Posters, advertising signs, sports cards, premiums and other collectable prints are sometimes altered by the addition or subtraction of ink, paper and/or other substances. This is most commonly done to restore the condition of a damaged. Tears can be mended, missing corners can be replaced with new paper, scrapes to the printed graphics fixed with new ink or paint. Shown above are before-and-after pictures of a valuable 19th century French poster that was restored by a professional conservator. Restoration this dramatic will not come cheap to the poster owner.

As with reprints, there is nothing inherently wrong with restored items as long as they are accurately represented at sale or auction. The legal and ethical standard is any known alteration that may lower the sale value must be disclosed to potential buyers.

The desirability of restoration differs from to hobby to hobby and collector to collector. In the sports card hobby even minor touch ups are widely frowned upon. Many collectors have zero interest in purchasing a card that has been altered in any way.

With vintage movie posters restoration is more accepted. In part this is because movies posters are large and often on thin, fragile paper that may require reinforcement to prevent further deterioration. Also, while the well worn baseball card is commonly stored in a drawer or closet, a movie fan may purchase a Casablanca or Frankenstein poster to display in the living room for everyone to view and enjoy.

Even though it is more accepted with movie collectors, restoration still affects the value of movie posters. Even those who collect restored movie posters will tell you that a seller has to disclose any restoration.

Altered counterfeits. Some counterfeited sports cards are genuine cards that have been doctored. These usually involve a slight alteration to make a real but plentiful card into a rare and expensive variation. Examples of these rare variation cards include the T206 Magie error (misspelling the player Sherry Magee’s name), T206 Joe Doyle text variation (one of the most expensive cards in the hobby) and the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas ‘No Name on Front’ (missing the White Sox slugger’s name on the card’s front). Beyond have a good eye for identifying alterations, it is wise that the collector get a knowledgeable second opinion when purchasing an expensive variation such as mentioned above. This can include from a respected dealer, collector or reputable grading company (Though the top graders have made mistakes on these types of cards).

A Few Tips and Techniques for Identifying Alterations and Restoration

While this article doesn’t intend to make each reader into a professional restoration detective (I’m not even sure a job title exists), the following are some simples that every collector can use to look for alterations.

Before inspection, an item must be removed from any holder, whether it’s top loader, sleeve or glass.

General Visual Examination: Much alteration is obvious upon close look. You don’t have to be an expert to see large tears mended by scotch tape on the back. Added paper and paint is often identified at first glance. Even if a major tear or break was restored by a top conservator, there will often remain clear visible sign of repair.

Colors. When adding new ink or paint to the graphics or to clean up the white border on a poster or trading card, one of the hardest things to do is to match the original colors. Anyone who paints pictures for a hobby knows how difficult this can be. The human eye is a sophisticated tool and can detect even slightly off colors and tones.

Surface Texture and Gloss: When holding a print at an angle nearing 180 degrees to a good light, added foreign substances will often have a different texture and gloss from the rest of the print. The added material may also be physically raised from the rest of the print. You might be able to feel the relief with your finger.
It is extremely difficult to match the original gloss and texture, and chances are added paper or ink will shine differently.

Opacity: Opacity is measured by the amount of light that shines through an item, or the ‘see through’ effect. When held to a bright light like a desk lamp, restored areas can appear noticeably darker or lighter than the rest of the print. Added ink or glue will often appear darker. This test works best for items that let light through, like a poster or 1933 Goudey. Many vintage Topps and Bowman issues are on thick, dark cardstock that no light through and the opacity test will do no good.

Some years ago a man restored beat up vintage baseball cards to Nrmt-Mt or Mint condition. This was done to high end cards like Goudey Babe Ruths and T206 Ty Cobbs. The man rebuilt worn corners with chemical substances and fibers from common cards. While the cards look amazing, holding them up to the light identifies the restoration. The built up corners have a distinctly different opacity from the rest of the card. I heard the man quit restoring cards as he became allergic to the toxic substances used.

Longwave Black Light: A longwave black light will help identify many added paints, papers, glues and other substances that cannot be seen under normal light. In a dark room, black lights make different materials fluoresce differently. The difference can be in brightness and/or color. Black lights can identify some alterations as the added substances can fluoresce darker or lighter and/or a different color than the rest of the item. The foreign material often stands out like a sore thumb. Black lights are also used to identify restoration to non-paper items, including pottery, furniture and toys.

Linen Backing: Linen backing is a standard process during the restoration of posters and large prints, and is found on many expensive movie posters. It involves gluing the poster to paper and light canvas backing. This stabilizes the poster so restoration can be performed. The linen backing can be seen and felt.

Beware of ‘varnished’ counterfeits. In an attempt to cover up their handiwork, some forgers of rare variation cards have coated the altered card in a transparent substance. This often makes the touchups harder to see with the naked eye. However, the coating will usually give the card an abnormal gloss and florescence compared to other cards in the issue. Comparison with genuine cards in the same issue will quickly reveal the difference.

A collector once bought a rare variation T206 card. The card looked okay to him, except he noticed the front was much glossier than the other T206 cards in his collection. It turned out to be one of the varnished forgeries.

Touched Up Sports Cards. Light wear on condition sensitive sports cards is sometimes touched up with a normal dime store pen. The most common victims are the 1971 Topps baseball cards. With their jet black borders on grey stock, even the slightest edge ding or nick is obvious. This damage is often cleaned up with a few strokes of a black felt tip pen. Especially when the card is held in a plastic holder, the alterations can go unnoticed. When removed from the holder, the seasoned collector can identify the touch ups.

When held at a near 180-degree angle to a light source, the added ink will often have a different tone and gloss. The thickness/edge of the card will often reveal where the pen accidentally went over the edge, as there will be unnatural black marks.

Other similarly condition sensitive issues include 1953 and 1963 Topps baseball and 1971 Topps football.