Many collectors of autographed baseballs, particularly older ones, would rather purchase a signed item instead of asking an athlete at a game. Obtaining an in person autograph is obviously the best way to ensure authenticity, but adult collectors may fear the skepticism many baseball players have, fearing the item will invariably end up for auction on eBay. An auto ball remains one of the collecting world's most popular types of collectibles.
Other than approaching an athlete in a public place, the next best way to make sure that autographed baseball being purchased is real may be to obtain it at public autograph signings. Card shops and show promoters host these signings around the country and bring athletes directly to the fans. Collectors generally pay a fee per signature and while the lines may sometimes be long, seeing the player personally autograph your baseball guarantees its authenticity. While this certainly doesn't hold true for everyone, players are generally much more approachable at these types of events, respecting the fact that a fan paid for their autograph and waited in line to get it. The player is paid to be there and is usually in a better mood than he would be if you interrupted his dinner at a restaurant seeking a free signature.
Private signings are those in which the shop or promoter works directly with the athlete, but without fan interaction. An athlete may not want to meet fans or simply might not have time. Most of the time, baseballs are signed in the presence of the promoter or a representative who will usually take photographs of the player signing. While the collector doesn't generally have the opportunity to witness the signing, reputable companies who hold many signings can be a good source for authentic autographs. An advantage to private signings is that you can order items directly, usually via phone or the internet, without needing to stand in line. Every week, Steiner Sports offers you the chance to have your items signed via its Upcoming Signings page.
Reputable memorabilia companies offer autographed items only obtained through signings where they personally witness the baseballs being signed. While these types of companies may charge more for a signed item, there is a better chance that the autograph being purchased is authentic.
Companies like Fanatics, which holds exclusive autograph rights for numerous athletes, charge a little more but there's no doubt the Chicago Cubs gifts purchased through them in 2016 are 100% authentic.
Purchases from individuals, card shops, or companies, are another way that an auto ball is bought and sold. If you are unable to find a particular ball from a private or public signing, purchasing autographed baseballs from a store or individual can be a good way to build your collection. In this instance, the more questions you can ask, the better. How was the autograph obtained? When was it obtained? Did the seller directly witness the signing? The seller may, of course, not be completely truthful, but these questions provide a good starting point and you may be able to eliminate a purchase based on answers such as, 'I bought it from a kid who went to a game' or 'My sister's friend purchased it at a flea market.'
You should also make sure any story 'checks out.' If someone is selling a Mickey Mantle autograph on a Rawlings baseball that was made in 2000, there's a problem since he died in 1995.
Many times a certificate of authenticity may accompany an auto ball, but these can be worth less than the paper on which it's printed. Any individual can create and print a certificate in a matter of minutes. The reputation of the seller is key in these types of instances. Before buying from any company, do some research online. Have they been in business long? Are there complaints against them?
Better proof that a baseball is likely the real deal is if it has been authenticated by a company such as PSA/DNA or James Spence Authentication. These companies utilize hired experts that have been working in their fields for years and know what to look for when spotting a fake signature. You generally will pay more for a baseball that has been authenticated by a reputable company, but the peace of mind you can get may be well worth it.
Websites such as eBay have made the buying and selling of autographs infinitely easier. While the site has certain measures in place to help protect and guide collectors, there is obviously no guarantee that everything listed on the site is authentic. And while monitoring the 'feedback ratings' of a seller might be a good start in determining if the person you're dealing with is honest, it's not a perfect system when it comes to buying autographed baseballs. Even if a seller does not intentionally sell a fake autograph, if they themselves purchased the item through a third party, the chances of the signature being authentic decreases.
Many of the same rules used when buying an autographed baseball from your local card shop should apply when buying from auction sites. Ask questions and perform due diligence - especially if the item has not been authenticated.
When purchasing an auto ball from any third party, it's impossible to know for sure that the item is authentic if you didn't witness the item being signed. But these are a few steps to take to help protect yourself against purchasing fake autographs.
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