinion. What’s yours?
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com