The human eye works off some very basic principles involving light and magnification. These are two very important aspects for authentication. The best part about all of this is that you can do your work without spending tons of money to create your own crime laboratory. Some of points I will cover you can begin to use and do right away. Others will take time as the require experience. Let me begin by talking about what you can use and why. The final part is where experience comes into play and knowing what to look for.
Lighting and Light Tables
There is no magic involved, the better lit something is the better we can see it. Notice I did not say brighter, but better. The purposes of lighting in authentication are to aid the work being done by the eyes, and at the same time create contrast within the uniform. You can do this by simply holding a jersey up to window light or use of a light table. I started out using the window and have moved on to light tables.
A light table is nothing more than a flat surface that is backlit. The surface between the light source and your object is usually a “smokey” or semi-transparent glass or plastic. The light tables used by military imagery analysts can cost upwards of thousands of dollars, however, for my civilian purposes, I use a product that is available at most decent photography stores. This product is used by people who are looking at photo negatives or 35 mm slides. The actual trade name for this type of product is a Desk-Top Light Box.
When using a light table, you will want to use it in a darkened area. You need not close off a portion of your house to do this. A bathroom is a decent place to work because it usually features both some sort of counter space as well as wall outlets close to where you are working. If tying up the bathroom is going to cause problems, you can do this same thing in any room during the hours of darkness that meets the same counter space and power requirements.
What you are looking for when using a light table are signs that something has been added, removed or altered on the jersey. The tell tale signs of this are outlines in the fabric caused by the holes made from previous stitching of numbering, lettering, crests, or patches. This also applies when looking at the manufacturers label to see if it has been re-sewn. If you find that this appears to be the case, this should cause you to begin to look at how all the items on the jersey have been applied with respect to the sewing pattern and thread wear.
As with lighting, magnification involves nothing more than a keen grasp of the obvious. The equipment needed to do this can range from a hand held magnifying glass to one that has a lighting capability built in. My choice is something simple and rather inexpensive that I can travel with. It features a 3X power lens and is lit by a standard house bulb. It has a clamp that allows it to be affixed to a desktop. Most business product stores like Staples will carry these magnification lamps for under $40.00. The benefit for me is that it leaves both my hands free to handle the shirt or other item I am looking at.
I mention other items as there are things you will want to look at besides the jersey itself. I am referring to details in photographs. There is no one thing you will be looking for in photographs, but rather it depends on what questions you are trying to answer. When I was asked to authenticate the jersey Roger Maris wore when he broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961, one of the things I focused on in the vintage wire photographs was the buttons. The obvious thing about the buttons on the shirt is that they were all standard period Spalding four-hole variety. What required verification was that the buttons were sewn the same way on the jersey as they were on the jersey in the photograph. With a four-hole button, at some point, the needle must be threaded across the button from either right to left or left to right. Since all the buttons on this shirt were not sewn in the same manner, I expected to see the same in the pictures. This was in fact the case. The point is that no detail is to small to be overlooked, especially when you are trying to match date specific items.
Using lit magnification gives you some of the same benefits of a light table with the addition of enlargement. In cases when you are looking at sections of fabric that are double layered, a light table won’t show you what you’re looking for. I am referring to the collar area where player identification is frequently sewn. In any number of instances, this was done by sewing the player’s name or some other form of identification on strip tag. The strip tag was then affixed to the jersey through only one layer of the fabric. This will vary from team to team.
I have seen a number of examples of star player jerseys that I suspected the original players name had been removed and the star players name added. What you’re looking for are signs that the neck area has been opened and the tag switch made. It is easy to open up the stitching on a jersey, but next to impossible to re-sew through all of the exact same holes. If this is attempted by hand, the pattern and non-machine quality will be a dead give away. At the very minimum, the old open stitch holes should appear under magnification.
Use of lighting and magnification require two things: the tools, which you can get today, and knowing what to look for. The later will start with unanswered questions and over time you will develop the ability to answer them.